Find out about the seven main types of plastic. Plastics mess up our world, and they mess up our bodies. Here are some of the risks we know about, the main ones being cancer, and hormonal disruption.
Resin Identification Code
1. Polyethylene Teraphthalate, PETE or PET, polyester
Used for: detergent and cleaning containers, beverage and water bottles, food containers.
Recycling: PET easily recycles to bottles, fiberfill and polyester.
PET potentially leaches antimony, and this increases with temperature and microwaving.
The co-leaching of brominated compounds and antimony was highest in PET water bottles.
The EPA maximum level of antimony in drinking water is 6 ppb (parts per billion).
When antimony exposure exceeds this limit, even for relatively short periods, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea may ensue (Westerhoff et al. 2007).
2. High Density Polyethylene
Used for: plastic bags, containers, milk and water jugs.
Recycling: clear HDPE easily recycles to new containers; colored HDPE to toys, garden edging, pipes, rope, plastic lumber.
HDPE is considered a low hazard plastic.
However, as most plastics, it leaches estrogenic chemicals, thus potentially acting as endocrine disruptor (Yang et al. 2011). To what degree these may influence bodily systems remains unclear.
3. Polyvinyl Chloride
Used for: vinyl pipes, cling wrap, blister packs for medication, clear food packaging, shower curtains, flooring, squeeze bottles, cooking oil and peanut butter jars, home siding, window and door frames, detergents and window cleaner bottles.
Recycling: PVC contains many (toxic) additives which make recycling difficult. Whether it’s recycled or disposed of, potentially harmful substances may be released or created.
The manufacturing, disposal or destruction of PVC produces harmful substances such as lead, dioxins, vinyl chloride, DEHA, phthalates: DEHP, BBP, DBP, and ethylene dichloride.
DEHP, a widely used plastic softener, acts as endocrine disruptor and is known to cause testicular cancer, infertility, and low sperm count in a number of species.
Switzerland banned its use in toddler’s toys in 1986 (PVC Information.org 2015).
Phthalates are associated with increased risk of asthma and allergies. A good plastic type to avoid.
4. Low Density Polypropylene
Used for: most plastic wraps, bottles, grocery bags, bread and frozen foods bags, cups, toys.
Recycling: usually not recycled.
Considered a low hazard plastic.
As for HDPE above, it may leach estrogenic chemicals.
It is BPA free but may contain a similar chemical.
Used for: outdoor carpet, house wrap, disposable diapers, food containers, baby bottles, straws.
Recycling: Recycling difficult due to inconsistency of PP.
Considered a safe plastic.
While PP is marketed as quite heat tolerant, McDonald et al. (2008) found two chemicals leaching from PP-made laboratory equipment.
Compared to other plastic types, one of the better ones to use.
6. Polystyrene, Styrofoam
Used for: disposable cutlery, CD cases, food containers, packaging, egg cartons, insulation.
Recycling: possible, but usually not financially viable.
Polystyrene may leach styrene, a possible neurotoxin and carcinogen (Ahmad & Bajahlan 2007).
Animal studies report harmful effects on red-blood cells, the liver, kidney, and stomach (EPA 2000).
Exposures experienced by factory workers may lead to neurological problems such as slowed reaction time, change in color vision, or balance problems (CDC 2012).
“Considering the toxic characteristic of styrene and leaching in water and other products, PS material should be avoided for food packaging. Especially PS rigid and foam cups should not be used for hot drinks.” (Ahmad & Bajahlan 2007).
7. Mixed plastics, Other
Used for: food can liners, bottles (water, baby, sports), lids, electronics, medical storage containers, oven-baking bags, packaging,These plastics are made from a combination of the other six types, or from resins not falling under the other six standard categories.
Recycling: almost impossible to recycle due to the composite nature (mixed resin).
Type 7 plastic often contains BPA, a potent endocrine (hormone) disruptor (vom Saal & Hughes 2005).
Unfortunately, BPA has become ubiquitous over the last 80 years, owing to its use in a multitude of products (food and beverage packaging, flame retardants, paper coatings, adhesives). (Flint et al. 2012).
You might have seen other acronyms such as PBDE, BBP, DBP, or TBBPA. These are chemical additives which endow plastics with certain qualities such as flexibility or toughness. None of them are particularly good for the body, as they – like BPA and others – act as endocrine disruptors, essentially interfering with the body’s hormone system. Plastic additives accumulate in the fatty tissues of living organisms, and biomagnify up the food chain. (Roth & Wilks 2014). In short, they’re difficult to get rid of.
What Can You Do?
SOME FAIRLY EASY OPTIONS:
Leave foods or beverages contained in plastics #3, #6, and #7 on the shelf.
Avoid heating food in plastic containers. Avoid drinking hot beverages from plastic cups.
Quit buying plastic bottled water. Use a stainless steel water bottle.
Wash plastic containers in mild detergents. Harsh detergents help liberate chemicals.
Avoid using plastic bags. Bring reusable bags when grocery shopping, and your own “to-go” containers when dining out.
Change over to glass or metal storage containers in your home.