Ren has been a conscious consumer for a long time and has spent many years writing about product safety.
This article will explore the dangers of certain plastics. We use plastic every day and can easily forget to check whether or not it is safe for us. With so many products out there, it can be hard to know what is safe and what is dangerous. This article is broken into seven sections to help address your concerns about plastics and other forms of packaging.
7 Things to Ask Yourself Before Using Plastic and Other Packaged Products
- What plastic numbers should you avoid?
- What do the numbers on plastic products mean?
- Are there any tips for using plastic safely?
- What numbers are the safest plastics?
- What is BPA and why is it in plastics?
- Is BPA in aluminum and metal bottles?
- Is BPA in canned food and packaged food?
We encounter so many plastic products when drinking and eating. Many of these products contain chemicals which can be very harmful to humans. Recent studies have provided evidence that several types of plastics are evidently unsafe for use.
1. Three Plastic Numbers That You Should Avoid
- #3 Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
- #6 Polystyrene (PS)
- #7 Polycarbonate
These plastics are used in many everyday household products and often contain high levels of BPA. BPA is considered to be a hormone-disrupting chemical that is linked to autism, birth defects, reproductive problems and other health issues. You want to avoid using these plastic products so that you do not ingest bad chemicals along with your food and drink. What is most alarming is that many products made for babies and small children are made from these harmful plastic types. These include sippy cups and baby bottles. BPA is also found in the epoxy lining of metal containers including soup cans and drinking bottles.
2. What Do the Numbers on Plastic Products Mean?
Most plastic products are marked with a number that corresponds to the type of plastic that it is made of. The number, known as a "recycling code," can be found within the triangular recycling symbol (see above) that recyclable plastics are marked with. The plastics you want to avoid are numbers 3, 6, and 7. These are the types that can release nasty hormone disruptors and carcinogens into your food and drink.
Why You Should Avoid Plastic Numbers 3, 6, and 7
- #3 Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) has di-2-ehtylhexyl phthalate (DEHP). DEHP is an endocrine disruptor and a likely human carcinogen.
- #6 Polystyrene (PS) likely will leach styrene—which is another possible endocrine disruptor and probable human carcinogen—into your drink or food.
- #7 Polycarbonate contains bisphenol-A, a hormone disruptor. This chemical can leach out when it is heated or exposed to acidic solutions. This type of plastic is very common in sports bottles and is used in most baby bottles and 5-gallon water jugs—watch for this one!
3. Tips for Using Plastic Safely
Below are some tips for some basic practices that you can adopt for safer "plastic use."
- Use Baby Bottles made of tempered glass or polypropylene (#5) or polyethylene (#1) (these do not contain bisphenol-A).
- Keep plastic products away from heat. Heat tends to promote the leaching of chemicals. Even the safer types of plastics (see below) may leach chemicals due to heat or prolonged storage.
- Use reusable containers or cups with stainless steel or ceramic interiors are a good substitute for your plastic ones.
- Do not reuse plastic drink bottles that were intended for single use.
- Bottled drinks should be used quickly as chemicals from the plastic leach over time. Don't buy plastic bottles of drinks if it has been on store shelves for a long time.
- Pay attention to the taste. If your drink has even a bit of a plastic taste to it, don't drink it!
5. What Is BPA and Why Is It in Plastics?
Bisphenol A, otherwise known as BPA, is a compound used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. It is amongst the world's highest production volume chemicals. Over 8 billion pounds of BPA are manufactured every year. BPA is the offending chemical that poses such high health risks to consumers and is found in the plastics #3, 6, and 7. A study by the NIH, published in the September 2010 journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, links the ill effects of BPA on test rodents to negative impacts on humans (see sources at the bottom of this article).
4. What Numbers Are the Safest Plastics?
- #1 polyethylene terephthalate
- #2 High Density Polyethylene
- #4 Low Density Polyethylene
- #5 Polypropylene
6. Is BPA in Aluminum and Metal Bottles?
To combat corrosion, many metal water bottles (especially those made of aluminum) are lined with epoxy resins that can contain BPA. The February 2009 issue of Specialty News (an outdoors industry trade journal) reported that aluminum bottles with plastic liners made using epoxy are likely to contain BPA.
7. Is BPA in Canned Foods and Packaged Goods?
BPA can also be found in canned goods. Similar to the process of combating corrosion in aluminum and metal drinking bottles, manufacturers of canned goods often use epoxy resins to line the inside of cans. Whether it is a can of soup, vegetables, or tomato sauce the epoxy lining of the cans can contain harmful levels of BPA that can leach from the liners into the food. Metal lids of glass containers often also have an anti-corrosive epoxy lining that contains BPA—so just because your food is stored and contained in glass, it doesn't mean it is free of BPA exposure.
- USA Today, "BPA Danger"
- NIH, Environmental Health Perspectives report (2010)
- World Public Union, "Plastic Numbers to Avoid, BPA Numbers"
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
nuke help on May 22, 2019:
Creed on December 14, 2018:
Wrong #1 plastic has BPS , HORMONE DISRUPTOR
Mary moscatello on July 17, 2017:
How do I know if tomato canned products I buy are BPA free. Product I purchase is 100 per cent made and packed in Italy?
GetFactsnotHype on August 28, 2014:
firstname.lastname@example.org on August 19, 2014:
BPA in plastics
spelling error–chmeical–should be–chemical
Kate Ann from United States on December 31, 2013:
I recently watched a video on netflix called "Addicted to Plastic" that you might find interesting. I already knew a lot about recycling and the harsh effects of plastic on our health and environment, but after watching the video, I was painfully aware of how oblivious I was to the real danger. Nice article!
Michael A Muehleisen from Miami,FL on March 01, 2013:
Great Hub. I will use and share this info.
trax123 on December 04, 2012:
I wonder about water machines at work, either the large scale bottled water or the electric (UV?) purifying machines. I understand that the UV poses no risk with consumption, but I wonder about the machine itself, it's storage container and tubing.
Christopher Renshaw on July 12, 2012:
Phone the manufacturer of any product and ask them, and if they contain BPA politely tell them that you are not going to buy any more of their products until you remove the BPA and let them know you are going to publish the facts to everyone that you know, the more people that do this the more manufacturers will remove them
Roger on May 28, 2012:
Why does the USA even allow use of these plastics is beyond me. Do not buy them and maybe they will go away............
susan coffman on March 22, 2012:
does anyone know if BPA lined metal cans will leach chemicals into dry goods? we are canning things like tea bags, herbs, grains and other dry goods in cans with bpa linings. the manufacturer says there is little to no chemical leaching with dry goods -- only liquids. anyone have any info on that?
NotPaidToSayThis from Silicon Valley on January 06, 2012:
@Ren Chin: Unfortunately, there is a major error in this otherwise very helpful article. You ascribed two different meanings to recycling code 7: "Polycarbonate" and "Other". According to many sources, including http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic_recycling, the latter is correct. A plastic with recycling code 7 is often--but not always--made of polycarbonate or ABS. So yes, you should "watch for this one," but to determine whether "this one" contains BPA, you can't rely on codes alone.
@Martina: When a product imprinted with recycling code 7 is from a responsible source and says "BPA-Free", it is not made of polycarbonate. The Rubbermaid BPA FAQ at http://www.rubbermaid.com/pages/LearnAboutBPA.aspx says "... no current Rubbermaid consumer food storage products contain BPA, phthalates, dioxins, adipates or other plasticizers—so they do not leach these sorts of chemicals under any circumstances, including microwaving and dishwashing". The FAQ also explains how you to tell whether your older Rubbermaid product contains BPA.
I have no connection with Rubbermaid except my decades of buying, using and often liking their products. And I was NotPaidToSayThis.
Martina on October 27, 2011:
So, I just bought 30 piece set of Rubbermaid containers including lids. Box says BPA FREE - Does not contain Bisphenol-A. I liked it because it included 4oz containers which I wanted to use for baby food!! Well well, those BPA FREE containers have recycle code #7!!! DO NOT RELAY ON BPA FREE STICKERS, CHECK FOR CODES! Especially if you using containers for your children. These containers were Designed in USA and MADE in Malaysia. Now I'm more aware and using real BPA FREE containers, preferably US made.
arundeep on September 26, 2011:
very useful especially in the present situation where lifestyle diseases are accounting for majority of casaulties, most of which can be avoided if we take a little care in such things
Angelino on September 02, 2011:
I am receving a ResMed Positive airway Pressure Device today.
I just discovered that the plastic used to make this product contains BPA. I know that I will not be drinking from this machine; but my concern is that I will be utilising it for my sleap apnea.
I hope that This BPA chemical used does not have a negative effect on my body.
I don't know how much is known about BPA used in the plastic for this device and it's use.
Name on January 30, 2011:
Great information to know.Here after I'll check the numbers before buying plastic.Thanks
Cali on January 23, 2011:
Keep up the good work. I think somebody wants people to die faster with all the unsafe things going on in the food world. Lead in children's jewelry in toys in plates. Now plastics. FDA seems to be more incompetent ever year. Their rules and regulations don't seem to be followed and violations are a slap on the hand. LOVE THE TERM THEY USE "NO KNOWN HEALTH EFFECTS" doesn't mean there isn't any!!!!! Now we know why the autism in children is 1 to every 50 children in the USA. our children are loaded with unhealthy chemicals.
Jason Menayan from San Francisco on June 30, 2008:
Great info. Bisphenol-A and phthalates are dangerous and should our exposure to them should be minimized. Thank you for providing this resource.
PlayaNorte from San Francisco, CA on June 30, 2008:
very informative, i can never remember which numbers are which so I am going to bookmark this page
desert blondie from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen on June 30, 2008:
Thanks for this information! I always thought the numbers were purely some sort of abstract recycling code, not that the code refers to the ingredients in the plastic...very helpful!