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Beware Plastics

Plastic Bottles, A Health Hazard?

You have probably heard about the negative health effects of using plastic bottles made with the chemical Bisphenol A. This chemical has been all over the news and has caused a nationwide panic and recalls from retailers. But what exactly is Bisphenol A and is it the only chemical used in plastics that is harmful and unhealthy to use? Are all plastics bad or are there good ones which are safe? What about bottled water, surely the plastics there are safe right?
In this lens, I will discuss the different types of plastics we come into contact with on a daily basis. This will help you make more informed decisions on which plastics to use and which to avoid.

Plastics by Type

Plastics are broken down into 7 categories based on their polymers and recycle ability. Plastic products are marked with the universal recycle sign, a triangle with a number in the middle. This number lists the type of plastic the product was made of. The plastic types are as follows...

1. PET/PETE: Polyethylene Terephthalate (water & soda bottles, cooking oil bottles)
2. HDPE: High-Density Polyethylene (detergent bottles, milk jugs, vitamin bottles)
3. PVC: Polyvinyl Chloride (shower curtains, shrink wrap, building materials, toys)
4. LDPE: Low-Density Polyethylene (shopping bags, six-pack rings, cd/dvd cases)
5. PP: Polypropylene (bottle caps, dishes, candy containers, yogurt containers)
6. PS: Polystyrene (Styrofoam cups, take-out food containers, peanuts, egg cartons)
7. Other: Polycarbonates + many others (Reusable water bottles, baby bottles, Tupperware)

Dangerous Plastics to Avoid - 3, 6, 7 Of the plastics types above, the primary materials to watch out for are #3 Polyvinyl Chloride, #6 Polystyrene & #7 Other. These polymers all contain hazardous chemicals.

Plastic #3
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC, V) contains the toxins Chloride and Phthalates which may interrupt hormonal activities. Some plastic wraps may contain DEHA which is considered a carcinogen. The making and disposal of PVC releases dioxin, a poisonous cancer-linked chemical. Avoid prolonged skin contact with PVC.

Plastic #6
Polystyrene (PS) contains the toxic Styrene which is labeled a possible human carcinogen by the EPA. This material also poses environmental problems in it's creation and disposal. Be wary of structural breakdown of Styrofoam cups and trays in the presence of heat and oil.

Plastics #7
Other - contains all types of plastics not listed under 1-6. Many of these plastics may be safe but Polycarbonates (Trade name LEXAN) which contains Bisphenol A is also listed under category 7 so be careful. Bisphenol A (aka BPA) are endocrine disrupters, which mimic hormones. They may cause havoc on human hormones through plastics leaching into hot beverages and may also be a potential carcinogen. Do not use these products with infants and small children and never use them to heat liquids or formula.

*NOTE: Not all category #7 plastics include the BPA toxin. Group #7 also includes compostable plastics made of organic material such as corn, which may actually be more environmentally friendly than most general plastics. Most of these biodegradable cups are typically labeled to inform you of their eco-product nature.

Safer Plastics to Use - 1, 2, 4, 5  Of the remaining plastics in our list the safest plastics to use for food or water storage is #5 Polypropylene followed by #1 Polyethylene & #2 HD Polyethylene.

Plastics #5
Polypropylene (PP) is a robust plastic that is heat resistant considered highly safe for human use. Due to its high heat tolerance, Polypropylene is unlikely to leach even when exposed to warm or hot water. This plastic is approved by the FDA for use with food and beverage storage. Polypropylene plastics can be re-used safely and with hot beverages.

Plastics #1-#2
Polyethylene & HD Polyethylene (PET, HDPE) are considered safe to use in normal conditions where the plastic will not leak too much into water. HD Polyethylene #2 is the more durable of the two. However these plastics may leach when exposed to UV, heat and over time from natural breakdown. The FDA deems this plastic to be safe but you should error on the side of safety. Never put hot liquids into these plastics, leave them out in the sun, or reuse these bottles. Also check for shelf-life as leaching will intensify over time. Think one-time, single-use only!

Plastics #4
Low-density Polyethylene (LDPE) is rarely used in products that would affect human health. This plastic is considered safe but not very environmentally eco-friendly. Potential Health Complications from Exposure to Plastics

Below is a list of possible health problems that could result from human over-exposure to the chemicals used in various types of plastics.

  • asthma
  • birth defects
  • cancer
  • chronic bronchitis
  • deafness
  • diabetes
  • genetic changes
  • hyperactivity
  • indigestion
  • infertility
  • liver dysfunction
  • obesity
  • skin diseases
  • skin rashes
  • ulcers
  • vision failure
  • Be careful and conservative in your approach to using plastics.

    1. Always take sniff and taste test first. If there's a hint of plastic in your water, don't drink it. Also avoid skin contact with plastics that smell funny. Remember the foul synthetic scent of vinyl shower curtains? Nasty!

    2. Remember most plastics tend to break down when exposed to heat and strong detergents, so if you must reuse them clean gently with mild soap and cold water only.

    3. Keep them out of direct sunlight, heat and high temperatures. Always store them in a cool, dark place.

    4. Avoid microwaving drinks or food in most plastics if possible. For hot/acidic beverages, choose rigid, reusable containers or thermoses with stainless steel or ceramic interiors. For storing or heating food use Pyrex, glass or ceramic containers instead. Avoid using plastic sandwich and food wraps if possible.

    5. Be careful when consuming canned foods as the lining or resins that coat the insides of the tin cans may contain Bisphenol-A. Avoid canned foods containing acidic contents like tomatoes or spaghetti sauce. Buy the ones packaged in glass jars instead.

    6. Scratched and worn plastic water bottles or food containers should be discarded immediately.

    7. Follow the expiration date of all items including water, soda, lotion, bodywash etc. For items that may last a long time like mouthwash or baby oil, consider relocating them to glass bottles or ceramic dispensers.

    Alternatives to Plastics and Bottled Water 
    As you know by now, all plastics are not created equal and some are better than others. Still some people want to do away with plastics altogether and they too have several different options.

    Drinking Tap Water is not one of them! Untreated water from your faucet can contain hundreds of unwanted contaminants including coliform bacteria, E coli, viruses, fluoride, chlorine, lead, arsenic, radon, herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, chloramine, sulphur and radioactive materials. And this is just a small list of the potential toxins found in your municipal city water supply. So is there any way to have portable clean drinking water that is safe, convenient and environmentally friendly? O

    ne solution would be to install a water filter at home and bottle your own water in reusable water bottles. Most retail stores sell faucet and countertop models which offer decent basic filtration but still leave many contaminants in the water. The water purification process that offers the best quality water is Reverse Osmosis Water Filter System. Reverse Osmosis produces the cleanest, safest drinking water available to the residential market and is the same process used by many name brand water and soda bottlers. They are the only filtration systems that can remove 90-95% of contaminants from tap water which includes thousands of unhealthy substances including all the ones listed above and also Pharmaceutical Drugs. According to AP news reports provided by this USA Today article & Fox News report - "Reverse Osmosis removes virtually all pharmaceutical contaminants".

    Once you have installed a reverse osmosis system, you will need to find a quality re-usable water bottle to store your water. If you choose plastic, then #5 Polypropylene bottles are your best bet. However if what you have learned about plastic really bothered you and all plastics are out, you can purchase Stainless Steel bottles made by Klean Kanteen or Aluminum bottles made by the Swiss company Sigg. Aluminum however may cause Alzheimer's disease so stainless steel is probably safer.

    Glass bottles are the safest of all but they are usually heavier and more prone to breaking. You can get great quality, dense glass bottles just from keeping your old Snapple, Sobe or Yoo-hoo beverage bottles. And they are free so keep as many as you can to store lotions, mouthwash, cooking oil or anything else that comes packaged in a plastic bottle. (Which is pretty much EVERYTHING!)

    While there are pros & cons with each type of bottle, all of these alternatives are ways to drink and store liquids without worrying about plastic chemicals. Reusable bottles also help you go green and helps the environment.

    For lotions and bodywash, one good alternative solution is to relocate them to ceramic dispensers as soon as you get home from the store.

    Plastics Affect Rising High Gas Prices at the Pump!

    Guess what plastics are made of? That's right, they are made from crude oil. It takes more than 17 million barrels of oil annually to create enough plastic to meet American's demand for bottled water. That is enough to fuel more than 1 million cars in the USA for 1 full year. That is not even including all the plastic bottles used for shampoo, lotion, mouthwash and all the other products that use plastics. Another problem is the transportation of bottled water.

    Water is very heavy and it takes a lot of fuel to transport it from exotic plastics like the Fiji islands or Lake Geneva in France. Ships, planes and trucks bring us our bottled water, and it takes huge amounts of oil to move thousands of tons of water. Recycling? Sure, but again it takes large amounts of fuel and clean water (yes WATER!) to run a recycling plant so once again we are wasting two very precious natural resources even when we recycle plastics.

    According to the Beverage Marketing Corp, the average American consumed 1.6 gallons of bottled water in 1976. In 2006 that number jumped to 28.3 gallons and rising. It's no coincidence that our gas prices have increased so dramatically along with our consumption of bottled water. It's an interesting coincidence that PET, plastics #1 is made of PETroleum.

    Next time you want to blame just the government or administration for our high gasoline prices, maybe you should look again at the water bottle in your hand. Plastics' Legacy - A Footprint 2X the Size of the United States

    Bottled water is a billion dollar industry and Americans throw away an estimated 60 million plastic bottles per day. You do not have to be an environmentalist to be scared by those numbers especially when you realize that only 10-15% of plastic bottles get recycled. A portion of the rest will end up polluting our oceans and adversely affecting the health of fish and marine wildlife. The problem has become so big that there is actually a name for this bio-hazard nuisance,The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

    The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area of marine debris in the central North Pacific Ocean. Size estimates vary from an area equivalent to the state of Texas to double that of the continental United States. The circular rotation around this area allows it to draw waste material in and has led to the accumulation of a massive body of flotsam and debris, a majority of which are plastic.

    Most plastics don't bio-degrade, instead breaking down into smaller particles. The process is not clean or pretty and it takes many hundreds of years for nature to break down just a single plastic bottle! These plastics break down into smaller pieces and pellets which then act like magnets attracting toxic chemicals like DDT and PCBs, becoming in effect, poison pills. The damage on marine life as you can imagine is devastating.

    To summarize, purchase plastics with the #5 which is the safest plastic and can be reused. Plastics #1, #2, #4 are okay but be wary of shelf-life and never heat or reuse. Avoid bad plastics #3, #6, #7 if possible.

    Plastic chemicals leaching into our water may not seem very dangerous because it does not have an immediate affect on our bodies. We do not feel sick or ill from exposure to plastic chemicals therefore we think it is safe. However, long term exposure and accumulation of these unnatural toxins in our bodies do add up and will have a negative affect on our health. Plastic chemicals may not be deadly or fatal to us right now but it may bite us in the bud 10-15 years from now if we are not careful.

    To avoid plastics, people can filter their own water using a reverse osmosis system and bottle it with stainless-steel or glass bottles. It is cheaper, good for the environment, and even better for your health.

    Plastics - Wikipedia Definition
    Wikipedia's excellent definition of plastics with a good breakdown of plastics by type.
    Plastics By Numbers
    A good Cnet article that lists the major types of plastics with product pictures.
    Plastic Pollutions Facts
    Quick facts on the damage that plastics pollution has on our planet.
    Reverse Osmosis Filtration Explained
    Explains the reverse osmosis water purification process.
    Water Filter Comparisons Guide
    Insight into the differences between filtered water, tap water and bottled water quality and the importance of choosing a good water filter system.
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