In plastics packaging, particularly food packaging, a sustainability “selling point” is the reusability of the package. Instead of sending the package straight to the recycling bin, the container can used again as a food storage container extending the life of the packaging container, and resulting in less waste to landfill. While this is true, what isn’t mentioned, however, is that not all plastics are safe to reuse.
Meanwhile, consumers are taking this message to heart. In fact, a ShopSmart survey reports that about half of women reuse or repurpose food packaging as food storage containers, which could present a potential risk for bacterial contamination in containers that are designed for single-use applications. To help you make an more informed decision when it comes to the safety of your food packaging, we’ve provided a breakdown of plastics commonly encountered in the market, and whether or not they are safe to reuse again after the intended use:
- PET: If you’ve had a drink out of plastic water bottle, you’ve used a PET bottle. PET is the most common plastic material used for consumable bottled liquids, such as soft drinks and bottled water, condiments, and other food products. It’s also used extensively in rigid food packaging applications due to its attractive price point and excellent clarity in applications that require it. According to the American Chemistry Council (ACC), these bottles and packages are okay to use again after a thorough washing. But it is important to note clearly on the package the heat restrictions of this material, as PET containers may warp or affect the taste and odor of food after undergoing high heat conditions such as the microwave, dishwasher, or even after leaving the package in the sun for an extended period of time.
- High Density Polyethylene (HDPE): HDPE is commonly used in the food market in large bottle applications, such as milk bottles, juice bottles, or detergent bottles. Items such as yogurt and margarine tubs can also be made out of HDPE. The recommendation of the ACC is that HDPE plastic packaging is safe to reuse after the original contents has been consumed.
- PVC: For PVC, the general consensus seems to be to avoid it entirely when it comes to food packaging applications, which is probably why it we typically see it more in consumer goods-type applications. This is because the manufacture of PVC creates dioxin, a harmful carcinogen. PVC softened with phthalates has also been shown to be linked to male reproductive problems and birth defects. So in a few words, stay away from PVC if your application is for food, and do not use a PVC container used to package other goods for food storage.
- Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE): LDPE plastics can often be found in wrapper applications or bag applications and are generally considered safe. LDPE is considered safe to reuse, but consumers are cautioned to consider the original use of the package before reusing it for food storage.
- Polypropylene (PP): PP is a versatile material and one of the safer plastics that can be reused whenever possible. PP is often used in applications such as yogurt cups and margarine, or for hot-food containers. This material has a high heat tolerance, which makes it ideal for the packaging of soups or foods that require microwaving, or to store those chinese leftovers, without the potential for the leaching of harmful chemicals into the food. Typically PP has been reserved for hot applications as it’s natural, milky or hazy appearance, is not ideal for applications that require consumer appeal. This has change, however, with the introduction of UltraClear Polypropylene, which allows for versatility among hot and cold food packaging applications without having to compromise on aesthetics. In addition, Impact Plastics now offers an innovative clear impact copolymer sheet product, that allows for improved clarity and aesthetics even for low temperature applications.
- Polystyrene (PS): PS is often seen in Styrofoam cups and meat trays, and in clear rigid packaging applications. This product is not recommended for reuse, and is not recommended for microwave applications. If a hot item does come in a PS packaging, it is likely only intended for single-use.
Happy food shopping!
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