Not all plastic is bad…or is it to some degree?  What exactly is in plastic?  I think about these things because my desire is to be an informed and proactive consumer that moves in the direction of health and well-being for my family.  There is sooo much information out there (a lot of it conflicting) about what is good or bad for us that I want to take control of what is important for my family.  I want to be thinking through the way I buy and use products on a day to day basis.  I am curious about how products I use are made and what they are made of.  I think this is important for Ben and me, but I think it’s more important for Kate.  If I can teach her to be curious about her environment and ask questions, my hope is that she will grow up being an inquisitive person and an informed consumer. One of our family resolutions for 2010 is to take small steps towards significant change in different contexts of our lives.

It’s overwhelming how much plastic is all around us.  It is used in the construction of our house, in all of our appliances and electronics, and in Kate’s toys.  It stores our food, personal hygiene and cosmetic products, it’s in our clothing…it’s literally everywhere.   My first small step towards significant change is recycling the plastic containers I use for food storage and switch to mostly glass and some silicone containers.  I have made this decision based on a variety of factors, but the main reason being that I don’t know exactly what is in plastic and more importantly can I really trust the companies that produce plastic and advertise it as safe to use for food, safe to heat, or safe to wash in the dishwasher?  Aren’t most if not all companies primarily motivated by money, or the bottom line?

I am a label reader.  When I go to the grocery store, I spend lots of time in the fruit and veggie section, as well as the natural foods section.  If a product comes packaged, I usually look at the list of ingredients and identify whether or not I know what they are or if I can even pronounce them.  My rule for buying most foods is, the simpler the ingredient list, the better!  This topic I will save for another post, but with plastic, you don’t see the list of chemicals they use to make the product.

Below is a breakdown of plastic and the numbers on the bottom of most plastics we use in food storage.  I find this info helpful in making decisions about the types of plastic we use and types we avoid. (from There is a note about Styrene in the comments section that is worth looking at!

1 Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE)
Used to make soft drink, water, sports drink, ketchup, and salad dressing bottles, and peanut butter, pickle, jelly and jam jars.
GOOD: Not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones.

2 High density polyethylene (HDPE)
Milk, water, and juice bottles, yogurt and margarine tubs, cereal box liners, and grocery, trash, and retail bags.
GOOD: Not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones.

3 Polyvinyl chloride (V or PVC)
Most cling-wrapped meats, cheeses, and other foods sold in delicatessens and groceries are wrapped in PVC.
BAD: To soften into its flexible form, manufacturers add “plasticizers” during production. Traces of these chemicals can leach out of PVC when in contact with foods. According to the National Institutes of Health, di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), commonly found in PVC, is a suspected human carcinogen.

4 Low-density polyethylene (LDPE)
Some bread and frozen food bags and squeezable bottles.
OK: Not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones, but not as widely recycled as #1 or #2.

5 Polypropylene (PP)
Some ketchup bottles and yogurt and margarine tubs.
OK: Hazardous during production, but not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones. Not as widely recycled as #1 and #2.

6 Polystyrene (PS)
Foam insulation and also for hard applications (e.g. cups, some toys)
BAD: Benzene (material used in production) is a known human carcinogen. Butadiene and styrene (the basic building block of the plastic) are suspected carcinogens. Energy intensive and poor recycling.

7 Other (usually polycarbonate)
Baby bottles, microwave ovenware, eating utensils, plastic coating for metal cans
BAD: Made with Bisphenol-A, a chemical invented in the 1930s in search for synthetic estrogens. A hormone disruptor. Simulates the action of estrogen when tested in human breast cancer studies. Can leach into food as product ages.

Thought for the day:

“What is wrong with he human race that we take a critical natural resource, one that took millions of years to create, and use it to make disposable containers that we use for a moment in time and then discard it only, in the majority of cases, to have it lay in a landfill for millions of years! ARE WE NUTS?”, said a normal consumer.

About marisd

I want to love well.

3 responses »

  1. Liam says:

    Wow, all that plastic bottom-of-the-bottle info is really helpful. We want to recycle some plastic for our own use, so it is good to know some of these terms and it will help when buying products in the first place.

  2. Priscilla says:

    Styrene has not been found by any authoritative body in the world to be carcinogenic. Further, studies have shown that the amount of exposure at the consumer level is not high enough to cause alarm.

    Priscilla Briones for the Styrene Information and Research Center (SIRC), Arlington, Virginia. SIRC ( is a trade association that represents interests of the North American styrene industry with its mission being the collection, development, analysis and communication of pertinent information on styrene.

    • marisd says:

      Thanks Priscilla for the information about Styrene. I desire to be correctly informed in my research pertaining to plastics. I will sure pass this information along to curious consumers.


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