Today, there is a huge debate over plastic exposure health risks. Some plastics contain chemicals that slowly leach out from containers or bottles and could be bad for your health. A coding system for different types of plastics will help you understand which plastics to use and which to avoid. The code is a three-sided triangular arrow with a number one through seven, identifying the plastic from which the bottle or container is made (Government of Canada, 2008):
1 – polyethylene teraphthalate (PETE or PET)
Used to make water and soft drink bottles, salad dressing bottles, peanut butter and jam jars, etc.
PETE is not known to leach any hazardous chemicals, but it is not suitable for repeated, long-term use. It is safer not to reuse them.
2 – high density polyethylene (HDPE)
Used to make milk and juice bottles, yogurt cups, shampoo bottles, grocery bags, etc.
HDPE is not known to leach any hazardous chemicals.
3 – polyvinyl chloride (PVC) vinyl (V)
Used to make cling wraps for meat, cheese, and other foods sold in groceries, etc.
PVC may release toxic breakdown products into food and drinks. Phthalates, commonly found in PVC, are endocrine disruptors – substances that interferes with the body’s natural hormone system. di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), is a suspected human carcinogen. Avoid #3!
4 – low density polyethylene (LDPE)
Used to make wash bottles, bread and frozen food bags, sandwich bags, etc.
LDPE is not known to leach any hazardous chemicals.
5 – polypropylene (PP)
Used to make cloudy plastic water bottles, yogurt cups, ketchup bottles, etc.
PP is not known to leach any hazardous chemicals.
6 – polystyrene (PS)
Used to make take-out containers, cups, some toys, foam insulation, etc.
PS can release styrene and butadiene, suspected human carcinogens. Avoid #6!
7 – “other plastics”.
Used to make re-useable water bottles, food containers, baby bottles, microwave ovenware, plastic coating for metal cans, etc.
Polycarbonate bottles or containers release the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) into liquid stored in them. BPA is an endocrine disruptor that has been shown to interfere with reproductive development in animals and has been linked with cardiovascular disease and diabetes in humans. While the exact toxicity of Bisphenol A is still subject to debate, it is safer to avoid #7!
To reduce health risks from toxins leaching into your food and drinks:
- Do not warm plastic containers in the stove or microwave. A “microwave-safe” label on a plastic container does not guarantee that it shouldn’t leach chemicals into foods when heated: it only means that it shouldn’t melt or crack. Use glass or ceramic bowls instead.
- Do not place plastic containers in a dishwasher. Hand-wash them gently with a nonabrasive soap.
- Do not store hot or warm beverages in plastic bottles. Use glass or stainless steel bottles instead.
- Remove food from store plastic wrap before thawing or reheating in a microwave.
- When you buy cling-wrapped food (e.g., meat or cheese) that you do not use at once, store it in a glass or ceramic container.
- Store flour, spices, sugar, and other dry goods in glass containers.
- Do not reuse disposable plastic food containers and cups.
- Reusable plastic food containers should be replaced when they have turned discolored or if cracks start to appear.
Government of Canada (2008). Safety of Plastic Containers Commonly Found in the Home. http://www.chemicalsubstanceschimiques.gc.ca/challenge-defi/plastic_fs_e.html