The plastic types you want to avoid are Numbered 3 and 7 on their Plastic Identification Codes.
Plastic Type 3 - PVC
Plastic Type 3 is often dangerous.
It's known widely as PVC, and common uses include clothing (e.g. shoes, handbags, raincoats, fake leather and rubber items), soft and flexible plastic toys, and packaging.
Phthalate plasticizers can be added to make the PVC flexible and soft.
These plasticizers are known endocrine disruptors, changing hormone levels and causing birth defects in animal tests. Endocrine disruptors also trigger fat cell activity (cause obesity), and may be linked to risk of diabetes.
Imprecise labelling: The problem is, when you see the "3" recycling symbol - which is the easiest way to identify PVC - you don't know whether phthalates have been added or not. Some PVC has had phthalates added, some hasn't.
You could argue that some may even be "safe". But because you can't tell, the logical thing to do is to consider all Number 3 plastic as unsafe, and avoid it.
As an aside, PVC has been historically difficult to recycle. Most PVC is not recycled. My council, for example, only recycles plastic types 1 and 2, and this is fairly common.
Plastic Type 7 - Other, but includes Polycarbonate (with Bisphenol-A)
Imprecise labelling: Plastic Type 7 includes a whole swag of plastic types including acrylic, fibreglass and nylon as well as polycarbonate (the problem plastic).
One of the most common types of Plastic 7 is polycarbonate. And the most common type of polycarbonate is made from Bisphenol-A (BPA).
You may have heard of Bisphenol-A, and the unsafe baby bottles. This issue has been in the media a fair bit recently.
Many common big-selling baby bottles are made of polycarbonate - Avent is just one of the big sellers that still sells baby bottles made from polycarbonate made from bisphenol-A.
Bisphenol-A (BPA) has been suspected of being harmful to humans since the 1930s (nearly 80 years!), yet we're still making baby bottles that leach this compound into baby milk.
Bisphenol-A is an endocrine disruptor. What this means to you is that it mimics human hormones, is a likely carcinogen (causes cancer), triggers fat cell activity (causes obesity), and exposure may increase rates of birth defects and infant mortality, among a host of other nasties.
In short, you don't really want to expose yourself to this compound any more than necessary.
Well-known products made of polycarbonate include the Tupperware Rock N Serve series (the bowls, not the lids).
A full list of the types of plastics used in Tupperware products in available here.
Note that most Tupperware products do not use polycarbonate, but some do, and as a safety measure you may choose to avoid these polycarbonate items.
Tupperware has a statement on their bisphenol-A containing polycarbonate products here.
Avent (among other brands) continue to sell polycarbonate baby bottles made from BPA, although they have introduced a new bottle. The new bottle is still made from polycarbonate but has a polyethylene liner. You can read Avent's statement on their bottles here, and an interesting article (dated 2002) about Avent's earlier opinions on the matter, which provides interesting links to a number of studies done that indicate the dangers of BPA here.
On April 18, 2008, Health Canada announced that Bisphenol-A is "toxic to human health".
My family's response to this issue
PVC/Plastic Number 3: My family owned various PVC items, including handbags and shoes (me), clothing (all of us), toys (the children) and other household products.
Since becoming aware of the issues surrounding PVC, we have decided to recycle where possible, and bin the rest. We're not taking any chances. Items that need replacing will be replaced with non-plastic versions were possible, and safer plastic versions where only plastic items exist.
Polycarbonate/Plastic Number 7: My children both used Avent polycarbonate bottles. My husband and I also a variety of polycarbonate products in the house, including re-usable water bottles, Tupperware (Rock N Serve) and other items. At the time I thought all these items were safe - now I'm sure they're not.
So we have got rid of all our polycarbonate items, and any items that appear suspect.
In some instances where no number was marked on the item but the plastic looked like it might be polycarbonate (e.g. kids character drinking cups), we have binned the items. My son (aged 4) is old enough to drink from glass now, and my daughter will drink from Tupperware lidded cups, made from Plastics 4&5, currently recognised as safe.
Future purchases: I intend to stop buying plastic as much as possible generally, and will not buy plastic Numbered 3 & 7 at all. When gifts made from these plastics are given to us, we will return them, with as kind an explanation as possible.
We don't live in a bubble. I'm not Beth Terry, from Fake Plastic Fish, as much as I wish I could be. I have two preschoolers, and the world of preschool is unfortunately also the world of plastic. I can't eliminate all plastic from my life just yet.
But I can draw the line somewhere. Just by being more selective about what I buy, I can reduce my family's exposure to these these dangerous plastics, and make their world - and ours - a little safer.
Links in this post:
- Plastic Identification Codes
- PVC - further information
- Phthalate plasticizers = further information
- Endocrine disruptors - further information
- Vinyloop - PVC recycling information
- Polycarbonates - further information
- Bisphenol-A (BPA) - further information
- Tupperware plastic types - full listing
- Tupperware company statement - Bisphenol-A (BPA)
- Avent company statement on polycarbonate baby bottles and Bisphenol-A (BPA)
- Mindfully.org - Leading baby bottle manufacturer says Bisphenol-A not a danger
- Beth Terry at Fake Plastic Fish.
Cluttercut - Green simplicity