As most of you already know, I’m not a big fan of plastics. Plastics are made of petroleum, a nonrenewable resource, and during manufacturing chemicals such as benzene and dioxin are released into the air. Plus, once your done with it, plastic can take nearly a millennium to break down in landfills. However, the biggest concern with plastic is our health, and the health of our children. Many of the chemicals used to make plastic can leach into food, drinks, and even worse, straight into the bloodstream of a little one who is sucking or chewing on it.
When it comes to plastic, there are many nasty chemicals to contend with. Two of the worst offenders are PVC, found in #3 containers, which leaches phthalates, a hormone disruptor; and BPA, a hormone mimicking element found in #7 plastics- including water and baby bottles. The good news is you can make safe choices about plastics- if you know your numbers. All plastic is labeled with a number &/or letters, usually found in a chasing-arrows recycling symbol on the bottom of the bottle or container. Once you learn what these numbers and letters mean, you can make smart choices about the plastics you use and reduce risks both personally, and globally.
Plastics To Avoid
- #3 PVC or V (PolyvinylChloride)- This is bay far the worst plastic for you, and the environment. Commonly found in “cling” plastic wraps, food and liquid containers, this petroleum based plastic can leach dangerous chemicals including phthalates, especially when in contact with atty/oily foods or during heating.
- #6 PS (Polystyrene)- Most commonly used in styrofoam containers; meat, egg, and bakery trays; and in it’s rigid form, clear take-out containers, and some plastic cutlery and cups. Polystyrene may leach styrene into hot, or acidic food it comes into contact with. Styrofoam also does not degrade in the environment, so it constitutes a big part of landfills.
- #7 Other (Usually Polycarbonate)- Used in 5 gallon water bottles, clear plastic baby bottles, and metal can linings. Polycarbonate can release its primary building block, the hormonally disruptive Bisphenol A (BPA) into the liquid it contains.
- #1 PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)- Used for most clear beverage bottles and ketchup and salad dressing bottles.
- #2 HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)- Most commonly found in “cloudy” milk, water and juice jugs/containers; yogurt and spreadable butter tubs, and trash and grocery bags.
- #4 LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)- Found in some squeezable bottles and frozen food storage bags.
- #5 PP (Polypropylene)- Used in rigid containers, including some baby bottles, cups and bowls.
Playing It Safe
It’s best to avoid plastic whenever possible. At first eliminating plastic can seem like a daunting task, but you’ll be amazed at how many great alternatives you’ll find! About a year ago, I vowed to eliminate as much plastic from our life as possible and it’s turned out to be one of the best choices I’ve ever made. My Plastic Free Life has been a wonderful resource and inspiration, and while we’re not living 100% plastic-free, we have nearly cut our waste in half, and are making a big impact on our health, and the environment. Whether you plan to eliminate as much plastic from your life as possible, or simply want to reduce your family’s risk, here are some tips to make sure you’re “playing it safe” and making the best plastic choices possible.
- Never Store Food In Plastic- While saving those butter tubs and cool whip containers to store leftovers in may seem like the eco-friendly thing to do, your family’s health always needs to come first. Even “Rubbermaid” and other plastic containers branded for food storage are not a good choice. All plastic contains chemicals, even if it is “BPA-free”. Glassware is durable and safe; stainless steel, ceramic, and porcelain also work well for food storage.
- Never Heat Food In Plastic- Heating food in plastic causes chemicals to migrate into your meal. You should also take care not to microwave milk or formula in plastic baby bottles. Always remove plastic wrap from from a plate or bowl before nuking, and use glass or ceramic dishes for serving warm food or beverages.
- Avoid (Or Limit) Canned Food- Many aluminum cans, including those filled with liquid baby formula, are lined with polycarbonate plastic, which contains BPA. Fresh or frozen foods, and powdered versions of baby formula are definitely the safer choice.
- Ditch The Cling Wrap- Wax paper and butcher paper are safer alternatives to plastic cling wraps, which are often made with PVC. Some wraps are now being made with low-density polyethylene (LDPE), which is a bit less clingy, but not known to contain traces of potentially harmful additives. Still, I say play it safe and avoid the cling wrap all together, and if you must use it, don’t let it touch the food.
- Get A Better Water Bottle- Americans throw out more than 30 million plastic water bottles per day; most of which are the ubiquitous PET #1 bottles. While posing no immediate health risk, PET can leach harmful chemicals, especially when heated or left out in the sun. NEVER drink out of a plastic water bottle that’s been left in a hot car, or from a vendor who has the water bottles exposed to the sun. It can also be tempting to reuse plastic water bottles, and while it may seem like the earth-friendly choice, it is not a health friendly one. Reusable polycarbonate (#7) bottles are not a good choice either as many contain BPA. If you have a reusable plastic water bottle you just can’t live without, make sure you wash it by hand with a mild dish soap, and never in the dishwasher. For a healthier option, choose a stainless steel or aluminum water bottle like Kleen Kanteen.
- Beware Of Baby Bottles- In 2007, the advocacy group Environment Claifornia released their “Toxic Baby Bottles” report demonstrating how, when heated, five of the most popular baby bottles leached BPA at levels found toxic to lab animals. The bottles with the highest level of toxins are made of polycarbonate- a clear, shatterproof plastic. Safer baby bottles are made of cloudy plastic such as (#1) polyethylene, or (#5) polyethersulfone, polyamide, or polypropylene. The best option, of course, is glass baby bottles made of tempered shatterproof glass.
- Ditch The Plastic Toys- Recent studies suggest that almost 40% of toys include PVC, a soft plastic which contain the chemical phthalates. How can you tell if PVC is used in the manufacture of any given toy? There is no easy way to know. But a rule of thumb is that if the plastic feels soft or malleable, it’s probably PVC. In addition to the presence of phthalates, many PVCs also contain heavy metals like lead and cadmium, both of which are also highly toxic. The greatest concern here is that younger children not only handle their toys a great deal, but also chew on them, greatly increasing the chances of exposure to these toxic chemicals. To play it safe, get rid of the older plastic toys in your home, which likely contain the highest levels of toxic chemicals. Buy toys from major brands, and from well-known stores, and avoid cheap plastic toys from bargain retailers. These are likely to be directly imported from China, and were probably manufactured with almost no control over the chemicals used. Best of all, rediscover the pleasures of old-fashioned wooden toys, preferably unpainted.
Learning to live with less plastic is well worth any sacrifices that have to be made. Plus, aside from the obvious health and environmental benefits, alternatives to plastic such as glass, stainless steel and wood are much better quality, and will often last for years to come!
Do you limit the plastic you use in your home? Please leave a comment and share!Terri
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