How to evaluate the safety of plastic products

To stay healthy, we need to avoid being exposed to toxins from plastic products, but with all the choices and and confusion, it's difficult to know how to choose between products. Most people have heard of BPA and choose BPA free products, but did you know that in many cases BPA was replaced with BPS that is as bad or worse? BPA is the most well known of the estrogen mimics that can wreak havoc the human endrocrine system, but there are many others. This guide will help you make more informed decisions to minimize toxins and maximize your health.

The first thing to understand when evaluating the safety of a plastic product is the formulation most commonly used is a base plastic plus additives. Although the additives are typically less than 5% of the total, some additives, especially colorants, will leach harmful chemicals. For the product to be safe, the base plastic and the additives must be safe.

Plastic products are made of a base plastic plus other additives; either one can be the source of problems.

Evaluating Base Plastic Safety:

With the base plastic being the primary component in the plastic product, it has great importance to the products safety; if the base plastic is not safe, there is no way for the product to be safe. While manufacturers don’t always disclose what base plastic their product are made from, the plastic recycle symbol often lets us know. In the list below, the safer plastics are colored green, the most dangerous plastics are colored red, and where the story is mixed, the color is orange.

What about the additives? Is BPA Free good enough?

Many people are familiar with the phrase "BPA Free", a plastic additive that has been banned in baby bottles. BPA has been shown in many studies to be problematic for health.

BPA is the best known of the endocrine disruptors, but it is certainly not the only endocrine disruptor, there are many others, including BP-B and BP-S. Most of these other endocrine disruptors are unknown to the public and even unknown as endocrine disruptors to the manufacturers.

The consulting firm Plastipure has tested many plastic products and found that most of the plastics tested show Estrogenic Activity (EA). We believe that eventually consumers will realize that products claiming to be “BPA free” are not good enough to protect their safety, and will insist that their products are EA free.

One plastic in the OTHER category deserves special mention. Many companies, including Nalgene and CamelBak have replaced their polycarbonate water bottles (which contained BPA) with a plastic called “Tritan”, which is a #7 plastic. Plastipure has run tests indicating that Tritan leaches chemicals with estrogenic activity, but Eastman, the producer of Tritan plastic, has denied the results. We suggest avoiding water bottles made of Tritan.

Since most companies are not testing their products or even aware of the potential problem, Plastipure offers these guidelines on their FAQ page for minimizing the risk of plastics leaching Estrogen mimics:

Since many companies have not yet tested their products for EA, are there any general rules of thumb to help consumers who may be purchasing untested products?

While there are many exceptions to these guidelines, PlastiPure can make high-level recommendations based on its predictive models and data compiled over a decade:

  • Many colorants and inks leach high levels of EA. Avoid untested colorants and inks when possible, especially colorants that change color with heat/cold.
  • Softer plastics such as polypropylene or polyethylene are not as likely to leach as much EA as untested harder and clearer plastics such as polycarbonate (PC), polystyrene (PS), or polyether sulfone (PES).
  • Elastomers such as latex, silicone, and synthetic rubbers can leach significant amounts of EA.
  • Glass and stainless steel materials tend to not leach EA, but PlastiPure has observed exceptions to these results. Also, be aware that a glass bottle may have a lid or straw that can leach EA, or that a metal container may have a liner that leaches EA.
  • The stress that PlastiPure has seen that is most destructive to plastics and other materials is ultraviolet light. UV from different sources such as sunlight can break plastics down creating new chemicals having EA that were not in of the original product. This is one of the reasons companies should not make safety claims on their products without subjecting them to simulated long-term environmental stresses.

Our Guidelines for plastic products.

Unfortunately, there is no foolproof way to choose safe products except avoiding plastic altogether, which is not practical for most of us. With the current state of the plastics industry, we suggest the following guidelines:

  • Avoid single use plastic containers
  • Choose glass or stainless steel containers when possible
  • For the lids or tops to your containers, choose one made of any of the three safer plastics: #5 Polypropylene (most heat tolerant), #2 HDPE, or #4 LDPE (least heat tolerant)
  • Choose products that are uncolored or black. Black is most likely derived from carbon, which is more likely to be safe. Avoid products that change color with heat or cold. This applies to silicone products as well
  • BPA free is good, but is no guarantee of safety
  • Minimize exposing plastic products to direct sunlight
  • Never reheat food in plastic

Our products use only BPA free polypropylene and HDPE, and are either uncolored or use black colorant to minimize your risks of toxic exposure.