Plastic Containers Helpful Buyers Guide

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There are lots of different types of plastics on the market, each with their own properties.  Some plastics are a lot healthier and more environmentally friendly than others.  They’re more stable and easier to recycle.  How do you tell the difference?  Each piece of plastic should come with a resin identification code.  That’s the one on the bottom of most containers – a number from one to seven located inside the recycling symbol.  Here’s a look at the types of plastic, and which ones are best from a green perspective.

Type one is polyethylene terephtalate, also known as PETE or PET.  This is what most disposable soda and water bottles are made of, and is usually clear.  Plastic type two is high density polyethylene, or HDPE.  Many milk jugs, detergent bottles, and toiletries bottles are made of this.  It is often opaque.

Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, is used to make meat wrap, bottles for cooking oil, and plumbing pipes, as well as garments.  It’s numbers as type three.  Type four is low density polyethylene, LDPE, which is used to make grocery bags, cling wrap sandwich bags and other films.  Plastic type five is polypropylene.  Yogurt tubes and cups are often made from it, as well as water bottles that seem to have a cloudy finish.

Type six is polystyrene, or Styrofoam, which disposable containers and packaging are made from.  Group seven is a mixed bag, composed of plastics which were invented after 1987.  Polycarbonate falls into this category, as does polylactide and plastics made from renewable resources.  Some reusable water bottles are made from this, as well as baby bottles and food storage containers which resist staining.

Of these plastics, types two, four, and five – HDPE, LDPE, and polypropylene – are the best choices.  They’re not known to leach chemicals into food, and they’re relatively easy to recycle.  Type two is accepted by most recycling programs.  Types four and five may need to be taken to a special location.

There are a couple of plastics that are okay for some uses, but are harder to reuse or recycle.  PET, for instance, while widely accepted by recyclers, should not be reused.  The porous plastic tends to absorb flavors and bacteria.  Plastics marked PLA are made from vegetable sources, and cannot be recycled.  If your area has a municipal composting program, however, they may be accepted.

Other plastics have real problems, such as PVC – type three.  There are phthalates in this material – softening chemicals that interfere with hormonal development, and making PVC releases hormone disruptors and carcinogens.  Polystyrene can leach chemicals into food and is hard to recycle, and polycarbonate contains a chemical called bisphenol A which can have real health consequences.

If you’re going to reuse containers, avoid storing fatty foods in them, and handwash all containers carefully.  Remember that microwave safe containers aren’t necessarily healthy – they just won’t melt, and never microwave a container that’s not marked for that use.  In general, it’s better to avoid microwaving plastic entirely and stick to glass.

Related posts:

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  2. Plastic – The Material Making Us All Fat
  3. Plastic Bag Alternatives
  4. Go Green and Avoid Using Plastic Bags When Shopping
  5. Guide to Green Fashion
  6. Eco-Friendly Organic Cotton Blankets

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