The Mindful Merchant

Shop – Eat – Live – Mindfully

Number Knowledge July 3, 2010

Filed under: environment,heath and safety,recycling,safety,shopping,toxic — MindfulMerchant @ 9:49 am



No matter how eco-conscious we are, it is challenging to get away from using plastic. Manufacturers use resin ID codes to help us with recycling making it easy to sort our household garbage. Did you know that these numbers can also help us determine the safer plastics and which ones we should try to avoid?  I tend to put more thought to the food/products I buy and less attention to the packaging involved. Now I am starting to reconsider after reading about the differences.  Here is some information about the most commonly used plastics.



#1 Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE)

You will find it in water bottles, shampoo and pop bottles. This might be the most commonly recycled plastic.


#2 High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

Most commonly found in cleaning product bottles, milk jugs, some water bottles, saline, medicine bottles and shopping bags.


#4 Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

Found in sandwich bags, some newer plastic wraps, grocery bags. This plastic is not as toxic to manufacture as other plastics, but it is not as commonly recycled.



#5 Polypropylene (PP)

Yogurt containers and a variety of food and beverage containers. More studies are needed since research is unclear about chemical leaching. Researchers are unsure if the chemicals/substances pose a health threat.


Try to Avoid

#3 Polyvinyl Chloride (V  or PVC)

According to Greenpeace – this plastic ranks as one of the biggest environmental bad guys. PVC (also known as vinyl) contains vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen. It is most commonly used in construction (PVC pipes in our homes) Found in some plastic wraps, cooking oil bottles and unfortunately many children’s toys. It is rarely recycled but plastic manufacturers still stand by its safety. Apparently many plastic wrapped foods like meats and cheeses in the grocery store are wrapped in polyvinyl chloride (PVC).


#6 Plystyrene (PS) Styrofoam

It is not commonly recycled. It contains benzene which is a suspected carcinogenic. Avoid consuming hot liquids, fatty foods or alcoholic drinks from Styrofoam containers since they may increase leaching. Transfer foods from Styrofoam containers to glass or ceramic as soon as possible.



#7 Other (often polycarbonate made with BPA)

This number covers any other plastic other than #1-6. This mixed bag is concerning since there is conflicting data about this plastic. Often marketed as “non-leaching” and sold as a good green alternative, it is often made using a highly toxic chlorine gas derivative and carcinogenic solvents. The data is conflicting about leaching of bisphenol A. Industry says even low doses would not be enough to hurt you, others suggest that even small amounts this hormone-disrupting chemical can be harmful. Found in microwavable plastics, eating utensils, linings for canned goods and beverage containers, sometimes baby bottles.



Eliminating all plastic packaging from our homes would be an extremely difficult task. Studies suggest that when plastics come in contact with food, certain chemicals migrate and may cause an array of health problems. Try to store food in glass or ceramic and transfer food out of plastic containers before reheating in the microwave.


I used to assume that all recyclable plastic was the same. After reading more about the number codes and what they represent, I am giving more thought to the type of plastics and the products I buy and bring into our home.





10 Responses to “Number Knowledge”

  1. This is fantastic information! It’s too easy to assume the recycled symbol means all good stuff – evidently a bit of a delusion!

  2. Finola Says:

    It’s all so confusing to figure out for sure. I would note that Health Canada has found that the levels of BPA in food packaging items such as cans etc have not been shown to be harmful, and regulatory action is only being taken with respect to products aimed at very young children. Here is a good source of info:

    That being said, I get that we want to minimize exposure to chemicals, and that science changes constantly. It’s always a balance to try to figure out what to do, isn’t it?

  3. I believe Canada was the first to call bisphenol-A dangerous, and yes they have banned it from baby/young children’s products. My suspicious side thinks that if a baby/pregnant woman should avoid this chemical…I’m going to try to keep it away from my older kids and family. They are currently researching BPA in canned goods (which has been in use for decades). It will be interesting to see what new reputable studies discover. I read in Ecoholic that Canada is also investigating #1 (PETE) – one of the “safer” plastics because “it is one of 4000 chemicals or potential concern because it was brought into the market withought full safety assessments.”. I agree it is all about balance. I think in this case it is worth trying to minimize how we use plastics in our home and how we shop too – (potentially) for our health but also the environment too. Thanks for including that link Finola – great info.

  4. Pauline Says:

    Admittedly, I heat my lunch in plastic every work day, but I should stop. I don’t know the number or type of plastic they are, but its probably not good to heat them with food.

    • I discovered that we have some containers with no numbers – mystery plastic. That can’t be good. Maybe you could put your lunch on a plate to microwave it? Kind of a pain, but perhaps worth it?

  5. Ashley Says:

    This is SO useful! Thank you! I don’t seem why businesses and governments so often seem to use symbols without explaining what they mean. I STILL have trouble figuring out which one is the “Don’t put in dryer” symbol on my clothing tags. Haha!

    This is such a great blog. A real find. Thanks!

    • Hi Ashley! Nice to meet you 🙂

      I know what you mean about reading laundry tags – that’s a whole other challenge. lol Thanks for the kind words.

  6. XUP Says:

    I use good old wax paper to wrap my lunch and then I put it in a tupperware thing. If it’s something I need to heat up, they sell great little ceramic dishes with rubber lids. When I found out that pets can have a very serious skin reaction to eating out of plastic dishes, I figured humans should probably not be eating out of them either.

  7. Ashley Says:

    Nice to meet you too! And you’re welcome!

Comments are closed.