Do you know what the numbers, or recycling symbols mean at the bottom of plastic bottles and containers? Did you know that, while the use of all plastics should be limited if at all possible, some are safer than others? It’s time to learn more about plastics which you use and drink/eat from every single day, and what impact they have not only on you, but also the environment.
Plastic #1 – PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
- Picked up by most curbside recycling programs, plastic #1 is usually clear and used to make soda and water bottles. Some consider it safe, but this plastic is known to allow bacteria to accumulate.
- It’s found mostly in soda bottles, water bottles, beer bottles, salad dressing containers, mouthwash bottles, and peanut butter containers.
- Plastic #1 is recycled into tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling, fiber, and polar fleece.
Studies have found levels of antimony (a toxic chemical) leaching from water bottles that have been placed in heat for prolonged times. Although PETE does not contain BPA or Phthalates, it’s always best to make sure that your water bottles are not temperature abused. PETE plastic should not be reused because cleaning detergents and high temperatures can cause chemicals to leach out of the plastic. Plastic #1 is only intended for one time use.
Plastic #2 – HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)
- Plastic #2 is typically opaque and picked up by most curbside recycling programs. This plastic is one of the 3 plastics considered to be safe, and has a lower risk of leaching.
- It’s found mostly in milk jugs, household cleaner containers, juice bottles, shampoo bottles, cereal box liners, detergent bottles, motor oil bottles, yogurt tubs, and butter tubs.ilk jugs, detergent bottles, juice bottles, butter tubs, and toiletries bottles are made of this. It is usually opaque. This plastic is considered safe and has low risk of leaching.
- Plastic #2 is recycled into pens, recycling containers, picnic tables, lumber, benches, fencing, and detergent bottles, to name a few.
No known health concerns.
Plastic #3 – V or PVC (Vinyl)
- Plastic #3 is used to make food wrap, plumbing pipes, and detergent bottles, and is seldom accepted by curbside recycling programs. These plastics used to, and still may, contain phthalates, which are linked to numerous health issues ranging from developmental problems to miscarriages. They also contain DEHA, which can be carcinogenic with long-term exposure. DEHA has also been linked to loss of bone mass and liver problems. Don’t cook with or burn this plastic.
- It’s found in shampoo bottles, clear food packaging, cooking oil bottles, medical equipment, piping, and windows.
- This plastic is recycled into paneling, flooring, speed bumps, decks, and roadway gutters.
PVC is one of the toxic plastics that should be avoided.
- Purchase a shower curtain made from organic hemp, bamboo or PEVA. PEVA (polyethylene vinyl acetate) is a non-vinyl (PVC-free), chlorine-free, biodegradable plastic.
- Air out the car before getting in.
- Avoid using cling wrap made with PVC.
- Avoid inflatable structures, air mattresses, and toys made with PVC. Note: Aerobed pakmat and Aerobed Ecolite are PVC and phthalate free.
- Choose all baby toys, pool toys, and bath toys that are labeled to be PVC, Phthalate and BPA free.
Plastic #4 – LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene)
- Low density polyethylene is most found in squeezable bottles, shopping bags, clothing, carpet, frozen food, bread bags, and some food wraps. Curbside recycling programs haven’t been known to pick up this plastic, but more are starting to accept it. Plastic #4 rests among the recycling symbols considered to be safe.
- This plastic is recycled into compost bins, paneling, trash can liners and cans, floor tiles, and shipping envelopes.
No known health concerns.
Plastic #5 – PP (Polypropylene)
- Increasingly becoming accepted by curbside recycle programs, plastic #5 is also one of the safer plastics to look for.
- It is typically found in yogurt containers, ketchup bottles, syrup bottles, and medicine bottles.
- Polypropylene is recycled into brooms, auto battery cases, bins, pallets, signal lights, ice scrapers, and bycycle racks.
Most PP are microwavable safe and dishwasher safe. NOTE: microwavable/dishwasher safe only means that the plastic will not warp when heated. It does not imply that it is a healthy practice. A better alternative is using glass containers to heat foods and to hand wash plastic instead of using the dishwasher.
Plastic #6 – PS (Polystyrene)
- Polystyrene is Styrofoam, which is notorious for being difficult to recycle, and thus, bad for the environment. This kind of plastic also poses a health risk, leaching potentially toxic chemicals, especially when heated. Most recycling programs won’t accept it.
- Plastic #6 is found in compact disc cases, egg cartons, meat trays, and disposable plates and cups.
- It is recycled into egg cartons, vents, foam packing, and insulation.
According to the Foundation for Achievements in Science and Education fact sheet, long term exposure to small quantities of styrene can cause neurotoxic (fatigue, nervousness, difficulty sleeping), hematological (low platelet and hemoglobin values), cytogenetic (chromosomal and lymphatic abnormalities), and carcinogenic effects. Styrene is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the EPA and by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
Plastic #7 – Other, Miscellaneous
- All of the plastic resins that don’t fit into the other categories are placed in the number 7 category. It’s a mix bag of plastics that includes polycarbonate, which contains the toxic bisphenol-A (BPA). These plastics should be avoided due to possibly containing hormone disruptors like BPA, which has been linked to infertility, hyperactivity, reproductive problems, and other health issues.
- Plastic #7 is found in sunglasses, iPod cases, computer cases, nylon, 3- and 5-gallon water bottles, and bullet-proof materials.
- It is recycled into plastic lumber and other custom-made products.
BPA has been found to be an endocrine disruptor.
In conclusion, plastic products marked with the numbers 2, 4 and 5 are the safer choices. Regardless of what plastic you use, avoid exposing your plastics to high temperatures (microwave, dishwasher) and use mild detergents for cleaning. Since there is no guarantee that plastics will not leach out harmful chemicals, I suggest to avoid plastic when possible and choose glass.