3 Reasons why you can’t trust companies or governments to keep toxic plastics out of your home.

Many of the plastics we use in our homes include dangerous chemicals, like BPA, phthalates and styrene.

These chemicals are known to be harmful to our health, and are particularly dangerous to our children, even at very low doses.

The danger posed by these chemicals has been known about for a long time, but it was only in January, 2010, that the FDA backtracked on its original position and finally acknowledged that in the case of BPA, there is some “cause for concern”.

Well, the rest of us have known for a long time that these chemicals are a serious threat to the health of our families. So why does it take governments and companies so long to acknowledge what so many scientific trials and studies have already proven, time and time again?

1. Companies do not self-regulate, they have to be pressured or forced.

In the U.S. in particular there is a deeply held belief that the economy works best with a minimum of outside regulation. This, in many ways, is the “American way”. The idea is that market competition will take care of bad things happening. That was the thinking in the financial markets right up to the moment of the financial meltdown on Wall Street in 2008.

According to traditional economic thinking, that meltdown shouldn’t have happened, because the market would protect itself through a process of self-regulation.

But that isn’t what happened. What actually happens is that self-regulation is always trumped by greed. It happened on Wall Street and it happens elsewhere.

In the case of dangerous chemicals in plastics in our homes, the profit motive comes first. There is no real regulation of these chemicals. And when companies do make changes, it is not because they think it is the right thing to do, it is because consumers force them to change.

2. Governments are swayed more by lobbyists than they are by voters.

In common with corporations, the government goes along with the notion that a healthy economy is an economy burdened by as little government regulation and intervention as possible.

If governments forget this, there are plenty of industry lobbyists who will quickly remind them that intervention is anti-American. “Trust us,” they say. “We know what we are doing.”

Well, they certainly do know what they are doing. Using smoke, mirrors and disinformation, the plastics industry has been persuading both the government and us that there is no cause for concern. They are in business to make a profit, and will do what it takes to achieve their ends.

Once again, government will only take steps when the demands of the people become loud enough to drown out the reassuring voices of industry lobbyists.

3. Governments move at a snail’s pace.

Even when governments do acknowledge there is a problem, they move forward at a snail’s pace. In part this is because industry lobbyists will continue to fight against change, and in part because government action is always hobbled by multiple levels of decision makers, all with their own committees, and all with their own reasons for slowing things down.

So how can individuals promote change?

Certainly you can write to your representatives at every level of government.

But the best thing you can do is to punish companies selling toxic plastics by refusing to buy those products. When you vote with your wallet, companies suddenly start paying attention.

You can also support the consumer advocacy groups which are already hard at work bending the ears of politicians, legislators and bureaucrats.

In the US, a leading advocacy group pushing for laws against toxic chemicals in household plastics is the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

In Canada, you can support the work of Environmental Defence.