From the moment we get in the shower and wash our hair, to when we put our clothes on or pack our lunch with the fresh punnet of strawberries we bought from the local supermarket, plastic has infiltrated its way into our everyday lives. Plastic is in just about everything from packaging to medical supplies, the fibres in our clothes to household paints. Since the plastic boom in the 60s it is everywhere, framing our everyday lives as we know it. This convenient item is found in almost everything we touch throughout the day. Despite the many benefits the plastic revolution has to offer, long exposure to our skin, the leaching into our food and drink and the suffocating of marine life is the reality of this convenient product.
So, how bad is plastic and what can we do to minimise our risk of exposure?
Well the topic of plastic is quite complex and becoming 100% plastic free definitely has its difficulties (not to say that it is impossible) and there are many different types of plastics and the level of toxicity varies. Which is why we have created this list below as a brief guide which you can print off and put in your wallet or place on your fridge.
How to identify the type of plastic: on a plastic item you can look for a triangle which will have a number inside it. This number or code is what identifies the type of plastic used to make that item. Plastic manufacturers do not need to state whether it is toxic or not, the code simple identifies the type of plastic it is. This is why many of us go through our everyday lives not knowing the extent of harm we are potentially causing our bodies.
The 7 plastics of the world.
Plastic Type: 1 – Polyethylene terephthalate (PET, PETE or Polyester)
Overview: PET is the most well-known member of the polyester family of plastic polymers. Commonly used In the textile industry.
OK or AVOID: AVOID.
PET has been found to leach antimony trioxide when exposed to warm temperatures such as being left in cars or garages. Antimony trioxide is considers as a possible carcinogen. Prolonged exposure can result in respiratory abd skin irritation, menstrual problems and evidence suggests it may be a factor in miscarriages. Water bottles, salad dressing bottles, soft drink bottles, microwaveable containers, detergent containers.
Typical use: PET fabric or Polyester is commonly used in textiles and house hold items such as carpet and pillows. Glass or stainless-steel reusable water bottles.
Alternatives:Reuse mason or jam jars where possible – these also make really cool takeaway coffee cups. Choose natural fabrics for clothing such as sustainable cotton, hemp or wool.
Plastic Type:2 – High density polyethylene (HDPE)
Overview:Polyethylenes are the most widely used family of plastics in the world. Often used in packaging.
OK or AVOID: OK.
This type of plastic is considered to be relatively safe and a safer option for food and drink packaging. However, studies have shown that it can leach endocrine disruptor, nonylphenol when exposed to UV light which can result in estrogen-mimicking reactions in your body when consumed.
Typical use:Plastic grocery bags, garbage bags, yoghurt and margarine tubs, cereal box liners.
Alternatives:Cotton reusable shopping bags, Bee wax food wraps, glass or stainless-steel reusable water bottles and containers.
Plastic Type:3 – Polyvinyl chloride (Vinyl or PVC)
Overview:Once was the second most used plastic in the world, however, due to increased concerns about the health and environmental issues it poses, it’s use has decreased.
OK or AVOID:AVOID.
PVC is considered as the most toxic and hazardous plastic, and contains chemicals such as BPA
Typical use:Takeaway containers, cling wrap, shampoo containers, mouthwash bottles, blood bags, some children’s toys.
Alternatives:Glass or stainless-steel reusable water bottles and containers or non-plastic food wrap such as bee wax wraps.
Plastic Type:4 – Low density polyethylene (LDPE)
Overview:The versatile polyethylene polymer has the simplest basic chemical structure of any plastic polymer (repeating units of CH2: one carbon and two hydrogen molecules) making it very easy to process and thus extremely popular for numerous low value applications - especially packaging.
OK or AVOID:OK.
However, studies have shown that this too can release the endocrine disruptor nonylphenol when exposed to UV light which has an estrogen-mimicking effect on our bodies.
Typical use:Frozen food bags, garbage bags, hot and cold beverage cups, food storage containers.
Alternatives:Glass or stainless-steel reusable water bottles. Reuse mason or jam jars where possible – these also make really cool takeaway coffee cups.Use a reusable keep-cup or coffee cup for cold and hot beverages.
Plastic Type:5 – Polypropylene (PP)
Overview:A versatile, heat resistant plastic often used as to store food or used as microwavable containers. This plastic is known for its strength – which means it takes very long to break down.
OK or AVOID:OK.
This plastic is generally considered a safer plastic for hot food or beverage storage. However, it has been known to leach plastic additives which may contribute to the onset of asthma.
Typical use: Straws, baby bottles, nappy and sanitary pad liners, ketchup and sauce containers, margarine and butter containers.
Alternatives:Glass or stainless-steel reusable water bottles. Purchase margarine and butter in the paper cubes.
Plastic Type:6 – Polystyrene (PS)
Overview:Polystyrene is often associated with food packaging containers or used in packaging.
OK or AVOID:AVOID. PS food containers can leach styrene, which is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen and is considered a brain and nervous system toxicant.
Typical use:Styrofoam food containers, disposable cups and plates, bike helmets.
Alternatives:Bring your own reusable cups, plates or containers when ordering takeaway.Use glass or stainless-steel reusable water bottles.
Plastic Type:7 – All other plastics
Overview:This category does not identify one particular plastic resin. It is a general catch-all for all plastics other than those identified by numbers 1-7, and can include plastics that may be layered or a mixture of various plastics. It includes the new bioplastics.
OK or AVOID: AVOID.
Leaches bisphenol A (BPA), which is a known endocrine disruptor with numerous adverse health effects, including increased risk of cancers.
Typical use:Baby bottles, water bottles, oven baking pages, eye glass lenses, large water storage containers.
Alternatives:Use glass or stainless-steel reusable water bottles. Transfer water into alternative bottles as soon as you get it home if you purchase the large containers.
In summary plastic types 2, 4 and 5 are OK for limited use but avoid having these items in the sun or heat as the plastic may leach into your food or drink. Plastic types 1, 3, 6 and 7 you need to AVOID.
Keep this information handy for when you are next at the grocery store so you can begin to make better choices in your every day lives. Not only is plastic bad for the environment and marine life, it can be detrimental to our own health especially when exposed over long periods of time. Females have been found to have plastic in their breast milk because of how exposed we have become to plastics.
If this is something that has worried or shocked you, feel free to reach out and I'd be more than happy to chat with you about it and help come up with ways for you to make better choices for yourself or for your kids.