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A Plastic Safety Refresher Course

| 2/9/2012 3:13:17 PM

I've recently become more vigilant about ridding my life of the chemical BPA. BPA (bisphenol-A) is an endocrine-disrupting chemical that mimics estrogen, wreaking havoc in the human body. BPA exposure is linked with a wide array of reproductive development problems in children and babies exposed to it, and it's also linked with a variety of other health concerns, among them increased cancer risk, obesity, neurological impairment and cardiovascular system damage. BPA is most commonly found in the lining of canned food and beverages (think canned vegetables, soups, tomatoes, beans, tuna, infant formula, soft drinks and beer), as well as in #7 plastics. This is particularly vexing because many baby bottles and toddler sippy cups are made of this type of plastic, and the chemical does the most harm in children's undeveloped systems.

As I try to eliminate (or at least greatly reduce) my BPA exposure, I sometimes get confused among the types of plastics. Which ones contain BPA? Which ones contain other harmful chemicals? Which ones are relatively safe? When this happens, I'm happy to have a handy guide to the types of plastics by Alli Kingfisher and Kelly Lerner, which ran in our March/April 2011 issue. The guide breaks down the types of plastic by recycling code number and refreshes my memory on the best and worst of the bunch. If you could similarly use a refresher course on plastic safety, check out the guide below. If you'd like a printable PDF version to hang on the fridge, email me at and I'll be happy to send you one.

 Plastic Recycling Codes 

Turn a plastic container over to find its recycling code, which indicates the type of resin used to create the plastic.

#1 PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate), also known as polyester
Typical Uses: Water and soft drink bottles; prepared salad and spinach containers
Health & Environmental Impacts: Intended for single use—plastic can break down and host bacteria; potential to interfere with reproductive hormones

#2 HDPE (high-density polyethylene)
Typical Uses: Opaque milk jugs; cereal box liners; liquid detergent bottles; most shampoo bottles
Health & Environmental Impacts: Low risk of leaching

#3 PVC (polyvinyl chloride)
Typical Uses: Plastic wrap, cooking oil bottles, toys, plumbing pipes, window and door frames, insulation (PVC foam)
Health & Environmental Impacts: Known as the “toxic plastic”; can cause endocrine disruption, reduced sperm count, testicular atrophy and liver cancer

#4 LDPE (low-density polyethylene)
Typical Uses: Plastic wrap; grocery, garbage and sandwich bags
Health & Environmental Impacts: Not known to leach chemicals

#5 PP (polypropylene)
Typical Uses: Yogurt and margarine tubs; microwavable meal trays; fiber for carpets, wall coverings and vehicle upholstery
Health & Environmental Impacts: Hazardous during manufacture but not known to leach chemicals

#6 PS (polystyrene)
Typical Uses: Styrofoam cups; clamshell containers; foam meat trays; plastic cutlery; electronics packaging; insulation
Health & Environmental Impacts: Eye, nose and throat irritant; stored in body fat; can cause cancer in production workers; harmful to marine life

#7 PC (polycarbonate), PLA (polylactide) and any other plastic not included in categories above
Typical Uses: Baby bottles; some reusable water bottles; stain-resistant food-storage containers
Health & Environmental Impacts: BPA-containing polycarbonate causes endocrine and reproductive system disruption; impaired neurological functions; cancer; cardiovascular system damage; early puberty; obesity; chemotherapy resistance 

Read the entire "De-Plasticize Your Life" article.


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