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Our daily lives are filled with plastic, from tupperware to water bottles. Some plastic containers are safe for human consumption while others are potentially hazardous to your health.
Take a look around your kitchen. Are you sure your plastic is safe and non-toxic? To avoid risking your health, make sure to be familiar with the different types of plastic on the market today.
A simple glance, usually at the bottom of the container, is all you need to identify the material. Plastic is marked with a number, 1 through 7, and/or a set of letters that label its chemical composition. Like this:
Take a look below to find out what each one means.
Type 1: PETE or PET
PET plastic is clear, 100% recyclable, and most commonly used for drinks, mouthwash, and microwavable meal trays. In general, this plastic is considered safe for food and drink storage, although consumers should take some precautions.
It should be stored at room temperature. High temperatures can increase the levels of the chemical antimony, which is a potentially carcinogenic material. The rule of thumb with this plastic is to only use it once, as reuse can lead to bacterial build-up.
Type 2: HDPE or HDP
HDPE plastic is slightly harder than PET and has a very high strength-to-density ratio. Type 2 plastic is not transparent and has dye added for marketing purposes, which means it can come in many different colors. It is used to manufacture detergent bottles, milk jugs, and freezer bags. So far, experts have not found toxic chemicals in its composition. HDPE is not likely to leach into liquids, making it safe for food and drink storage.
Type 3: PVC or 3V
PVC plastic is potentially harmful to human health. It is used to make plastic cling wrap as well as some toys for children and pets. Type 3 plastic contains phthalates that may be related to reproductive complications in humans and animals due to chemicals that can affect hormonal production. These chemicals can easily leach into lipid-containing substances and have also been linked to asthma in children.
Type 4: LDPE
LDPE plastic is flexible and solvent-resistant. Often used in frozen food, bread, and garbage bags as well as squeezable condiment bottles, it is not known to leach chemicals into food. It can also be found in the lining of paper milk cartons. Its production is considered hazardous but its use is considered low hazard. Many people feel more comfortable avoiding it.
Type 5: PP
PP plastic is harder than other plastics and semi-transparent. Common uses for this plastic include yogurt bottles, medicine containers, and margarine and butter tubs. This plastic can be placed in the microwave and reach high temperatures without melting. This means PP plastic containers do not risk leaching into their contents and are therefore safe for storing foods and drinks for human consumption.
Type 6: PS
Polystyrene, or PS, plastic is used in foam insulation, egg cartons, styrofoam drinking cups, and take-out containers.
Avoid using styrofoam materials for food and drink. This plastic is not safe when heated and does leach carcinogenic chemicals into food. Specifically, styrene can contaminate the contents. Styrene has been linked to an increased risk of lymphoma and leukemia. It has also been linked to lung tumors in lab animals. Even hot water and coffee served in styrofoam cups has been found to have increased levels of styrene. This plastic should not be utilized for long-term storage.
Type 7: PC or Non-Labeled
PC, Type 7, or any non-labeled plastic should be avoided whenever possible. This category is used to describe packages made of chemicals and resins that are not found in the previous six types of plastic. It is a hard, nearly unbreakable plastic. Polycarbonates contain bisphenol A (BPA) which leaches into container contents. Despite its dangers, it is often used for sports bottles, baby bottles, and water cooler bottles.
Before purchasing any plastics, try to read the numbers and/or letters stamped on the bottom of the container. Try to avoid numbers 3, 6, and 7. Be careful with all plastic containers and don’t let them overheat or store food for too long. Glass containers are preferable.
Because you use it to prepare your food, selecting non-toxic cookware is really important. But, like in other categories, all the jargon and marketing-speak can make it hard to figure out what is and isn’t safe. We put together this non-toxic cookware guide with some of our current favorites to help you get cooking faster – and safer!
Choosing non-toxic cookware: what to avoid
1. Nonstick Coatings
Many nonstick surfaces, like Teflon, are treated with perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA) which is a Perfluorinated Chemical, or PFC. PFCs are a lipophobic byproduct, which means they repel and resist the absorption of oil, like in a candy bar wrapper or the inside of a microwave popcorn bag (a common source of PFOA in our bodies). These compounds never break down, so when we absorb them, we’re stuck with them. They’re linked to cancer and liver damage, and they’ve even been found in 99% of 300 babies born at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2004, altering the infants’ hormone levels.
Aluminum is a soft, thin metal and, when heated, leaches into our food. It’s been connected with brain disorders and behavior abnormalities and is considered toxic, so it’s best to use aluminum with caution. Some experts say that using anodized aluminum solves this problem, but we think if you have the choice, it’s best to err on the side of avoiding aluminum altogether.
3. Plastic Utensils and Storage Containers
Luckily, this is an easy one, as there are tons of great options on the market today. Choose chemical free cookware materials like wood, bamboo, silicone or stainless steel and storage containers made of silicone or glass. As always, we recommend avoiding plastic as heat can cause the plastic to melt, flake and break down over time, and leach chemicals into our food.
Three non-toxic cookware products we’re loving right now
Where traditional non-stick cookware brands use a coating that’s made of harmful chemicals, SCANPAN’s unique bonding process and titanium ceramic surface create a strong, non-stick surface without the use of materials that can leach toxins into your food. SCANPAN is outspoken about their commitment to safety, which is another reason we like this line of non-toxic cookware.
Nobody’s Perfect: SCANPAN, like most companies, uses different materials across their lines, so make sure you’re checking out the details on the products to ensure you’re going with the safest options available. Also, because high heat makes it more likely that your cooking material will release chemicals, always let your cookware come to temperature over moderate heat. It might take another minute or two, but it’s safer and better for the lifespan of your cookware!
Staub’s heavy duty cast iron non-toxic cookware is free of lead, cadmium & PFOAs. These incredible cookware pieces don’t need to be seasoned before use, and they are naturally pretty stick-resistant (no, really! You can even cook eggs in cast iron!) and will last a lifetime.
Nobody’s perfect: Staub cookware is an investment (like a lot of quality, non-toxic options tend to be!). You can check out some other ceramic and enamel brands here and here – just make sure you’re doing your research and avoiding toxins like lead, which are used for color uniformity.
We can’t stop singing the praises of these fantastic, non-toxic food storage bags (which is just one of the zillion uses for them) which are a safer and more sustainable alternative to plastic! Made from platinum-grade, non-toxic silicone, they’re your new best friend not just for storing leftovers, but for marinating & defrosting. After they’re done helping in the kitchen, they live a second life as recycled playground pebbles. How cute is that?
Nobody’s Perfect: Stasher Bags uses the highest quality silicone, which means it does not contain potentially toxic fillers. Unfortunately, not all cookware manufacturers are as vigilant, so give your silicone products this simple pinch test and toss any that don’t pass, as they could leach toxic fillers into your food as you cook at high temperatures or the silicone surface breaks down over time. We think overall it’s best to avoid heating silicone if you can (same goes for plastic!).
We’re here to help you clean up after your non-toxic cookware adventures with Force of Nature, which is also free from toxic chemicals . It starts with just salt, water & vinegar, is just as effective as bleach but kid-friendly. It gently cleans virtually any surface in your home without toxic residues or fumes.
An important consideration for container gardening is knowing which plant pots and containers are non-toxic and food safe. Not all plastics are rated safe for food. This guide will present you some safe selections to use for your garden.
If you have looked at the pros and cons of plastic containers and have decided to go with them, it only makes sense to make sure that you select containers that are safe.
Unfortunately, and unlike food ingredients that must be printed on the label, plastic containers do not have to have a list of their ingredients. So how do you know when it container is safe and non-toxic?
Perhaps the safest and most current conservative approach is to look for products that have been rated “food safe”. If the ingredients of the plastics are not listed how do we know whether a product is food safe?
We have the recycling industry to thank for help in that area. With the move to recycled plastics, they are generally marked now on the bottom with a “resin identification code”. This is a number within a triangle that shows workers at the recycling plant what the court ingredients are.
Plant pots from the nursery can be made with HDPE (2) and PP (5) .
You Can Use These – non-toxic food safe plastic containers will be marked numbers 1, 2, 4, 5 .
Don’t Use T hese: containers marked numbers 3, 6, 7.
- “1” signifies polyethylene terephthalate (PET) (beverage bottles, cups, other packaging, etc.)
- “2” signifies high-density polyethylene (HDPE) (bottles, cups, milk jugs, 5 gallon buckets.)
- “3” signifies polyvinyl chloride (PVC) (pipes, siding, flooring, etc.)
- “4” signifies low-density polyethylene (LDPE) (plastic bags, six-pack rings, tubing, etc.)
- “5” signifies polypropylene (PP) (auto parts, industrial fibres, food containers, etc.)
- “6” signifies polystyrene (PS) (plastic utensils, Styrofoam, cafeteria trays, etc.)
- “7” signifies other plastics, such as acrylic, nylon, polycarbonate and polylactic acid (PLA).
In all fairness, I must reveal I am not a plastics engineer. But, I have done a lot of research for degrees, papers, and articles. I looked for authoritative sources in order to substantiate the information I’ve giving you. Resources such as United States Department of Agriculture USDA, National Geographic’s “Smart Plastics Guide”, Wikipedia and others.
Take a look at this four minute video showing examples of safe plastics
- Heating Foods in Plastic & BPA
- What Are the Dangers of Plastic Bags for Food Storage?
- Dimethicone Hazards
- Plastic Recycling Levels
- What Information on a Food Label Is Mandatory?
Department store houseware shelves display a wide variety of food storage containers, some of which may not be safe to use. Of prime concern are chemicals that can leach from the plastic into the food during storage or when microwaving or reheating. The clue to which containers are safe can be found on the bottom in the form of a code number located inside the triangle-shaped recyclable symbol.
Cracking the Code
The coding system used on food containers corresponds with the type of plastic they’re made of. Not all plastics are food-safe. Chemicals used in the manufacture of certain plastics include dioxins, adipates, and phthalates, all known carcinogens. Bisphenol-A, a hormonal disruptor, is found in some plastics and can pass to the food, especially when it is reheated or cooked in the container. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council website, you should choose plastic food containers that display any of the following codes: 1 (PET), 2 (HDPE), 4 (LDPE), or 5 (PP), as none of them leach any chemicals they are made of into food.
What to Avoid
Polycarbonate plastics marked 7 (PC) or 7 (“other”) typically contain bisphenol-A. Polystyrene coded as 6PS also contains toxic chemicals, and the styrene itself is listed as a human carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. Some clear plastic food containers are made of PVC plastic and bear the code 3 (PVC). PVC releases dioxins when it’s manufactured and when it’s heated. With more manufacturers now producing safer food storage containers, one way to reduce the risk of exposure is to look for labels that read “BPA-free,” as they do not contain any bisphenol-A.
Top 10 Tips for Choosing Safer Alternatives
Plastics are ubiquitous, cheap and convenient, but come with a hidden cost: they leach chemicals that contaminate our food and drink, and they create enduring pollution. The best thing to do is minimize your use of plastic, especially in the kitchen. Where you can’t avoid plastics, get to know how to choose and use safer ones with these essential tips:
1. Use alternatives to plastic for food and drink storage.
The safest container materials include glass (ex. Pyrex), stainless steel, and lead-free ceramic. These are better choices than even the safer plastics, which contain chemical additives that may not have been well evaluated for safety.
2. Buy food without plastic packaging when possible, and choose fresh, unprocessed foods.
Shop the farmers market, produce aisle, and bulk bins for whole foods with less packaging. Processed foods have more opportunity for contamination with chemicals from plastics.
4. Take special care with plastics in the kitchen.
Heat accelerates leaching, so avoid microwaving all plastic (even if labeled “microwave safe”) and cool any hot foods before storing in plastic. Fatty or acidic foods more readily absorb migrating chemicals, so avoid storing them in plastic. Hand-wash plastics to slow wear and tear, and when they are worn and scratched, recycle.
5. When you do use plastics, look for these resin codes which are considered safer: #2 HDPE, #4 LDPE, and #5 PP.
- Examples of #2 HDPE (high density polyethylene) include: bottled milk, water and juice, yogurt cups, and some plastic bags.
- Examples of #4 LDPE (low density polyethylene): bags for bread, frozen foods and fresh produce, PVC-free consumer cling wraps, re-sealable zipper bags and some bottles.
- Examples of #5 PP (polypropylene): food storage containers, deli soup, yogurt containers, straws and other clouded plastic containers, including baby bottles.
6. Go PVC-free.
PVC (polyvinyl chloride, #3), commonly called vinyl, is a soft, flexible plastic found in building materials and consumer products like shower curtains, toys, and packaging. PVC typically contains hazardous additives such as phthalates, and releases dangerous chemicals throughout its lifespan. You can find safer alternatives to PVC in virtually all cases.
7. Steer clear of polycarbonate (PC #7) to avoid bisphenol-A (BPA).
Polycarbonate is a clear hard plastic used in some reusable water bottles, baby bottles, commercial water jugs, and kitchen appliances like automatic coffee makers and food processors. Instead, choose glass or unlined stainless steel for drink containers. Look for appliances that don’t have plastic in food contact areas, such as French press coffee makers, stainless steel stick blenders or glass jar blenders.
8. Avoid products made from polystyrene (PS #6).
Found in styrofoam food trays, disposable cups and bowls, carry-out containers, and opaque plastic cutlery, polystyrene can leach styrene, a neurotoxin and possible carcinogen.
9. Choose plastic-free toys when possible, especially for young children who frequently put them in their mouths.
Look for toys made of unpainted wood, cloth dolls, plush toys, and games or puzzles made of paper. Offer a frozen washcloth instead of a plastic teether. Don’t use plastic electronics like cell phones or remote controls as toys, because they may contain harmful additives such as flame retardants.
10. Reduce before recycle: kick the single-use, disposable plastic habits like bottled water, plastic shopping bags, and excess packaging.
Most plastic ends up in the garbage, polluting on land, and accumulating in oceans where it is especially harmful to sea life. Though we think of plastic as easily recyclable, the overall plastics recycling rate in the US was only 8 percent in 2010. Take steps to reduce your plastic consumption with ideas from the Plastic-free Living Guide, get creative with reusing materials, and recycle properly. Not all plastics can be recycled in curbside programs so get the facts on your area at Earth911.
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Fruitful reading. It will Helps me to reduce use of non-biodegrade element. Safe environment healthy living.
BPA-free and, to a lesser degree, Phthalate-free are common buzzwords when talking about water bottles, shaker cups, and food storage containers. But exactly what is BPA, what are phthalates, and why is it important to choose products made from phthalate- and BPA-free plastic? And with plastics in use nearly everywhere, how is it even possible to differentiate and find these phthalate- and BPA-free products?
Let’s start with a primer on these chemicals, how exposure occurs, and the health risks they represent. Armed with that knowledge, we’ll help you navigate the wide world of plastics to identify phthalate- and BPA-free water bottles, shaker cups, and food containers. We’ll also provide helpful tips to otherwise limit your risk of exposure to these chemicals in your day-to-day life.
What is BPA?
BPA is a chemical used to make lightweight, hard plastics such as clear (or clear tinted) water bottles and food storage containers. It is also found in epoxy resins used to line metal food cans and bottle tops. BPA can leach into food and beverages from these containers, especially if the containers are scratched or if the food or liquids are hot (thus, the recommendation to avoid microwaving foods in plastic containers). BPA exposure can also occur through dust, air, and water. BPA use is extremely widespread, and most of us have some level of BPA in our bodies. And while studies are ongoing as to the health risks posed by BPA exposure, the chemical is believed to have potential negative effects on the brain, behavior, and human development. Infants and children are thought to be at greatest risk from BPA exposure, and in 2012 the FDA banned the use of BPA in sippy cups and baby bottles (many baby bottle manufacturers had previously opted out of using BPA, but now this is mandated).
What are Phthalates?
Unlike BPA, phthalates (also known as plasticizers) are used in soft plastics, such as building materials and medical devices, to increase flexibility. This family of chemicals is also used in numerous everyday products, such as cosmetics, personal care products, detergents, food packaging, and plastic wrap. Humans can be exposed to phthalates through air, water, or food, and through using products that contain them. While research on phthalate exposure is also ongoing, evidence suggests that some of these chemicals may be carcinogens or adversely affect the human reproductive system.
So, you understand the basics of BPA and Phthalates. Now what can you do to avoid them or limit your exposure?
Choose BlenderBottle® Brand Shaker Cups and Storage Containers.
All BlenderBottle® brand products are (and always have been) BPA and Phthalate free. Our products are also free of Bisphenol S (BPS), a BPA substitute that may cause breast cancer cells to multiply. Additionally, and in compliance with industry standards, all our products are free from other harmful chemicals including lead and cadmium. We ensure that each material in all of our products undergo strict testing by an independent, third party company. Each material meets—and often exceeds—FDA, EU, and California Proposition 65 standards.
You can rest assured that all plastics used in BlenderBottle® brand shaker cups—including our bottle lids—are free of potentially harmful BPA, phthalates, and other chemicals that pose health risks to children and adults. You can also opt to use the BlenderBottle® SportMixer® in stainless steel, or the all-new BlenderBottle® Radian™, which is offered in both insulated stainless steel and glass.
Here are some additional tips to help limit the chemical exposure in your daily life and ensure that you’re using only phthalate- and BPA-free water bottles, food containers, and baby products.
Check Your Plastics.
- Most plastic containers have recycle codes on the bottom.
- The recycling code “3” is used for Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) plastic, which contains phthalates; likewise, this category of plastics should be avoided.
- If a container does not have a recycling number on the bottom, it’s going to be tough to know whether it’s safe. Reach out to the manufacturer or, if you’re particularly nervous, just toss it out.
- Scratched or damaged plastic containers pose a higher risk of leaching toxins into your food. As a general rule, it’s good practice to toss out any plastics showing signs of wear and tear.
Do Not Microwave Polycarbonate Plastic Food Containers.
BPA is more likely to leach into food when the food is hot or boiling—for example, when heated in the microwave. Additionally, while polycarbonate is durable, over time it may break down from overuse at high temperatures, making it more likely to leach toxins into your food. Use guaranteed BPA-free containers such as microwave-safe glass or porcelain instead.
Limit Your Use of Canned Foods.
Epoxy resins used to line metal food cans often contain BPA. The occasional use of BPA-lined food cans is most likely OK, but if your go-to lunch is a can of soup, you may want to rethink your meal plan. Many companies are moving toward using cans with BPA-free liners, however the cans are not always labeled accordingly. Our advice? Research your favorite brands and choose wisely.
Use Only BPA-Free Baby Bottles.
Following the FDA mandate, most baby bottles and sippy cups are now BPA-free. But if a bottle is not clearly marked, it may be suspect. When in doubt, toss it out!
There’s a lot of information to navigate when choosing plastic bottles and food containers. We hope we’ve helped clarify the issues surrounding BPA and phthalates, and given you the assurance you need in the strict safety standards behind all BlenderBottle® brand products.
What’s your favorite phthalate- and BPA-free BlenderBottle® shaker cup—and why? Let us know in the comments below.
Maybe you’ve mastered meal prep Mondays, and perhaps you even really look forward to eating leftovers. Good on you! This is key when you’re trying to eat healthy and make a habit of it.
The next step would be storage. Not only does proper storage in the fridge keep your food from spoiling too soon, but it’s a factor in health.
Many tupperware and food storage containers have some sneaky qualities to them that can take away from our healthy meals. If you’re going to put the work into batch cooking and packing away your bounty all tidy and organized, you may as well do yourself justice and invest in some proper food storage containers.
Here, we’ll discuss what makes a healthy, non-toxic choice and recommend some of our favorite brands for all your tupperware needs.
Speaking of meal prep, check these out:
The problem with plastic
If we can encourage one positive change in your food storage mechanisms, let it be that switching from plastic to glass is a big service to your body and your food. Let’s chat about why.
- Heat. Heat and plastic do not mix. It’s good to let your food cool before storing it in general, but it’s especially important with plastic. Plus, glass storage containers can often be easily transferred to the oven or microwave without presenting an issue. Beyond safety, this makes heating up leftovers really easy.
- Chemical leaching. Along with heat which can increase the chemical output, chemical leaching is bound to happen with plastic tupperware. You can read more about the specifics in the next section, but most plastic containers will leach over time with repeated use. Naturally, we want tupperware that can withstand the test of time. Speaking of time…
- Safe plastic is relatively new. Tupperware claims to have been producing BPA-free products since 2016 – not so long ago! If you’ve got some ancient tupperware sitting around, it’s doing you more harm than it is good. Besides, it’ll be nice to do some revamping in your kitchen stock.
BPA-free: what does it mean?
While this label is promising, and you’re going to come across it over and over while sourcing new kitchen storage containers, it’s good to get some clarifiers for what labels truly mean something.
The same goes for sourcing meat, in particular. You’ll see labels that seem favorable, but what is the difference between free-range and pasture-raised? It’s good to know what these regulations entail, and the dirty details.
BPA, otherwise known as bisphenol-A mimics estrogens, thus being thought to cause some serious health issues over time. With our constant exposure to BPA from plastic tupperware, water bottles and aluminium cans, it really does add up.
Unfortunately, many BPA-free labels are misleading. In some research, even products with the label contained estrogen-like properties. As we mention above, it’s important to remember that BPA-free can be a good indicator of a safe product, but it can’t always be trusted to stay that way with extended use of the product.
The risks of BPA
Some risks include asthma, cancer, infertility and genital deformity – yikes! To elaborate on the latter, its sexual side effects are undesirable to say the least – especially considering things like egg and sperm count can be reduced even with minuscule amounts of BPA in the body over time.
It’s best not to take your chances. Considering how much our hormones determine our overall health and wellbeing, exposure to synthetic estrogens is best eliminated as thoroughly as possible.
This study links BPA to depression in children, even with BPA exposure in the womb, proving that its effects can be detrimental before birth. If that doesn’t change you mind, we don’t know what will.
Even more convincing is the idea that the way the ill effects of BPA “reprogram” our cells can impact our children and our grandchildren. The consequences can be passed on from generation to generation, so not only will replacing your plastic do you a favor, but it will keep your family strong for years to come.
Other consequences of its hormonal disruption within the endocrine system include early puberty in growing children, hyperactivity (particularly in young people), increased risk of obesity and a compromised immune system.
Safe bets: our product recommendations
Now that we’ve scared you out of plastic containers, let’s talk about how you can upgrade. These are investments, and they will serve you time and time again. Ideally, your food storage solution is also a ‘buy it for life’ deal.
We’re talking sturdy, unbreakable, truly BPA-free options that can take a little heat.
This is the number one storage solution. You can opt for a 3-piece set in a variety of sizes (by ounce capacity) or you can choose a variety pack with 9 containers if you have a lot of gear to replace.
They’re airtight and leakproof, contain zero BPA, and they will easily transfer over to the oven or the microwave. They’re also dishwasher-safe, so clean-up is super simple.
It’s made of soda ash and limestone, which are great ingredients to look for when sourcing safe tupperaware. Finally, Glasslock is stain and odor-proof which gives it a good upperhand on plastics which retain strong food scents and color.
These are FDA-approved safe, which is a good indicator of a reliable choice; many brand’s packaging are not! Bonus: it can withstand a pretty far drop, so clumsy chefs – these are safe in your hands.
ECOlunchbox bento box
If you’re packing lunch, this bento box can’t be beat. It’s tidily organized in a stacking system that manages to hold about 1.5 cups of food! It allows equal space for all your dishes, so you can mix and match leftovers with ease.
They’re reminiscent of ‘tiffins’ in India, where they’ve been used for a long time. Catching up with the times is in style with this stainless steel lunchbox; it’s non-toxic and plastic-free.
Stainless is always a good choice for cookware and food storage devices. Purchase the ECOlunchbox Trio Bento Lunchbox.
We hope you learnt something new about safer, healthier food storage devices. If you have a favorite brand or tupperware, share your recommendations with us below in the comments!
Music, mountains, dogs, travel, food and friends.
Seems we’re surrounded by plastics everywhere, doesn’t it? From plastic cups to baby utensils to containers for personal care products, most of us would be hard pressed to get plastic completely out of our lives.
Fortunately, we don’t have to. The truth is that according to scientific research, some plastics are safer than others. After doing some research, here’s what I found.
What Are the Different Types of Plastics?
Here they are, with their recycling numbers-you’ll find these usually on the bottom of the cup, bottle, or other container.
PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate): Used to make bottles for water, sports drinks, ketchup, personal care products and mouthwash; as well as jars to hold peanut butter and jelly.
Safety-Good: Not known to leach any harmful chemicals. Considered safe, but it is best to avoid heating and freezing. Some studies show that temperature changes may cause these plastics to leach chemicals into foods and beverages.
Recycle #1: Easy to recycle. Picked up through most curbside recycling programs.
HDPE (high density polyethylene): Used to make bottles for milk, water, juice, bleach, detergent, and shampoo, as well as tubs for yogurt and margarine, grocery and trash bags, and cereal box liners.
Safety-Good: Not known to leach any harmful chemicals.
Recycle #2: Picked up through most curbside recycling programs, though some allow only those containers with necks.
PVC (polyvinyl chloride; also V): Used to make plastic wraps for meats and cheeses; also used to create medical equipment, siding, and piping.
Safety-Bad: Not recommended. Traces of plasticizer chemicals can leach out when PVC contacts foods. Contains DEHP, a suspected human carcinogen.
Recyling #3: Rarely recycled. Accepted by some plastic lumber makers.
LDPE (low density polyethylene): Used to make bags for bread and frozen food; also to make dry cleaning and shopping bags.
Safety-Okay: Not known to leach any harmful chemicals.
Recycling #4: Not often accepted by curbside programs, but grocery stores may accept shopping bags.
PP (polypropylene): Used to make bottles for ketchup, yogurt, syrup, and margarine; also for straws and medicine bottles.
Safety-Okay: Not considered as safe as #2, but not known to leach any harmful chemical toxins.
Recycling #5: Recycled only through some curbside programs. Becoming more accepted in recycling programs.
PS (polystyrene): Used to create foam insulation and Styrofoam cups and carry-out containers; also used in egg cartons and compact disc cases.
Safety-Bad: Polyestrene can leach toxins into foods. Styrene recently added to the government’s list of compounds anticipated to cause cancer.
Recycling #6: Not usually recycled, but some programs will accept.
Other (typically polycarbonate and miscellaneous): Used to make baby bottles and eating utensils; also for sunglasses, DVDs, iPod and computer cases.
Safety-Usually Bad: Several plastic resins exist in this category, but the main one-polycarbonate-has shown in studies to leach potential hormone disruptors into food. This is the plastic that’s made with biphenyl-A (BPA) that has the FDA concerned.
Recycle #7: Not typically recycled, though some programs may accept.
Which plastics are safe for use?
Those plastics considered safe according to current scientific research include:
- #1 PET
- #2 HDPE
- #4 LDPE
- #5 PP
Which ones may potentially leach BPA?
Remember, however, that not all plastics with the #7 are polycarbonate. Some plastics actually made from plants are in this category. But to be safe, avoid #7 for now.
Can I use any of these to cook in the microwave?
I’d recommend that you use glass or ceramic instead. For foods that you “steam in a bag,” I’d also recommend you remove them and put them in another container before cooking.
Are Styrofoam cups safe?
As I mentioned in a former post, styrene was just added to the government’s list of compounds anticipated to cause cancer. Though cups are likely to leach only small amounts, I would choose ceramic and stainless steel mugs instead.
What if my child chews on his sippy cup or straw?
Sippy cups are typically made with #5 plastic, considered safe, but if it were my child, I would remove the cup or straw once he or she has finished drinking.
Do you have any more tips to add on using safe plastics? Please share.
The industry says its containers are safe but some experts point to a lack of data and warn that plastic and heat aren’t a good mix
There are thousands of compounds found in plastic products across the food chain, and relatively little is known about most of them. Illustration: Guardian Design
There are thousands of compounds found in plastic products across the food chain, and relatively little is known about most of them. Illustration: Guardian Design
Last modified on Fri 21 Feb 2020 22.45 GMT
Many of us have an overflowing kitchen cupboard of plastic containers to store our leftovers.
But as awareness grows over the health and environmental pitfalls of plastic, some consumers may be wondering: is it time to ditch that stash of old deli containers?
Only 9% of all the plastic waste ever created has been recycled. From its contributions to global heating and pollution, to the chemicals and microplastics that migrate into our bodies, the food chain and the environment, the true cost of this cheap material is becoming more apparent.
There are thousands of compounds found in plastic products across the food chain, and relatively little is known about most of them. But what we do know of some chemicals contained in plastic is concerning.
Phthalates, for example, which are used to make plastic more flexible and are found in food packaging and plastic wrap, have been found by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in measurable levels across the US population (including in the body of Guardian journalist Emily Holden). They have been linked to reproductive dysfunction in animal studies and some researchers have suggested links to decreased fertility, neurodevelopmental issues and asthma in humans.
BPA, another chemical widely added to food plastics, has been subject to increasing regulations after studies linked the chemical to neonatal and infant brain and reproductive harm. But BPS and BPF, two common replacements used in products marketed as “BPA-free”, may have similar effects to their predecessor: studies out of both the University of Texas and Washington State University found that even at a dose of one part per trillion, BPS could disrupt cell functioning. A 2019 study from New York University linked childhood obesity with BPS and BPF.
There are many other chemicals added to plastic during production, and researchers concede that many gaps remain in our understanding of how they affect health and development. But research that is adding to concerns about the “miracle material” is growing.
What’s in those takeout containers?
Food containers are just one link in a massive chain of plastic products that touch things we eat, from coated conveyer belts in food production lines to disposable clamshells for delicate berries, clear carrot bags and milk jugs.
Researchers say it is difficult to answer which plastic containers are safe without greater transparency about what chemicals make up everyday plastic materials.
In 2019, the Food Packaging Forum (FPF), a Switzerland-based not-for-profit focused on the science behind food packaging, compiled a database of more than 900 chemicals “likely” associated with plastic food packaging production worldwide and another 3,400 “possibly” used. Of those 4,300 chemicals, 60% did not have any available hazard data, researchers found.
“[The] ‘known knowns’ are the ones I’m going to gravitate to in terms of concern,” said Dr Leo Trasande, director of the Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, referring to well-known plastic additives such as BPA and phthalates. “The reality is there are many ‘unknown unknowns’ … that may be as problematic.”
In 1988 the plastics industry came up with standardized identification codes for the seven most common types of plastic resin in circulation. Those little numbers found on the bottom of soda bottles and yogurt tubs clue you in to what type of plastic you’re eating or drinking out of. Most food containers – both takeout containers and kinds meant for reuse – are made of low-density polyethylene (4) or polypropylene (5).
Researchers aren’t exactly sure how much chemical exposure occurs from food packaging and storage containers, but they know plastic isn’t a completely stable material. Trasande said that when exposed to heat – for example, in the microwave and dishwasher – polyethylene and polypropylene can break down, leaching unknown chemicals into food and drink. Oily foods are also thought to attract some plastic chemicals.
The complex chemistry needed to make plastics makes it hard to know exactly what other chemicals are found in plastic food containers, said Jane Muncke, managing director and chief scientific officer at the FPF. (The FPF, one of the few to study food packing exclusively, receives much of its funding from the glass packaging industry, though Muncke said its research priorities are set independently of funders.)
Free radicals and reaction by-products are formed during plastic production so that the chemical ingredients you started with might not be the actual composition of the final product. There are also impurities and so-called non-intentionally added substances (Nias) in the original source materials that accumulate alongside known chemical ingredients.
Not even manufacturers, Muncke said, “know exactly what the chemical composition is of the materials of their product down to the last little molecule”.
Additionally, few studies exist on end-product plastic chemicals, rather than individual source chemicals. In a paper published last year in the Environmental Science & Technology journal, German and Norwegian researchers used samples of real-world plastic items such as shampoo bottles, yogurt cups and refillable water bottles to test their effect on cells in a laboratory. They found compounds in consumer plastics that are toxic in vitro, but are largely unidentified.
The Plastics Industry Association (Plastics), a trade group, disputed researchers’ claims of questionable safety.
“All plastics used in food packaging go through rigorous testing. By the time any type of plastic food packaging even makes it to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it’s already been tested several times by chemists and toxicologists. Plastic food and beverage containers may be used safely in the freezer, microwave, dishwasher or a combination of all three when these uses are labeled on the package,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Who is testing those food containers?
The FDA has oversight of any “food contact substance” (FCS), a category that includes reusable food storage and takeaway containers, as well as food manufacturing surfaces and original packaging.
But some experts question the rigor behind the FDA’s standards, in part because the agency relies on manufacturers to determine the safety of any chemicals used across the food system.
In today’s world, most of us know that for the environment’s sake it’s time to say good-bye to plastic baggies and disposable packaging when packing our kids ’ lunch boxes, but what are we using in their place?
From a quick glance across the lunch room, we can see that oftentimes we’re resorting to using reusable plastic lunch containers . Are those really safe for our kids ?
The best lunch boxes for kids
Even when choosing BPA-free plastic containers, it’s hard to tell which plastics are leaching other dangerous chemicals such as phthalates , and we know that plastics do a real number on the planet so before we go putting them in our kids’ lunch boxes every day. And every parent should want a safe lunch for both the environment and their child.
Here are some much better alternatives for both your family’s health and the planet’s well-being.
- Stainless Steel
Stainless steel lunch boxes are a great option food container option for kids because the metal is antibacterial and doesn’t leach chemicals. More and more companies are making easy to pack and tote child lunch containers so you can find it in just about configuration you need whether you prefer to pack sandwiches or a wide variety of nibbles.
- LunchBots makes a divided stainless steel container that’s available in one, two, three, and four compartment options as well as condiment cups. Just be sure to look for the all stainless steel versions instead of those with the plastic lids.
- The ECOlunchbox is a three in one stainless steel lunch box kit that nests into a compact stack that locks together. It’s great for packing a sandwich and two sides for your child .
- PlanetBox is the ultimate in stainless steel lunch boxes for kids. These metal bento box style lunch boxes contain many compartments so that you can pack a wide variety of foods and come with a hinged lid for easy containment. Fun magnets are available to decorate the boxes with make kids happy, and a recycled polyester bag is available to make toting this box a breeze.
- Stainless steel is the best material for non toxic lunch containers and the best option to use for your child’s drink as well. The Sigg kids bottles come in pared down sizes and with a huge variety of themes that are great for everyone from toddlers to teens.
- Tempered Glass
Tempered Glass is sturdy and doesn’t break into dangerous shards if it’s damaged, unlike other glass containers. For this reason, it is the material of choice in the some of the best kids lunch boxes on the market. Wean Green makes a great variety of sizes of tempered glass lunch boxes ; however, they do have plastic snapping lids so if you want to be completely free of plastics, they aren’t an option.
Brinware offers a tempered glass sandwich container that has a decorative silicone cover to help extend its life as well as a silicone lid.
- Organic Cotton
Because in most cases, you’ll still need a bag to carry your new healthy lunch containers in, organic cotton bags are the best option because the fabric has been grown without the use of harmful pesticides, and the cotton hasn’t been bleached. You can find plain organic cotton lunch totes or more decorative ones from a variety of online retailers.
Organic cotton sandwich wraps are also a great way to package your food, and can be used for much more than sandwiches. Wrap up your fruit, crackers, and other dry goods in them as well.
These might not be the classic lunch containers for kids you’ve used in the past , but they’re the best options to make sure that the healthy lunch you are packing for your family isn’t being tainted by harmful chemicals.