Plastic is a modern marvel. It is so versatile that almost everything has a certain combination of plastic properties. Only recently people are able to obtain more information regarding the safe use of different types of plastic, especially containers. Anyone can search the internet to come out with relevent information. Now we have a new problem. The more I read the more complicated life becomes involving the use, or more often the reuse of plastic containers.
Take for example:
Reusing one-time-use items
While some items should not be used with foods, others should be used only ONCE, and then for their intended purpose.
Other items that were developed with the intention of single use include these four articles:
Single-use plastic water bottles
It is better to buy a reusable water bottle and use that instead of reusing a bottle in which water is sold. The plastic water bottles in which water is sold are intended for single service. They are hard to clean and dry and are not meant for multiple cleanings. They may not hold up under the hot water and cleansing needed to remove lipstick, etc.
Disposable plastic utensils, cups and containers
This category includes plastic forks, spoons and knives; plastic cups; and containers from cottage cheese, sour cream, chip dip, margarine, milk, etc. These items are not made of materials designed for repeated use or repeated cleaning with hot soap and water. Cups and containers may have edges that curl over and collect bacteria that cannot be cleaned out. These containers are developed for specific types/temperatures of foods and may not stand up to all foods, such as high acid and/or hot foods.
By the way what is "Plastic"?
"Plastic is made from hydrocarbons derived from petroleum or natural gas. The hydrocarbons are formed into chains called polymers, or plastic resins. By combining hydrocarbon molecules in different ways, different types of plastic can be created."
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) requires that plastics used in food packaging be of greater purity than plastics used for non-food packaging. This is commonly referred to as food grade plastic. Plastics used to package pharmaceuticals are held to an even higher standard than food grade.
Another aspect of food grade plastic is matching the appropriate type of plastic to the food in question. Foods that are highly acidic or that contain alcohol or fats can leach plastic additives from the packaging or container into the food. As a result, you should only use plastic containers that are FDA approved for the particular type of food the plastic will come into contact with.
Finally, it should be noted that a plastic container can no longer be considered food grade if it has been used to store non-food items like chemicals, paint, or detergent.
In the United States, the following codes represent the seven categories of plastic used in nearly all plastic containers and product packaging:
|PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) is a clear, tough polymer with exceptional gas and moisture barrier properties. PET's ability to contain carbon dioxide (carbonation) makes it ideal for use in soft drink bottles. |
Examples: Soft drink bottles, detergent bottles
|HDPE (high density polyethylene) is used in milk, juice and water containers in order to take advantage of its excellent protective barrier properties. Its chemical resistance properties also make it well suited for items such as containers for household chemicals and detergents. Most five gallon food buckets are made from HDPE. |
Examples: Milk bottles, shopping bags
|Vinyl (polyvinyl chloride, or PVC) provides excellent clarity, puncture resistance and cling. As a film, vinyl can breathe just the right amount, making it ideal for packaging fresh meats that require oxygen to ensure a bright red surface while maintaining an acceptable shelf life. |
Examples: Plastic food wrap, shrink wrap, garden hoses, shoe soles
|LDPE (low density polyethylene) offers clarity and flexibility. It is used to make bottles that require flexibility. To take advantage of its strength and toughness in film form, it is used to produce grocery bags and garbage bags, shrink and stretch film, and coating for milk cartons. |
Examples: Squeeze bottles, dry cleaning bags
|PP (polypropylene) has high tensile strength, making it ideal for use in caps and lids that have to hold tightly on to threaded openings. Because of its high melting point, polypropylene can be hot-filled with products designed to cool in bottles, including ketchup and syrup. It is also used for products that need to be incubated, such as yogurt. Many Cambo, Tupperware and Rubbermaid food storage containers are made from PP. |
Examples: Bottle caps, take-out food containers, drinking straws
|PS (polystyrene), in its crystalline form, is a colorless plastic that can be clear and hard. It can also be foamed to provide exceptional insulation properties. Foamed or expanded polystyrene (EPS) is used for products such as meat trays, egg cartons and coffee cups. It is also used for packaging and protecting appliances, electronics and other sensitive products. |
Examples: Plastic foam, packing peanuts, coat hangers
|Other denotes plastics made from other types of resin or from several resins mixed together. These usually cannot be recycled.|
Another important type of plastic is polycarbonate, a clear shatter-resistant material used in restaurant food storage containers and recently in the Rubbermaid Stain Shield line of home food storage containers.
Why do we need different types of plastics, anyway? This excerpt from the American Plastics Council Web site explains it well.
"Copper, silver and aluminum are all metals, yet each has unique properties. You wouldn't make a car out of silver or a beer can out of copper because the properties of these metals are not chemically or physically able to create the most effective final product. Likewise, while plastics are all related, each resin has attributes that make it best suited to a particular application. Plastics make this possible because as a material family they are so versatile."
There is a common misconception that all containers made of white plastic or HDPE plastic bearing the symbol are food grade containers. This is not true.What about this which came to me by email?
[ Now, one thing to consider when you buy a REUSABLE plastic bottle is its grade (if you go with aluminum reusable bottles, you are cool, but if you do plastic, you need to make sure it's a decent grade for the sake of your health!). Look on the bottom of the bottle for a small plastic triangle with a number in the middle. If you see a number 2, 4 or 5, the bottle is safe. If it has some other number, don't use it as a water bottle. Those other plastics can make your water taste like plastic and leach harmful chemicals into your body. ]
Well, to me it's getting complicated. I just use my commonsense and practical judgement. After all, here in Bolehland you can't even find the classification code in most containers.
What about those plastic disposables our local hawkers use for ta pau (takeaways)? This I'm quite apprehensive.
Where do we go from here then?
Have A Nice Day!