Condo Blues: How to Identify BPA Free Plastics the Easy Way

Thursday, July 22, 2010

How to Identify BPA Free Plastics the Easy Way

I mentioned to Husband's aunt that I want to replace our small plastic food storage containers with glass when they wear out (due to spousal management issues.) She lamented, "It’s so confusing. Now we're supposed to use glass! I can't open glass containers with my arthritis. I can't remember what the plastics are with that stuff in them."

Me, "BPA?"

Husband's aunt,"Yeah, that!"

I love moments like this because it slaps me into the reality that not everyone has the same green needs as I do. This was double that day because we were trying to window shop with a toddler in tow who wanted to pick up and hold everything in the store - especially the very expensive and very breakable glass items (at least the kid has taste.) For Husband's aunt and the toddler's mom, easy to open, non-breakable BPA free plastics are necessary.

I took advantage of this and used it as a Teachable Moment in the store. Aunt K I promised you I'd write everything down  - this one's for you! It's a good reminder for me too.

How to Identify BPA Free Plastics – The Long Answer
AKA The CYA so I Don't Get Sued Version

The little numbers stamped on the bottom of a plastic container tells you or your recycling center what type of chemicals the plastic it is made from. There are seven general categories of plastic. The BPA free plastics are (brace yourself for some big scary sounding words but I will translate them I promise):

  • #1 Polyethylene terephthalate. It uses the abbreviation PET or PETE and can be for example, thin plastic pop bottles.
  • #2 High-density polyethylene. It uses the abbreviation HDPE and can be for example, some reusable plastic food storage containers.
  • #4 Low-density polyethylene. It uses the abbreviation LDPE and can be for example, plastic grocery bags.
  • #5 Polypropylene. It uses the abbreviation PP and can be for example, some reusable plastic food storage containers.
  • #6 Polystyrene It uses the abbreviation PS and can be hard plastic lke disposable cutlery or soft plastic like foam drink cups. Polystyrene is difficult to recycle in most areas of the US.
I like to remember them this way:

(Skip 3)

What about #7 Plastic?
Number 7 is what I like to call Mystery Plastic. Number 7 plastic is any type of plastic that doesn’t fit into the other categories. Number 7 plastic can be made from compostable corn based plastic but it can also be made from polycarbonate which may contain BPA. This makes Number 7 plastics difficult to recycle in most areas of the US.
Is your head spinning with numbers yet? Let’s make it easier.

How to Identify BPA Free Plastics – The Short Answer
AKA The Real Answer to Her Question

Say you want to buy a BPA free plastic reusable water bottle or food storage container. You walk into the store and start flipping things over to read the number printed on the bottom of the plastic container. The safer and most common BPA free choices for reusable plastic food and beverage containers are:

I remember them with a corny little rhyme I came up with:

Number two is cool,
Number five no jive.

Told you it was corny! However, it helps me remember those two numbers when I’m feeling overwhelmed during a next pop quiz at the store.

Did that help? How do you remember which numbers are BPA free plastic?

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Sandi said...

So, I have a question: how do you determine BPA-free canned goods. I hear that a lot of cans are lined with a coating that contains BPA.

Thanks for any light you can shed on this!

Linda A said...

Great information, Lisa. Even though I have written about these numbers/types of plastic several times I get them mixed up. You corny saying will hopefully stick in my head.


Lisa Nelsen-Woods said...

Sandi - you're right BPA may be in the liners of some aluminum cans. It's difficult to tell. Eden foods says that most of their food cans don't have BPA in the liner. But in the case of tomatoes, the FDA says that the only can liner for such acidic foods has to contain BPA. Trader Joe's used to sell tomatoes in a Tetrapack carton that didn't have BPA but I think they discontinued it. I don't know if anyone sells tomatoes other than premade spaghetti sauce in glass jars.

Lisa said...

Can't remember the brand but there are some glass containers with lids that are easy open, they are like lock & lock lids. The lids are plastic but still less.

Great info though!

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