Plastic is a dexterous synthetic or semi-synthetic organic compound that is characterized by its high moldable quality. Owing to its waterproof nature and relatively low cost of manufacturing, plastic has replaced many eco-friendly materials like glass, wood and clay. Pure plastic has large molecular weight and are biochemically inert. However, many additives are added to plastics to meet the required purpose. These additives are highly toxic and therefore unsafe for human use.
Plastic is a polymer organic compound and is manufactured using monomers. In certain cases, these monomers are toxic in nature and when such a plastic is exposed to heat, then there are chances that the monomers can leach and can get passed on to human beings. The polystyrene food containers when exposed to heat leaches some compounds that can be carcinogen or can even interfere with hormone functions.
Many additives like adipates and phthalates are added to plastics of polyvinyl chloride origin to make them brittle and enhance their malleability, making it suitable material for manufacturing toys and food packaging materials. These are highly toxic elements and many countries have imposed ban on these. In the USA, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act has restricted the use of DEHP, DPB, BBP, DINP, DIDP, DnOP and similar polymers from children’s toys and child care articles. Similarly, the European Union has imposed restrictions on the use of DEHP (di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate) and other phthalates. The world is slowly waking up to the health hazards of the plastic.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer have over the years have evaluated the bad effects of certain chemicals used in the manufacturing of plastic on the health of both the workers involved in manufacturing and the end users.
- One such chemical is Vinyl Chloride, which is used for manufacturing PVC, a very common plastic that occupies a total of 12% of the total market-share of plastics. This substance is highly carcinogenic.
- Another such chemical is Bisphenol A (BPA), used for hardening plastic, which when exposed to small children can cause obesity and early onset-puberty. Other risks associated with BPA include liver and heart diseases and Type II diabetes.
How to identify safe plastic?
The Plastics Industry Association follows a Resin Identification Coding System developed by ASTM International (American Society for Testing and Materials), which describes the type of plastic resin used to make a container or bottle and the codes are mentioned on the packaging itself that range from one to seven, written within a chasing arrow symbol.
- Plastic #1: Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET): These plastics are safe until these are not exposed to heat, which if happens leads to leaching of antimony, a toxic metallic element.
- Plastic #2: High Density Polyethylene (HDPE): These plastics are also safe, until exposed to any kind of heating.
- Plastic #3: Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): According to the studies conducted by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, PVC is the most dangerous of all plastic, as it has a tendency to leach chemicals that get mixed with the air and cause asthma and autism among children.
- Plastic #4: Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE): This is a low hazard plastic.
- Plastic #5: Polypropylene (PP): This is considered a safe plastic
- Plastic #6: Polystyrene (PS): This plastic should be avoided at all cost, as it leaches styrene, which is a linked to increased risk of leukemia and lymphoma. Generally disposable plates are made up of PS. US-based NIH (National Institute of Environmental Health Science) have conducted several research on styrene and have found conclusive evidence to support its carcinogenic tendencies.
- Plastic #7: Other: These plastics are manufactured using any combination of other plastic and also other resins. Since the origin itself is shady, so these too fall under “not to be used” category.
Advice to parents
- Children are meant to be loved and pampered and gifting them toys is our expression of love to them. However, just ensure that the toy is made up of safe plastic as kids have tendency to put things in their mouth.
- Avoid using plastic containers for use in microwave and always foster the habit of throwing plastic with recyclable waste.
- Plastic is just not bad for humans and non-humans, earth too can’t biodegrade it and leads to poisoning of our groundwater and soil. To keep the health and environment safe, choose stainless steel or glass bottles and containers.
- When you buy a plastic container prefer only BPA-free or safer plastic bottles and containers to store food.
- International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organization
- “Styrene”, US National Toxicology Program
- “Resin Identification”, ASTM International (American Society for Testing and Materials)