Monday, March 10, 2008

Good Plastic - Bad Plastic

There is certainly good plastic and bad plastic. Plastic is widely used for food containers, water bottles, baby bottles, plastic wraps, etc. it is convenient to use but is associated with health risks and environmental harms.
Its association with health risks is because most plastics contain chemicals that are known as hormone-disruptor and they can leach into food and beverages. Plastics are made from petroleum – a non-renewable material and it takes large volume of landfill space. I will make a short review of each plastic label after which I will try to put together some recommendations. However, please consider that no plastic may be safe; some plastics are considered "good" or safe because there is no sufficient research to prove otherwise.

GOOD Plastics

BAD Plastics


#1 PETE: Polyethylene terephthalate ethylene used for soft drink, juice, water, detergent, cleaner and peanut butter containers. It was considered the safest and is the most common plastic and easy to recycle. However, a recent study found traces of DEHP in bottled water stored in a PET bottle for more than 9 months.

#2 HDPE: High density polyethylene, used in opaque plastic milk and water jugs, bleach, detergent and shampoo bottles and some plastic bags. It is considered safe and easy to recycle.



#3 PVC or V or DEHA : Polyvinyl chloride or di(2-ethylhexyl)adipate used for cling wrap, some plastic squeeze bottles, cooking oil and peanut butter jars, detergent and window cleaner bottles. PVC is well known to be associated with liver cancer. DEHA is linked to negative effects on the liver, kidney, spleen, bone formation and body weight. It is the least recyclable.

#4 LDPE: Low density polyethylene, used in gro­cery store bags, most plastic wraps and some bottles. It is considered safe but hard to recycle.


#5 PP: Polypropylene, used in most Rubbermaid, deli soup, syrup and yogurt containers, straws and other clouded plastic containers, including baby bottles. It is considered safe but hard to recycle. (See Update as of Nov 14 2008)



#6 PS: Polystyrene, used in Styrofoam food trays, egg cartons, disposable cups and bowls, carry-out containers and opaque plastic cutlery. Styrene can leach from polystyrene and is toxic to the brain and nervous system. It also has been found to affect red blood cells, liver, kid­neys and stomach in animal studies. It is hard to recycle.


#7 Other: Usually polycarbonate, used in most plastic baby bottles, 5-gallon water bottles, “sport” water bottles, metal food can liners, clear plastic “sippy” cups and some clear plastic cutlery. New bio-based plastics may also be labeled #7. Polycarbonate can leach Bisphenol A, a chemical that mimics the action of the human hormone estrogen. It was found to stimulate prostate cancer, produce ovarian dysfunction, genetic damage, etc. (see Baby Bottles free of BPA).





Recommendations:

• Avoid using plastic in microwave. Any plastic can leach harmful chemicals when heated. Avoid to warm food even in plastic labeled as “microwave safe”. “Microwave safe” does not mean that there is no leaching of chemicals.
• Use alternatives to plastics whenever possible. Bring a glass container with you at the restaurants. Use stainless steel or glass to store your food.
• Buy food in glass containers. However, pay attention that phtalates were found in lids of glass jars.
• Use alternatives for baby bottles and bottles made from polycarbonate. Use instead glass bottles or other made from safer plastic.
• Drink the water from bottled water quickly and keep it away from heat to avoid leaching of chemicals.
• Do not reuse bottles or food containers made for single using.
• Avoid plastic cutlery and dinnerware.
• Avoid plastics that are not recyclable (3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
• Buy bio-based plastic alternatives if available and if you really need it.
• Get rid of all plastic from your kitchen - like me.


For some shopping suggestions look here.


Update:

As two of the readers suggested there is no plastic that is truly safe or good for us. The idea of the list is to help you chose between plastics in case you have no current alternative. My 1st impulse it to go for effortless changes instead of radical ones; there's always a risk of falling off the wagon when you try cold-turkey plastic free life. However, the best solution is to avoid them as much as you can.

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

Read more about the negative effects of bottled water not only on our bodies but on the enviornment as well at: www.bottledwaterblues.com

There's no safe plastic out there. It all leaches back into the water that you drink out of it and most of the particles are cancer causing. They've even gotten rid of the nalgene bottles that were supposedly safe for drinking from.

I hope this information is helpful to you guys!

Fake Plastic Fish said...

While I agree that some plastics are worse than others, I would not say that any of them are "Good." All of the plastics you list are made from petroleum, they don't biodegrade, they cause vast harm in the oceans as the raw pre-production plastic pellets concentrate toxins in sea water and enter the food chain, and they are a blight on the environment.

As I see it, the best solution is to find as many plastic-free alternatives as possible. I've been compiling a list, which I hope might be helpful:

http://www.fakeplasticfish.com/thelist

Beth

Allie said...

This chart is great. Certainly no plastic is good, like Beth said, but it's nice to know which ones are less harmful.

Anonymous said...

Show me a substance that is completely harmless, and I'll show you the study you missed. My father used plastic, my grandfather used plastic, and I use plastic. While there are very real environmental concerns, the health risks are perfectly acceptable. I'd sooner eat off of plastic that was heated in the microwave than drink a soda sweetened with artificial sugar substitutes.

Anonymous said...

O.K. I'm 57 and have used Tupperware for years. I just checked my 20-year-old water tumbler and it's a 5. Before I go out and buy a Clean Canteen, is there something I can do to "cleanse" all the chemicals out of my already chemically sensitive body? (I also got exposed to formaldehyde from Avon bath products in the early 1970's.)

Lucia said...

Dear Anonymous,

thank you for visiting my blog and thank you for your comment. I understand your frustration with all the chemicals around us; there are so many chemicals that we are exposed to day by day that it becomes almost impossible to avoid them all. The number 5 on your water tumbler is polypropylene which is considered safe plastic; however, I think it is safer to change it once in a while (20 years is a long time). Personally, I gradually changed all the plastic in my kitchen with glass. I still have some plastic container made from plastic #5 that I use when I go outside, barbequing. I am not aware of ways to cleanse the body, except of all those products that are marketed all over the places – but I am not sure how safe and effective they are. The problem is that there are no standardized tests to measure the chemicals in our bodies and therefore, it cannot be determined the effectiveness of those products meant to “cleanse” your body. So the only way now is to avoid them from now on. Referring to the formaldehyde - I think you should not worry about being exposed in 1970; it seems that the formaldehyde is breaking up in our body in different components and eliminated through urine. We are exposed to formaldehyde everyday – and I think you should try to clean your actual environment to make it safer and cleaner. I have posted an article about formaldehyde, if you want to look at it (http://abunchofgreens.blogspot.com
/2008/07/danger-of-formaldehyde-i-started-to_09.html). However, what I did and continue to do is to avoid products that contain chemicals, I try to leave a cleaner and healthier life. You can see this through the articles I wrote. Other two articles that may be of interest to you are:
http://abunchofgreens.blogspot.com/2008/07/13-things-i-changed-that-made-me.html

and

http://abunchofgreens.blogspot.com/2008/03/11-easy-ways-to-reduce-noxious.html
I hope this helps you a little!
Best,
Lucia

Lucia said...

Sorry, it seems that the links are not showing, so here they are!
http://abunchofgreens.blogspot.com/
2008/07/13-things-i-changed-that-made-me.html

http://abunchofgreens.blogspot.com/2008/03/
11-easy-ways-to-reduce-noxious.html

Anonymous said...

The article includes among it's recommendations: "Buy food in metal or glass containers." Can linings (which are primarily BPA) are probably most people's predominant source of BPA (a Japanese study suggests this). Avoid soda, tomato products and alcohol in cans. Not only does acid (phosphoric acid in soda-even diet) and alcohol promote BPA leaching, but, as you know, heat does so as well. Many caned products are heated after canning to sterilize them. Also, a previous post speaks of a grandfather using plastic to no ill effect. Our grandparents lived most of their lives with exposure to plastic leachates far below the level we experience today. Most food containers in their early lives did not utilize our modern plastics. For instance, milk and soda was stored in glass containers. Although our grandparents generation consumed more saturated fat in their diets, they had a lower incidence of heart disease. The first human study of the effects of BPA (reported upon just recently) point to elevated risk of heart disease, diabetes and liver problems. I would also point out that the phosphoric acid in sodas (read the ingredient label) requires calcium to be released from the bones for its metabolism. The aforementioned being said, these comment sections are a horrible source of reliable information. Unlike the people who post comments, the journalists who write these articles are held to some degree of accountability (those who write for publications of high readership-not the one you just read-are held to the highest degree of accountability). Please research for yourself any "facts" stated in these comments. -Jason

Fake Plastic Fish said...

I'm surprised I missed the part about buying food in metal containers. Jason is right. Nearly all metal cans are lined with BPA. And aluminum soda cans are also lined with plastic.

I avoid purchasing any food in cans, but I use stainless steel containers for storing food and bringing it home.

Glass is the safest material in terms of leaching. But if we can buy our food without any container at all, we save packaging waste. If you live in an area that offers food in bulk bins where you can bring your own bags or jars, that is the most eco-friendly choice of all.

Lucia said...

Jason,
thank you for visiting my blog and especially for reading it so carefully. When I said metal I had in my mind the stainless steel but then I realized that there are not so many products sold in stainless steel cans/containers. However, I corrected that part in the recommendation section. The best recommendation would be to eat always fresh but unfortunately that is not a solution for many people.
Regarding the readers' comments - of course it is always wise to check the facts and I do, but in the same time I like hearing all opinions. Some opinions contain very detailed knowledge, some are simply "yay/nay" regarding the posts and some are self-promotion...
This blog in itself is not authoritative, it's a personal opinion, as I said in another comments section.
Regards, Lucia

Lucia said...

Beth,
thank you for visiting my blog again and thank you for your advise. I agree that glass is best of all and I preferred it over the stainless steel; I use ceramic and glass for storing the food. Best,
Lucia

Anonymous said...

Ok we just bought a CHINA made plastic storage set that "says" its a 5 which is supposedly safe. If the folks making these know that our vast consumer society doesn't like certain numbers, what's to keep them from stamping numbers we like on the bottom of these things? Is there any group 'certifyiny this stuff?

Fake Plastic Fish said...

Oops. Well, it turns out #5 plastic might not be so safe either. Some scientists in Alberta, Canada this past week just discovered chemicals leaching from #5 plastic test tubes that they had been using. I wrote about it on Fake Plastic Fish:

http://www.fakeplasticfish.com/2008/11/more-sad-plastic-news-plus-year-2-week.html

The problem with classifying any plastics as safe is that it's based on too little information. Most of the plastics we think are safe simply haven't been studied in depth. Also, the number on the plastic only tells you might the primary monomer is. It doesn't tell you anything about what other additives might have been added to the plastic to change its characteristics. These are chemicals that may or may not leach into our food and water.

Lucia said...

Beth, thanks for the news; I am updating the information.

Lucia said...

Hi Anonymous,

I made a little search on the web to find out if there is any certification of these numbers; truly I could not find much specifically related to this. However, after the scandals with China products and the failure of our institutions to detect the defective products that came from China I would always be cautious. In the same time most of the things we get are made in China - so I guess we need to be careful. However, although glass containers are breakable and a little harder to use, it is always safer to use them instead of plastic.

As Beth pointed out, it seems that even #5 can pose some health risks - however the study is not conclusive and the researchers are not sure about their results either.

Still Lisa B said...

Hi Lucia,

I just came across your blog and love the little I have read! Good work with all your green information. Friends and family joke I have gone off the deep end since I had my son 9 months ago, but I like to say I've gone off the green end. I'm going to subscribe to your blog and stay updated!

Lucia said...

Lisa, thank you for visiting my blog and for reading it. It is very true that when a little one appears in our lives - it can change everything; it can change things you never thought you will do. I hope you will have a very nice and happy new year with your little one ;-)

Plastic Storage Bins said...

Great Post! Very informative and a great read. I saw this site during my browsing and think it may be a relevant resource for your readers.www.quantumstorage.com , Keep up the great posts!

sai said...

hi lucia, thanks for the info you have provided. it is judicious use thats most important, but as rightly pointed out, avoiding as much as possible is good not just to the user but also to the environment.

Lucia said...

Thank you for visiting Sai, and thank you for comment.

Anonymous said...

Lucia: i just bought two new Nalgene bottles #7 that said they were PBA free so would you then consider them a "good plastic" or are the #7 polycarbonates still "bad"

Lucia said...

Hello Anonymous,

thanks for visiting and thanks for you comment.
#7 stands for other types of plastic not only PC. Bio-based plastics are included in this category. If it says that is BPA free, I would believe that. What I observed that there are more and more companies using the label "BPA free" on bottles made from polypropylene (PP) and I think this is a little marketing, because bottles made from polypropylene do not have BPA in their composition.

However I looked on Nalgene web-site to find out the type of plastic they are using and they say it is a Eastman Tritan copolyester - which is meant to replace PC because is more tougher, more heat-resistant. It is a type of plastic that was introduced in 2007 so I am not sure how safe it will prove to be. They say (now) that is safe but this is what they said about PC years ago. But to be on safe side, why don't you purchase Sigg or Klean Kanteen, etc. they are in vogue now, and sometimes Amazon has good prices with free shipping.

I hope it helps a little.
Best,
lucia

Anonymous said...

What about Tervis Tumblers? They have a new line of Coffee Tumblers. All their cups are plastic.

www.tervis.com

Anonymous said...

How about plastic 7 as a container for skincare and cosmetics. I noticed some Alphahydroxy Acid skin cream packaged in plastic 7. Anna

Lucia said...

Hi Anonymous and thanks for you comment. I think that any container made from polycarbonate can leach BPA, so there may be an amount of BPA in the cream. Most of the cream containers I have seen are made of glass, or #5 or #2, and #4. If you really want to be safe, look for the same product in different container.

best,Lucia

MeISOE said...

I'm confused about what triggers the chemicals to leech. Is it the act of heating it (in the microwave, with food in container)? If you don't heat food in the microwave, but you store food in plastic, is that bad? What about not heating it in the microwave but washing containers in the dishwasher? Does that mean that it will leech more after washing? I guess I just don't understand. We use plastic for a lot of food storage, and I made the effort to buy BPA free bottles, cups, etc. for my kids. But the reality is, for me at least, I am not going to use glass for everything. So how can I make things safer? This is a great dialog and site. Thanks for maintaining it.

Lucia said...

Hello MeISOE,

thanks for visiting and thank you for your comment. I do not know well why some chemicals leach and how and I could not find a reasonable explanation in journals or elsewhere. The major concern was for those containing BPA. Regarding the microwave and dishwasher, I think it is safer (not necessarily safe!) to not overheat the containers - it is possible that through heating certain chemicals leach into food. On certain containers it is stated that they can be put in the dishwasher but in the upper rack. However, even it looks like a great effort replacing the plastic containers with glass it can be done. I was very reticent in the beginning too because they are heavy and not that easy to handle but eventually I got used to it and now I can say that I do not miss the plastic containers. You do not have to buy them all at once, little by little. Think at yourself - what is healthy for you. Even for my little one for whom I have to provide food at school, I put the food in a glass container. I carry it in the class every morning anyway so he does not complain ;-)

Hope this helps - although some of these "green" things look like people's paranoia sometimes - I think is actually the time who showed us that most things that we adopted just to make our lives easier - are actually not healthy. And who knows - what else is out there! When I try to change something in my house or in my life (which I have to admit is not completely green) I think first at the health of my family.

Sorry for the long comment,
Best wishes,
Lucia

Anonymous said...

NICE

Anonymous said...

What about silicon cookware? Does that fall under the same category as plastic?

Joanne said...

Time Magazine published an article about the perils of plastic. It's scary how it effects our health. More information here: http://trivanihawaii.blogspot.com/2010/04/perils-of-plastic.html

Anonymous said...

I've converted MOST of my storage to glass. When I store portions of food in single servings for my lunch and leftovers for later, I love to use 1/2 cup mason jars. These portions help me to ration the amount of food I consume at one meal or snack. Recently I discovered 1/2 cup of rice pudding (recipe with egg and raisins) makes a nice breakfast alternative! Should I be concerned about the metal or lining of the two-part lids?

Lucia said...

Dear anonymous,

thanks for your comment. You are doing great using glass whenever possible. Not all leads leach chemicals. They are worried about the BPA from lining but not all lids are lined using BPA. I use those type of jars too and I am not that concerned. Another thing the researchers found is that the BPA leaches into the food if the food has direct contact with the lining. In case of jars, that is not necessarily true. I hope this help!

Best wishes,
Lucia

plastic fanatic said...

The idea of disposable, single-use cups, plates, and cutlery has been denounced by environmentalists and green enthusiasts for years. As the green movement becomes more than a passing trend and increases in prevalence throughout our daily lives, many manufacturers of clear plastic tableware are offering new products and features that make it better for the environment. In addition, taking simple steps to reuse and recycle can yield greener results while saving you money.

Bob D said...

PVC plastic is safe and has never been associated with bad health effects like cancer. The starting material, vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) does cause a rare form of liver cancer (angiosarcoma) on long term repeated (chronic) exposure. Ever since this discovery, the PVC plastic powder and pellets, from which finished articles like water bottles, house siding and credit cards, etc. can be fabricated, is processed to remove every last trace of VCM. However, burning PVC can give off hydrogen chloride gas, which when combined with moisture produces hydrlchloric acid. Recycle!

Anonymous said...

Dear Bob D,

I did a quick search on the net and found a slew of articles.

You might technically be correct in relation to the pure theoretic properties of PVC, however in teh real world, this is not the case.

Here is some interesting reading from one of your American sites.

http://www.besafenet.com/pvc/The_Poison_Plastic.html

All the best, Robert

http://abunchofgreens.blogspot.com said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lucia said...

Hello Robert,

thank you so much for the research! I cannot agree more!

best,
Lucia

kelly @kellynaturally said...

Thank you for this list! It's easy to read & as its been said... no plastics are safe, some of us DO own & use plastics, so its good to know which are safER.

Anonymous said...

thank you for the list. I no longer buy any drinks in plastic containers except for milk which does not have a reasonable alternative.
I buy drinks in glass bottles, wash and reuse them when traveling.
I'd love to see some writings on fake sugars, particularly High Fructose Corn-syrup. IMHO a huge reason for the obesity and diabetes epidemics, now seemingly worldwide.
I am also wondering if the excessive use of plastic for children, (bottles, dishes, cups) may be contributing to ADHD and other Neurological problems

Anonymous said...

Is there a way to find out if organic products in cans could be lined with plastic as well. I can find no information.
Thanks for a great blog