I am on an anti-plastic kick at the moment. I started realizing how much plastic I use and discard every week – produce bags, Ziploc bags, plastic wrap, and other food items. I am going through mountains of the stuff every year! Several years back, Rob and I started making changes to reduce our plastic waste. We stopped buying the plastic water bottles (the single serving type you see everywhere) and invested in a dozen Nalgene bottles to use and refill daily (thanks to Rob for turning our family on to these 100% BPA free containers). We also ditched our plastic containers for leftovers and invested in all glass – Pyrex and Glasslock Snapware. And, like most people, I found some fun reusable grocery shopping bags, so we could “go green” and cut down our waste each week. But lately, I have decided to make more changes, going a few steps further to decrease our family’s footprint in the world of plastic waste.
Not only have I been minimizing our plastic usage as an environmental effort, but I am also concerned about what chemicals may be coming in contact with our food. Some plastics are known to leach chemicals into the food they contact, so this has been the second reason I have decided it is time to look for other options.
Before I fill you in on three of my new favorite green items, let’s talk plastic. Not all plastics are created equal, and this inequality results in some types of plastic adding their own chemical cocktail to our food, while others are considered safe. Seven basic plastic types can be identified by their assigned number, which is found on the bottom of each container inside the recycling triangle symbol. To keep things easy, everything today is in 3s: three plastics to avoid, 3 that are safer, and 3 reusable green products to help you cut down on your daily plastic usage.
Three plastics to avoid:
#3 PVC (polyvinyl chloride) – This type of plastic is used as a cling wrap for meat, cheeses, and anything else in the grocery store as well as in some salad dressings, water bottles, plastic trays in boxed cookies, candy wrappers, and medical tubing and containers. It contains three harmful chemicals that can leach into your food: phthalates like di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) that mess with your hormones, vinyl chloride that is a known carcinogen, and dioxin that both messes with your hormones and is a carcinogen. When buying cling wrap, look for brands like Saran Wrap that use LDPE instead of PVC plastic. PVC plastic is rarely recycled but can be in some recycling programs.
#6 PS (polystyrene known as Styrofoam) – This type of plastic is used in take out containers, egg cartons, party cups, and disposable silverware. It is known to leach styrene, butadiene, and benzene into food and messes with your hormones, affects fertility, and is a known carcinogen. Styrofoam can be recycled in some recycling programs.
#7 PC (polycarbonate) – This is found in baby bottles (scary!) and the lining of food cans. You may have heard of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) that affects hormones because it is a synthetic estrogen and is a known carcinogen. Look for BPA free on the label of any bottled or canned food items you buy.
Three plastics that are considered safe:
#2HDPE, #4 LDPE, and #5 PP – These are considered the healthiest plastics and are usually recyclable. You can find them in milk, water, and juice bottles, yogurt and margarine tubs, cereal box liners, straws, medicine bottles, bread bags, and grocery, trash, and retail bags.
#1PET – This type of plastic is found in bottles and containers such as soft drinks, water, sports drinks, ketchup, salad dressing, peanut butter, pickle, jelly and jam jars, and oven food trays. These are safe for using one time but not to be reused because they are porous and difficult to sanitize. These bottles can be recycled.
#7 PLA (polylactide) – These are made from renewable sources like corn, potatoes, sugar cane and other high starch sources as an alternative to petroleum based plastics. Although these are not able to be recycled, you can compost them in your backyard, and they decompose within a couple of weeks.
Three green alternatives to cut down your family’s plastic usage:
Lunchskins – I love my new reusable snack and sandwich bags. For years, I bought Ziploc bags in bulk and found I use them daily not only for packing snacks and meals but also for gathering together all sorts of things for storage. Lunchskins are made of a thick cotton fabric with a polyurethane liner. Their product has been subjected to testing and come up clean – no phthalates, BPA, or lead and no odor or chemical leaching was found. These handy sacks are dishwasher safe and close with Velcro, making them perfect for grab and go snacks as well as storage for your odds and ends.
Bowlovers – I don’t know what makes me more happy – being green or the whimsical sayings that cover my leftovers. Cut down on your cling wrap usage by covering your leftovers with these fun 100% cotton washable covers that come in several sizes.
Simple Ecology produce bags – These organic cotton reusable produce bags are a great way to cut down on plastic usage. They come in different sizes and are machine washable. Just throw them in your grocery cart with your reusable shopping bags, and fill them up with all kinds of fresh goodness each week.