Q. What are the issues with food and plastic, and do you have any suggestions for minimizing health risks and protecting the planet?  - Naomi A.

A. Some plastic containers can leach chemicals into food and beverages. The main culprits are polycarbonate plastic, which contains bisphenol-A, and PVC, which has added phthalates to make it soft and flexible. Both can interfere with hormones. What’s more, plastic is made from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource and many containers end up in the trash—eight out of ten plastic water bottles, for example, become landfill waste. Below is a three-tiered system of solutions ranging from the easiest and least expensive to those that require more effort and commitment. 

Green

Try to cut down on the use of plastics in your daily life and use them more safely. Plastic that is heated, old and scratched, or holds oily or fatty foods, is most likely to leach. Never microwave in plastic; use lead-free, ovenproof glass or ceramic instead. Let foods cool down before storing leftovers. If you use them, take good care of plastic containers: Hand wash when possible to avoid high heat in the dishwasher, avoid harsh detergents and recycle worn or cracked containers with codes #1, 2, 4 or 5.

Greener 

Avoid plastic as much you can. Seek out baby bottles made from tempered glass or plastic versions labeled BPA-free; both are made by Born Free, (newbornfree.com). Don’t buy containers or cling wraps made from PVC (recycling code #3) and polycarbonate (#7). Instead, choose products labeled #1, 2, 4 or 5. Some BPA-free plastics are also labeled #7, including newer non-leaching Tritan copolyester water bottles and polyactide (PLA) containers made from corn, soy or sugarcane. Note: In order for plastics from renewable resources to biodegrade, you’ll need to send them to a municipal compost facility. If that’s not an option, it is still worthwhile to choose these containers rather than plastics made from petroleum.

Greenest 

Never buy new plastic. Continue using the safe containers you have and use those that are suspect for storing nonfood items like crayons, coins, or buttons. You can find recycled-paper lunch bags and unbleached waxed paper at greenfeet.com. Reuse glass jars and purchase glass food storage containers, such as Crate & Barrel’s round storage bowl set (crateandbarrel.com), and use lightweight stainless steel food containers, like the ones at lifewithoutplastic.com.

Story by Lori Bongiorno. This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008