Graduate from Plastic: Know Your Plastics

Plastic is everywhere. But you can learn to live with much less of it by knowing where it lurks and eliminating some of the most dangerous plastics from daily use.

| May/June 2003

Plastics can be a tricky matter. They appear in a huge variety of forms and can pervade some of your most prosaic daily routines. And to make the situation more complicated, some plastics may be relatively safe for your home, while others can pose environmental and health risks.

Thankfully, however, not all plastics are created equal. Some are more recyclable than others; some outgas less. Better yet, strides are being made toward “green plastics” made from natural ingredients such as cellulose, starch, and collagen.

But until earth-friendly plastics are more widely available, what’s a homeowner to do? Determining the differences among plastics can be quite a challenge. Knowing where, in what form, and for what uses plastics can materialize can help you decide what conveniences to keep around your home and what to boot out the door. We asked several environmental experts to guide us through the gray areas. Here’s a room-by-room look at the plastics we can live with—and without.


“Getting plastic out of your home is an excellent goal, but it’s really, really hard to do,” says environmental health consultant Peggy Wolff. “I certainly have some plastic in my home. It is just practical.”

But when it comes to plastic and food, Wolff is quick to draw the line. “It leaches into the food,” she explains. “The softer the plastic and the warmer the food, the more leaching there is.”

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