Plastics are not created equal

by Janice Welch

I decided to write about this topic after having many questions from mothers about plastics. Are they really that bad? How can I possibly avoid them? What is a safe sippy cup?

I usually answer, “Use plastic only when it is unavoidable – and yes I know, it is oftentimes unavoidable.” Here are my guidelines for using plastics:

• Never use plastic in the microwave! You can find plenty of different-sized Pyrex glass containers to use for heating in the microwave – even down to very convenient one-cup sizes.

They also have plastic lids (yes I know- but the lids don’t touch the food) that are excellent for storing leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer. In the microwave, use parchment paper or wax paper as a lid.
• Wash your plastics by hand; do not expose them to the high temperatures of a dishwasher.
• Replace your plastics if you see any type of wear, cracks, or discoloration.
• Avoid #3, #6, and #7 plastics (the number is stamped in a triangle on the bottom of the container). These are recycling codes. Not all plastic containers have this code, but if they don’t, you can call the manufacturer or just find a replacement that does have the code.

Of the BAD (#3, #6, #7) ones, the worst offender is the #7 (other) plastics. These are usually the polycarbonates and contain bisphenol-A, a hormone disruptor that will leach into water and other matter. I was very discouraged to find all single-serve applesauce ñ so popular in kid’s lunches – use #7 plastic, and this includes Whole Kids Organic from Whole Foods! What is even worse is that many of the name-brand baby bottles for infant formula are #7. A much better choice would be Evenflo glass baby bottles, available online at Baby Super Mall.

#3 stands for polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics that contain phthalates for flexibility. These phthalates are known carcinogens and are not bound to the PVC molecule, making it easier for them to leach whatever it comes in contact with (your food or drink).

#6 polystyrene (PS) plastics can leach styrene a carcinogen that, like bisphenol-A, also affects hormones.

For the ACCEPTABLE ones (#1, #2, #4, #5):

#1 polyethylene terephthalate (PETE) plastics are good one-time use plastics. Reuse or extended storage in these containers increases the risk of leaching the phthalates into the product. So these should be recycled right after using.

The best reusable containers from a leaching standpoint are made from #2 high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic, or #5 polypropylene (PP) plastic. (As for the sippy cup question, Playtex Insulator Cups are ones I found in #5 plastic)

For food wraps and bags, look for #4 low-density polypropylene (LDPE) plastic. Many are made from #3 PVC, but I have found a few that are #4 (LDPE). The ones I use are Glad
Clingwrap, Glad-Lock baggies, and Ziploc baggies.

Now you too are armed and ready to be a plastic detective. Happy hunting!

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