Plastic is one of the most widely used materials in the production of everything from cups to storage containers, toys and even food cans and bottles. Whilst we are very comfortable with its existence, and usefulness, it is what we don't know that is the potentially frightening part.
Did you know that not all plastics are created equally? Plastic can be classified by a number. On a range of 1 through to 7, each number represents a different content, use and more importantly a safety level.
Before you purchase your next baby bottle, plastic storage container or can of food take the time to know what each number means. And be well aware of BPA and where it exists.
The results will astound you. This is an essential BPA plastic guide and will help you understand exactly what the numbers on plastic bottles and containers really mean.
BPA replaced by BPS - Just As Toxic?
You be the judge. Is BPS just as toxic? Is BPA free really safe?
What Is BPA?
Bisphenol-A (BPA) is used to make polycarbonate plastic, with its primary role to make plastic hard and tough, to coat paper and even to line the cans and lids of many popular foods and drinks that we consume.
BPA is a chemical.
What do the recycling numbers mean?
On the base of most plastic products you will be able to see a small three-arrow triangle. This is a recycling symbol. Inside this triangle you will find a number.
This number is critical.
From a recycling perspective, these numbers help with the sorting process because some plastics cannot be recycled together. It is like trying to recycle paper and glass. We know they must be kept separate. The same goes for different plastics.
The numbers, however also have a double meaning. It refers to what type of plastic the item is made of.
What Do The Numbers On Plastics And Cans Mean?
|Number||Code||Name||Found In||Safe or Avoid||Recycle|
PET or PETE
Thin, clear disposable plastic bottled water, cooking oil, peanut butter, soda and even some cough-syrup bottles
Safe - single use only - Not be reused, refilled, or heated.
This can be recycled once into new secondary products, such as textiles, parking lot bumpers, or plastic lumber.
high density polyethylene
Thick opaque plastic used for milk and water containers, juice bottles, detergent, shampoo and toys.
These are safe to refill and reuse.
V or PVC
Used in bibs, mattress covers, squeeze bottles, cling wrap and some food containers.
Can be recycled
low density polyethylene
Soft, flexible plastic. Used in grocery story bags, plastic wrap, dry cleaning bags, shopping bags, and garbage bags.
Can be recycled
Hard but flexible plastics including yogurt and ice cream containers, straws and even diapers.
One of the safer plastics – but recycle, don’t throw away
Hard rigid plastics such as plastic utensils and even styrofoam cups and meat trays.
These plastics can leach styrene, a known neurotoxin with other negative health effects.
other - misc
Baby bottles, some reusable water bottles, stain-resistant food-storage containers, medical storage containers
Can be recycled
BPA - Is It Safe?
What plastic numbers contain BPA?
The plastic recycling number for BPA is 7.
The confusing aspect however is that not all plastic market with a #7 is BPA and therefore not all dangerous. As the table above indicated, number 7 is a miscellaneous or catch all category that groups many kinds of different plastics that do not fit into any of the other classifications.
The #7 i also used with some of the newer, 'green' plastics, including those made from corn, potatoes or rice.
Why Is BPA Bad?
BPA is said to be a carcinogenic chemical. Due to its limited initial testing, we are seeing animal studies being undertaken which clearly indicate that even low levels of BPA affect hormones that control brain development and the reproductive and immune systems.
Frightening isn't it!
Health officials state that there is yet no official proof that the chemical has harmed humans however, the National Toxicology Program has openly expressed concern about potential impacts on foetuses, infants and children.
When in doubt, avoid!
How To Avoid The Most Common Exposures To BPA
- Your most significant exposure to BPA is most likely currently from consuming canned foods - try to switch to fresh, frozen or even dried options, or alternatively, select products in glass jars or cans labeled “BPA-Free.”
Products with BPA
Whilst many companies are quickly changing their materials of choice and manufacturing techniques, there have been many products found available which do contain BPA.
Here is a frightening list:
- Cans: Canned food including soups - the lining of the can.
- Baby Food: Lids on jars, some sippy cups and even pacifiers
- Disposable Plastics: Cups, utensils, plates and bowls
- Toys: Bath toys and other toys plastic based toys. ,
- Bottles: Drinking water bottles, jugs and even food storage containers
Hints and Tips For Plastic Use - Safety Guidelines
Here are a few commonly asked questions and responses which will help you when in doubt regarding use and re-use of common plastics around the home.
Should I use a food container/sippy cup/bottle that does not have a plastic recycling number on it?
Not all numbers are visible to the naked eye so it does make it difficult. You could always research the product online or check for other product labelling which could indicate that it is BPA-Free.
If in doubt, and there are alternatives available, avoid. To be on the safe side opt for an equivalent product that does.
Is it safe to heat up foods touching plastic in the microwave oven?
- It is recommended to never use any plastic in a microwave oven.
- Even cling wraps (i.e. #3) covering food is not recommended.
Best to use glass or non-plastic plates for heating food and use a lid or a sheet of paper towel to cover it.
BPA can be transferred when heat comes in contact with plastic.
- Do not pour hot items into plastic containers
- Do not heat baby formula or breast milk in plastic bottles that are not BPA free
- Use only containers marked with a “microwave safe” message
Plastics with numbers 2,4 and 5 are deemed to be the safest and research indicates that no no known chemicals reach your food. In addition they are recyclable.
Plastic with a number 1 is also safe but for single use only because their plastic is porous, and therefore they may absorb bacteria that you can't get rid of.
Plastics to Avoid
Plastic with a number 3, should be avoided as it contains chemicals that can interfere with hormonal development.
Plastic with a number 6 is commonly found in take-away containers and disposable utensils, bowls and plates.
And the frightening number 7 which can be found in baby bottles, some water bottles, and the linings of tin food cans.
Discard scratched plastic bottles, cups, and containers
- They may hold germs and if the plastic contains number 7 (BPA), it may even be released when reused.
Use BPA free products
- Baby bottles can be purchased that are either glass or marked as BPA free.
- Avoid plastic water bottles. Use metal reusable water bottles or Vapur Bottles.
- Reduce your use of purchased can foods
Choose BPA Free At All Times!
- Buy a Vapur Anti-Bottle: Water bottle alternative
Vapur Anti-Bottle. Made in the USA. Fold it, roll it, stand it up, Reusable, Freezable, BPA Free, Colourful, Dishwasher safe and ever-so Handy. Perfect for mums, dads, gym junkies, kids and everyone in between.
You might want to replace plastic water bottles alternatives, replace plastic toys with wooden ones, old baby bottles with BPA Free ones and even plastic jars with glass.
Take the time so select safe plastics for your children, your family and yourself. Even when you are preparing for your next kid's birthday party, a family picnic or helping a new mother prepare her baby bag, get to know the easy-to-identify plastic recycling numbers.
If you have any questions add them to the comments below and I will try to address them for you.
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Elizabeth Aziz on January 11, 2016:
This article was absolutely helpful and informative! We've grown up exposed to all these chemicals, but now we can be informed and make a change in our lifestyles so that we can at least bring our baby into the world healthier! Thank you so much! Question: What about plastics that do not have the triangle and number?
Joy56 on June 17, 2013:
thanks for this......................................
Sanjay Sharma from Mandi (HP) India on June 15, 2013:
Nice hub.Quite informative about the numbers on plastic bottles.Voted up.
When tested,about 70% of the plastic products were found positive for estrogen activity(EA).This became 95% when plastic was subjected to real life conditions,such as in microwave and dish washing.Most of the plastic products ranging from from cups to food wraps,generally release chemicals that act and mimic like the sex hormone estrogen.
Estrogen also regulates our development, growth,metabolism, sexual functions,tissue functions and reproduction.It controls the way our bodies use food and the reaction of our bodies to emergencies together with our mood swings.
Estrogen circulates in the bloodstream.In women,It affects the breasts,uterus,brain, bone, liver,heart and other characteristic tissues.
have written a hub on "Plastic products trigger estrogen effect", but don't think that I am promoting my hub.
FlourishAnyway from USA on June 14, 2013:
Great information, especially the table. I became especially concerned about plastics after watching "Plastic Planet." Locally, only #1 & 2 are recycled here so we try our best to avoid plastic. I did not know that #1 meant it could only be recycled once.
BlissfulWriter on June 14, 2013:
Great information and chart. The main reason that I avoid BPA is that they are endocrine disruptor (affects hormones). I try never to heat plastics.