In my files I found an article on safe and unsafe materials to use when packing a lunch. Since I sometimes pack a lunch, this information is good for kids & adults who brown bag it. The source is www.thegreenguide.com, authored by Molly Rauch, but there is also an illustrated Green Guidebook By National Geographic, which I own. (I reviewed this in April 2009. You can put in National Geographic Green Guide in the Search box & it should come up.) So this Earth Day, Every Day posting #21 is a combination of both the article & the text.
There are chemicals in plastic lunchboxes, sacks & thermoses that can leach into your food. (Sadly, I grew up thinking that ifÂ an item was manufactured by a big company, it was automatically safe. Boy, was I naive!)Â The common “culprits” include items that are made with #3 PVS,Â which contains hormone-disrupting phthalates (Midlife women don’t need any additional hormone disruptors!! es); #6 polystyrene, which may be a human carcinogen; and #7 polycarbonate, which contains another hormone- disruptor BPA; and lead, which has been known to be unsafe for a long time.
As the text points out, there are now many green alternatives such as organic cotton lunch sacks, Free trade certified lunch boxes or make your own. (Why not just a plain brown bag, doubled for sturdiness? es) There are also new thermoses and plastic container that are non-leaching, but I would check the label to see what the manufacturer says. I often call their 800 number for specific information.
Safer plastics include #2 high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which is considered safe and recyclable: #4 low-density polyethylene (LDPE), similar to #2, but used more for food storage as in wraps and plastic bags; and #5 polypropylene (PP), which is used to make deli containers, but may not be as recyclable as other plastics. (I reuse these a couple of times for leftover, then clean them & use them for non-food storage, such as pins, buttons, etc.)
According to the article on Lunchbox Makeover:
#1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) is safe for single use as in plastic bottles, but after repeated use they can leach DEHP,Â which is an endocrine disruptor & possible human carcinogen.
#4 Polyvinyl chloride (V or PVC) is softened by adding phthalates and other additives & these may migrate into foods, especially if they are hot or fatty.Â The article recommends unwrapping foods in plastic wrap, cut off a thin slice on the end where it came in contact with the plastic and store in a safer container( glass, waxed paper, or #4 noted above). Read your plastic wrap container to make sure it does not contain PVC plastic.
#6 polystyrene (PS) can leach styrene, which is a possible human carcinogen and may also interfere with hormones.
#7 is consider “Other,” which usually means polycarbonate used to make baby bottles, water pitchers and some water bottles. Polycarbonate contains bisphenol-A, an endocrine disruptor that can leach into food or water.
“Bottom” line: Check the bottom of your plastic containers. Numbers 2, 4, & 5 are considered OK for food storage, while numbers 1, 3, 6, & 7 should be avoided.
Also, as the article points out even the so-called safe plastics can potentially leach chemicals, especially when exposed to the heat from microwave ovens, the dishwasher, or even hot food and direct sunlight. Recycle these for non-food uses, as I noted above, and recycle any that are scratched, stained or misshapen.
The good news is that as consumers have become more aware of these issues, companies are slowly becoming “greener” because they want to keep their customer base. I have seen this with BPA in canned foods beginning to happen, in plastic flatware that is sturdy enough to reuse, and other biodegradable disposable items, when absolutely necessary to use.
This photo is from a website called www.greenpaperproducts.com, advertising biodegradable trash bags, cutlery, containers, etc. in small quantities with free samples.
In my search for pictures of eco-friendly lunchboxes I found a website ( www.laptolunches.com) that has the information below on its homepage. (The first two pictures are from this website &Â “More Information” in the picture can be found there.)
- Safe! NO lead, BPA, phthalates or PVC
- Cost-effective – pays for itself in just 3 weeks
- Reusable – lasts for years
- Recycled & Recyclable
- Easy to Clean
- Food containers made in the USA
- Note: I feel better knowing that there are safer alternatives, but I still prefer glass containers for most of my food that I store in the ‘frig and use plastic only for short-term storage. es