Know Your Plastics

October 2015;    Author:  Bozena Vuckovic

Plastics. They are everywhere around us, present in almost every product we buy, wear, have in our surrounding… It’s on that PC or a mouse that you are using right now, it’s in the clothes you are wearing, in the chair you are sitting on, in the toy your child is putting in their mouth right now, it’s in your bed, in your car, it’s the basic packaging for most food you buy, and if you are just now reaching for that plastic bottle that’s sitting next to you to take a sip of water, I will ask you to get up first, go get yourself a glass of water and then come back to read on.

Yes, we live in the world of plastic. The non-biodegradable product that will stay on this planet for 450-1000 years after it is discarded. And if you are not worried about the scenes of what plastic pollution is doing to our environment and living organisms on our planet…:

Plastic waste on the shores of Bali, Indonesia in January 2014

Image 1. Plastic waste on the shores of Bali, Indonesia in January 2014 (Source:

Baby seal lion stuck in fish net

Image 2. Baby seal lion stuck in fish net. (Source:

A sea turtle caught in plastics
Image 3. “A sea turtle caught in plastics when young and his body could not grow the proper way; the turtles organs will begin to fail because as he grows his body will keep getting more and more crushed until it dies at a very young age.” (Source:

Sea gull with plastic in his stomach
Image 4. Many birds and other animals mistake plastic debris for food and then die of starvation because their stomach cannot digest the plastic. (Source:

…what about what it is doing to our bodies? Do you know that plastic products contain all sorts of chemicals inside them? Chemicals that give them flexibility, texture, colour, resilience, etc. Food Safety News reported in July 2014 that according to the study conducted by the Food Packaging Forum, “175 chemicals with known hazardous properties are legally used in the production of food contact packaging in Europe and the U.S.

Hazardous in what way? Some of them are carcinogenic, some of them can cause changes on our genes, affect our hormonal system, reproductive system, our blood-cells, organs, disrupt our nervous system… Somehow the known fact that additives can cause allergies sounds much less alarming than this, doesn’t it?

So, have you ever wondered what those numbers you see on all sorts of packagings actually mean?
They are your guide to knowing what those products could be containing. But before I give you a breakdown of the numbers, let me just point out that although the signs remind you of the recycling symbol they actually do not mean that the product is recyclable, or made from recycled material. The symbol is called Resin Identification Code and the only purpose of it is to classify the product into one of seven plastic groups.

So here we go:


PET or PETE – Polyethylene Terephthalate

Thin, clear plastic, considered safe, “but it can actually leach the toxic metal antimony, which is used during its manufacture”, as well as endocrine disrupting chemical acetaldehyde which is easily leached from the PET when the product has been exposed to heat. Have you ever left a bottle of water in your car, during a hot summer day? Several hours of that heat are enough for the chemical to leach out of the bottle! You have reused that same bottle, haven’t you? Yep, we all have. Important thing to remember: PET should only be used once and should not be exposed to heat!

And how do we know it wasn’t already exposed to heat in the delivery truck, in the storage, waiting to be loaded onto the truck or to be brought inside the store…? That’s right, we don’t!

Examples: water bottles, soft drink bottles, honey/jam/peanut butter jars, pills containers, some microwavable food containers, textiles, carpeting, components in cars and bikes, etc.






HDPE or PE-HD – High Density Polyethylene

The plastic containers made of this plastic are thicker than No.1 and usually opaque. It is considered a low-hazard plastic, however, a study from 2011 found that they release estrogenic chemicals, like most plastics, especially when exposed to higher temperatures. Far more dangerous to infants and children than adults. Also, “additives and softeners used in this plastic have never been tested for safety. Do you feel lucky?

Examples: detergent/shampoo bottles, bottle caps, food containers, opaque milk and juice jugs, some plastic bags; pipe, wire and cable covering, etc.






3 toxic

PVC or V – Polyvinyl Chloride or Vinyl

Run!!!! Run for your life from this one, run to the woods, run anywhere you can!!!!

Nowhere to run?

Then, read on…

PVC is a versatile plastic, can be rigid or flexible. The most toxic one, leaching phthalates, carcinogens, dioxins and more, linked to reproductive problems, diabetes, organ toxicity and cancers. PVC workers have shown a higher cancer rate than their peers who are not exposed to PVC.

Examples: Cling film for meat, fish, cheese, vegetables; bathtub toys; inflatable toys; shower curtains; sewage pipes; used in furniture, clothes, shoes, bank cards, sports equipment, bags and luggage, carpets, flooring, building material, etc.

PVC ball


PVC jackets


PVC cling film




4 - LDPE

LDPE or PE-LD – Low Density Polyethylene

Considered a low hazard plastic, relatively chemically non-reactive.

Examples: shopping bags, garbage bags, snap on lids, laminates, some bottles, toys, adhesives, sealants, wire and cable coverings, etc.

LDPE bag




garbage bag





5 - Polypropylene

PP – Polypropylene

Considered a safe plastic, said to have a high heat tolerance, making it unlikely to leach chemicals. However, as for No. 2 additives and softeners used in this plastic have never been tested for safety.

Examples: containers for yoghurt, margarine, syrup, ketchup, cosmetics, appliances, luggage, car parts, found in ice-cream containers, diapers, furniture, textiles, CD and DVD boxes, toys, etc.

5 - PP


PP armchair


PP cd case





6 toxic

PS – Polystyrene (or EPS – Expandable Polystyrene)

Another plastic you should run from, but as we already established, there’s nowhere to run, so at least do not consume hot food from it. Piece of cake, you think? Think again! The product most widely made of this plastic is:

6- PS 1


This plastic is also known under the name of Styrofoam. Known to leach styrene, especially when exposed to higher temperatures. Why the hell is it used to store hot food then, you ask? I’m asking the same question… Since our governments are not protecting us, let’s make sure we protect ourselves.

Styrene is dangerous to your nervous system, has been linked with cancer, “studies on animals report harmful effects of styrene on red-blood cells, the liver, kidney, and stomach organs”. A study from 2007 found that “hot water (in PS cups) was found to be contaminated with styrene” and stated that “considering the toxic characteristic of styrene and leaching in water and other products, PS material should be avoided for food packaging.” Yet, it is still produced and widely used for hot beverages and hot food!?!

Examples: commonly found in a lot of food service items: disposable cups, plates, bowls, plastic cutlery, take out containers, meat and poultry trays, foam packaging, egg cartons, insulation, rigid DVD cases, packing peanuts, etc.

PS cup


PS products


PS products 2


PS products 3


PS products 5





7 toxic

O – Bisphenol A (BPA) and Other

Some say it’s the worst of them all, probably because basically you do not know what it is made of. ‘Other’ stands for any plastic type that does not belong to the above six standard types, but also it could be any mixture of any of the standard types with the non-standard plastic. So of course, No. 3 and No. 6 could be in there.

This type includes polycarbonate, which is the primary source of BPA. BPA is an endocrine disruptor that has been banned from use in baby bottles and sippy cups, health risks include: “reproductive abnormalities like lower sperm counts, hormonal changes, enlarged prostate glands, asthma, abnormalities in the number of chromosomes in eggs, and pre-cancerous changes in the breast and prostate (at least in mice). It’s also been linked to obesity and insulin resistance”, and can disrupt the development of the central nervous system.

Make sure the baby bottle you are buying says it is BPA free!

Examples: baby bottles, sports bottles, 20 l (five-gallon) water jugs and the linings of food and formula cans, car parts, appliance parts, computers, electronics, packaging, etc.

7- BPA


7 other



7 other 2


So, to sum up, try and stay away from numbers


as much as you can!!

The rest… I leave it up to you to decide…

I don’t know about you, but just reading the chemical designation of each number lights up warning signs 😉 . Have you already checked the number on the first plastic product that you see around you? Go check those plastic items your child is surrounded with! And remember this post the next time you catch yourself with a pen in your mouth 😉 , I can’t find the number on mine, and I must admit, I don’t feel particularly lucky! 😉

P.S. Oddly enough Category #7 also includes some of the new compostable bio-plastics made from tapioca, rice, potatoes and even corn, so if you’re going to use No. 7, just be sure it is clearly indicated the product is made from bio-based plastics.



[1] How To Recognize the Plastics That Are Hazardous To Your Health.

[2] Most Plastic Products Release Estrogenic Chemicals.

[3] Know Your Plastics: Avoid #3! It’s the Worst.

[4] ‘One Million Signatures to Rid Bali of Plastic Bags’, 2014


[6] Leaching of styrene and other aromatic compounds in drinking water from PS bottles






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