How to Avoid Unsafe Plastics
All plastics are rated using a number system. Understanding what those numbers mean can help people do more than recycle, it can help them avoid dangerous chemicals.
More than ever people are concerned about the products in their lives, especially when it comes to plastic. There are concerns over the safety of some of the ingredients used in plastics, particularly bisphenol A. Fortunately there are codes on the bottom of all plastics which can help the health conscientious consumer stay informed. Here is what the codes mean and a guide to which plastics should be avoided due to potential toxicity.
Number 1– Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE)
This is found in many single-use products such as soft drinks, mouthwashes, salad dressing and other similar items. It is lightweight, inexpensive and fairly easy to recycle. Number one plastics are considered safe and are not known to leach chemicals, but they are not safe for reuse so never refill any container made from this plastic. Also, never heat foods in number one plastic containers either.
Number 2 – High density polyethylene (HDPE)
This plastic is used for items like milk jugs, trash bags, margarine tubs and packaging products. It is inexpensive, versatile and quite durable. It is also easily recyclable, with recycling programs available in most communities. Number two plastic is considered safe and isn’t known to leach chemicals. But, like most plastics, it’s wise to never heat food or liquid products in them.
Number 3 – Polyvinyl chloride (V or PVC)
This plastic is used to make bottles for cleaning agents, shower curtains, industry plastics and the cling wraps used to wrap deli meat and cheeses. It isn’t generally recycled but some programs will accept it. Number three plastic is not safe due to a chemical used to keep it so flexible which can leach out into food products. This plastic has di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate in it, which is a carcinogen. It also contains chlorine and will release dangerous toxins if burned.
Number 4 – Low-density polyethylene (LDPE)
This plastic can be found in things like frozen food bags, squeezable bottles, grocery bags and some clothing, carpeting and furniture upholstery. It is flexible, durable and has many applications in industry. Number four plastic isn’t known to be dangerous or leach any chemicals into consumer products. It is not widely recycled but a handful of community programs will accept it.
Number 5 – Polypropylene (PP)
This plastic can be found in items like ketchup bottles, straws, medication bottles, some carpet and most bottle caps. It has a high melting point so it is also used for containers that will hold hot liquid. Number five plastic is hazardous during production but once made, it isn’t known to leach chemicals. It is typically used in items that aren’t reused and has a high melting point, which might contribute to it’s sturdiness and reduced risk of leaching. Not every community can recycle number five plastic.
Number 6 – Polystyrene (PS)
This plastic is used for items that must be hard and retain their shape, like cups, opaque plastic utensils, some toys, carry-out containers and compact disc cases. It is also used for foam insulation. Number six plastic isn’t generally recycled and is not considered safe by most experts. Benzene, a known carcinogen, is used during its production and the final product contains butadiene and styrene, both suspected carcinogens. It takes a lot of energy to produce and should be avoided, so watch out for take out food containers made from it.
Number 7 – Other
Number seven is a catch-all category for any number of plastics but often contains polycarbonate. It is often found in baby bottles, five-gallon water jugs, microwave containers, liners for metal cans, and plastic eating utensils. Very few recycling programs exist for this type of plastic. Number seven plastic is widely regarded as unsafe since it has bisphenol A, a hormone disruptor which mimics estrogen and is linked to breast cancer. This plastic is known to readily leach this chemical out into food. Infant formula and canned food has tested positive for biphenyl-A after being placed in metal cans lined with number seven plastic. It’s a good idea try to always avoid number seven plastic.