Monday, December 17, 2007

Plastics Fact Sheet

I got this in an e-mail:

Plastics: A Fact Sheet
Plastics are everywhere. Since 1976, plastic has been the most widely
used material in the United
States. In 2001, the US disposed of over 25 million tons of plastic.
Plastics are the fourth largest
category of municipal solid waste. Some plastics are safer than
others to use. Below is a list of
different types of plastics, which ones to avoid, and which ones are
safer to use. Also provided
are suggested alternatives to common plastic products.

Types of Plastics
Plastic containers are usually numbered on the bottom, indicating the
type of resin used in their
#1 – polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE)
Products: Soft drink bottles, medicine containers
#2 – high density polyethylene (HDPE)
Products: Toys; bottles for milk, water, detergent, shampoo and motor
#3 polyvinyl chloride (V or PVC)
Products: Pipe, meat wrap, cooking oil bottles, toys
#4 low density polyethylene (LDPE)
Products: Wrapping films, grocery bags
#5 polypropylene (PP)
Products: Syrup bottles, yogurt tubs, diapers
#6 polystyrene (PS)
Products: Coffee cups, clam-shell take-out containers
#7 other (usually polycarbonate)
Products: Medical storage containers, baby bottles, lining in food
cans, some water bottles.

Plastics to Avoid
· PVC: Avoid PVC (#3). The manufacturing and incineration of PVC
vinyl releases cancercausing
dioxins into the environment. Dioxins are then ingested by cattle,
poultry, sea
creatures, and other animals, thus entering the food chain. PVC also
often contains lead and
toxic plasticizers such as phthalates that migrate into food, water,
air, and our mouths (e.g.,
when infants mouth PVC toys). Furthermore, most recycling programs do
not accept PVC.

.Leaching plastics: Avoid PVC (#3), polystyrene (#6), and other
plastics (#7). All of these are
known to leach harmful chemicals such as bisphenol A into the foods
they contain. These
chemicals can disrupt proper hormone functioning, leading to a
variety of reproductive and
neurological health problems.
Safer Plastics

· Choose plastics that are accepted for recycling in your area. Many
people believe that the
simple presence of a code on the bottom of a container means that it
is recyclable. The
numbers indicate the type of resin used, but not all types are
accepted for recycling. The most
commonly recycled plastics are #1 (PETE) or #2 (HDPE).

· Choose non-PVC cling wrap such as Glad Wrap. Also, Saran Premium
Wrap and Saran
Cling-Plus Wrap do not contain PVC or bisphenol A.

· Choose #1 (PETE), #2 (HDPE), #4 (LDPE) and #5 (PP) plastics—these
are safer choices
since most research has not shown leaching of carcinogens or hormone-
disrupting chemicals
from these. However, #4 and #5 are not as widely recyclable. Some
bread and frozen-food
bags and squeezable bottles are made of #4 plastic. Some ketchup
bottles and yogurt and
margarine containers are made of #5 plastic. Medela and Evenflo baby
bottles are generally
made of safer plastics.

· Choose biodegradable plastics. The use of a corn-based
biodegradable plastic called
polylactide (PLA) is growing. For example, Wild Oats supermarket
chain replaced its bulkfood containers with PLA. Biodegradable
garbage bags and disposable dinnerware are now available for home use
(see Look for the Biodegradable
Products Institute's "Compostable" label on certified products, which
indicates that the product rapidly breaks down and can support plant
growth after decomposing. Look for innovative companies who are using
Green Chemistry in manufacturing processes.

Alternatives to Plastics

· Glass, ceramic and stoneware do not leach chemicals into foods.
Glass recycling is also more environmentally friendly than plastics

· Stainless steel containers are 100% recyclable, inexpensive, and
will not react with foods during cooking.

· Wax paper sandwich bags are an alternative to plastic sandwich bags.

· Wood cutting boards instead of plastic are preferable. Spray your
cutting board with a mist of vinegar, then a mix of hydrogen peroxide
and water, then rinse, to kill bacteria.

Sources: The Green Guide (
Co-op America (

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