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Seeking the truth about plastics for water bottles and food storage containers. Myth versus Reality

After the recent brouhaha over the SIGG water bottles, we are in search of some simple truths (or even easy to follow guidelines about plastics). Are your eyes glazing over? If so, here's the SUPER quick skinny.

  1. Buy reusable plastic containers only or avoid plastic altogether.
  2. Do NOT buy any containers with a 3, 6, 7, or letter V located in the recycling triangle on the bottom of the bottle/container.  
  3. For those readers who want tips about safely using plastics and who want to better understand the risks, keep reading.

Are all plastic bottles and containers dangerous? No (At least not that we currently know of.)

There are two categories of plastics to avoid:

  1. Disposables. Disposables are simply "un-green" ; more trash, more plastic consumption, more pollution etc. They are just a bad idea no matter how you look at it. If you must use plastic, go with reusable.
  2. Plastics made with known toxins. Those bottles and containers that are made with polycarbonates (which use BPA), polyvinyl chloride (PVC or V) or polystyrene (PS) should be avoided. (See below to learn more about each type of plastic and the chemicals used to create them.)

How do I know which ones to avoid?

It's fairly easy. Look at the bottom of any plastic bottle (or container) you use. Inside the triangle you will see a number. If it is a 3, 6 or 7 or the letter V, it likely contains one of the chemicals mentioned above (BPA, PS or PVC). Get rid of it!

An added downside for plastics containing PVC is that it can not be effectively recycled! Use your nose. PVC has a distinct smell; that new shower curtain smell? That is the toxin. New car smell, ditto!

What about the OTHER numbers on the bottom?

Plastics still considered safe include polypropylene (PP, #5), polyethylene (PET or PETE, #1, #2, #4) and high density polyethylene (HDPE). However, while PET can be recycled it is non-biodegradable. PET is the polymer that makes grocery bags, shampoo bottles, toys, and disposable water bottles. Polypropylene (PP) is used similarly. These containers plug up landfills and water ways. So while these plastics have not been found to leach dangerous chemicals, they do contribute to waste.

It is estimated that less than 25% of plastic bottles are recycled.

What if there is no identification on the bottom of the container?

Consult other resources. It is truly overwhelming. Plastic is everywhere and it is not easy to determine which are dangerous. There is ongoing debate now about lead content in plastic toys and how to educate consumers about possible risks.

Here are a few links that may help you sort the mess out:

What should I do to lower my exposure risk to BPA, PS and PVC and potentially other undiscovered toxins?

  1. Buy stainless steel or aluminum water bottles or "safe" reusable plastic
  2. Use glass or ceramics for food storage (Snapware Glass containers are a good option)
  3. Consider using wax paper to wrap sandwiches and other foods (Commercial plastic wrap has been found to leach certain toxins -- ONLY commercial wrap.)
  4. Look for products that say they are BPA free.
  5. Avoid canned food products. The liners may contain BPA. Opt for soup or broths sold in cartons. Buy frozen veggies instead of canned. Always rinse the canned vegetables.
  6. Avoid putting any plastic in the microwave, dishwasher or using harsh detergents; these all can contribute to leaching.

For water bottles, specifically, what are some good choices?

Stainless steel, aluminum and glass containers are all considered safe and better alternatives to any disposable plastic container. Aluminum will weigh less than stainless. There are also non BPA reusable plastic bottles available. Kleen Canteen, Hydro Flask, Camelbak, and S'well all sell varying bottle types and are reliable brands. FYI, Kleen Kanteen and Hydro Flask offer a large range of sizes up to 64 oz (1/2 gallon). 

Many sources out there can guide you on picking a sustainable choice for your water bottle.

THE CHEMICALS

What is BPA?

Polycarbonate plastic contains BPA. BPA stands for Bisphenol-A, which acts like a synthetic form of estrogen. Polycarbonate plastic has been used in reusable bottles and even baby bottles. BPA is dangerous and can migrate into food and liquids especially when heated (at boiling temperatures the risk of toxin migration is 55x greater). At certain levels, BPA has been shown to lead to cancer and other bad stuff including stymied fetal brain development.

What about PVC and PS?

The problem with PVC is the phthalates which are added to make the plastic pliable and clear. Additionally, PVC plastics may contain lead. Phthalates can be toxic (reproductive problems, cancer). PVC plastic or vinyl is often used for clear food packaging, commercial "cling wrap" (the plastic wrapped sandwich you buy at a deli or grocery store), shower curtains and children's toys. Luckily, most companies are phasing out the use of PVC. Like BPA the risk of leaching is significantly increased if any heating occurs.

Do NOT heat any plastic; no microwaving or putting the containers in the dishwasher.

Polystyrene (PS or commonly known as Styrofoam) is used in carryout containers and disposable plates, cups, egg cartons. If it's foam, it's likely PS. First, it does not biodegrade and second, exposure to the chemical used to make PS, styrene, has shown to be carcinogenic. The EPA classifies styrene as a "possible human carcinogen." What's the risk? If you have a bottle that uses polycarbonate plastic, the safe thing to do is pitch it, or figure out whether you can exchange it for a new, risk-free, bottle. While the evidence is clear that BPA can be dangerous, it is not clear what level of the chemical could be in your water or liquid beverage. For more information on all things active and healthy, look at our Blog Archives -- categories to the right.

If you are traveling soon and want to maintain your active and healthy lifestyle, visit our Athletic-Minded Travel Portal. www.athleticmindedtraveler.com

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Comments

Comments

Hello! Run from the plastic!

Hello! Run from the plastic! Run from the bottles with liners!

Time for Glass and Stainless Products....I have many SIGG bottles in my collection, and love them all--- cant beat the 'ol stainless products that are out there....I like my Klean Kanteen Sports top the best of all the bottles i have tried....much luck to you all! see u online

The New York Times reported

The New York Times reported today that the FDA is finally recognizing the potential health risks due to BPA (bisphenol-A).

To quote the NYT article:

"The agency said Friday that it had “some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children,” and would join other federal health agencies in studying the chemical in both animals and humans."

Just a reminder, typically containers with a 7 have BPA. Pitch these right away.

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