The “chasing arrows” symbol we see around so much has not much to do with recycling. The number enclosed by the arrows on the other hand, they have their own significance; it is this number that you must know about. Especially if you have children, or in general care about your health.
Within each chasing arrows triangle, there is a number which ranges from one to seven. This number symbolizes the nature of the plastic used in the product. Contrary to what you might think, not all plastics are reusable, or even recyclable for that matter.
This number inside the small triangle is called a Resin Identification Code(RIC), and is used to identify what kind of plastic you are dealing with.
#1 – Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)
PET is one of the most commonly used plastics in consumer products, and is found in most water and pop bottles, and some packaging. It is intended for single use applications; repeated use increases the risk of leaching and bacterial growth. PET plastic is difficult to decontaminate, and proper cleaning requires harmful chemicals. Polyethylene terephthalates may leach carcinogens.
PET is also said to be very porous, which means it has a high tendency to collect small particles of food and bacteria. This is potentially very harmful to your bodies and you should avoid reusing PET bottles.
#2 – High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
HDPE plastic is the stiff plastic used to make milk jugs, detergent and oil bottles, toys, and some plastic bags. HDPE is the most commonly recycled plastic and is considered one of the safest forms of plastic. It is a relatively simple and cost-effective process to recycle HDPE plastic for secondary use.
Products made of HDPE are reusable and recyclable, and do not pose much of a threat from prolonged use.
#3 – Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
PVC is a soft, flexible plastic used to make clear plastic food wrapping, cooking oil bottles, teething rings, children’s and pets’ toys. You can relate PVC the most with plumbing pipes. PVC is quite the plastic when it comes to being strong and sturdy; but it can be quite harmful when it comes to food. Chemicals used to make PVC are said to cause serious hormonal issues in humans, and it should never be used to cook, or store food under any conditions.
#4 – Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
LDPE is most commonly found in cling film wraps and carry bags found in large grocery chains. Even though does not pose an immediate threat to your health or contaminates food, you should avoid it as it is not capable o being recycled.
#5 – Polypropylene
Relatively one of the most commonly used and safer kinds of plastics. PP is the dense, translucent kind of plastic that one can find in most of food containers. It is used to make medicine containers, packaged food containers and ketchup bottles.
The best part of using PP is the fact that it is widely accepted in most places to be recycled and reused.
#6 – Polystyrene
Polystyrene is an inexpensive, lightweight and easily-formed plastic with a wide variety of uses. It is most often used to make disposable styrofoam drinking cups, take-out “clamshell” food containers, egg cartons, plastic picnic cutlery, foam packaging and those ubiquitous “peanut” foam chips used to fill shipping boxes to protect the contents. Polystyrene is also widely used to make rigid foam insulation and underlay sheeting for laminate flooring used in home construction.
Polystyrene may leach styrene, a possible human carcinogen, into food products (especially when heated in a microwave). Chemicals present in polystyrene have been linked with human health and reproductive system dysfunction.
Polystyrene should be avoided whereever possible.
#7 – Other (Polycarbonate and BPA)
Number 7 plastics are essentially all the other plastics that are unaccounted for other than the 1 to 6 codes. This means that their impact on your health is not confirmed, and you must choose to use them at your own discretion.
Due to the sheer diversity of the plastics used in this numbering, it cannot be precisely pin pointed as to what are the affects of #7 plastics. But personally, I would recommend to stay away from them as much as you can.
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