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By Lisa Browdy
Did you know that some of the plastic you store and reheat your food in can be dangerous? Different kinds of plastics have different numbers on them-- just look at the bottom of most receptacles and you'll see a little triangle with a number on it that ranges from 1 to 7. These numbers will tell you whether it is recyclable and how safe it is to use.
Oak Park's recycling program takes the following types of plastic containers:
#1 PETE (plastic soft drink bottles)
#2 HDPE (milk or water jugs, detergent bottles
#3 PVC narrow neck containers like household cleaners, health and beauty products
#4 LDPE (margarine tubs and plastic rings from beverage cans)
#5 PP (yogurt cups, narrow neck syrup and ketchup bottles
#7 OTHER (plastic resin grocery narrow neck containers)
Oak Parkers can recycle everything except polystyrene #6, which is commonly known as Styrofoam. More information on Oak Park's recycling program is available here.
So what about safety? There is conflicting information, but most experts agree that PC (polycarbonate) plastic #7 has a chemical called bisphenol A (BPA) that is known to interfere with our hormones. Until very recently, this plastic was found in baby bottles, water-cooler bottles and the epoxy linings of tin food cans. Slowly, manufacturers are removing BPA from their packaging due to its linkage with obesity and cancer.
Other plastics to avoid for food storage include those with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which has a #3 on it. This plastic is often used frequently in cling wraps for meat. PVC contains softeners called phthalates that interfere with hormonal development. Vinyl chloride, the primary building block of PVC, is a known human carcinogen. Manufacturing and incinerating PVC releases dioxin, a potent carcinogen and hormone disruptor.
We should avoid using polystyrene #6 for no other reason than that we can't recycle it. It is used in far too many of our disposable take out containers and coffee cups. In addition, when we eat the hot food and beverage inside, we can ingest some styrene, which is considered a carcinogen.
Even when you are using safer plastics, try not to heat your food in them. Transfer your food to a regular plate or dish before microwaving to prevent chemicals from spreading into your meal!