Choosing Safer Plastics

Featured Article,Home & Family,Living Green
November 30, 2011

Which plastics are better for your health and the environment?

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You probably have enough stress without having to worry about your family getting ill because you use the wrong kind of plastic. Choosing safer plastics can alleviate potential worry and guilt.

The problem with plastics. Because plastics are affordable and convenient, not to mention unbreakable, they're found everywhere. There may, however, be a hidden cost with plastic: your health. In fact, if you just ate lunch on a plastic plate, there's a good chance you just ate plastic for lunch. But wait! That turkey and Swiss on rye tasted exactly the same as it did when you used a paper plate. That's because plastic has no odor or no taste, which means you may have ingested plastic without knowing it. So, you can't trust your taste buds on this one.

The solution. While carrying around glass containers and china dishes isn't practical for most of us, there are some easy solutions to reduce your plastic use. Healthy Child Healthy World recommends using natural alternatives—preferably ones that aren't packaged using inordinate amounts of plastic. If you just can't go without plastics, choose the safer options. The most common plastics have a numbered code surrounded by a chasing arrow symbol; the code is usually found on the bottom of the product. Safer plastics include high-density polyethylene (No. 2), used in plastic jugs and yogurt cups; low-density polyethylene (No. 4), found in produce bags and storage containers; and polypropylene (No. 5), used in storage containers and dish ware. It may be best to avoid plastics with the numbers 1, 3, 6 and 7.

Handle plastics with care. Those not wishing to rid their house of plastics can take steps to make plastic use safer. These suggestions from the Environmental Working Group will make your plastic use less toxic.

  • Don't reheat food or beverages in plastic containers. Heat breaks down plastics and causes chemicals to be released into your food or drinks.
  • Use plastic containers only for cool beverages, not hot.
  • Single-use plastics should be used once. They're not meant to withstand the rigors of multiple uses.
  • Avoid scratched and worn water bottles. Worn surfaces are more likely to release chemicals.
  • Wash plastics by hand or on the top rack of the dishwasher.
  • For infants, use glass bottles or plastic baby bottles labeled "BPA-free."
  • Don't let infants and toddlers chew on plastic electronics such as remote controls. Most are treated with fire retardant, which children shouldn't ingest.
  • Give babies natural teethers such as frozen washcloths or untreated wood in place of plastic teethers.
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