Ask Eartha: Toxic plastics and chemical offenders
special to the daily
I have some old Tupperware and Rubbermade containers in my kitchen. Are they safe to microwave food in?
The good news is that your #5 (polypropylene) Tupperware container might not be as scary and pervasive as other types of plastics found in your house but the bad news is that you’ll want to transfer your food elsewhere before microwaving. The short-and-easy answer to your question is no way! The National Toxicology Panel recommends avoiding microwaving food in plastic containers, putting plastics in the dishwasher, or using harsh detergents, to avoid leaching. Now that we’ve answered your question, let’s explore a few of the two most toxic plastics and chemical offenders that should never be heated and should be avoided whenever possible.
Polyvinyl Chloride (#3)
You can distinguish this dirty type of plastics by the #3 inside of the chasing arrows symbol. #3 plastics are made from polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. PVC gets its name “the poison plastic,” because it’s environmentally evil from start to finish. It is far more toxic in production, use and disposal than other plastics, and it releases carcinogenic dioxins into the environment when manufactured. PVC plastic is used to make hundreds of everyday consumer products, such as babies’ toys and teething rings, plastic food wrap, cosmetic bottles, pet chew toys, shower curtains, and much more.
So, how do you avoid this environmentally evil plastic? To start, check the bottoms of all plastic bottles and say sayonara to those that carry the #3 symbol. If you’re feeling chatty, give the manufacturer a call and let them know exactly how you feel about their products’ adverse affects on your health. Refuse their product unless they use safer alternatives like glass or #1 PETE. Or, opt for one of the countless number of PVC-free plastics for toys and bottles.
PC, or Polycarbonate (#7)
There’s nothing PC about polycarbonate. This offensive and downright dirty plastic is distinguished by a #7 inside the chasing arrows triangle, not to be confused with #7 PLA. PC is closely linked to harmful chemicals, specifically the ingredient bisphenol-A, a chemical that is used to harden plastic and is a known hormone disrupter. If you’re not scared yet, you will be after this: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found BPA in 95 percent of people it tested.
If you’re lucky enough to fall into the 5 percent of BPA-free human beings, chances are you’ve refused to microwave the lasagna your mom sent you home with in a polycarbonate container. BPA can leach into food when polycarbonate containers or plastic wrap is heated, which may cause chromosomal disruption, birth defects in children or other adverse health consequences. So how can others get the lasagna without the chemicals? Ask your mom to send it home for easy reheating in a BPA-free ceramic or glass container or jar.
While there are ways to cut your exposure to toxic plastics through avoidance, there are also ways to increase your exposure; by applying heat or microwaving toxic plastics. Unfortunately, certain chemicals are invasive in ways we can’t always control. As a mission driven and knowledgeable consumer, we challenge you to put pressure on manufacturers to create less toxic products. For more information and tips for avoiding and replacing toxic plastics
with safer alternatives visit
Eartha Steward is written by Jennifer Santry and Erin Makowsky at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation in our mountain community. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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