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7 Types of Plastics, Where You'll Find Them, and Which You Should Avoid

Do you know which types of plastics are making us sick?, via

It's important to know that not all plastics are the same. Of the 7 different types of plastics some or more dangerous than others and should be avoided. Of the others, it might be a good idea to limit or avoid those as well. Below we'll look at each type individually to see where you might find it and how you might replace it.

Important: Although some plastics are considered "relatively safe" they still contain chemicals that can leach into your food, or environment, especially as plastic begins to age. It's a much more sustainable route to choose long-lasting, renewable, and natural materials instead. Not only will you decrease the likelihood of off-gassing in your home, you'll also reduce resources and save money over the long-run by investing well upfront.

Plastic #1 - Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE or PET)

This plastic is commonly found in:

  • Plastic bottles (water, soft drinks, etc)
  • Polyester clothing
  • Furniture
  • Carpeting

In all the types of plastics, #1 is probably most common. It's also one of the easiest to recycle, as most curbside recycling source pick up type 1. This also means it is the type often used in polyester clothing, recycled fiber carpets, etc.

Dangers of Type 1 Plastics

PET contains two main components:

  • Acetaldehyde which has been linked to:
    • DNA damage
    • Abnormal muscle development
    • Alzheimer's
    • and is listed as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.1
  • Antimony has been linked to:
    • Soil pollution
    • Digestive issues
    • Lung, heart, liver, and kidney damage
    • Unknown whether it is a carcinogen2,3

Plastic #2 - High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

This plastic is commonly found in:

  • Milk jugs
  • Plastic bottles
  • Hard hats
  • Water pipes
  • Plastic lumber

Dangers of Type 2 Plastics

HDPE is one of the types of plastics that does NOT contain BPA (bisphenol A) or other commonly found toxic compounds. Because of this and its durability its a much safer plastic in terms of health risks. It is still derived from petroleum, and so secondary health and environmental risks from production of HDPE, as well as the limited amount that gets recycle, are still a big consideration. Because of its widespread use and primary safety, it is a hard one to avoid.

Plastic #3 - Vinyl or Polyvinyl Chloride (V or PVC)

This plastic is commonly found in:

  • Shower curtains
  • Plastic food wrap
  • Children's toys
  • Pool toys, rafts, etc
  • Fencing
  • Pipes

Dangers of Type 3 Plastics

Of all types of plastics #3 is one of the most detrimental to human health. It includes:

  • Phthalates, which are linked to:
    • Endocrines disruption
    • Fetal development
    • Breast or testicular cancers
    • Autism4
  • Vinyl chloride, linked to:
    • Cancer
    • Liver, lung, and kidney damage
    • Decrease in normal reproduction function
    • Brain, lung, and blood cancers
    • Ground and water pollution5
  • Dioxins, which have been linked to:
    • Reproductive issues
    • Developmental problems
    • Hormone disruption
    • Immune impairment
    • And is a known human carcinogen6

The #3 types of plastics often contain BPA (or its replacement BPS, which is proving just as dangerous). BPA has been linked to developmental issues during pregnancy and childhood, linking it to birth defects and neurological disorders. It's an endocrine disruptor, and also tied to asthma, breast cancer, heart disease, leukemia, prostate cancer and other issues, obesity, testicular cancer, thyroid issues, and more.7

Plastic #4 - Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

This plastic is commonly found in:

  • Plastic bags
  • 6 pack rings
  • Tubing
  • Milk cartons
  • Soap containers

Dangers of Type 4 Plastics

Although there are no known human health concerns, LDPE is sourced for fossil fuels and therefore not renewable, as well as not being biodegradable and poses a large issue for the environment since most LDPE (such as plastic bags) do not get recycled. Some LDPE, however, is actually made from a renewable resource (sugar beet), but while this decreases the reliance on finite resources it doesn't solve the waste problem.

Plastic #5 - Polypropylene (PP)

This plastic is commonly found in:

  • Auto parts
  • Dispoable diapers
  • Disposable food containers
  • Industrial fibers
  • Kitchen items (cups, bottles, etc)
  • Sanitary/menstrual pads

Dangers of Type 5 Plastics

Scientists have found that PP can leach two chemical compounds (quaternary ammonium biocides and oleamide) that interrupt human enzymes and brain receptors.8 This is one of the types of plastics formerly thought to be safe, and so much more research is needed on polypropylene.

Plastic #6 - Polystyrene (PS)

This plastic "styrofoam" is commonly found in:

  • Disposable knives, forks, spoons
  • Egg cartons
  • Foam cups/food packaging (clamshell)
  • Media cases
  • Office supplies
  • Packing peanuts
  • Toys

Dangers of Type 6 Plastics

Polystyrene contains both styrene and benzene, two dangerous chemical compounds linked to human health risks9. Styrene has been shown to be toxic to the nervous system, hematological, cytogenetic, carcinogenic, and disruptive to menstrual cycles10. Benzene is a known carcinogen, particularly leukemia (cancer of the blood), and linked to anemia, excessive bleeding, and other blood disorders, irregular menstrual cycles, low birth weight, bone marrow damage, and more.11

Plastic #7 - Other (Often Polcycarbonate)

This plastic is commonly found in:

  • 5 gallon reusable bottles
  • Bottles, misc
  • Electrical wiring
  • Safety glasses

Dangers of Type 7 Plastics

The #7 types of plastics can be a variety of plastics, making it hard to determine their safety. And according to the Environmental Working Group, it often consist of polycarbonate, the plastic most likely to contain BPA (bisphenol A), which impacts development during pregnancy and childhood,12 BPA has been linked to neurological disorders, is an endocrine disruptor, and also tied to asthma, breast cancer, heart disease, leukemia, prostate cancer and other issues, obesity, testicular cancer, thyroid issues, and more.13

There are Better Solutions

Between the human health risks (those known and those we've yet to discover, because we're always discovering how things we thought were safe are actually making us sick) and the environmental impact of a product that is sourced from a non-renewable resource, often cheap and disposable, not made to last, and rarely recycled, it's important to question whether most types of plastics are really worth the "convenience". There is nothing convenient about cancer, birth defects, or a depleted eco-system.

It's not as hard as you think to find alternatives that will decrease and maybe even eliminate your plastic usage and waste. Click this banner below to learn more:

35+ Alternatives to Common Plastic Items, via

7 Day Treehugger Kickstart