A quick plastic primer:

Ok, a few people emailed me with questions about the numbers on the underside of plastic items.

To be honest, I have to do a little refresher myself from time to time. Hey, it’s not like we don’t all have other numbers to think about, like the skyrocketing cost of fuel, groceries and housing. Or the number of people wrongly rotting in prison due to archaic Rockefeller sentencing guidelines…but I digress.

Here again is a rundown of what the number mean:

A quick plastic primer

Number 1: Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a lightweight plastic, is used to make a slew of beverage bottles, from soft drinks to water. PET bottles are intended for a single use as PET breaks down with use and cannot be properly cleaned. The concern with PET products is not toxins, but the buildup of bacteria due to infrequent or insufficient cleaning. Scratches and imperfections in the plastic may host germs. These plastic bottles are the most viable for recycling.

Number 2: A high-density polyethylene (HDPE) made from petroleum, this plastic is pliable, opaque and versatile. Its many uses include sport bottles, cloudy milk jugs, cereal box liners, trash and shopping bags, and shampoo and cleaning supply bottles. There’s low risk of leaching, and it’s also curbside recyclable.

Number 3: Along with Number 7, polyvinyl chloride (PVC or V) is one of the most controversial plastics. These containers should probably be set aside for non-food usage. Use them to store crayons or beads rather than leftovers. Number 3 has been nicknamed the “toxic plastic” due to the softeners (DEHA) that with long-term exposure may cause cancer and other health issues. PVC is sometimes found in food containers, and often it is used in making plastic wrap.

Number 4
: Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is used in making bread bags, frozen food bags and squeezable bottles. It transmits no known chemicals into food. It is recyclable.

Number 5: PP (polypropylene) is not as recyclable as numbers 1 and 2, but this plastic is another good option when choosing safe, toxin-free food and beverage containers. This omnipresent plastic is used in yogurt containers, syrup bottles, straws and medicine bottles.

Number 6: Polystyrene (PS) is used in making Styrofoam, plastic tableware and takeout containers. This plastic may leach styrene compounds — a possible carcinogen — and may disrupt hormonal functioning.

Number 7: A clear, hard, shatterproof plastic made with polycarbonate, specifically bisphenol-A. It may pose serious health risks. The popular and colorful Nalgene water bottles were a good example of this reusable plastic. The Nalgene company has replaced these water bottles with a bisphenol-A-free version. Studies conducted on laboratory animals revealed that even small amounts of bisphenol-A, a synthetic hormone, may be linked to breast, uterine and prostate cancers, premature developmental problems, obesity and diabetes.


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