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Plastic Containers - Chasing Arrows Symbol Reveals Plastic's Chemical Makeup

Summary:
Email forward explains how to decode the triangular "chasing arrows" symbol on plastic containers (Full commentary below).



Status:
Coding information is factual - Health warnings are debatable

Example:(Submitted, February 2009)
Subject: FW: Health knowledges-Recycle Plastic bottle Grade

Did you ever drink from a plastic bottle and see a triangle symbol on the bottom with a number inside?

Plastic Code 1 and 2 Plastic Code 3, 4 and 5 Plastic Code 6 and 7

Do you know what the number stands for?
Did you guess that it's just for recycling?
Then you are WRONG!!!!!!
THE NUMBER TELLS YOU THE CHEMICAL MAKE UP OF THE PLASTIC.....
1) Polyethylene terephalate (PET)
2) High density polyethylene (HDPE)
3) Unplasticised polyvinyl chloride (UPVC) or Plasticised polyvinyl chloride (PPVC)
4) Low density polyethylene LDPE
5) Polypropylene (PP)
6) Polystyrene (PS) or Expandable polystyrene (EPS)
7) Other, including nylon and acrylic

What you aren't told is that many of the plastics used are toxic and the chemicals used to create a plastic can leach out of the plastic and into the food / drink.

Think about it, how many times have you or a friend said "I don't like this, it taste like the plastic bottle ..... "
THAT'S BECAUSE YOU ARE TASTING THE PLASTIC

The WORST ONES are Nos: 3, 6, and 7 !!!
DO NOT USE THESE NUMBERS if stated at the bottom of the bottle) !!!

Check out this chart that breaks down the plastic, its uses and chemical makeup (I find #7 a little scary)
http://www.epd.gov.hk/epd/english/environmentinhk/waste/guide_ref/guide_plascod3.html

Plastic Code Chart



Commentary:
Many plastic containers that we use every day, including soft drink and water bottles, food packaging and household chemical bottles include a number and letters contained within and beneath a triangle shaped "chasing arrows" symbol. This email forward provides recipients with information about how to ascertain the chemical makeup of plastic containers by cross referencing these numbers and letters against a chart outlining the Plastic Coding System.

©iStockphoto.com/Olga Lyubkina

Plastic Containers
The triangular chasing arrow symbol included on many plastic containers can be used to identify the type of plastic used in the product
The information about this coding system included in the email is factual. The letters and numbers do indeed allow consumers to determine what kinds of plastic makes up a particular container. Because the coding symbol is made up of the familiar "chasing arrows" that consumers generally associate with recycling, people may assume that it indicates that the container was made from recycled material or that the container can be recycled. However, this may not be the case. In fact, the purpose of the symbols is to help recycling workers to sort plastics according to their material type. Thus, the inclusion of the symbol does not necessarily indicate that the container is made from recycled plastic or is recyclable.

The plastics coding system is a voluntary scheme initiated by the US Society of the Plastics Industry in 1988. Although voluntary, industry groups in other nations have also adopted the scheme and it is now widely used around the world. An article about the coding system published on the American Chemistry Council website notes:
The code system was developed to meet recyclers' needs while providing manufacturers a consistent, uniform system that could apply nationwide. Because municipal recycling programs traditionally have targeted packaging primarily bottles and containers the resin coding system offered a means of identifying the resin content of bottles and containers commonly found in the residential waste stream.

Recycling firms have varying standards for the plastics they accept. Some firms may require that the plastics be sorted by type and separated from other recyclables; some may specify that mixed plastics are acceptable if they are separated from other recyclables; while others may accept all material mixed together.
While the information about the plastic coding system is true, other claims in the email are more debatable. The message suggests that toxic chemicals from plastic containers can leach into food and drink and have a detrimental impact on our health. The long term safety of plastics is the subject of much debate and controversy. The subject has long been clouded by rumours and misunderstandings about plastics, many of which circulate via the Internet. For example, a long running emailed "health warning" that claims there are links between cancer and the heating and freezing of plastic containers has been dismissed as untrue by health experts and government agencies such as America's Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Another warning that circulates via email claims that simply reusing plastic bottles can lead to the ingestion of the chemical DEHA and cause cancers. This claim has also been refuted by experts.

More recently, Bisphenol A, an industrial chemical used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastic is raising health related concerns and generating heated debate among scientists and industry regulators. Polycarbonate is included under 7 in the above Plastic Code, although not all products in the 7 group are made from Polycarbonate.

While the potential health risks of using plastics is likely to remain the subject of heated debate, an understanding of the plastic coding system symbols can certainly help consumers become more aware of what sorts of plastics they are using in their everyday lives.



References:
Resin Identification Codes
Plastics Cancer Link Email - Freezing Plastic Bottles - Plastics In the Microwave or Car
Reusing Plastic Bottles Causes Cancer Hoax
Consumer Information Safety of Plastic Containers Commonly Found in the Home
Truth and rumours muddy plastics debate

Last updated: 3rd February 2009
First published: 3rd February 2009

Write-up by Brett M. Christensen