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Jun 9, 2009

Safest Reusable Plastics for Holding Food and Water by NatGeo.com


By Vincent Standley

April 28, 2005


In a perfect world, the ideal plastic container would be non-petroleum-based, non-leaching, reusable and recyclable or biodegradable. Biodegradable polyactide (PLA) plastic food containers and wraps made from corn can’t yet withstand heat or repeated use. Here's an update on reusable and recyclable plastic products that, when used correctly (see "Note" below), won't leach unhealthy chemicals into our water and food.

As a general rule, you can identify plastics by the recycling code number stamped on the bottom of an item.

Safest Plastics for You and the Environment

#1 Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) containers are recyclable and generally considered the safest single-use plastic-bottle choice. But they are best not reused because studies indicate that after repeated use, porous PET containers may start to absorb bacteria and flavors or leach the heavy metal antimony (an eye, skin and lung irritant at high doses).
#2 High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is both durable and accepted by most curbside recycling programs. Alas, few reusable #2 containers are available.
#4 Low-density polyethylene (LDPE), like its cousin HDPE, is a food-safe plastic, mostly used to make food wraps and plastic bags.
#5 Polypropylene (PP), though less recyclable, has not been shown to leach any carcinogens or endocrine disruptors. Readily available in reusable containers.

Plastics to Use with Caution

#7 Other is a catchall category used for any plastic invented after 1987. The most problematic #7 plastic is polycarbonate (see below) but other resins haven’t been widely tested for safety. In some cases, they’re considered proprietary and the manufactures won’t disclose what the exact resin is made from.

Plastics to Avoid

#3 Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) releases carcinogenic dioxins into the environment when manufactured or incinerated and can leach phthalates.
#6 Polystyrene (PS) can leach styrene, a possible human carcinogen.
#7 Polycarbonate plastics, used in clear, rigid sports bottles and some baby bottles, contain bisphenol A, a known hormone disruptor that has recently been linked to a wide variety of health disorders, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, some types of cancer and childhood hyperactivity disorders.
Note on Use: All plastics can leach chemicals under certain conditions. As a rule of thumb, do not subject even the most durable plastic containers to high temperatures (microwave or dishwasher; radiators; hot food or drink; direct sun on hot days). "Microwave-safe" and "microwavable" mean a container probably won't melt in the microwave, but there's no promise that it won't leach chemicals into your food. Do not use ANY plastic containers that appear old, stained or worn, since bacteria can hide in scratches or scummy films. Opt for metal, tempered glass or oven-proof ceramic when possible, like the light, stainless-steel Klean Kanteen ($19.95; www.kleankanteen.com).

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