The numbers 1-7 in chasing arrows on a plastic container tell you one thing: the basic resin that serves as the building block for that product. They can be handy in identifying which plastics can go in the recycling bin. But plastics also use chemicals for color, texture, stability, and other qualities. Some of these materials can migrate into food or drink when they are heated, worn out, or in contact with fatty foods. Other chemicals can off-gas from plastic products.
PVC and vinyl (3)

PVC and vinyl are typically shiny, flexible plastics used for pool blow-up toys, shower curtains and “rubber ducky” squeeze toys. PVC is also used in flooring. Some cling wrap, especially that used to wrap meat, cheese and baked goods in stores, may also be PVC. These plastics are often softened with phthalates, which can off-gas or migrate when in contact with food.

Polystyrene (6) 

Polystyrene—often labeled with the recycling number 6—may appear as Styrofoam (in coffee cups, deli meat trays, take-out clamshell containers) or in rigid form (disposable soup and coffee cup lids). In contact with heat, fat or alcohol, the plastic can leach styrene, which can cause long-term or delayed effects on the nervous system or interfere with hormones.

Polycarbonate (7) 

Hard, clear shatterproof polycarbonate plastic, when used in contact with food and drink, can leach BPA. The chemical is also found in the lining of some cans. Unfortunately, “BPA-Free” doesn’t always mean safe; replacements like BPS may also be toxic. It is best to limit the use of canned food when possible to reduce exposure.

Grease-proof coating

Grease-proof fast food packaging—such as microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes and french fry containers—can be a source of exposure to the same class of chemicals found in non-stick and stain-resistant coatings.

Ways to avoid exposure
  •  Limit canned food and drink to avoid exposure from can linings.
  •  Keep plastics out of the microwave.
  •  Avoid food in grease-proof coatings such as pizza boxes and microwave popcorn bags.
  •  Avoid plastic wrap and styrofoam food packaging when possible.
Safer alternatives
  •  For durable bottles and food storage containers, choose pyrex glass or stainless steel.
  •  Look for bees wax-coated fabric wraps as an alternative to plastic wrap.
  •  Instead of canned food, look for tetra-pak “boxes” or glass jars.
  • Instead of plastic bags and plastic ice cube trays try silicone.

The way you maintain your home can make a big difference to your family’s health. Get a healthy homes checkup with our guide and tips.