Plastic is everywhere and keeping up with which plastics are safe can get confusing. So which plastics are safe and unsafe for moms to use around the family? You’ve trusted Mamavation to cover topics like best & worst air purifiers, best & worst organic mattresses, & best & worst infrared saunas, now join us for the differences between “safe” and unsafe plastics.
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The Basics on the Safety of Plastics
Plastic touches almost everything in modern life from television to transportation to baby bottles and other products for children. But which plastics are safe? And which plastics are the ones we need to be the most cautious of as parents?
Most plastics will have a resin identification number that will alert you to what type they are. If they don’t have a number, throw them away.
After you find the number compare it to the image above. Then look to see what type of plastic it is and if it’s safe for your family.
- PET (Polyethylene) or PETE: Safe, but don’t reuse or heat. (Fortunately, scientists just discovered how to break down polyethylene efficiently with an enzyme opening up the possibility of sea rescue of plastics in the near future!)
- HPDE (High-Density Polyethylene): Safest. Plastic #2 is HDPE and one of the safest plastics that you will find. They are okay to reuse.
- PVC (Polyvinyl chloride or Vinyl): NOT SAFE. Plastic #3 is Vinyl or PVC and are normally containing lead or phthalates and releasing dioxin.
- LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene): Safe, but not recycled often. Plastic #4 is LDPE and is safe to reuse.
- PP (Polypropylene): Safe, but do not microwave. Plastic #5 is safe to reuse, but not to microwave.
- PS (Polystyrene): NOT SAFE. Plastic #6 is Polystyrene and can leach a neurotoxin known as styrene.
- CATCH-ALL CATEGORY: Sometimes safe. Watch out for BPA, BPS, or BPAF or other bisphenols in this category. Plastic #7 is the catch-all for various types of plastic that don’t fit in the other classifications. It’s everything since the 1980s.
What Can Additives Inside Plastics Do to Human Health?
Plastic contains “indirect additives” that are proprietary, which means companies are under no obligation to tell you what or where they are. And this has become a problem for human health for several reasons.
There are about 4,000 chemicals approved as “indirect additives” around food, of which less than 7% of have available reproductive toxicology data and developmental toxicology data was only available for 2 of them.
So we know these chemicals can be very problematic, but we don’t know where they are, nor do we know much about them. And every year, the Feds approves more and completely ignores the potential effects to human hormonal health, especially for pregnant women and children.
And because of this many independent scientists and pediatricians are saying that the way the Feds evaluate chemicals for safety is very problematic to human health, especially for pregnant women and children.
“Many chemicals used in plastics have not been tested for their endocrine-disrupting effects,” Michael Warhurst, Director of the European Chemical Watchdog CHEM Trust. “Current test methods are not very good at identifying all of them.” And what’s worse, is it doesn’t take a large amount of these chemicals to do damage. “For toxins, the more you’re exposed to, the greater the effect. [But] that is not true of hormones,” says he said.
Some of the most common of these “indirect additives” are bisphenols & phthalates. These “indirect additives” are very common in food packaging, toys, floor tiles, water bottles, shower curtains & food storage containers.
Not only are pediatricians around the world warning parents of these chemicals, but they have been linked to some very serious modern-day health outcomes we all want to avoid.
- early puberty,
- hyperactivity in children,
- developmental delays,
- lower IQ,
- anxiety & depression,
- degraded sperm quality,
In 2015, there was a systematic review of phthalate exposure to children and how that potentially affects their development. It was concluded that phthalates around children were associated with “cognitive and behavioral outcomes in children, including lower IQ, and problems with attention, hyperactivity, and poorer social communication.”
Plastic Is Overwhelming the Planet So Now We Are Seeing An Increase in Microplastic Pollution
In addition to regular plastics, experts are very concerned about the amount of microplastics humans are exposed to in modern life because plastic is forever.
“Plastic is non-degradable. It cannot be broken down and has the potential to persist in our bodies for a lifetime after exposure,” said Stephanie Wright, a researcher at University College London who specializes in microscopic plastic pollution.
Other scientists have warned that the smallest piece of plastics, which are referred to as “nanoplastics” are the most problematic because they are small enough to get inside our vital organs, “Microplastics will not enter a cell, but nanoplastics are small enough to cross into cells and permeate the body,” said Anne Marie Mahon, a researcher at Galway Mayo Institute of Technology in Ireland.
Her recent research found microplastics inside sludge in water treatment plants. “It’s possible that chemicals could be absorbed in our circulatory system or pass into our organs. But whether that is happening is unknown,” Mahon said.
Look for Plastic Perpetrators in Food & Beverages
Plastic is not just found as a food container – it can also be found lining the inside of canned goods, as interior packaging, in utensils, and inside things like teabags! Here are some additional places you can look to see if you have the ability to lessen the amount of unsafe plastic in your life:
- Canned foods can be problematic because the vast majority of the cans in the grocery store are lined with bisphenols like BPA, which is unsafe. Restricting can use is recommended.
- Cookware can also be problematic for food prep and cooking, as some of these products also contain unsafe plastics in coatings. (Or PFAS or nano) However, these cookware brands are safe.
- Food storage containers are super important here to save your family from leaching plastics. Make sure you have containers like the ones we recommend here.
- Tea can be a big problem if the sachets that hold the tea contain plastic, which most of them do! Of course, we know which tea brands are safe so go here if you want to know!
- Small kitchen appliances may be made using unsafe food contact plastics? Check out our investigation on small kitchen appliances here.
- Plastic straws are a thing of the past, check out what the latest alternatives are.
- Black plastic used for food contact has been flagged as problematic. Scientists in England found lead, brominated flame retardants, chlorine, PVC, cadmium, chromium, mercury, and antimony inside those plastics. When used in food contact they may be getting into your food and beverages.
- Plastic food contact utensils of any kind should be avoided around food especially when food is hot, contains acidic ingredients, or contains high-fat ingredients.
Decreasing the amount of plastic you have in your life, especially the really toxic ones, is a good idea. Let Mamavation know how else we can help you!
About the Author
Leah Segedie is a consumer watchdog, author, entrepreneur, environmental activist, and mother of three boys.
She wrote Green Enough: Eat Better, Live Cleaner, & Be Happier (All Without Driving Your Family Crazy!) in 2018. She’s consistently been featured in the media for the past 15 years in media outlets like ABC, CBS, CNN, Yahoo, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Reader’s Digest, Ladies Home Journal, Shape Magazine, Fitness Magazine to name a few.
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