Plastic vs. Glass Containers
Remember the scene from the 1967 film “The Graduate” when Mr. McGuire gives new college graduate Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) the one-word answer to his future? – “Plastics.” Now, 40 years later, plastics may be harming our future. Research has found that a range of plastics, listed by numbers, contains Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical which can affect reproductive and neurological systems, and increases rates of breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men.
And plastic number 7, the very type used in most standard plastic baby bottles and sippy cups, and in all the rigid “sports” bottles, is the worst. BPA mimics the action of estrogen, and can leach from polycarbonate plastic.
On the bottom of most plastic containers is a triangle with a number inside. The number, used by recyclers, tells the type of chemicals used in the plastic product. According to studies, the “safest” numbers for food use are 4, 5, 2, and 1. Since all plastics are petroleum-based products, there are still chemicals in these types, but they are the safer choices for food and beverage.
The safest method, however, is to use a glass container for the very young. Brands to try include Evenflo, Born Free and the Adiri Natural Nurser. For older children, look into Clean Canteen, which is stainless steel.
The Born Free glass bottle can accommodate the wide bottle version of the Dr. Brown’s venting system, whose current plastic bottles are #7s. Since Dr. Brown’s can be an answered prayer to babies who suffer from reflux and colic, I spoke to a Dr. Brown’s representative and learned that the company is issuing a new BPA-free bottle made of polypropelene. Another brand, the Adiri Natural Nurser is also BHA free, and is vented to help reduce colic.
Even breast-fed babies aren’t safe from BPA if moms eat canned food or microwaved items wrapped in plastic wrap. Both plastic wraps and the plastic lining of tin cans contain BPA, so small amounts may leech into the food. She suggested that pregnant or breastfeeding moms microwave foods in paper towels, eat fresh and frozen foods to reduce risk, and only purchase acidic products like tomatoes and spaghetti sauces in glass jars.
Parents may also want to try the Safe Sippy with a spout top. Its handles make it easy for toddlers to hold and carry, but it does not have interchangeable lids.
Studies also indicate that early-life exposure to BPA can cause genetic damage. Over 90 government-funded studies show adverse effects, including: early onset puberty; changes in hormones, including decreased testosterone; increased prostate size; decreased sperm production; altered immune function; and behavioral effects including hyperactivity, increased aggressiveness, impaired learning and other changes in behavior.
Also, the Styrene in #6 plastics has been found toxic to the brain and nervous systems after long-term exposure.
PES (poly-ether-sulfone) is the newest safe replacement plastic. According to Bjorlie, there isn’t much research on it yet, but it is more stable than other numbers. The most stable plastics don’t break down when subjected to heat.
The best thing to remember is to treat any plastic with extreme care, even those considered safe. Don’t heat them in a microwave or dishwasher, and don’t clean with anything that may scratch.
For detailed, downloadable information on the hazards of different plastics, and what you need to know to keep your family safe, go to iatp.org/foodandhealth.
Tips for Safer Plastic Food Use
Do not use plastic containers in the microwave. Chemicals are released as they are heated, so use glass or ceramic for cooking, then transfer the food afterward.
Do not use cling wraps in the microwave. Opt for paper towels or waxed paper instead.
Avoid plastic bottled water. While the #1 and #2 bottles are considered safe, and are the most used plastic for individual bottled water, they still contain chemicals. And only use these bottles once—they are not recommended for repeated refillable use.
Clean in warm soapy water—not extremely hot—and use a soft sponge or rag so there is less chance for scratches.
From the IATP website: Types of Plastics (numbers located on bottom of container inside a small triangle)
- #1 contains PETE (polyethylene terephthalate ethylene) used in soft drinks, juice, water, detergent, cleaners and peanut butter containers.
- #2 contains HDPE (high density polyethylene) used in opaque plastic milk and water jugs, bleach, detergent and shampoo bottles and some plastic bags
- #3 contains PVC or V (polyvinyl chloride) highly toxic plastic, it is the least recyclable type, and is used for cling wrap, some plastic squeeze bottles, cooking oil and peanut butter jars, detergent and window cleaner bottles.
- #4 contains LDPE (low density polyethylene) used in grocery store bags, most plastic wraps and some bottles
- #5 contains PP (polypropylene) used in most Rubbermaid products, deli soup, syrup, and yogurt containers, straws, and other clouded plastic containers, including some baby bottles.
- #6 contains PS (polystyrene) used in Styrofoam food trays, egg cartons, disposable cups and bowls, carryout containers and opaque plastic cutlery.
- #7 contains other types of chemicals not listed above, usually polycarbonate, and is currently used in most plastic baby bottles, 5-gallon water bottles, “sport” water bottles, metal food can liners (as in tin cans), clear plastic “sippy” cups and some clear plastic cutlery. New bio-based plastics may be labeled #7.