Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 24, 2007
Check out plastic packaging 101
Wrap sandwiches in waxed paper
By SUZANNE ELSTON
With the return to school comes the weekday ritual of packing up lunches. While parents struggle to balance what's nutritious and affordable with what their kids will actually eat, there is also the issue of what to pack lunches in.
Plastic packaging, whether reusable or disposable, is a popular choice because it's convenient, lightweight and unbreakable and it keeps foods fresh. According to a report from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), Smart Plastics Guide: Healthier Food Uses of Plastics for Parents and Children, there are environmental and health risks associated with this widespread use.
First and foremost, most plastic is made from petroleum, which is a non-renewable resource. Plastic is also difficult to recycle. The plastic that does get discarded is bulky and takes up a disproportionate amount of landfill space.
From a health perspective, the IATP report notes that using plastic for cooking or storing food can pose serious health risks. Even though it is known to pollute food, plastic is classified as packaging, and therefore doesn't need approval from the Food and Drug Administration or Health Canada.
For example, certain plastics contain hormone-disrupting chemicals that can leach into food and beverages. According to the report, "Leaching increases when plastic comes into contact with oily or fatty foods, during heating and from old or scratched plastics."
To balance convenience with environmental and health concerns, the IATP report makes the following recommendations:
Old-fashioned waxed paper is a safe and inexpensive way to wrap sandwiches. Purchasing a metal lunch kit from the army surplus store may hold a certain appeal for teens. The trick is to make sure the containers actually are returned home for refilling.
To reduce the risk, don't use polycarbonate bottles for hot or warm liquids. Discard old or scratched bottles.
The best bet is to purchase a stainless steel water bottle. Make sure that it doesn't have a plastic liner.
Disposable plastic water bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate ethylene (better known as PETE or #1) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE or #2) are recommended for single used only.
The most dangerous are considered to be #3 (polyvinyl chloride), which is used in some cling wraps and bottles, #6 (polystyrene), used in foam trays, coolers, carry out containers and egg cartons, and # 7 (indicates other plastics, including polycarbonate and mixed materials), used in sports water bottles, baby bottles and the liners of cans and some metal water bottles.
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