We are increasingly made aware of the harmful effects of using plastic. According to an article in New York Times, three hundred million tons of plastic waste is produced globally every year and only 10% of which is recycled. Out of this, seven million ends up in the oceans!
In India, we have a habit of reusing plastic bottles until they are worn out. But this is not a good habit. Reusing the usual PET bottles is extremely dangerous for health.
BPA, the highly toxic chemical found in plastic is linked to cancer, obesity and various endocrine problems. It is best to know the different kinds of plastics before you use them for various purposes. Usually, on the bottom of the bottle, you will find various symbols, one of which would be a number. Here is what the number means:
Majority of the bottles and containers that are available in the market are number as 1. This plastic is Polyethylene terephthalate (PET). This is relatively safe but you have to keep it out of the heat. This plastic cannot be used as its surface allows bacteria to enter inside.
High-density polyethylene, or HDPE is plastic numbered as 2. We usually find this kind of plastic in containers or sachets used for detergent, juices etc. Compared to #1, the chances of leaching are less but even then avoid reusing it.
PVC or Poly-Vinyl Chloride has a wide number of industrial uses. But it is not considered safe for cooking or heating as it contains ‘phthalates’, a chemical that affects hormonal system. Even if you are buying toys for your child, make sure they are PVC-free as children tend to put their toys in their mouths.
Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is the plastic that is used to make grocery bags, bread bags and other such things. Although it is considered to be relatively safe, it cannot be recycled. So please re-use them and create less waste.
PP or polypropylene, is one of the safest versions of plastic. Microwave-safe utensils are made from PP as this plastic is heat-resistant. This can be recycled.
Styrofoam or polystyrene, is the plastic from which disposable containers are made of and is widely used in packaging. Do not reuse this plastic and do not heat it under any circumstances as it releases harmful toxins into the food product that it may contain. It takes centuries to decompose.
This kind of plastic could be anything. It could be a mixture of various kinds of plastics or not belong to any category. You can never be sure of how safe this plastic is. Unless otherwise mentioned, this plastic contains BPA. Polycarbonate (most sports bottles are made of this) falls in this category. If you are buying a bottle numbered 7, look for other symbols and make sure it is BPA free.
There is more. Apart from the numbers, you might see these symbols. Also below the numbers, you will find various initials; (PC, PP) the full-forms of which are explained above.
This is an indication of the highest and the lowest temperatures the plastic can withstand. If you exceed these, then the plastic will get damaged.
This means that the plastic can be used for freezing.
This indicates that the plastic is microwave-safe.
This indicates the number of the plastic as explained above.
This means that the plastic is safe for storing food.
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Plastic symbols photo credit: kliofoodkeepers.com