Usually, when someone makes emotional purchasing decisions such as cars, they try and do everything to keep it looking as new as possible. Either by cleaning every little surface, crack and crevices or try and keep the protective elements from the factory still intact for as long as they will stay so that nothing can blemish their hard-earned investment for the first few months. Then the love and care begin to fade as time carries on and sooner than you know you begin to neglect the very thing you so ambitiously acquired.
This is especially relevant to people who have bought a new car. In order to keep it looking new and shiny, many people will do things to, or rather not do things to keep it looking that way. Firstly, some people never take the thin plastic covers off of the seat of the cars that come from the factory or remove the plastic sheets placed on the metal trim panels because it could damage or stain them. Additionally, some people even keep a little snack in plastic containers, water or refreshing beverages in a plastic bottle in their cars as we spend a lot of time in traffic on our daily commute.
I’m sure by now you have a vague idea of the direction this is going. Plastics are bad for you! (cue the dramatic sound effects). The debate of ‘why and how plastic is bad for you’ and ‘what it can do to your health’ has been going on for decades. But it is also equally important to look at which kind of plastic and how much can it harm you in what way.
First, let us address the plastic covers that are used to cover various glossy trim panels and seats of a car. Usually, manufacturers apply these plastic strips or covers to protect the trims from damage while manufacturing and transporting. While most mass-market car manufacturers will leave these pieces attached to the cars when the cars are delivered, most premium manufacturers will make sure to remove all these protective pieces before delivering the car. These plastics are made from cheap quality plastics designed to be used and thrown away. If you leave these plastics inside your cabin, these cheap plastics are known to secrete harmful chemicals in extreme climate conditions, whether cold or hot. And in return, as you spend time in the closed cabin of your car, you breathe in these chemicals which can be harmful to your health. Additionally, the plastics of poor quality can even melt in the heat and can actually damage the panels that it was trying to protect or even worse, burn and catch fire. The plastic covers on your seats can even ruin the upholstery and negatively affect the grip and cushioning it would offer to the user.
Now coming to the additional plastic containers and bottles that one may store their vehicles. Most branded containers and bottles are expected to meet requirements set by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) which also align with most international standards like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US. FSSAI mandated that all plastic bottles sold by beverage companies can only be made of either Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or Polycarbonate (PC) with Plastic (Polypropylene (PP) or High-density polyethylene (HDPE) or Aluminium caps. This is also in line with the requirements mandated for food sold in plastic containers or bags or plastic containers that are designed to store food.
Manufacturers have been under fire numerous times with large claims that these containers if kept in cars for a prolonged period, can contaminate food and lead to cancer. Truth is these materials have been approved by government bodies around the world to be safe. However, the catch is that the safety comes within a range of temperature they are exposed to within a duration. Researches and studies around the world including one that was conducted by the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences state that when PET or PC containers are exposed to extreme hot or cold temperatures, they release a trace amount of antimony and bisphenol A (BPA) which can be extremely harmful to humans. While food safety boards and manufacturers have confirmed it is true, both parties claim the small traces that are released are safe for human consumption. The governing bodies globally, state that only significant years of prolonged exposure to the material can release enough BPA to cause significant damage to humans. Which is why, the companies that manufacture the plastic storage materials, recommend to store the items within a range of 20-25 degrees Celsius.
Additionally, when it comes to car manufacturers, most automakers are trying to reduce the number of plastics used in trim panels that are made from plastics. Future concepts of manufacturers are exploring the possibilities that use organic materials and vegan leather upholstery even. All in the name of becoming environmentally friendly and reducing their carbon footprint.
But, the bottom line is that, whether these plastics are safe to use in the short term or long term prolonged use as plastics not only have a negative effect on the human body but also has a huge effect on the environment. Single-use plastics in most countries are banned from being used already. However, we ourselves should shun away plastic goods as much as possible, find alternatives which don’t impact the environment as much and reduce our own carbon footprint as much as we can.