Confused about plastics?
So was I, until I found the Smart Plastics Guide, courtesy of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
Plastics are widely used to store and package foods and beverages. Uses include disposable and reusable containers, plastic wraps, cutlery, water bottles and baby bottles. Plastic is convenient, lightweight, unbreakable and relatively inexpensive. However, there are both environmental and health risks from the widespread use of plastics.
Environmental problems: Most plastics are made from petroleum, a non-renewable and mostly imported resource. Plastic packaging also creates unnecessary waste. Although plastic is lightweight, it is bulky, so it takes up a large volume of landfill space.
Health risks: Use of plastics in cooking and food storage can carry health risks, especially when hormone-disrupting chemicals from some plastics leach into foods and beverages. Plastic manufacturing and incineration creates air and water pollution and exposes workers to toxic chemicals.
What plastic labels mean
Not all containers are labeled and a recycling symbol on a product doesn’t mean it’s recyclable. Commonly, only #1 and #2 with narrow necks are recyclable, but some communities recycle other plastics with narrow necks. Check with your local municipality or waste disposal company.
- PETE #1: Polyethylene terephthalate ethylene, used for soft drink, juice, water, detergent, cleaner and peanut butter containers.
- HDPE #2: High density polyethylene, used in opaque plastic milk and water jugs, bleach, detergent and shampoo bottles and some plastic bags.
- PVC or V #3: Polyvinyl chloride, used for cling wrap, some plastic squeeze bottles, cooking oil and peanut butter jars, detergent and window cleaner bottles.
- LDPE #4: Low density polyethylene, used in grocery store bags, most plastic wraps and some bottles.
- PP #5: Polypropylene, used in most Rubbermaid, deli soup, syrup and yogurt containers, straws and other clouded plastic containers, including baby bottles.
- PS #6: Polystyrene, used in Styrofoam food trays, egg cartons, disposable cups and bowls, carryout containers and opaque plastic cutlery.
- Other #7: 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.
Tips for safer, more sustainable food use of plastics
1. Avoid using plastic containers in the microwave.
2. Beware of cling wraps especially for microwave use.
3. Use alternatives to plastic packaging whenever possible. Use refillable containers at your local food cooperative. Bring your own take-home containers to restaurants. Bring reusable bags or cardboard boxes to the grocery store.
4. Avoid plastic bottled water unless you’re traveling or live in an area where the quality of water is questionable.
5. If you do use plastic water bottles, take precautions. If you use a polycarbonate water bottle, to reduce leaching of BPA, do not use for warm or hot liquids and discard old or scratched bottles. Water bottles from #1 or #2 plastics are recommended for single use only.
What else can I do?
By choosing safer plastics and limiting plastic waste, you can support a healthier, cleaner environment and protect you and your family from unnecessary chemical exposures. You can also support companies and public policies that promote safer use of plastics. For example:
• Contact baby bottle manufacturers and urge them to replace polycarbonate in baby bottles with safer alternatives
• Avoid buying products made of PVC, used in plastic containers (#3), building materials, toys and other consumer products
• Buy bio-based plastic alternatives if available
Also, read: These 5 countries are responsible for up to 60 percent of the plastic in the ocean