Once I started thinking about the issues with polycarbonate leaching bisphenol-A into my kids' warm milk it really started me wondering about all the other plastics we use. The Gladware we use for all our leftovers (we have about 20 entree-sized ones and use them for everything)? Plastic wrap? I've presumed that the plastic clamshell that carries my strawberries to market is safe, but is it? A little digging has led me to compile the following list of the seven most common plastics and their relative safety. It doesn't include the random ones like "12," but hey, this will cover about 99% of what's touching your food and kids.
The number is what you find inside the little recycling symbol on the bottom of plastic goods.
- Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) Used to make soda and water bottles, many clear/translucent squeezy bottles for salad dressing and such, plus plastic jars and produce clamshells. GOOD: Not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones. Often recycled.
- High-density polyethylene (HDPE) Typically used to manufacture milk jugs, water and juice bottles, some yogurt and cream cheese or margarine tubs, cereal box liner bags and grocery and trash bags. GOOD: Not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones. Often recycled.
- Polyvinyl chloride (V or PVC) Most deli meats and cheeses, plus foods in styrofoam trays (see #6) are wrapped in plastic wrap made with PVC. BAD: To soften it and make it flexible, manufacturers add plasticizers. Traces of these chemicals can leach out of PVC when in contact with foods. One of these plasticizers, di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), commonly found in PVC, is a suspected human carcinogen. Not widely recycled.
- Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) Some bread, frozen food, and grocery bags, plus some squeezy bottles. OK: Not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones. Not widely recycled.
- Polypropylene (PP) Some ketchup and other squeezy bottles, most yogurt and margarine tubs, some flexible sippy cups. OK: Hazardous during production, but not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones. Not widely recycled.
- Polystyrene (PS) Foam insulation, styrofoam, hot food containers, shrinky dinks, and other hard applications (e.g. cups, toys) BAD: Benzene, used in polystyrene prodcution, is a known human carcinogen. Butadiene and styrene, the basis of the plastic are suspected carcinogens. Energy intensive and not often recycled.
- Other (usually polycarbonate) Baby feeding bottles, microwave ovenware, disposable eating utensils, most clear/colored drinkware (e.g. most clear Nalgene bottles produced until a few weeks ago), epoxy lining of metal cans, lexan products. BAD: Made with biphenyl-A, a chemical invented in the 1930s in research to develop synthetic estrogens. A known hormone disruptor that simulates the action of estrogen when tested in human breast cancer studies as well as numerous other effects. Can leach into food as the plastic breaks down over time, particularly into warm, fatty liquids.