Are any of the #7 plastics safe?
Feb 18, 2016
One of our most popular posts is the one about the numbers on plastics, where I talk about which plastic is safe to use. In that post, I mention that not all #7 plastics are toxic. But how do you know which #7 plastics are safe? Many sources, like National Geographic will tell you to avoid most plastics including #7.
That's a handy guide for safe plastic grading, but it doesn't help if you're looking at a product with a #7 on it and you're wondering, "is number 7 plastic safe?".
Do you know your plastics?
What are the 7 types of plastic? #1 – PET or PETE (nylon), #2 – HDPE (high density polyethylene), #3 – PVC (polyvinyl chloride), #4 – LDPE (low density polyethylene), #5 – PP (polypropylene), #6 – PS (polystyrene), #7 – Other. Number 7 seems to be the dumping ground for all other types of plastic. So how do you know which #7 plastics should be avoided? Let's have a look at what's in plastic grade 7.
Some of the most common #7 plastics
Here are some of the most common number 7 plastic:
PLA plastics are bio plastics, made from polylactic acid, from starchy renewable resources like corn, and tapioca. They aren't processed with bisphenols or phthalates, and these are considered to be safe. They also biodegrade, so they're a better environmental choice as well. PLA plastics are opaque, and manufacturers are pretty keen to let you know that they're a better environmental choice. Packaging will confirm that this #7 plastic is a PLA plastic, and is safe to use.
Polycarbonate is a clear, rigid plastic, and it’s marked with #7 PC. It’s not recyclable, and it contains BPA (Bisphenol A). It's the baddie of the #7s. It's nowhere near as common as it used to be in baby products, but there's still a lot of it about. Generally, if you find a clear, hard plastic product without a number on it, it's PC 7 plastic. This one isn't safe.
Tritan is a tough, clear copolyester plastic. According to the manufacturer, Eastman Tritan, it's BpA free and made without the use of any bisphenols. They also say that it has no estrogenic or androgenic activity. However, a quick search on the internet throws some doubt on this. Eastman Tritan were involved in a court case against a scientist who claimed that Tritan did contain estrogenic chemicals. Although Eastman Tritan won this case, sources report that their testing methods were faulty, and that research was at least partly funded by a chemical industry body.
So far, it seems that some research appears to show that Tritan is a safe plastic, although this research may not be independent. Err on the side of caution and use it with cold liquids only. And like any other plastic, never use it in the microwave.
ABS, AS/SAN plastics
Other types of plastic under the #7 are acrylonitrile styrene (AS) or styrene acrylonitrile (SAN), and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). So what about ABS, AS & SAN plastic safety? Both AS/SAN and ABS are high quality plastics that are tough and rigid, and have good temperature and chemical resistance. Although they contain styrene, which is toxic, these kinds of plastics are stable and don't leach toxins. AS/SAN and ABS plastics are thermoplastics, so they melt easily and don't require plasticizers like bisphenols or phthalates in their manufacture. ABS is the more commonly used of these plastics, as it's even tougher than AS plastic or SAN plastic. ABS plastic is also easily recyclable, which is another point in it's favour. ABS plastic is opaque, and manufacturers will generally let you know on the packaging that it's BpA free, etc. Lego blocks are made from ABS, as is a lot of BabyBjorn's feeding product range.
Greenpeace commissioned a report on which types of plastics could be used to replace PVC in toys. One of those plastics are TPEs (thermoplastic elastomers). TPEs are the name for a group of plastics, and some are safer than others. TPEs are a often a copolymer, which is a mixture of two or more kinds of plastics. One type of TPE, thermoplastic polyurethane, uses large amounts of chlorine during manufacture, so isn't a good environmental choice. Not all TPEs are plasticizer free, either, which means that they may contain BPA or phthalates. However, some TPEs are very safe. For example, there are medical grade TPEs that don't contain phthalates, PVC, bisphenols or latex. TPEs are considered to be safer than PVC, however. The best way to tell if the TPE is safe is to ask the manufacturer for their test results or material safety data sheets (MSDS). Reputable companies, like BabyBjorn, are constantly testing their materials and will provide you with safety certifications if you request them.