Recently, many chemical companies have promised the world that they would do some changes in the way people lived through science. It is a fact that we are surrounded with plastics nowadays, and it is almost impossible to stay away from them. We are wondering, which types of plastics are relatively safe and which are the ones that are considered cancer-causing.
Many people, especially the ones concerned about their healthy lifestyle, are wondering whether it is safe to keep drinking water out of plastic bottles, or consume meal leftovers kept in plastic containers. This is a battle of convenience versus toxicity, and it is the science which can help mediate.
In 1988, the Society of the Plastic Industry (SPI) created a classification system which discriminates between the seven most commonly used plastics in products. Those plastics can be easily identified on the bottoms of plastic containers inside a triangular recycling insignia. Those are the following:
- LDPE (low-density polyethylene)
- HDPE (high-density polyethylene)
- PETE or PET (polyethylene terephthalate)
- PVC (polyvinyl chloride)
- PS (polystyrene, or styrofoam)
- PP (polypropylene)
- Other (includes polycarbonate and polylactide)
Each of the above listed plastic types is accompanied with its own set of risk, but some are safer than the others. The third category, PETE or PET, is a plastic material which is commonly used to store beverages. It is intended for single use because it is considered a plastic with higher risk. What makes it risky is the fact that it may leach heavy metals and other chemicals into fluid.
Back in 2009, a group of German researchers discovered that PET plastic is similar to the bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical which can interfere with proper hormone production. If left unchecked, the consequences can be very dangerous. The most detrimental thing about this chemical is that it can increase the risk of cancer.
The fourth category, PVC, also increases the risk of cancer and similar health conditions. This plastic type is used in cooking oil containers, toys for both animals and pets, and plastic food wrapping. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified the PVC as a major threat when it comes to cancer risk.
The fifth category, PS, is a plastic type which is considered a possible human carcinogen. This plastic type, also referred to as Styrofrom, is a staple in takeout containers as well as to-go cups. Many studies have linked the PS with reproductive health issues. According to a research conducted by Harvard University, the exposure to polystyrene may lead to chromosomal damage, abnormal pulmonary function and various types of cancer. The polystyrene or Styrofoam containers have been banned by New York City on July 1, 2015.
Stick With HDPE and LDPE If You Must Use Plastic
The HDPE or HPD as well as the LDPE types of plastics are recommended as the best choices when it comes to minimizing the risk of health issues. HDPE is mainly used in detergent bottles and milk cartons (semi-transparent, whitish kind), while LDPE is used in condiment bottles, shrink wrap, and plastic bags.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the PP plastic type is much safer option as well. However, the survey which was conducted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, found that the “microwave-safe” food packaged in PP still contains leached BPA.