The indestructible material is convenient, but it also has a bad rap ― and for good reason. It’s known to leach, which means if it’s heated or scratched, the chemicals in it can wind up in food, or directly in a baby’s mouth, if he sucks strongly enough on it. Some of these chemicals are associated with a host of scary risks. They could increase the risk of cancer and infertility and affect brain development, among other issues. But we don’t really know the full extent of how this constant exposure to plastic will affect children in the long term.
The digits you want to avoid are 3, 6 and 7. (You might want to even get into the habit of chanting the three numbers in your mind to commit them to memory.)
These three are made up of chemicals that are considered most concerning when it comes to toxicity. (Products labeled with “greenware” or “biobased” are likely free of certain chemicals but aren’t necessarily completely safe.) For the plastic products that aren’t labeled with a number, it’s simply impossible to know what’s in, or not in, them.
You’ll typically find teething rings, toys, plastic curtains, take-out packaging and personal care products. These items are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and of concern is the release of phthalates, a binding agent that makes the plastic malleable and is in an innumerable amount of consumer products, not just plastics.
Items are made of polystyrene and include disposable plates and cups), meat trays, egg cartons and take-out containers. When heated, they can release toxic materials such as styrene, which can be absorbed in the digestive tract. Styrene has been linked to headache, fatigue, dizziness, confusion and other issues in factory workers who inhale massive quantities on a regular basis. There isn’t research to show negative health effects on adults or children who may be exposed orally at low concentrations.
While kids are more vulnerable to these risks because their bodies are still developing.
In addition to avoiding those three types of plastic we advises against microwaving any plastic altogether, even if it has the “microwave safe” label on it.
Causing plastic to get hot is an issue because it can lead the material to break down and leach chemicals such as BPA and phthalates, which are considered “endocrine disruptors.” Migration of these chemicals is likely to be greater with fatty foods, including meats and cheeses, than with other foods.
When possible, swapping out plastic for other materials is also a good move. Using stainless steel plates and cups, for example. Or storing food in glass containers instead of plastic ones.