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Guide to Plastics

01.20.14 Guide to Plastics


We get a lot of questions about plastic, especially when it comes to food and beverage storage. What kinds of plastic are safe?  What do those numbers stand for?  Can I put plastic in the microwave? What can I use instead of plastic?

Recently I was asked to speak to a group of moms about this topic and I created this guide, so I though I'd share it with you. First are descriptions of the plastic recycling codes and what they mean for you, followed by some general safety tips...

#1: Polyethylene (PET) or (PETE)

  • found in: disposable food and beverage containers, soft drinks, water bottles, salad dressing
  • verdict: designed ONLY for single and short time use and some concerns about the antimony trioxide which can leach if beverages are in the container for too long - considered a reasonably safe plastic yet not your safest option. (Do not drink from plastic water bottles that have been stored in the trunk of your car all summer!)

#2: High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

  • found in:  opaque food and beverage containers such as milk, juice or yogurt
  • verdict: considered a safer plastic than #1,3,6,7

#3: Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

  • found in:  soft plastic toys, squeeze bottles, shower curtains
  • verdict: PVC is considered the MOST dangerous plastic - AVOID

#4: Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

  • found in: plastic wraps, squeeze bottles, food packaging
  • verdict: considered a safer plastic than #1,3,6,7

#5: Polypropylene (PP)

  • found in: opaque plastic food storage containers, baby bottles, sippy cups, straws, sports tops on water bottles
  • verdict: considered a safer plastic than #1,3,6,7

#6: Polystyrene (PS)

  • found in: Styrofoam containers, take-out food containers,  disposable cups, bowls and utensils
  •  verdict: Leaches Styrene, which is an endocrine disruptor - AVOID

#7: Other – Can be Polycarbonate (PC) or Bio Based Plastics or (AS) (ABS) (SAN) or Tritan

  • Found in: Polycarbonate can be found in clear plastic baby bottles, sippy cups and water bottles;  5 gallon water containers
  • Verdict: Polycarbonate leaches Bisphenol A (BPA), a dangerous plastic linked to endocrine disruption and serious health conditions. – AVOID 7 plastics unless you know them to not be made from Polycarbonate.  Tritan is a new plastic and in our opinion has not undergone enough safety testing to take a stance on.

Safety Tips:

When using plastics in the kitchen (even the safer plastics) follow these guidelines:

  • Use these safer materials instead of plastic: glass, stainless steel, silicone, bamboo or wood (coated with a food-safe, non-toxic finish), ceramic (with lead free glaze)
  • If you do use plastic, safer options are considered #2, #4, or #5.  (possible #7 if you know it is a bio based plastic) and follow suggestions below...
  • Heat can cause plastic to degrade, which can cause chemicals to leach from the plastic into your food.
  • Do not put plastic containers in the microwave. “Microwave Safe” only means that the item will not melt or crack.
  • Preferably wash plastic items by hand instead of the dishwasher.  High heat and harsh detergents can cause the plastic to wear down more quickly.
  • Do not use scratched, cloudy or badly worn plastics with food or beverage.
  • Do not store oily, greasy or acidic foods in plastic containers - Opt for glass instead.
Posted in: Plastic-Free
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