Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Plastic: the ok, the bad and the ugly

Last month I wrote about reducing holiday goodie wrap. Not only does plastic and aluminum take its toll on the environment but our health as well.

What about the hard plastics that comprise most of our packaging, including toys? Are some plastics more toxic and prone to leaching than others? The answer is yes.

Plastic will outlast us by hundreds of years. While it’s important to reduce this petroleum product in our lives, that’s often easier said than done. There are some plastics though that you definitely want to steer clear of. Plastic is assigned a number depending on what it is. The following is a lowdown on what’s toxic and what’s not….

#1 plastic – Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) – WARNING
Toxicity: Considered not as toxic as the other plastics but is under current investigation by Health Canada. Contains UV stabilizers and flame retardants.
Found in: Pop and water bottles. Shampoo bottles. Synthetic fibers (ie. polyester).
Recyclable?: Commonly recycled.

#2 plastic – High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) – OK
Found in: Margarine containers, milk jugs, cleaning product bottles and shopping bags.
Recyclable?: Bottles are commonly recycled.

#3 plastic – Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) - AVOID
Toxicity: Vinyl chloride is a carcinogen. Emits dioxins during manufacturing and incineration. There is some support that PVC products, such as toys, leach.
Found in: Pressure pipelines for water and sewage, vinyl records and siding. With plasticizers such as phthalates, PVC softens for use in children’s toys, adult sex toys, clothing, upholstery, hoses, tubing, flooring, roof membranes and electrical cables.
Recyclable?: Rarely recycled.

#4 Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) – OK
Found in: Computer components, dispensing bottles, wash bottles, tubing, plastic bags for computer components, and various molded laboratory equipment. Its most common use is in plastic bags.
Recyclable?: Not commonly recycled.

#5 Polypropylene (PP) – OK
Similar to #4

#6 Polystyrene (PS), a.k.a. Syrofoam – AVOID
Toxicity: Uses benzene – a carcinogen.
Found in: Take-out containers, packaging.
Recyclable?: Not commonly recycled due to its low weight and low scrap value. Toronto was set to include syrofoam recycling in 2008 until the recycler that was lined up went belly up. Read on for details.

#7 Mixed Bag – Usually Polycarbonate – AVOID (esp. drinking bottles)
Toxicity: Made with a highly toxic chlorine gas derivative and carcinogenic solvents. Jury’s still out if it leaches the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol A.
Found in: Hard plastic used for refillable baby and water bottles, eyeglass lenses, compact discs and DVDs, MP3 player cases.
Recyclable?: Not commonly recycled.

Tips on Reducing Plastic:
  • Take a canvass bag with you when shopping and out and about in case you find yourself shopping.
  • Chose packaging that will break down faster – glass (although glass is energy intensive to make – still you can recycle it and it won’t leech into your food).
  • Try to avoid packaging that your municipality does not recycle.
  • Bring your own containers to stores. Works best in eco-friendly stores.




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1 comment:

Fake Plastic Fish said...

Hi there. I just came across this post about avoiding plastic and thought I would add a few more ideas. I've been working on significantly reducing my plastic consumption and plastic waste since June of last year and have come up with a comprehensive list of plastic-free alternatives. Please have a look and feel free to use whatever ideas might work for you: