Today's Green Tip: Check your Plastics
Did you know that there is a such thing as good and bad plastics?
Here's a quick rhyme to help you remember:
Here's a quick rhyme to help you remember:
4, 5, 1 and 2....
all the rest are bad for you.
Why choose plastics carefully?
The toxicity of plastics is not fully understood or adequately tested. What we do know is that most plastics contain chemical additives to change the quality of the plastic (i.e., to make it softer or more resistant to UV light). There is substantial evidence confirming that the additives BPA and phthalate are highly toxic endocrine disruptors and potential carcinogens. In addition, a first-of-its-kind study recently found that children who live in homes with PVC flooring (phthalates), were twice as likely to have autism.
While there are many plastics additives we don't know enough about, we do know these chemicals routinely leach into the food and water they contain. Keep in mind that a plastic may be considered harmless not because it has been proven to be safe, but only because it has not been proven to be unsafe. By far, when it comes to food and drink, the safest option is to avoid plastic altogether.
Top 3 Plastics to avoid:
1. Number 3 - Polyvinyl chloride (V or PVC, commonly called vinyl)
Found in: Cooking oil bottles, some water bottles. clear food packaging, cling wrap, shower curtains, some toys & backpacks, PVC flooring, inflatable beach toys, raincoats and toys for children older than 12.
PVC is often mixed with phthalates, and other toxic additives that make plastic more flexible. These are suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals – which leach into food and drinks, and even off-gas into the air of your home.
Note: The risk is highest when containers are scratched, put through the dishwasher, or heated (including the microwave). PVC contains chlorine, so its manufacture can release highly dangerous dioxins.
While phthalates were recently banned in new children's toys, they may be in toys made before February 2009.
2. Number 6 - PS (polystyrene or styrofoam)
Found in: Disposable plates and cups, meat trays, egg cartons, carry-out containers, aspirin bottles, compact disc cases, and some opaque plastic cutlery.
Polystyrene is made from styrene, a suspected carcinogen, and also contains p-nonylphenol. Both chemicals are suspected endocrine disruptors.They release toxic breakdown products into food particularly when heated (so avoid insulated coffee cups)! The material benzene - which is utilized in polystyrene production - is a known human carcinogen. Polystyrene is notoriously difficult to recycle.
3. Number 7 - Other (usually polycarbonate)
Found in: Baby bottles, microwave ovenware, eating utensils, plastic coating for metal cans, three- and five-gallon water bottles, and certain food containers.
A wide range of plastic resins are lumped into this category. The ones to worry about are the hard polycarbonate varieties found in various drinking containers (like Nalgene bottles) and rigid plastic baby bottles. Polycarbonates contain bisphenol-A (BPA), which leaches into food as the product ages. This effect is exacerbated by heat. No level of bisphenol A exposure is known to be truly safe, and a 2005 study conducted by the CDC found that 95 percent of people screened tested positive for BPA. Soft or cloudy-colored plastic does not contain BPA.
Best alternatives if you have to choose plastic
The plastics below do not contain BPA or phthalates. They are not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones. So while they havenot yet proven to be unsafe, you should still use them in moderation.
- Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) Soft drink, water, sports drink, ketchup, and salad dressing bottles, and peanut butter, pickle, jelly and jam jars.
- High density polyethylene (HDPE) Milk, water, and juice bottles, yogurt and margarine tubs, cereal box liners, and grocery, trash, and retail bags.
- Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) Some bread and frozen food bags, many re-sealable (Ziploc) bags, and squeezable bottles. Note: LDPE is not as widely recycled as #1 or #2 above.
- Polypropylene (PP) Some ketchup bottles and yogurt and margarine tubs. Note: PP is hazardous during production, and not as widely recycled as #1 and #2 above.
How to handle plastics safely
- Use glass over plastics.
- When you have to use plastic, those marked with a 1, 2, 4, or 5 don’t contain BPA/phthalates and may be better choices.
- Don't microwave food or drinks in plastic containers, and do not use plastics for hot food and liquids.
- Avoid old, scratched plastic water bottles. Exposures to plastics chemicals may be greater when the surface is worn down.
- Always wash plastics by hand to reduce wear and tear.
- Choose glass or BPA-free sippy cups and baby bottles with a clear silicone nipple.
- Give your baby natural teethers like frozen washcloths or natural, uncoated wood.
- Look for toys made of natural materials, like wool, cotton, and uncoated wood.
- Don't allow your baby or young child to handle or chew on plastic electronics (the remote, your cell phone) because they may be treated with fire retardants.
In the Kitchen
- Store and heat food and drink in ceramic or glass food containers (such as Pyrex).
- Carry a glass or stainless steel water bottle without a plastic or "epoxy" lining.
- Use natural flooring instead of vinyl.
- Use wooden cutting boards -- but care for them properly to minimize bacteria.
- Cover food in the microwave with a paper towel instead of plastic wrap.
In the bathroom
- Pick a cotton shower curtain instead of vinyl.
- In the tub, play with cotton washcloths, finger puppets, wooden toy boats and lightweight aluminum cups instead of soft plastic bath toys and books.