Which plastic numbers are safe? As research continues to develop and we begin to become more fully aware of the risks of plastics, understanding the difference between types of plastics is essential when choosing items for your family and home. We have a vast selection of safe plastic food containers and reusable BPA-free water bottles, and more—and you’ll find a detailed list of materials used alongside each product.
Read on to discover the most common types of plastics—identified by number, chemical name and abbreviation—and learn about their uses, advantages and dangers. Check the bottom of most standard plastic products to identify the kind of plastic by the number that is printed inside the iconic recycling triangle.
#1 PLASTICS: POLYETHYLENE TEREPHTHALATE (PET OR PETE)
Common uses: single-use bottles—like water bottles, 2-liter soda bottles, peanut butter jars cooking oil bottles, etc. Commonly, PETE or PETE plastics are understood as safe, and studies performed by organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council uphold this notion. However, other studies, such as those published in Environmental Health Perspectives, have found that PET has the potential to release endocrine disruptors from the plastic into the bottle or container's contents under certain conditions that can arise during common use, such as prolonged exposure to high temperature. Research published in the Journal of Environmental Monitoring provides a similar perspective. When stored in temperatures below 140°F, water in PET bottles remains below the EU's permissible toxin level. However, the same article argues that, even at room temperature, water stored in PET bottles for approximately a year shows levels of toxins, like phthalates and antimony, that could exceed the EU limit. With all of this in mind, we think that, though PET is primarily safe for one-time use, we do not recommend reusing, refilling or reheating the material.
What is recycled PET or PETE? PET is relatively easily recyclable. Because of this, as well as its sheer availability (due to the large amount of PET that is currently produced, used, then disposed) and its value in the market, recycling PET into a functional material that can used to manufacture new products (like textiles and other fabrics) is simpler and more cost-efficient—and thus more common—than with other plastics. explore recycled PET eco-friendly products >
#2 PLASTICS: HIGH DENSITY POLYETHYLENE (HDPE)
Common uses: bottle caps, milk jugs, grocery bags, shampoo bottles, yogurt tubs, detergent bottles, hard hats, backpack frames, hula hoops, etc. HDPE is a strong, translucent plastic very commonly used in packaging and manufacturing products. It is sturdy, stiff and resistant to impact; plus, HDPE is a low-risk plastic generally regarded as safe. Like all plastics, it has been found to transmit trace elements of chemicals under extreme circumstances; however, studies show that these insignificant, minute traces only pose concerns for pregnant women and infants. For this reason, we recommend that to-be, nursing and new mothers avoid plastic in general and instead explore other reusable alternatives (glass is great!). In all other circumstances, HDPE, because of its versatility, strength and durability, is a practical, healthier choice for reusable products as a part of a sustainable lifestyle. Dishwasher-safe and able to withstand temperatures from -148° to 176°F (-100° to 80°C), it's ideal for beverage and food storage containers. see common HDPE plastic products >
#3 PLASTICS: POLYVINYL CHLORIDE (PVC)
Common uses: plastic cling wraps, blister packaging for medication, outdoor furniture, plastic pipes, flooring, siding, etc. According to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, vinyl chloride, used in the production of PVC, is classified as a Group A human carcinogen. The risk is greatest when inhaled, which is not very common, but concentrations of air-born vinyl chloride can often be high in new cars—so beware that new-car smell! There is also the possibility that toxins can be transmitted to water through contact with PVC pipes. PVC contains the chemical compound DEHP, a phthalate that can leach into the human system through contact with blood or other lipid-containing solutions. DEHP, which is one of the first compounds that the EU is trying to eliminate through its Registration, Evaluation, Authorization & Restriction of Chemical substances (REACH) program, has been linked to asthma in children and disruptions in the endocrine systems of several species of animals. For all of these reasons, we do not recommend products made from PVC for food storage. find PVC-free and safe food storage alternatives >
#4 PLASTICS: LOW DENSITY POLYETHYLENE (LDPE)
Common uses: plastic film and shrink wrap, produce bags, grocery bags, trash can liners, dry cleaning bags, bread bags, squeeze bottles and food storage containers LDPE is very similar to HDPE, but it is less rigid and more transparent. According to the British Plastics Federation, LDPE plastic is still very strong and highly resistant to breakdown. Like HDPE, it is also considered a low-hazard plastic with few health risks. The only downside is that, generally, LDPE is recycled much less frequently than PET or HDPE. Despite this, it's a good choice for use with food and beverages, making sturdy, versatile and impact-resistant reusable products. explore more ways LDPE is used >
#5 PLASTICS: POLYPROPYLENE (PP)
Common uses: bottle caps, takeout containers, ketchup bottles, drinking straws, medicine bottles, injection molding, etc. Polypropylene is one of the safest plastic choices you can make as a consumer. According to research gathered by the Environmental Working Group, polypropylene is not currently classified as (nor is it likely to be found to be) a human carcinogen, and it is not suspected to accumulate in or disrupt any systems in the human body. It also poses no perceived environmental threats. Unfortunately, like LDPE, polypropylene is not widely recycled, but it is still an excellent choice for reusable bags and food and beverage storage. Durable, versatile and BPA-free, polypropylene is also highly resistant to heat, remaining stable even at high temperatures. see more everyday polypropylene items >
PLASTIC #6: POLYSTYRENE (PS)
Common uses: plastic tableware, egg cartons, meat trays, packaging pellets or "Styrofoam® peanuts," foam cups, to-go "clam shell" containers, etc. Polystyrene, commonly referred to as styrofoam, is a plastic to be avoided. As highlighted by Harvard's Polystyrene Fact Sheet, polystyrene makes up a very large portion of urban litter. Because it is lightweight and buoyant—and not commonly recycled—it is also the primary component of debris in the oceans, where it poses serious risks for marine wildlife. Polystyrene also contains several known toxic chemical compounds, including benzene and styrene. Benzene is a known carcinogen, and styrene is suspected to have detrimental neurotoxic, hematological, cytogenetic and carcinogenic effects, according to the Foundation for Achievements in Science and Education. Polystyrene products, when in contact with warm foods or drinks, alcohol, oils and acidic foods, have been found to leach styrene in very small, though still concerning, quantities. For these reasons and more, we recommend avoiding polystyrene—and, in fact, over 100 cities around the world have banned the use of polystyrene food packaging. find alternatives to polystyrene containers >
PLASTIC #7: OTHER
Common uses: LEXAN, reusable plastic bottles, oven-baking bags, packaging, etc. This category, as its name implies, is any plastic other than the named #1-#6 plastic types and can be composed of several different types of plastic polymers. #7 plastics can include any range of plastic compounds, but the material is most often polycarbonate plastic. Mother Earth News and many other credited sources note that, more likely than not, polycarbonate (and other unidentified plastics) contain harmful bisphenol-A (BPA) and bisphenol-S (BPS). These chemicals are endocrine disrupters, which means they interfere with the human body's hormonal system, affecting mood, growth and development, metabolism, and reproductive processes. BPA has also been linked to obesity and insulin resistance. However, in some cases plastics labeled #7 can be a combination of low-risk plastics that do not leach these harmful toxins. So, if your favorite water bottle happens to be #7, don't despair. We recommend that you reach out to the manufacturer and learn more specifics about the material. WHAT IS EASTMAN TRITAN™? Tritan™ is the brand name for copolyester created by Eastman Chemical Company. It is commonly used for reusable water bottles, like those from CamelBak® and Nalgene®. Tritan is a strong, durable material that is guaranteed BPA-free. After rigorous testing, it has been found to meet all safety requirements set out by FDA food safety standards, European Community food safety standards, the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare, and California Prop. 65. It also fulfills all EPA and FDA guidelines for a material that is to come into repeated contact with food. Chemically-resistant and nearly indestructible, reusable bottles, utensils and food containers made from Tritan have many of the advantages of glass—without the weight or fear of breaking.