The world survives on plastic nowadays. From bottles to shoes to even sofas, there are at least hundred products made out of plastic that can be easily found in homes. But while, plastic is popular because it is attractive, can be easily moulded to many things and does not even break easily, there are some concerns regarding this magic material. And the most dreaded of the concerns is health.
Although all plastics may seem the same to a layman, there is a degree of difference in the different chemicals that are used to make different grade plastics. And it is these chemicals that leach out of the plastics with use and cause many health problems like abdomen pains, eye-sight weakening, hormonal changes and even cancer.
Cancer in the Bottle
The biggest threats of the plastic world are of course the water bottles that are used in hundreds and millions every day. Unfortunately, those fabulous colourful hard plastic bottles made with polycarbonate plastics and identified by the #7 recycling symbol, may leach a chemical called BPA. Bisphenol A or BPA disturbs the hormonal messaging in our bodies. It may lead to breast cancer and uterine cancers in women, decreased testosterone levels in men, and particularly harm babies and young children.
To make sure the bottle you are picking up next time to store liquids is absolutely safe, here is what to look for. All bottles come with a recycling symbol at the bottom. These may be numbers from 1 to 7 and each number signifies the kind of plastic chemicals that have been used to make the bottle. Depending on the number therefore, you can easily ascertain whether a particular bottle is safe to use or contains chemicals that are harmful.
A more detailed description of each number is given below but as a quick test if it is a 2 HDPE (high density polyethylene), or a 4 LDPE (low density polyethylene), or a 5 PP (polypropylene), your bottle is fine. The type of plastic bottle in which water is usually sold is usually a 1, and is only recommended for one time use. Do not refill it.
Understanding the Recycling Symbols
These are bottles made of Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) what we commonly know as PET bottles. This plastic is used most commonly to make soft drink, water, ketchup bottles, and peanut butter, pickle, jelly and jam jars. The bottles are known to be safe and not known to leach any harmful chemicals.
Bottles made of High density polyethylene (HDPE) Milk cartons, juice bottles, curd tubs, grocery bags and other shopping bags are made of this kind of plastic. These too are free of cancer causing chemicals.
The plastic products made of Polyvinyl chloride (V or PVC) These are the plastic that cover most cut or fresh fruits we buy from malls, cling-wrapped meats, cheeses, and other foods sold in delicatessens and groceries are wrapped in PVC. The number 3 products are bad news because to make the plastic wraps so soft manufacturers add plasticizers during manufacturing. These chemicals are suspected to be carcinogenic.
Plastics made up of Low-density polyethylene (LDPE). The squeezable bottles we use for pouring sauces are usually made of this plastic. Also some frozen food bags. These cannot be widely recycled but are safe to use.
Made of Polypropylene (PP) there are certain thick ketchup bottles and ice cream tubs that are used commonly from this material.The hazard from the chemicals may be there during the manufacturing but otherwise the plastic is supposed to be safe.
This plastic is widely used to make cups, toys, foam insulation etc. Many baby products too like bottles and sippers are made of the plastic. The products are bad because benzene a chemical used during productions is a known human carcinogen.
There are other chemicals too that are added and may cause cancer.
These are plastics usually made of polycarbonate. Baby bottles, microwave ovenware, eating utensils, plastic coating for metal cans all have number 7 symbol on them. The bad news is we use them too frequently to realize that the plastic is so harmful.
Made with biphenyl-A, a chemical invented in the 1930s in search for synthetic estrogens it is a hormone disruptor. In simpler terms it may lead to breast cancer in women and testosterone mal function in men. The chemical can leach into food as it is used frequently.
- Use stainless steel water bottles available in the market for storing water in fridge or otherwise
- Use glass bottles
- Never re-use the mineral water bottles after the first use.
- Use glass baby bottles even if they are more costly and prone to breaking. A bottle can be replaced, but the damage done by harmful chemicals to an infant are irrevocable.
- Do not store food products in kitchen in plastic. Rather use glass or ceramic jars or stainless steel or aluminum vessels like the olden days.
- Avoid picking food that is wrapped with PVC wraps.
- Use borosil glass ware for microwave cooking instead of the plastic wares.