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Tips for Safer Plastic Use and Less Waste

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While we strive for a life without plastic, there are times when plastic use is unavoidable - yes, even for us too. So here are some guidelines and tips to help you in using common plastics, when you simply can't avoid it.

In general, as we suggest in our Common Plastics #1 to #7 section (see that section for more detail on each plastic type), the SAFER CHOICES among the common plastics for limited - ideally single - use with food and drink are:

 

 High density polyethylene (HDPE)

 Low density polyethylene (LDPE)

 Polypropylene (PP)

 

 And the types of common plastic to AVOID are:

 

  Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE)

 Polyvinyl chloride (V or Vinyl or PVC)

 Polystyrene (PS) 

recycle code 1 Polycarbonate (PC)

 

IN SHORT:

2, 4 and 5 are OK for limited use

AVOID 1, 3, 6, and 7 (PC)

 

TIPS for Safer Plastic Use and Less Waste

  • Avoid polycarbonate (PC #7) baby bottles and sippy cups, which contain bisphenol A (BPA). For baby bottles, try and use glass, polyethylene or polypropylene instead. Sippy cups made of stainless steel, or of polypropylene or polyethylene are safer. Be sure to check the bottle or cup to be sure of the type of plastic it contains. As for baby bottle nipples, try and use natural rubber or silicone which do not leach the carcinogenic nitrosamines that can be found in synthetic latex rubber.
  • REFUSE disposable, single-use plastics... bags, bottles, utensils, straws. When going out or travelling, get in the habit of carrying your own reusable bag, bottle, coffee mug, take-out food container, utensils, glass or stainless steel straw...
  • For water, try and avoid plastic bottled water. Tap water is much more regulated than bottled water. If the tap water in your area is questionable, consider installing a home filtration system or using a portable filter, such as a binchotan charcoal filter. Non-plastic reusable water bottles (stainless steel, glass) are now very easy to find - they reduce plastic waste, as well as exposure to toxins, and they save you money the more you use them. 
  • If you must use plastic water bottles, minimize their use and exposure to temperature extremes.  Plastic bottles made from PETE #1 or HDPE #2 are intended for single use only. Avoid cleaning them with strong detergents which can degrade the plastic and increase leaching - try and use a natural biodegradeable detergent. 
  • Avoid heating plastic food and drink containers.  This stresses the plastic causing it to degrade faster and thus making it more susceptible to leaching chemicals. If you must use a plastic bottle or container, avoid heating food or drink in it, especially in the microwave. Even if the container says "microwave safe," that does not mean it won't leach chemicals. If the plastic is showing signs of wear – scratched, worn, cloudy, sticky, cracked – recycle it.

  • Avoid putting fatty or acidic food and drink in plastic containers. Fats and acids (tomato or lemon-based foods) are more likely to cause the plastic to leach chemicals into the foods. When fatty foods are heated in the microwave there may even be a residue left on the plastic (such as a reddish ring with tomato sauce). This is the sauce going into the plastic, which means the plastic is also going into the sauce.  

  • Avoid freezing plastic food and drink containers. This stresses the plastic causing it to degrade faster and thus making it more susceptible to leaching chemicals. If the plastic is showing signs of wear – scratched, worn, cloudy, sticky, cracked – recycle it.
  • Use plastic wraps with caution. Some plastic cling wraps are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC, #3) and should be avoided if at all possible. Plastic wraps should not be used in the microwave, but if you have no choice, try to keep the plastic from touching the food. Alternatives include wax paper, paper towels, or using a plate to cover food. For deli foods wrapped in plastic cling wrap - which is likely PVC - slice off a thin layer where the food (e.g., cheese) was in contact with the plastic and store it in a non-plastic container or use a non-PVC wrap.
  • Avoid plastic dishes and utensils for meals. Plastic disposable dishes and utensils are usually made of polystyrene (PS, #6), which should be avoided because it leaches phthalates. Alternatives include glass, ceramic, wood, stainless steel, bamboo, and lacquer ware. 
  • Try and use alternatives to plastic packaging and storage containers. Cloth, paper or cardboard boxes are possibilities for transporting groceries. Stainless steel and glass food storage containers are available. Buy in bulk as much as possible to avoid packaging. Leave plastic packaging of fresh fruit and vegetables at the store to show the store it is unnecessary and wasteful.
  • Avoid the large blue water jugs. These are almost always made of polycarbonate (PC, #7) and leach BPA. If you must use them, then once you have the water at home, transfer it to a non-plastic storage container. For storing large quantities of water, glass and stainless steel containers and dispensers are available. 

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