Reducing your use of plastic is healthier for people and for the planet, but sometimes it's very difficult to avoid plastic altogether (food processors/blenders, unbreakable toddler dishes, or breastpumps, anyone?). Because reusable food containers and kitchen appliances are often made with toxic plastic chemicals, it's important to know what your safest options are.
The biggest health problem with plastics is a set of harmful chemicals called endocrine disrupting compounds (EDC). EDCs are synthetic chemicals that mimic or block hormones and disrupt the body’s normal functions. This disruption can alter normal hormone levels, stopping or stimulating the production of hormones, or changing the way hormones travel through the body, thus affecting the functions that these hormones control.
Is BPS the mystery chemical? We don't really know. While there has been a documented substitution of BPS for BPA in thermal paper, dollar bills and canned foods, we haven’t found any documented cases of BPS being substituted for BPA in plastic bottles, food containers or kitchen appliances.
How to Avoid Chemicals in Food Containers and Kitchen Appliances
Most plastics will have a resin identification number for recycling purposes that can be used as a general guide.
Now here's where it gets tricky: the #7 recycling category serves as the catch-all for various types of plastic that don’t fit in the other classifications. Some of these plastics have endocrine disrupting chemicals like BPA (polycarbonate), while some don't (nylon, acrylic, ABS, SAN, and bio-based plastics).
These miscellaneous plastic containers may not be made with EDCs at all. The reason they're included in the catchall #7 category might be because they're made from a combination of several plastic polymers or even layered with two or more types of plastic.
Where You're Most Likely to Find Problematic #7 Plastics
Estrogenic plastics are commonly found in reusable food and beverage containers and kitchen appliance that have a clear, glossy look with a hard, inflexible feel. Common examples are baby bottles, water bottles, food storage containers, dehydrators, blenders and food processors.
A recent study looked at three different types of Tritan—a #7 clear, shiny plastic marketed as estrogen-free—and found that all of them leached estrogen-like chemicals.
According to Mother Jones, “The 200-plus samples of Tritan resins that were tested consistently leached estrogenlike chemicals after being exposed to a type of ultraviolet ray found in sunlight (UVA) and another kind that some parents use to sterilize baby bottles (UVC). In some cases, samples that hadn't even been exposed to UV light also seeped estrogenic compounds.”
So unless you've been able to confirm with manufacturers exactly what plastic is used in their products, the safest way to navigate this minefield is to skip #7 plastic altogether and go with cloudy, flexible plastics from the #2 (HDPE), #4 (LDPE) and #5 (PP) categories instead. Cloudy, flexible plastic indicates that it's made from either polyethylene or polypropylene plastic. Since these plastics have a long track record of safety, they're the best option when trying to avoid toxic chemicals.
Keep in mind that you're voting with your dollars. You're telling the manufacturers of plastic products and the chemical industry what you will accept and what you won't. The more you support the trustworthy companies who have gone the extra mile to remove EDCs from their products, the more they'll continue doing so.
Safer Products We've Already Confirmed for You
We've done an awful lot of research over the last 8 years to locate plastic products that are free of BPA, PVC, phthalates, melamine, and other worrisome #7 plastics. So take be sure to check our shopping guides first before buying food-related products:
- Safer Food Storage Container Guide
- Detox Mealtime with the Ultimate Safe Baby & Toddler Feeding Gear Guide
- Safer Food Dehydrator Shopping Guide
- Safe Dishes for Freezer Meals
- The Ultimate Toxic-free Coffee and Tea Maker Shopping Guide
- Safer Kids Cup and Dish Guide
- BPA-free Canned Food Options
- Drinking Straws: Getting to the Bottom of It
- BPA, PVC, Phthalate-free Kitchen Appliances
P.S. Plastics like polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) from the #2, #4 and #5 categories never required BPA like polycarbonate in the first place.