Types of Plastics
Concerns about chemicals that slowly dissolve out
of plastics are rising. The cautious consumer
may want to avoid potential risks while science,
government and industry work out broader solutions.
Yet with everything from water bottles to Wedding
Barbies made of plastic, it is nearly impossible to
imagine completely avoiding them - especially since
ingredients in plastics are not usually listed.
Here is a guide to two toxics in plastic:
phthalates and bisphenol A.
polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products to make
them more flexible and longer-lasting. Some medical
tubing, shower curtains, rain coats, food wrap, bath
toys, personal care products, and more.
Animal studies have associated phthalates with a variety
of health problems, notably reproductive abnormalities
and cancer (Shea,
Studies on humans are less conclusive although they do
raise concerns about reproductive abnormalities and
asthma. Seattle researchers published in
journal conclude that many baby care products are a
source of phthalate exposure for infants(Sathyanarayana
et al., 2008).
Bisphenol A (BPA)
Used in: polycarbonate
plastics, used to make some types of beverage
containers (often the rigid water bottles and jugs),
compact disks, plastic dinnerware, impact-resistant
safety equipment, automobile parts, and toys. BPA
epoxy resins are used in the protective linings of
food cans, in dental sealants, and in other
Science: Animal studies show
that bisphenol A disrupts hormone functions, leading to
reproductive problems, cancer, birth defects, and
obesity in the test animals as well as problems with
immune system and brain (Zsarnovszky, 2005; Lee, 2007;
Richter et al. 2007; USGS 2007). Although human
studies do not yet show connections to these disorders,
its presence in humans at high levels (CDC 2009) has
raised alarm. In January 2010 the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to
limit children's exposure to this common chemical.
What Is Being Done
Many toy companies, retailers and
manufacturers (including major formula and
baby-bottle manufacturers) have voluntarily phased
out phthalates, PVC, and BPA. A new law
in Washington will end the sale of some products
that contain BPA, but this does not come into effect
until July 1, 2011 (for cups for children under 3)
and July 1, 2012 (for sports bottles). Also in
Children’s Safe Products Act (also known as the
“Toxic Toy bill”), signed in April 2008, requires
toys and other children's products to be tested for
toxics prior to their sale. The
U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently
What You Can Do
- Look for products marked
"BPA-free" or "phthalate-free." If possible check
that these claims are backed up by a third party - not
- Check the recycling triangle
with the code number on the bottom of plastic
containers. This tells you the type of plastic
used. See our
Guide to Safer
- To avoid phthalates and
bisphenol A, steer clear of #3 (PVC) and #7
(polycarbonate). Styrene, another toxin, is in #6
- The safest plastic choices are
#1 (PETE/PET – used for most 2-liter and smaller
beverage bottles) and #5 (polypropylene, used for some
cups, squeeze bottles, and yogurt containers).
Also considered safe are #2 (HDPE) and #4 (LDPE –
look for food wrap made of this).
- #1 and #2 water bottles are
recommended for single use only.
- Be careful how you heat up
your children's food. When hot liquids come into
contact with packaging made of BPA, traces of the BPA
can get into the food or liquid.
- Do not heat baby formula
or food in these plastics or store hot food in them. If
you have heated your child's breast milk or formula,
allow it to cool to lukewarm before placing in a plastic
- Avoid heating food in
plastics in the microwave, especially fatty foods such
as meat and cheese.
- Try waxed paper or paper
towels instead of cling wrap in the microwave. Or, look
for LDPE #4 cling wrap.
- For BPA and phthalate-free
products, look for food in glass, stainless steel,
and/or cardboard "brick" cartons. For storing or heating
food, try stainless steel, glass, and bamboo cookware.
- The older the plastics are and
the more they are washed and scratched, the more they
can leach chemicals into their contents.
Discard (recycle if possible) old, cloudy, and
cracked plastic containers.
- Plastic toys may not have code
numbers on them. For toys that babies and
children chew on, check
to see test results for heavy metals and chlorine (which
suggests the presence of phthalates). Note that as the
website states: “The levels are not intended to
correspond to levels known to cause health effects.
Rather, they are meant to provide a relative measure of
the level of the chemical on the toy's surface."
Links to references which were cited on the Plastics page
Additional links to information regarding the use of