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    Plastics to avoid

    Check out the bottom of your plastic containers and you may find that your food is in contact with a plastic containing some chemicals that could cause you, your child, or your child's child unwanted health issues. A gathering body of research is showing that certain chemicals which are added to plastics could have irreversible effects on the body, especially if the foetus is exposed to them.

    Inside a triangle containing a recycling number check for numbers 3, 6 and 7. Avoid them if you find them. Ask manufacturers and retailers to not use them. Don't microwave or heat foods in plastics.

    No. 3 PVC (plastic bottles and containers, children's toys, wall paint, vinyl flooring,)

    No. 6 polystyrene ( PS - cups, styrofoam products)

    No. 7 polycarbonate (PC - in many baby bottles, some microwave cookware).

    A chemical added to polycarbonate is bisphenol A (BPA), which is also added to the resin lining of food cans and dental sealants. It readily leaches into food, especially when heated or exposed to acid food and drinks. Very low levels of BPA, about which there have been an explosion of studies over the last 10 years, have been shown to scramble the chromosomes of the exposed foetus, with effects noticed even in the next generation. Indeed, 38 world experts on bisphenol A have published a consensus statement this year, in which they warn regulatory authorities that average levels of BPA in people are above those that cause harm in laboratory studies. Effects noted included breast and prostate cancers, infertility, spontaneous miscarriage, changes in the brain structure and chemistry, and behaviour.

    PVC (polyvinyl chloride or just vinyl) is a known human carcinogen and very damaging to the environment. When chlorine in PVC is produced, used or burned, the process creates dioxin, one of the most toxic hazards known to man. Phthalates are often added to PVC to make it pliable, in children's toys for example. They are unbound to the plastic so can leach out readily. Like dioxin, phthalates are a suspected endocrine disruptor, i.e. affecting our hormones.

    Polystyrene is a suspect carcinogen, and contains p-nonylphenol, an endocrine disruptor. Sometimes used by takeaways to keep food warm, it can take thousands of years to break down.

    Safer Alternatives

    Instead of using plastic containers save glass jars or use ceramics for storing and freezing food in the fridge. If plastic is unavoidable, avoid 3, 6 and 7 or use cellophane and wrap children's lunches in natural wax paper. Disposable cutlery and containers can be bought made of corn, sugar and potato starch.

    No known health effects have been associated with No. 1 PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate - most 2 litre or less drink bottles), No.2 HDPE (High Density Polyethylene -milk bottles), No.4 LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene – bread bags, some cling wraps), and No.5 PP (polypropylene - containers). However we recommend sticking to plastics 1 and 2, because these are commonly the ones that New Zealand local authorities recycle.

    For further information: and

    By Jacky Pearson and Alison White November 2007 Safe Food Campaign

    © J.Pearson and A. White

© Safefood Campaign