October 24th, 2010

Plastics 101- Get to Know Your Plastic

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Photo used under Creative Commons from Horia Varlan

In today’s world life without plastic is hard to imagine. Plastic is everywhere-packaging, toys, bottles and personal care products. There has been buzz for many years about the safety of plastic. In a nutshell, plastic is generally toxic to produce, toxic to use, and toxic to dispose of (more to come on this in another post).

The amount of information available on plastics is daunting and the thought of eliminating plastic from our lives can be overwhelming. Beth Terry at Fake Plastic Fish has has documented her mission to live with as little unnecessary plastic as possible.

Before committing to living without plastic, the first step in Plastics 101 is getting to know our plastics.

Most common plastics have a three arrow triangular symbol with the numbers 1-7 (often found on the bottom of the product). Those numbers tell which containers are accepted by recyclers. They also give us the class of plastic and its chemical characteristics.

HERE ARE PLASTICS IN A NUTSHELL:

Number 1 Plastics PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate)-DON’T USE

  • WHERE FOUND:  clear plastic containers for bottled water, soda, sports drinks, cosmetics, shampoos and condiments such as vinegar and salad dressing.
  • RISKS: PET bottles can produce endocrine disruptors if a product is stored long-term in a PET container or exposed to high heat.
  • This plastic is picked up by most curbside recycling programs.

Number 2 Plastics-HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)-MINIMAL KNOWN RISK

  • WHERE FOUND:  milk jugs, water, and juice bottles, bleach, detergent and household cleaners, yogurt and margarine tubs, cereal box liners, and grocery, trash, and retail and motor oil bottles.
  • RISKS: Little known risk-not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones.
  • This plastic is picked up by most curbside recycling programs.

Number 3 Plastics-Polyvinyl chloride aka vinyl (V or PVC)-DON’T USE

  • WHERE FOUND: shower curtains, plastic cling wrap, teething rings, and toys, window cleaner and detergent bottles, cooking oil bottles.
  • RISKS: PVC contains chlorine, so when produced it can release dioxins.  PVC can leach lead and phthalates among other things. When burned, PVC releases toxins.
  • This type of plastic  is rarely accepted by recycling programs.

Number 4 Plastics-LDPE (low density polyethylene)-LOW RISK

  • WHERE FOUND: produce bags, dry cleaning bags, food storage containers, squeezable bottles, frozen food, clothing; furniture, carpet.
  • RISKS: No confirmed leaching of chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones.
  • This plastic is not often accepted by curbside recycling programs.

Number 5 Plastics-PP (polypropylene) –NOT HIGH RISK

  • WHERE FOUND: bottle caps, straws, some yogurt containers, ketchup bottles, margarine tubs.
  • RISKS: Emits toxins during production. No confirmed leaching of chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones.
  • This plastic is increasingly being accepted by curbside recycling programs.

Number 6 Plastic PS (Polystyrene, aka Styrofoam)-DON’T USE

  • WHERE FOUND: take-out containers, disposable plates and cups, foam food containers, meat trays, egg cartons, aspirin bottles, compact disc cases.
  • RISKS: Evidence suggests polystyrene can leach potential toxins into foods.
  • Most recycling programs will not accept #6 plastic.

Number 7 Plastic Catch all for any other plastic (usually polycarbonate)-DON’T USE

  • WHERE FOUND: baby bottles, microwave ovenware, eating utensils, plastic coating for metal cans. New plant-based, biodegradable plastics like PLA (Polylactic Acid) also fall into the #7 category.
  • RISKS:  Polycarbonate plastic can leach harmful Bisphenol A (BPA).
  • Most curbside recycling programs will not accept this type of plastic.

Now that you have this guide, take the time to look at the bottom of your plastic containers and get to know your plastics.

Sources:

PET (#1) Plastic May Leach Endocrine Disruptors

Step 5: Be Wise With Plastics

What Do Recycling Symbols on Plastics Mean?

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12 Responses to “Plastics 101- Get to Know Your Plastic”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Groovy Green Livin, Eric Smith. Eric Smith said: Plastics 101- Get to Know Your Plastic | Groovy Green Livin http://bit.ly/92FetY [...]

  2. Thank you for this Lori. I’ve already “de-plastic-ed” my home once, but it has crept back in slowly. I think I’ve just been inspired for a second attempt. I didn’t realize that food wrap caused any risks. I don’t know why I didn’t look into this one. Yikes.

  3. Hi Andrea-I think it’s truly challenging to keep all plastic out of your home. It does have a way of creeping back in. I’m always wary of any plastics that are touching my food. That’s usually at the top of my list when it comes to plastic avoidance. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. [...] stale. Unfortunately, our convenient, handy plastic wrap is made from a form of plastic called low-density polyethylene (LDPE). After we use plastic wrap it ends up in our overflowing landfills and takes forever to [...]

  5. This is definitely one of the better articles I’ve read about plastics. I will share this with my friends and family. Thank you for this informative post.
    Jennifer recently posted..Thankful Thursday – Nov 1, 2012My Profile

  6. [...] PET (#1) Plastic May Leach Endocrine Disruptors [...]

  7. [...] PET (#1) Plastic May Leach Endocrine Disruptors [...]

  8. [...] PET (#1) Plastic May Leach Endocrine Disruptors [...]

  9. [...] Popsicle molds are made out of plastic or silicone and I really don’t want plastic touching anything I’m going to eat. Thanks to a review by my friend Beth over at My Plastic Free Life I found a Stainless Steel [...]

  10. [...] top piece of the blender is made from plastic. The plastic is BPA-free, but many of you know that I’m not a fan of plastic especially when it comes in contact with food. I did a little research and discovered that [...]

  11. […] food storage. I’m choosing not to use the plastic container – I do my best to make sure plastic doesn’t come in contact with food (even BPA free plastic). We have the orange lunch bag and […]

  12. […] Plastic wrap has been around for generations working hard to preserve leftovers and keep food from becoming stale. It’s a staple in many households and used on a daily basis. Unfortunately, our convenient, handy plastic wrap has a dirty little secret: it’s made from a form of plastic called low-density polyethylene (LDPE). […]

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About Lori

I’m Lori Popkewitz Alper, a recovering attorney, mom of three and the Founder of Groovy Green Livin. I hope you'll join me as I embark on a journey to live a healthy life. Along the way I might make a few pit stops to fight for issues that affect the health and safety of our families. Come along with me as I work hard to make the world a little safer for each of us. Together we'll discover that simple, small changes can lead to a healthier lifestyle and a greener planet.

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