While I am personally not a fan of email forwards, I do remember the impact some of them had on me in the mid-2000s. Does anyone remember the email that was circulating which claimed that Sheryl Crow said she got breast cancer by drinking bottled water that had sat in her car? Well, like most email forwards, it isn’t entirely true.
However, I have read enough about the potential dangers of plastics to have some major concerns and hesitations about using disposable plastic bottles.
Here is the latest factual information on the truth: Are plastic containers dangerous for your health?
The various types of plastics
There are seven categories of types of plastic. From soda pop bottles, to plastic food storage containers, and even the toys our babies play with, plastic is everywhere. Some types of plastics are considered safe, while others should not come into contact with our foods. Here’s the low-down on the various types of plastic, where they’re found, which are safe, and which should be avoided.
1 – Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET, PETE or polyester).
Common Uses: Bottled water, carbonated beverages, medicine jars, peanut butter jars, salad dressing bottles, and mouth wash bottles
Health Concerns: Considered safe by the FDA. Contains antimony. In lab animals, long-term inhalation of antimony caused stomach pain, ulcers, diarrhea, pneumoconiosis (lung disease) and altered electrocardiograms (the heart’s electrical activity). (Source) It is not recommended to reuse PET bottles or containers, as harmful bacteria can build up.
2 – High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE).
Common Uses: Milk jugs, motor oil bottles, soap bottles, bleaches and detergent bottles, and shampoos and conditioner bottles.
Health Concerns: This type of plastic is BPA and phthalate-free, and doesn’t contain any other known harmful chemicals.
3 – Type of Plastic: Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC).
Common Uses: Fruit juice bottles, clear food packaging, shower curtains, deli and meat wrap, plumbing parts, other beverage bottles (usually not bottled water).4
Health Concerns: The production of PVC requires harmful chemicals such as vinyl chloride monomer, ethylene dichloride and chlorine. The Center for Health, Environment & Justice refers to PVC as “The Poison Plastic”. (Source) The FDA considers PVC safe, even though it contains vinyl chloride, which is a known human carcinogen. In addition, the use of PVC is environmentally unfriendly, as it may emit phthalates, lead additives and toxic glues into homes and the environment. One study showed that PVC in shower curtains released phthalates which could cause damage to the liver and reproductive system. (Source)
4 – Type of Plastic: Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE).
Common Uses: Frozen food packaging, squeezable bottles, garbage bags, plastic grocery bags, and the coating on milk cartons.
Health Concerns: No known health concerns
5 – Type of Plastic: Polypropylene (PP).
Common Uses: Yogurt containers, baby bottles, microwaveable plastic containers, and plastic cups.
Health Concerns: No known health concerns, however, it is advised to not warm up plastic containers in the microwave, because it is unknown whether this is a safe practice.
6 – Type of Plastic: Polystyrene (PS).
Common Uses: Styrofoam, take-out containers, dairy containers, plastic cutlery, egg cartons, aspirin bottles, and meat trays.
Health Concerns: The Foundation for Achievements in Science and Education show that small quantities of styrene found in polystyrene can have carcinogenic effects, fatigue, low platelet and hemoglobin values, and chromosomal and lymphatic abnormalities. There is evidence that exposure to styrene causes cancer in animals. (Source) Another study showed that women who were exposed to low concentrations of styrene vapors demonstrated menstrual disorders, metabolic disturbances during pregnancy and neurotoxic symptoms.
7 – Type of Plastic: Everything else.
Common Uses: Some baby bottles, electrical wiring, 5-gallon water cooler bottles, and to-go coffee mugs.
Health concerns: You cannot distinguish what type of plastic is being used, since it’s a catch-all for the rest of the plastics. Plastics may or may not contain BPA, which is known to leach into food products, and is an endocrine disruptor.
How to tell what type of plastic you’re using:
The easiest way to determine what type of plastic is in your products is to flip the bottle/toy/container over and see if you can find a number 1 through 7 on the bottom. That can show you what type of plastic composition it has. Some older products won’t indicate the composition, so if you have concerns, I would recommend contacting the manufacturer for more information, or avoid using the product.
The more I learn about various types of plastics and their potential hazards, the more I am determined to replace my household products with safe plastics or glass. Below are a few of my favorite products I have transitioned to.
Reusable Water Bottles
Cameback Glass Bottles are my favorite reusable water bottles. They’re durable, made from glass (no plastic concerns there!) and relatively affordable. Well-built and easy to clean, this is a great choice for home or the office. The initial investment of around $16 may seem pricey, but if you buy one bottle of water every day, you will recoup your investment in about half a month. You can find it on Amazon.
Food Storage Containers
I have nixed my plastic containers and replaced them with Pyrex Glass Storage Containers. They come in different sizes, and will out-last any plastic food storage containers I’ve ever used.
Melissa and Doug create well-constructed wooden toys that are charming and fun for little babies and tots. They’ll weather much slower than throw-away plastic toys. You can see a variety of their creations here.
Pre-Packaged Food Products
I am a notorious food label reader, first because my daughter and I both have food allergies that require constant diligence, but also because I don’t like to put a lot of processed crap into my body, or my family’s. I try to make fresh whenever possible, and avoid pre-made items, but sometimes convenience out-weighs all of my best intentions. The other day, I bought a brand of organic applesauce, and have been taking it to work for a morning snack. After writing this article, I flipped it over and saw a glaring “7” on the bottom. This is irritating to me because I have gone to the trouble to find, and paid a premium for an organic product. Clearly, that should indicate that I am concerned about putting toxic chemicals into my body, yet the manufacturer of the organic applesauce puts the food into a potentially harmful containers.
The bottom line is, you have to take your health into your own hands. Empower and educate yourself so you are equipped with the knowledge to make healthy decisions for yourself and your family. I, for one, will be flipping over packages from now on, and by-passing those products that don’t choose responsible packaging.