Avoiding Toxins in Plastics

BPA-Free Plastics

BPA-Free Plastics

by Catherine Haug, Nov 2009 (Photo, right, from NPR (8))

We’re hearing a lot about toxic plastics these days, and its not just BPA-containing plastics.

  • The most toxic of plastics is PVC (poly-vinyl chloride), which is used to make plastic wraps for foods, and water pipe (3). It is also commonly used for garden hoops, but its toxins can leach into garden soil and be taken up by plants.
  • Polycarbonate or Nalgene baby and sports bottles have been targeted because they contain toxic BPA. Its toxicity lies in its estrogen-mimicking ability. This means that when you absorb it into your body, it binds on estrogen receptors, blocking them from your own estrogen and perhaps initiating errant body processes that lead to the formation of cancers.
  • And most recently, the PET plastic used for soda and water bottles has been found to be toxic by disrupting hormone activity (6).

But there are other reasons (besides toxicity) to avoid plastics; perhaps chief among these is the high amount of energy and resources used to make these plastics. And, of course, our objective is to minimize energy consumption!

  • Plastics are not (generally) biodegradable, and many are not recyclable here.
  • For the most part, they are made from petroleum (or petroleum-dependent corn crops), and require additional fossil fuels to power their production.
  • They are a major contributor to the problem of global climate change.

Plastics have become a ubiquitous part of our lives, from microwaveable frozen food trays to children’s toys, to replacement body parts. How can one avoid them?

How to avoid plastics

The following is a list of plastic objects that contain toxic substances (1,2,5). Better alternatives are shown in italics, if known (2,3,4,7).

  • Polycarbonate plastic baby bottles; use glass or lead-free ceramic bottles instead;
  • Large water-cooler containers and polycarbonate sports bottles; glass or stainless steel sports bottles** are better choices. Consider installing a good water filter at your faucet, for drinking water;
  • Plastic food storage containers; store in glass or ceramic instead, or wrap in waxed paper*;
  • Plastic microwave-oven dishes, including those used with frozen dinners; transfer food to heat-resistant glass or ceramic baking dishes, instead. Better yet, make your own meals from fresh ingredients using safe cooking/baking utensils;
  • Canned-food liners; cans lined with ceramic, or food canned in glass jars are better choices; frozen fruits and veggies are also better;
  • Water supply pipes; copper, steel or ceramic pipes might be better alternatives;
  • Garden hoops; see The EssentiaList: Garden Hoops from Natural Materials (9)
  • Plastic dishes and cups; use paper, glass or ceramic dishes and cups instead;
  • Plastic toys for babies; fabric toys are safer and more cuddly;
  • Plastic food wrap; waxed paper* is a better choice; .
  • Some dental sealants for children;

* NOTE: commercial waxed paper was originally waxed with beeswax but is now waxed with a petroleum wax. Using bakers parchment brushed with butter or olive oil, or with melted beeswax is a better option.

** NOTE: some people believe stainless steel bottles have their own issues, primarily because stainless steel contains nickel, which may be carcinogenic. But this is an issue only if it is leached from the steel (1).

Recycling codes, and other thoughts

Whether or not you recycle, you can use the recycling codes on containers to help you make good decisions for your health (2). Plastics with recycling code:

  • ‘7’ are to be avoided as they are sure to contain BPA;
  • ‘3’ and ‘6’ may not contain BPA, but they contain other toxins;
  • ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘4,’ and ‘5’ are your best choices for plastic, but even they contain potentially toxic substances.

Refer to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Smart Plastics Guide for more info.


  1. Mercola articles:Warning: Metal Water Bottles May Be Hazardous to Your Health, Estrogen Should Be Added to Federal Cancer-Causing List, and Stainless Steel Stents and Cookware May Cause Problems
  2. Smart Plastics Guide: healthobservatory.org/library.cfm?refid=77083
  3. Environmental Working Group: ewg.org/node/20944, ewg.org/node/20934 and ewg.org/node/20936
  4. Nutrition, about.com: nutrition.about.com/od/ahealthykitchen/tp/bpa-free.htm
  5. Mindfully Green: mindfully .org/Plastic/Plasticizers/Out-Of-Diet-PG5nov03.htm (this link contains malware so I’ve inactivated it. Don’t try to use the url).
  6. Discovery News: dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/04/28/water-bottles-health.html
  7. Jeffrey Funk
  8. NPR image: npr.org/2011/03/02/134196209/study-most-plastics-leach-hormone-like-chemicals?ps=cprs
  9. The EssentiaList: Garden Hoops from Natural Materials (essentialstuff.org/index.php/2009/11/06/Cat/garden-hoops-from-natural-materials)

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