How To Uncode the Hidden Dangers Of Plastic Bottles

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The portability of recycled plastic bottles has made toting water convenient, but just how healthy is reusing them?

For years, glass has been out, and plastic has been in. Why? Because virtually unbreakable plastic makes drinking your beverage of choice at the office, gym, or nursery more convenient. But, before you take another sip, did you know there may be bacteria lurking in the bottle you are reusing?

Fortunately, plastic bottles, and other storage containers, are assigned a resin identification code (that's fancy talk for the triangle circling a number on the bottom of plastic bottles). This system has been in place for nearly 20 years to help with recycling, but it can also help with consumption. How so? What do the numbers mean?

For answers, Mainstreet asked Elizabeth Royte, the author of Bottlemania, to reveal the hidden meaning of the numbers on your bottle, and to explain what's lurking behind the labels:

Most soft drinks, including Poland Spring, Dasani and even Snapple bottles carry this number to reflect that they are bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for consumer use. The narrow-necked bottles are not made for repeated use. The design of the bottle means they're difficult to clean. And, that means bacteria, from your hands and mouth, can grow in the bottle over time, says Royte.
MainStreet's Take: Always wash out with soap and water before reusing.

At the grocery store, when you come across one gallon plastic containers and 2.5 gallon jugs of water, you'll see this number on the plastic.
MainStreet's Take: Wash with soap and water, do not reuse too many times.

Polyvinyl Chloride (or PVC) and are environmentally hazardous and not recyclable. Not many bottles carry this label.
MainStreet's Take: NOT safe to use in the first place.

Bottles with the number are considered safe, and are made using low density polyethylene. In addition to being used for some water bottles, it's a common oil-based plastic that's used for containers that are squeezable.
MainStreet's Take: OK to reuse when properly cleaned.

When you pop plastic in the microwave, it's usually has this number because it's made with polypropylene.
MainStreet's Take: OK to reuse when properly cleaned.

This is usually used for egg cartons, and styrofoam cups.
MainStreet's Take: Not a great container, if you are environmentally friendly.

Polycarbonate bottles with this number can have many "other" materials. In other words, the bottle may have been used with phthalates, or bisphenol A, or not. It's a catchall. And, since bisphenol A is restricted in Canada, and has been linked to disruption in lab animals, it may be a number you want to avoid if you don't know the content. You'll see this number commonly at the water cooler. And, even Nalgene bottles carry this identification, while being bisphenol free.
MainStreet's Take: May not be safe to reuse.

All these products are approved by the FDA for food, which is what bottled water is considered. "The agency says all the bottles are safe under normal conditions (don't ever microwave food in them), but there have been enough questions raised about migration of chemicals for me to steer clear of certain types," says Royte.

However, Royte says not everyone need panic: "I wouldn't go crazy over it -- I'm done reproducing and I'm not a fetus, infant, or young child, who are more susceptible to hormone mimics." Still, if you're using any of these bottles more than once, make sure to clean the bottle thoroughly with soap and hot water.
2008-07-21 15:51:09
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