Is plastic safe: Let’s understand the ‘threat’ markings to make a wise decision!

When it comes to the use of plastic, we have several questions in mind: Are they safe? Are they hygienic? What do all the letters on the plastic bottle stand for? Well, all we need to do is turn our bottles upside down and look under for the answers.

Ever since plastic has come into our lives, it has been both a boon and a bane. The light weight, colorful, inexpensive, beautifully shaped, unbreakable plastic quickly caught our fancy as compared to the breakable glass, and the not-so-good-looking wood and other natural materials.

But with all the talk from health experts, doctors and research analysts, with a new theory each day, we do tend to get quite anxious. We are absolutely justified in getting worried about the harmful chemicals that plastic releases into our food and water and the degree of harm it can cause.

Plastic water bottles, have letters marked either close to the base or under the bottles. Some of the more common ones are PET, PVC, HDP and PP. So let us understand what these letters actually mean.

1. PET or PETE: Chemical Name – Polyethylene Terephthalate

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When you see this marking, it is a strict warning, it has to be disposed after the first use. Do not reuse these bottles.

This is the most commonly used material for packaging consumer products. It is used for water and soft drinks. Remember to “drink and discard”. The primary reason is, it can be very unhygienic as it is difficult to wash off the contaminants. The more it is used, the greater is the chance of leach and bacteria growing into the bottles. It is also believed that this type of plastic releases some chemicals that may interfere with your body’s hormones and disturbs their balance.

2. HDP or HDPE: Chemical Name High-Density Polyethylene

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Experts consider it to be the safest kind of plastic.

HDPE is a thicker, high-density plastic, much safer than other plastics. It is widely used in the manufacture of milk containers, detergent bottles, oil bottles, toys, freezer bags, and grocery bags. It is not known to release harmful chemicals such as bisphenol A, nor phthalates, and is therefore considered by experts to be the safest kind for your food and water.

 3. PVC or 3V:  Chemical Name – Polyvinyl Chloride

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This type of plastic releases chemicals that are said to have serious consequences on our hormonal balance.

PVC is a hard kind of plastic usually used in the construction industry. It can be rendered flexible by adding plasticizers for various other uses, such as food wrapping , oil bottles, teething rings, toys and blister packaging. Experts suggest to stay away from this type of plastic for home use as it releases dangerous chemicals that can pose a threat to the hormonal balance in our bodies. They even advice not to use it for packaging.

Strictly not for use in the food industry.

4. LDPE: Low-Density Polyethylene

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Water bottles are generally not made with this material, but it is used in food packaging and can be highly dangerous.

This is a thermoplastic made from the monomer ethylene. It was produced in 1933 by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). It is mostly used in food packaging. Since it releases highly dangerous chemicals into the food, it is best to avoid it.

5. PP: Chemical Name – Polypropylene plastic

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It is best to avoid heating any foods, although it is a rather safe type of plastic.
Most containers made of this plastic are microwavable safe and dishwasher safe, although we do need to understand, that the term microwavable/dishwasher safe only means that the plastic will not melt off with the heat.
This white-colored or semi-transparent plastic is often used for yoghurt cups and syrup packing. They are light in weight, and heat-resistant. It can protect the contents from moisture, grease and chemicals.
It is always a healthy practice to heat foods in glass containers and hand wash all plastic containers instead of in the dishwasher.

 6. PS: Chemical Name – Polystyrene

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This type of plastic is to be strictly used for short-term usage as it is believed to release carcinogenic substances when heated.

PS is inexpensive, light in weight and therefore can be used in a wide range of products like drinking cups, egg cartons, plastic picnic cutlery and take-out food containers. But its use should be strictly for one time use, and strictly no heating.

7. PC or non-labeled plastic

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Steer clear of this type of plastic as it is found to be potentially the most dangerous of the lot.

The chemicals from this type of plastic is most likely to soak into the food or drink that comes into its contact. It is used in sports water bottles and food containers—but its reuse or recycle is strictly not recommended.

It is better to use this type of plastic for other uses such as water pipes, sign boards, furniture, shower curtains,stationery, insulation, etc.

The following graphic is a quick summary of the plastics labels and their “threat” level, as recommended by the Baby Green Thumb.

   Plastic Number 1Plastic Number 2Plastic Number 3Plastic Number 4Plastic Number 5Plastic Number 6Plastic Number 7

Plastic Number Legend

So… keep yourself well informed. Weigh your comfort and convenience as against your’s and your family’s health, and then, take a call!