A Sustainable Life: Plastics

MEANING: These triangles do not represent that the plastic is recyclable. Each number represents the type of plastic it is, and some are safer than others.
MEANING: These triangles do not represent that the plastic is recyclable. Each number represents the type of plastic it is, and some are safer than others.

July can be a big month if you love a cause and want to get on board. We have Christmas in July, Dry July and Plastic Free July. As you can imagine, I’m most prone to take up Plastic Free July and try to eliminate yet another piece of plastic from my life.

Not everyone is as motivated, so I thought I’d share with you what the different plastics are and – if you do have to use them – know the ones you should avoid. Plastics should be avoided not just because of the detrimental environmental impact, but also because of the chemicals that can leach into our food. The most dangerous are:

  • Polycarbonates – used for storage containers, bottles and to line cans. They release bisphenol A (BPA), which is being linked to serious health problems.
  • PVC – a rigid plastic that often has phthalates added to it to soften the plastic to be used for food packaging.

Bisphenol A and some phthalates are endocrine disruptors, meaning they mimic our body’s natural hormones. Scientific evidence is starting to reveal they may be causing problems such as infertility, obesity, breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

You would probably be very familiar with the numbered triangle on various plastic products like milk cartons. What has been misunderstood – like the myth that disposal coffee cups are recyclable (which they are not) – these triangles do not represent that the plastic is recyclable. They’re there for manufacturing purposes. Each number represents the type of plastic it is. And some plastics are safer than others.

1. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) – no known health hazards (water and soft drink bottles, plastic jars for products like peanut butter)

2. Polyethylene High-Density (PE-HD) – no known health hazards (milk & crenam containers, yoghurt cups, bags that line cereal packages)

3. Polyvinylchloride (PVC) – contains phthalates that can leach into food (cling wraps, clear plastic packaging use for takeaway sandwiches, some soft drink bottles, the seals on lids for jars)

4. Polyethylene Low-Density (PE-LD) – no known health hazards (takeaway containers, lining for milk containers, bags for bread and frozen food)

5. Polypropylene (PP) – no known health hazards (bottle caps, margarine & yoghurt containers, food storage boxes)

6. Polystyrene (PS) – possible health risks from traces of styrene monomer, an additive to soften plastic (plastic cutlery, drinking cups, light weight trays used in supermarkets for meat, vegetables)

7. Bisphenol A and others (O) – can release BPA into food (water bottles, bottles used for sauces & condiments, baby bottles & infant drinking cups)

You should reduce your chemical intake, as well as the growing waste problem we are living with.  Try to avoid them by:

1. Refusing single use plastics such as takeaway food containers and plastic cutlery. Carry your own reusable cup, straw and cutlery around with you and be discerning about who you will support when buying takeaway food.

2. Replace plastic cling wrap with beeswax wraps. Or adopt the practices of our grandparents, who used to place a plate over a plate of leftovers in the fridge.

3. A metal or glass reusable drinking bottle is a much safer and more sustainable option than buying bottled water.

4. I’m in the process of replacing my plastic containers with Pyrex and metal containers to freeze food and use for work lunches.

5. Choose clothing made from natural fibres such as wool and cotton over polyesters and nylons.

By making the switch, we can avoid some serious health issues as well as having a massive impact on reducing the waste we produce. Choose one new alternative and start the ball rolling in your home.

Michelle Stephenson is a consultant specialising in sustainability with BE Designs. Visit her blog at www.bedesigns.com.au/blog