Made to last forever, designed to throw away

Nearly every food product we buy is made or come packaged in petroleum plastic. The problem with this material is its reutilization. Today, our landfills are awash in plastic packaging, and expendable products that have no value at the end of their short lifecycle.

At first sight we may think that there is only one type of plastic, but the reality is that there is more than one type, with different advantages and disadvantages. This is a short list of each one.

Plastic #1: known as PETE or PET. Usually clear in color, the majority is use to soda and water bottles. This plastic is considered generally safe. However, the porous nature of its surface allows bacteria and flavor to accumulate, so avoid reusing these bottles as temporary containers.

Plastic #2: HDPE. Most milk jugs, detergent bottles, juice bottles, butter tubs, and toiletries bottles are made of HDPE. This plastic is considered safe and has low risk of leaching.

Plastic #3: PVC. It is used to make food wrap, bottles for cooking oil, and the highly common plumbing pipes. PVC is not considered safe to cook food near it. PVC contains softening chemicals called phthalates that interfere with hormonal development. It is difficult to recycle.

Plastic #4: LDPE is used to make grocery bags, some food wraps, squeezable bottles, and bread bags. While considered safe it is unfortunately not often accepted by recycling programs.

Plastic #5: This is polypropylene. Common items produced with it include yogurt cups, medicine bottles, ketchup, syrup bottles, as well as water bottles with a cloudy finish. This plastic is also considered safe, and possible to recycle.

Plastic #6: Polystyrene. Disposable containers, packaging, plates, and cups are made with this plactic. Evidence shows that this type of plastic leaches potentially toxic chemicals, especially when is exposed to high temperatures. It is difficult to recycle.

Plastic #7: This category basically means “everything else” and is composed of plastics that were invented after 1987. Polycarbonate falls into this category, including the highly toxic BPA. Baby and water bottles, sports equipment, medical and dental devices, CD’s, DVD’s, and even iPods are made with this plastic.

A change in our behaviour can help to decrease the impacts of this kind of products has in the environmental, especially in the oceans, where a large mass of plastic waste is floating.