Know your plastic!
Whether we like it or not, we are surrounded by plastic. It seems impossible to avoid it completely but being a little more aware will help us make better and safer choices. It is crucial to understand the potential harm caused by different kinds of plastic.
We see the chasing arrows symbol on a plastic product and we think - 'recyclable' and hence not harmful. Look closer, the actual story is in the tiny number inside the triangle.
This plastic free month, lets dive in and learn a bit about the plastic we use daily - the ones we should avoid, the ones we can reuse and the ones we can recycle!
The triangle is called Resin identification Code (RIC) and the numbers on the code range from 1 - 7 giving us a fair idea of the kind of plastic used and a clear indicator on which ones to stray away from!
1. PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate):
Plastic #1 is clear in colour and most used for one time use - water and beverage bottles, salad dressing, vegetable oil bottles, peanut butter containers. Meant for single use, they are extremely difficult to decontaminate. It has a porous structure requiring use of harmful chemicals to clean it properly. Repeated use increases the risk of bacterial growth and leaching, it may leach carcinogens.
PET should be recycled, not reused.
PET is recyclable, they can be shredded/crushed to make new PET bottles, fleece garments, furniture, tote bags etc.
Replace PET with reusable bottles and food containers.
2. HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)
HDPE plastic is the stiff plastic/opaque used to make detergent bottles, oil bottles, milk cans, cosmetic bottles, toys and some plastic bags. They can withstand heating and freezing, cant be reused without harm. Carries very low risk of leaching.
Can be easily recycled into Laundry detergent bottles, oil bottles, pens, recycling containers, floor tile, drainage pipe, lumber, benches, fencing, shampoo bottles to name a few.
3. PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
PVC is soft flexible plastic used to make clear food wrapping, teething rings, children and pet toys,water pipes, blister packaging and tons of other consumer products.
PVC is also called poison plastic since it contains toxins that leach throughout it's entire lifecycle. It is strong and elastic because of the strengthening chemicals they use which creates hormonal imbalances, affect children's development, immune and endocrine system.
Recycling is almost impossible because of different additives.
Stay away from this "poison" plastic as much as possible. Never use it to store food or to cook. Check the number on your kids toys right away and throw them if it says No.3.
Replace food wraps with beeswax wraps, plastic toys with wooden/cloth toys, and avoid packaging when you can.
4. Low Density Polyethylene
LDPE is a thermoplastic and one of the oldest grades of polyethylene. It is considered safe to use but is not environment friendly and only a small percentage f it is recyclable. It is usually used as bread wrapping, grocery bags, squeeze bottles, tooth paste tubes, trays and frozen food wrappers.
LDPE plastic is reusable, but not always recyclable. When recycled, LDPE plastic is used for plastic lumber, landscaping boards, garbage can liners and floor tiles.
To cut down on how much LDPE you use, use cloth bags for grocery shopping and shop at a farmer's market.
5. PP ( Polypropelene)
PP, the second most widely used plastic is tough and lightweight, and has excellent heat resistance qualities, often used as a barrier against moisture, grease and chemicals. It is most used in yogurt containers, the thin plastic liner in a cereal box, disposable diapers, plastic bottle tops, straws, potato chips bags, and kitchenware.
No.5 is also considered to be microwave safe but all it means is that the heated product will not be deformed if put in a microwave. Some studies lead us to believe that heating microwaveable plastic can cause asthma and hormonal imbalances.
Recycled PP goes into signal lights, landscape borders, battery cables, brooms and brushes.
Avoid PP by refusing straws or using steel straws, cloth diapers and glass containers.
6. PS (Polystyrene)
Inexpensive, light weight and easily formed plastic commonly called styrofoam. It is widely used in packaging and can be found in disposable drinking cups, egg cartons, food containers to go and utensils. Styrene monomer ( a type pf molecule) can leech into food and is a carcinogen. It is also on the hit list of environmentalists for being notoriously non recyclable.
Use reusable coffee cups, your own take out carriers and reusable/compostable picnic cutlery as a favour to yourself and the environment.
7. Other (BPA, Polycarbonate and Lexan)
This is a catch all category and hence not standardized. Includes new plastics, bio plastics, polycarbonate and all other kinds. Polycarbonate is highy dangerous BPA and a known endocrine disruptor. Highly likely for these chemicals to leech into our food. Sadly, they are used to make baby bottles, sippy cup, water cooler bottles, electrical wiring and car parts.
It is best to avoid #7 plastics, especially for food.
The industry has done it's bit - they have informed us consumers of what their products contain. It is our responsibility as consumers to be aware of what we are using, understand the codes and choose wisely. Let's be more conscious of what we consume and use plastic to our advantage rather than let it ruin our health and environment.