I’m sure at one point you’ve noticed the three arrow triangle with a number in the middle on many of the plastic containers around your home, and wondered what in the heck do they mean. I’ve found and reprinted below, an article from “The Daily Green” a consumer’s guide from GoodHousekeeping.com. Particularly important to note are the ones that are suspected for releasing harmful toxins such as BPAs as they come into contact with food over time or when heated. Here is a breakdown of what those symbols mean, and more importantly, a descriptive guide to help remember to avoid types 3, 6 and 7!
Number 1 Plastics PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) Found in: Soft drink, water and beer bottles; mouthwash bottles; peanut butter containers; salad dressing and vegetable oil containers; ovenable food trays. Recycling: Picked up through most curbside recycling programs. Recycled into: Polar fleece, fiber, tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling, straps, (occasionally) new containers
PET plastic is the most common for single-use bottled beverages, because it is inexpensive, lightweight and easy to recycle. It poses low risk of leaching breakdown products. Recycling rates remain relatively low (around 20%), though the material is in high demand by remanufacturers.
Number 2 Plastics HDPE (high density polyethylene) Found in: Milk jugs, juice bottles; bleach, detergent and household cleaner bottles; shampoo bottles; some trash and shopping bags; motor oil bottles; butter and yogurt tubs; cereal box liners Recycling: Picked up through most curbside recycling programs, although some allow only those containers with necks. Recycled into: Laundry detergent bottles, oil bottles, pens, recycling containers, floor tile, drainage pipe, lumber, benches, doghouses, picnic tables, fencing
HDPE is a versatile plastic with many uses, especially for packaging. It carries low risk of leaching and is readily recyclable into many goods.
Number 3 Plastics V (Vinyl) or PVC Found in: Window cleaner and detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, cooking oil bottles, clear food packaging, wire jacketing, medical equipment, siding, windows, piping Recycling: Rarely recycled; accepted by some plastic lumber makers. Recycled into: Decks, paneling, mudflaps, roadway gutters, flooring, cables, speed bumps, mats, etc.
PVC is tough and weathers well, so it is commonly used for piping, siding and similar applications. PVC contains chlorine, so its manufacture can release highly dangerous dioxins. Harvard-educated Dr. Leo Trasande of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine advises consumers to avoid number 3 plastics for food and drinks. (If you’re unsure, look for the little symbol that should be printed on the container. Some brands have left the symbols off, which is a major problem.)
Why? Number 3 plastics may release toxic breakdown products (including pthalates) into food and drinks. The risk is highest when containers start wearing out, are put through the dishwasher or when they are heated (including microwaved).
Number 4 Plastics LDPE (low density polyethylene) Found in: Squeezable bottles; bread, frozen food, dry cleaning and shopping bags; tote bags; clothing; furniture; carpet Recycling: LDPE is not often recycled through curbside programs, but some communities will accept it. Plastic shopping bags can be returned to many stores for recycling. Recycled into: Trash can liners and cans, compost bins, shipping envelopes, paneling, lumber, landscaping ties, floor tile
LDPE is a flexible plastic with many applications. Historically it has not been accepted through most American curbside recycling programs, but more and more communities are starting to accept it.
Number 5 Plastics PP (polypropylene) Found in: Some yogurt containers, syrup bottles, ketchup bottles, caps, straws, medicine bottles Recycling: Number 5 plastics can be recycled through some curbside programs. Recycled into: Signal lights, battery cables, brooms, brushes, auto battery cases, ice scrapers, landscape borders, bicycle racks, rakes, bins, pallets, trays
Polypropylene has a high melting point, and so is often chosen for containers that must accept hot liquid. It is gradually becoming more accepted by recyclers.
Number 6 Plastics PS (polystyrene) Found in: Disposable plates and cups, meat trays, egg cartons, carry-out containers, aspirin bottles, compact disc cases Recycling: The material was long on environmentalists’ hit lists for dispersing widely across the landscape, and for being notoriously difficult to recycle. Most places still don’t accept it, though it is gradually gaining traction. Number 6 plastics can be recycled through some curbside programs. Recycled into: Insulation, light switch plates, egg cartons, vents, rulers, foam packing, carry-out containers
Number 6 plastics (polystyrene) are made into soft Styrofoam-style cups as well as rigid foams and hard plastic products, so remember to look for those little numbers in the arrows (don’t feel bad if you need a magnifying glass). Avoid using them as much as possible.
Why? Number 6 plastics can release potentially toxic breakdown products (including styrene). Evidence suggests polystyrene can leach potential toxins into foods. Get this: particularly when heated! That insulated coffee cup — the one that ‘knows’ when to keep your drink warm — doesn’t seem so smart anymore does it?
Number 7 Plastics Miscellaneous Found in: Three- and five-gallon water bottles, ‘bullet-proof’ materials, sunglasses, DVDs, iPod and computer cases, signs and displays, certain food containers, nylon Recycling: Number 7 plastics have traditionally not been recycled, though some curbside programs now take them. Recycled into: Plastic lumber, custom-made products
A wide range of plastic resins that don’t fit into the other six categories are lumped into number 7. Some are quite safe, but the ones to worry about are the hard polycarbonate varieties, as found in various drinking containers (like Nalgene bottles) and rigid plastic baby bottles.
Why? Studies have shown polycarbonate can leach bisphenol A (BPA), a potential hormone disruptor, into liquids. According to Trasande, no level of bisphenol A (BPA) exposure is known to be truly safe, and in August a government panel expressed ‘some concern’ that the ingredient causes neural and behavioral problems in children.
NOTE: Not long after I posted this on my blog, my friend Carly Alyssa Thorne, who is a holistic Life Coach with a medical background shared this evidence on BPA linked with obesity in kids and teens. http://healthland.time.com/2012/09/18/bpa-linked-with-obesity-in-kids-and-teens/
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