Do you know the difference between the number 3 and number 7 types of plastic?
Did you know that BPA, the highly toxic chemical found in plastic, is linked to obesity, cancer, and endocrine problems in fetuses and children?
Well, I didn’t either..
Many people have never heard of the signs, symbols, and markings that on the bottom or the back of plastic packages while others simply choose to ignore them but the reality is, wanting or not, each different type of plastic is impacting our lives as well as the ecossystems in our beloved planet.
To identify what type of plastic you have, look for a symbol like a triangle, usually located somewhere on that package – check the bottom, side, or top - ranging from 1 to 7.
But what do these symbols actually mean?
#1 PETE or PET – Polyethylene terephthalate
Usually clear in colour, PET is one of the most commonly used plastics in consumer products and is largely used for plastic bottles containing bottled water.
Another common place you would find #1 is in your household cleaning product containers.
This plastic is relatively safe, but it is important to keep it out of the heat or it could cause carcinogens to leach into your liquids i.e. remember not to drink from bottles that have been in your car for days, for example.
This package is intended for single-use, disposable containers and repeated use increases the risk of development of bacteria.
PET plastics are difficult to decontaminate, and proper cleaning requires harmful chemicals. I found this to be particularly interesting as PET bottles usually look 'clean' after you wash them with warm soapy water, don't they? #revelation
This plastic is picked up by most curbside recycling programs.
#2 HDP or HDPE - High Density Polyethylene
HDP is the most widely used resin for plastic bottles. It is economical, impact resistant, provides a good moisture barrier, and releases no chemicals.
I was surprised when I first heard but water packaged in these bottles is probably the healthiest!
Most milk jugs, detergent and juice bottles, butter tubs, and toiletries containers are made of HDP.
Usually opaque in color, this plastic is considered safer and has a lower risk of leaching.
Also well picked up at most recycling programs.
#3 PVC or 3V - Polyvinyl Chloride
PVC is a soft and flexible plastic, used in transparent food wrap - repeat with me: "we don't like plastic food wraps!".
It can also be found in oil bottles, teeth rings, shower curtains, inflatable mattresses and toys for children.
This type of plastic releases toxic chemicals that affect two hormones in our bodies.
Experts recommend as much as possible to avoid buying a product packaged in such kind of plastic. Again, one more moment of #revelation ...
Although tough in terms of strength, PVC is not considered safe for cooking or heating, especially in a microwave.
Next time, check the labels of inflatable, baby toys, etc. to ensure they are free of PVC (and phthalates and BPA).
As an alternative, you can use glass or stainless steel reusable bottles and food storage containers. Buy in glass and reuse those jam jars - these can be incredibly versatile!
Use non-plastic food wrap - see our beeswax wraps.
Sadly, this plastic is rarely accepted by recycling programs...
#4 LDPE - Low Density Polyethylene
LDPE can be found in juice and milk cartons (as the water-proof inner and outer layer), most plastic grocery bags, plastic bags for dry cleaning, newspapers, bread, frozen foods, fresh produce, and household garbage.
It is also used to make container lids, toys, and squeezable bottles (like honey and mustard).
Though considered a low hazard plastic, LDPE should not be used in the production of bottles, especially water bottles.
As an alternative, you can use glass or stainless steel reusable bottles and food storage containers and non-plastic food wrap such as beeswax wraps.
LDPE is very difficult to recycle. Whenever posible, the recycled LDPE material can be made into compost bins, paneling, plastic lumber.
#5 PP - Polypropylene
PP is known for its high melting point making it ideal for holding hot liquids that cool in the bottles.
PP is commonly used for disposable diapers, plastic bottle tops, plastic cups, margarine and yogurt tubs, crisps bags, straws, packing tape and rope, kitchenware, microwavable plastic containers and lids. One of the safer plastics, it should be recycled and not thrown away.This plastic can withstand rapid temperature changes and it is considered relatively safe. It also serves as a good barrier against moisture and grease.
When it comes to recycling, things are not good... often pigmented or mixed with other resins, PP is difficult to sort. Whenever possible, recycled PP material will be made into brooms, brushes, bins pallets, auto battery cases and flower pots.
#6 PS - Polysterene or Styrofoam
Most disposable containers and food ware are made of PS, such as takeaway containers and disposable cutlery.
You can also find it on CD and DVD cases (if you still have those!), egg cartons, foam coffee cups (huge issue for many of us!) and foam packaging.
Overwhelming evidence suggests that this type of plastic leaches toxic chemicals, specially when heated.
ALERT > It would be wise to avoid #6 plastic as much as possible as it's been linked to serious diseases.
As an alternative, bring your own reusable containers (check our stainless steel ones!) for takeaway and coffee cups. You can also carry a spork to avoid the disposable cutlery.
It is difficult to recycle and only accepted by specific recycling facilities. Even worse, when not recycled, it is one of those that takes hundreds of years to decompose #disaster
#7 Other (O) - all other plastics
In this section, we will find acrylics, polycarbonate - including the highly toxic BPA!
As scary as it sounds, the use of plastic in this category is at your own risk since you don't know what could be in it...
Ensure that food containers, water bottles and baby bottles are always BPA free.
Just one week of PC plastic use can increase urinary BPA concentration by 2/3.
Other health risks associated with BPA include reproductive abnormalities like lower sperm counts, hormonal changes, enlarged prostate glands, asthma, abnormalities in the number of chromosomes in eggs, and pre-cancerous changes in the breast and prostate - It's BEYOND scary, I think!!
Plastics under this category will most likely not be accepted by curbside recycling programs.
In a nutshell, try to avoid plastic whenever you can.
I know it's extremely dfficult at times so if you are going to use them, you need to remember which are less hazardous.
To summarize, plastics in categories #2, #4 and #5 are generally considered safe.
Be weary of putting them in the microwave, even if they are labeled “microwave-safe” - and easy change in your routine!
Plastics #1, #3, #6 and #7 should be used with varying to extreme caution, especially around food or drink.
There are several ways to avoid plastic such as:
- Use glass or stainless steel reusable water bottles
- Reuse glass bottles and jars - think jam jars!
- Choose natural fabrics such as organic cotton, wool, hemp for clothing
- Use glass or stainless steel reusable food storage containers
- Use non-plastic food wrap such as beeswax wraps
- Use recycled kraft paper for packaging / wrapping
Now, it's your turn to look for ways to remove, as much as possible, plastic from your routine - good luck! :-)