Step 5: Be wise with plastics

Plastic provides a good amount of affordable convenience. Only recently have we discovered that the hidden cost may be our health. Plastics, which are used in much of our food storage and cooking, have the potential to negatively affect health in certain applications.

Some petroleum-based plastics leach harmful chemical into foods and drinks, especially when plastic comes in contact with oily or fatty foods, during heating and microwaving, as a result of harsh cleaners, and when exposed to excessive moisture.

Luckily, we can all make safe choices.

What to Do

Choose smart plastics (see icons below) and avoid putting them in the microwave (where they can release dangerous chemicals when heated) or the dishwasher (where they can degrade in the heat and excessive moisture).

Safer Choices:

Select safe plastics that use polyethylene (#1, #2, and #4) and polypropylene (#5), which require the use of less toxic additives. They also are non-chlorinated.


Avoid choosing products that use polyvinyl chloride (#3), polystyrene (#6), and polycarbonate (#7) which often are found in baby bottles or sippy cups.

Safety Checklist

  • Be aware of plastic products in your child’s surroundings – squeeze toys, rattles, bath toys, cribs, teethers, pacifiers, high chairs, sippy cups, and baby bottles
  • Avoid PVC products, like vinyl chew toys, which are identified with a “V” or “3.” If you can’t eliminate them all, then make sure they are cleaned regularly.
  • Opt for toys and books made with natural wood, paper, cloth, or metal.
  • Opt for plastic alternatives – glass, ceramic that’s lead-free, and stainless steel -- whenever possible.
  • Use glass or ceramic containers to microwave food and beverages.
  • Be cautious of cling wraps, especially for microwave use. Wrap foods in butcher paper, waxed paper, or paper towels. Or store food in glass or ceramic.
  • Avoid using plastics that aren’t identified on the packaging.
  • Look for products that state “no phthalates” or “no bisphenol A (BPA).”
  • Wash plastic containers by hand with a mild soap.

Safe Solutions

Find BPA-free bottles and other safer products in our marketplace.

More Information

Bisphenol A (BPA) is present in polycarbonate plastic. BPA leaches from polycarbonate plastic under certain conditions. Exposure to BPA may cause negative health effects. BPA leaching is greater in polycarbonate that is scratched, cloudy or exhibits other signs of wear. BPA leaching is also accelerated by heat. Hot and fatty foods or liquids may dissolve traces of BPA.

Exposure to polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics may result in exposure to lead. Lead is used to stabilize PVC. The lead breaks down with exposure to heat and light, and migrates to the surface of the PVC product. Under certain conditions, lead may be present on the surface of PVC products, which can be transferred by hand to mouth behaviors or distributed to surfaces as dust. PVC forms hydrochloric acid when it degrades, which causes a chain reaction that proceeds rapidly to a complete loss of strength. Stabilizers are added to prevent this from occurring. Stabilizers used in PVC are generally metal salts, often lead.

Use of certain plastics may also result in exposure to phthalates. For example, diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) may migrate from foodwraps during storage. It is classified as a probable human carcinogen and also causes chronic health problems, including liver and kidney abnormalities. Breathing dust contaminated by phthalates that have escaped from vinyl products used in the home may be a significant exposure for children. Children spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors breathing close to the floor, and many children’s toys are made out of phthalate-softened vinyl.


  • Plastics have been linked to endocrine disruption in babies, cancers, birth defects, and poor brain/nervous system development.
  • Recent studies suggest that BPA exposure can impair brain function, leading to learning disabilities and age-related neurodegenerative disease. BPA has been shown to be an endocrine disruptor and to simulate the action of estrogen. Doses of BPA lower than current EPA limits in female rats inhibited estrogen-induction of synaptic connections in the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved with the expression of sexually differentiated behaviors.
  • Another study found that exposure to BPA before birth permanently changed DNA signaling in rats, predisposing them to developing cancer much later. However, this study injected BPA directly into the subject animals’ blood, whereas most human exposure is via ingestion.

Print this page | Email a friend