by Jolene Marty
Co-Admin Eco-Friendly baby/family products Made in the USA
There are many wonderful advancements in our world that have been made possible with the introduction of plastics. Many medical devices and lifesaving tools are made from plastic and they have most certainly made our lives more convenient. There is a plastic option, often times disposable, for almost anything. Plastic is durable with its strength being impressive enough to make moms and dads everywhere happy to use them for sippy cups and toys that get thrown across the room, and trust in it enough to keep our children safe in their car seats. Unfortunately in the quest to make things fast, cheap, convenient, and the impossible actually possible (like in medical equipment), companies have put our health on the back burner in order to achieve these things.
Plastic is a synthetic material made from a wide range of organic polymers such as polyethylene, PVC, nylon, etc., that can be molded into shape while soft and then set into a rigid or slightly elastic form. (Google Definitions) To manufacture plastic, depending on the type, you need to use chemicals – a lot of them.
There are already several great resources on which plastics mean what and why they are good or bad. There are some very conservative views on what is safe in terms of plastic but here is my ‘I like to be better safe than sorry’ evaluation of the different kinds, broken down by recycling codes:
Plastic #1: PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate)
Found In: bottled water, bottled cooking oil, juice and sports drink bottles, condiment bottles, mouthwash bottles, carpet, textiles, microwavable food trays
Safety/Concerns: It is generally regarded as safe for a one time use but is advised not to be used to refill, heat up, or reuse in any way. (HealthyChild, 2013) If you do choose to use these items, I would advise to buy in the winter/cooler weather only as sitting in a hot transport truck, the trunk of your car, etc. heat unused bottles up and leach chemicals into your item.
Plastic #2: HDPE (high-density polyethylene)
Found In: milk and water jugs, shampoo, toys, household cleaner bottles, pipes, wire and cable coverings, picnic tables, recycling bins, grocery/retail bags, cereal box liners
Safety/Concerns: It is considered a low-hazard plastic. (Mercola, 2013) While generally considered safe by the public, it also has tested positive for releasing estrogenic activity.
Plastic #3: PVC (polyvinyl choride)
Found In: cling wrap, shower curtain liners, mattress covers, toys, peanut butter jars, deli and meat wrap, siding, window frames, blood bags, medical tubing, carpet backing and flooring
Safety/Concerns: Considered one of the most toxic of the plastics, releases PVC dioxins into the environment, and is a potent carcinogenic to animals and humans. (HealthyChild, 2013) Linked to birth defects, reproductive disruptors, hormone disruptor, and cancer. This should be at the top of plastics to avoid.
Plastics #4: LDPE (low-density polyethylene)
Found In: garbage bags, dry cleaning bags, newspapers, fresh produce bags, floor tile, adhesives and sealants, toys, container lids, coatings for paper milk cartons, hot and cold beverage cups
Safety/Concerns: It is considered a safer plastic which is why it is used in many household and food bags however, studies have shown risks of it leaching estrogenic activity much like HDPE
Plastics #5: PP (polypropylene)
Found In: Ice cream and yogurt containers, drinking straws, syrup bottles, diapers, medicine bottles, car parts, garden rakes, appliances, storage bins, baby bottles
Safety/Concerns: Probably the safest plastic as of right now. It is highly resistant to heat and many companies choose to use this kind of plastic because of its safety. According to Mercola’s website, there was a study done where the PP did leach at least two chemicals but it is still under further study for accuracy.
Plastics #6: PS (polystyrene)
Found In: most disposable dinnerware, take out containers, packing peanuts, meat and poultry trays, packaging for electronics, aspirin bottles, coat hangers, toys, egg shell cartons, EPS foam
Safety/Concerns: Also known as Styrofoam, it can leach (especially when heated) styrene, a known neurotoxin. It can cause brain and nervous system problems, as well as kidney and stomach problems. Styrene leaches from containers significantly when oily foods are heated in such. (LifeWithoutPlastic.com)
Plastics #7: Other (includes polycarbonate, nylon, acrylic, and also alternative plastics)
Found in just about anything including toys, other children’s items, everyday items around your house, your car, etc. This is a catch all category that not only includes very dangerous plastics such as polycarbonate, which leaches BPA (and can be found lined in formula cans, 5-gallon water bottles, food can linings, to name a few) but it also includes some of the safer plastics including ‘green’ plastics made from rice, potatoes, etc.
A side note about acrylonitrile styrene (AS) or styrene acrylonitrile (SAN), and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) taken in an excerpt from LifeWithoutPlastic:
Two other types of plastic that fall under code 7 are acrylonitrile styrene (AS) or styrene acrylonitrile (SAN), and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). Both AS/SAN and ABS are higher quality plastics with increased strength, rigidity, toughness and temperature and chemical resistance. AS/SAN is used in mixing bowls, thermos casing, dishes, cutlery, coffee filters, toothbrushes, outer covers (printers, calculators, lamps), battery housing. The incorporation of butadiene during the manufacture of AS/SAN, produces ABS, which is an even tougher plastic. ABS is used in LEGO toys, pipes, golf club heads, automotive parts, protective head gear. Our research on risks associated with AS/SAN and ABS is ongoing. (LifeWithoutPlastic.com)
Before you get too worried and start running around your house looking at every code (or not being able to find one) on everything plastic or worrying about every possibility in your child’s toys take a look at a few of these general rules listed below:
- Absolutely avoid plastics with #3 and 6. Those are the two that leach the easiest and with the most chemicals.
- Try to avoid, when possible #1, 2 and 4. If you must use them do not use if you know they have been heated, previously used and don’t reuse or heat up yourself, in order to keep them in the safest state.
- Keep in mind #7 isn’t all horrible as long as it’s not polycarbonate (BPA or BPS). Alternative ‘green’ plastics, ABS, and AS/SAN are going to be high quality and even under heat the least likely to have any toxic release. So far through studies these are ok to use, even for children.
- The safest plastic, if you need to use plastic, will be #5. Companies are using it more and more you would be surprised looking around!
As always, it is always best to find glass, wood, or stainless steel made options when you are cooking, eating, drinking; amongst many other things you would generally use plastic for. In our lives however, it is almost impossible to get away from plastic entirely. Also, eliminating plastic from our child’s toy box can be a hard and daunting task especially with family members who do not see you eye to eye on the trouble with plastic, continue to offer up those kinds of play things. Keep in mind the few pointers listed above and you will be able to navigate easier through the store aisles!
Listed below are several amazing resources that were found when writing this article. Included are the ASTM standards on plastics, an American Plastic Toys corporation, and a few lists of more common things you can find in each plastics category.
ASTM Plastics Standards: http://www.astm.org/Standards/plastics-standards.html
American Plastic Toys: http://www.astm.org/Standards/plastics-standards.html
- Toy list that uses them and are made with no lead, PVC, phthalates, or BPA
A list of companies that sell the toys with APT plastics: http://www.americanplastictoys.com/products.htm
Plastics Numbers & What They Mean by HealthyChild.org: http://healthychild.org/easy-steps/know-your-plastics/
Grants Pass Oregon’s recyclables list by number: http://www.grantspassoregon.gov/index.aspx?page=1002 (Great resource to find out more things that contain which plastics number)
How to Recognize the Plastics That are Hazardous to You by Dr. Mercola: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/04/11/plastic-use.aspx
Another plastics breakdown: http://lifewithoutplastic.com/en/about-plastic/plastic-types
IF YOU ARE CURIOUS ABOUT MEGA BLOKS READ THIS ONE: A plastics article with some toy information: http://lilthumper.blogspot.com/2011/06/legos-mega-bloks-plastics.html
- Spoiler: Her findings were that Mega Bloks were made with #6 plastic
- For those unfamiliar with the ongoing Mega Bloks saga, here is my recent article, with a couple threads containing the recent developments, including the company back peddling on their original answer: https://ecofriendlyusa.wordpress.com/2014/01/11/mega-bloks-pvc-containing-bloks-in-a-pvc-free-bag/