Modern life is filled with plastic products. Unfortunately, many plastics contain substances that put your health at risk. Plastic toxins can leach into your food or drink. Some plastics release harmful gasses into the air.
But, you don’t have to imagine your life without plastics. All you need is a simple list of the worst plastics.
Start by familiarizing yourself with plastic labels. Look for the number inside the recycling symbol. These labels indicate the type of resin used to make the plastic and whether it’s recyclable. This is your key to potential health risks. Once you understand the risks, you can take action to avoid the worst plastics.
The Three Worst Plastics
Plastic #3 PVC – Dangerous to your Health and the Environment
For your health as well as the environment, avoid plastic #3 Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC. PVC can be rigid or flexible. Manufacturers use PVC to make shower curtains, cling wrap, plastic toys, vinyl flooring, and some plastic squeeze bottles.
PVC has several strikes against it.
First, PVC contains toxic chemicals including phthalates (pronounced thal-ˌāts). Plastic makers use phthalates to soften plastics. Phthalates are toxic. Studies link phthalates to cancer, reproductive system harm, and asthma.
Second, recyclers cannot easily recycle PVC because it has many additives. Even if you toss the #3 plastic into the recycling bin, chances are your recycler won’t recycle it.
Finally, harmful byproducts like lead, dioxins, and DEHA are produced when manufacturing or disposing of PVC. These byproduct chemicals can settle on grassland. You can imagine how this works. Grazing livestock consumes the grasses, and the toxins end up in your meat and dairy products.
By prudently avoiding #3 plastic, you can protect your health and reduce demand for this plastic.
Protect Yourself From #3 Plastic by Substituting
You can protect yourself from #3 plastic by substituting safer plastics or using non-plastic products.
- Remove foods in plastic wrap and store in glass containers.
- Use this genius plastic wrap alternative.
- Avoid buying #3 plastic toys.
- Purchase safer vinyl flooring.
- Opt for non-vinyl shower curtains.
- Check the labels on food bottles and opt for plastic bottles #1, #2, #4, or #5.
- Avoid heating #3 plastics that can release harmful chemicals.
- Wash #3 plastic in mild detergent. Harsh detergents can liberate harmful chemicals.
Plastic #6 Polystyrene – Best to Avoid
Another plastic to avoid is Polystyrene plastic #6. It can be in a rigid form or Styrofoam. You’ll find #6 in cups, insulation, egg cartons, take-out containers, packaging, and disposable cutlery. Since styrene can leach into your food, it’s best to avoid it. Studies link it to cancer and nervous system damage. Some studies show that repeated exposure can lead to bioaccumulation.
Higher temperatures result in more styrene leaching from the container into your food. Try not to think about those cups of coffee you’ve had in a Styrofoam cup.
Another troubling problem with Polystyrene is that not all recyclers find it economically viable to recycle. Generally, the lower the recycling number, the more easily recyclable the plastic.
Easy Steps to Avoid #6 Plastic
You can take some easy steps to avoid health impacts from #6 plastic.
- Avoid drinking hot beverages in Styrofoam cups.
- Remove take-out foods from the plastic containers.
- Store take-out leftovers in glass containers.
- Never reheat food in Styrofoam.
- Opt for paper egg cartons rather than Styrofoam.
- Reuse packaging materials like peanuts and other Styrofoam packaging where possible.
- Limit use of disposable cutlery.
Plastic #7 – Mixed Bag of Plastics, Best to Avoid
Plastic #7 is really a catch-all. It may contain Bisphenol A (BPA) or Bisphenol S (BPS). You may have heard about the dangers of BPA. Some manufacturers advertise BPA-free, which may be better for you. However, it’s best to avoid these plastics, even the BPS plastic.
Number 7 plastics are rigid and transparent. Your sport water bottles, 5-gallon water bottles, and clear plastic cutlery are probably #7 plastic. Until 2012, most plastic baby bottles were #7 plastic until the FDA banned the use of it in baby bottles. Many metal can makers use BPA to line food cans.
Why should you care about BPA and BPS?
Researchers have linked higher BPA exposure with obesity in adults. Another study found that BPA is associated not only with obesity but also with insulin resistance. And, insulin resistance leads to disease. One 2003-2004 study found BPA in 93% of American adults sampled.
Is BPS safer?
Initially, people thought that BPS was a safer plastic because it was less susceptible to leaching. However, a 2013 study at The University of Texas found that even tiny amounts of BPS can disrupt cells, resulting in diabetes, obesity, asthma, birth defect or cancer.
Rethink use of #7 Plastic
Try some of these ideas for reducing or eliminating #7 plastic from your life.
- Use glass or stainless steel reusable water bottles.
- Discard any plastic container that is scratched or cloudy because the plastics chemicals may be more likely to leach into your food or drink.
- Replace plastic food storage containers with glass.
- Use fresh foods rather than plastic-lined canned foods.
- Buy food in glass rather than cans.
- Opt for a water filter rather than choosing bottled water in 5-gallon plastic containers.
You have options for being smart about the worst plastics (#3, #6, #7). You can substitute safer plastics or non-plastic products, avoid heating plastics to avoid greater toxin release, and/or reduce plastic use. Pick one or two to tackle. Small steps can make a big difference because it’s important to your health and the environment.