Busting Myths About Plastics

Several myths about plastics have emerged over the last decade that may alarm the public without just cause and potentially harm consumer-friendly companies producing needed products. Urban myths spring from any number of sources, including:

  • Environmental activists and non-government organizations promoting a specific agenda
  • Journalists failing to do basic research
  • Businesses with an alternative product or
  • Retailers too quick to give in to the outcries of alarmist special interest groups.

Follow the links below to get the facts about the safe use of plastic products directly from the experts in government, academia and industry.

Urban Myths

  1. Using plastic food containers or wraps in microwaves is dangerous.
  2. Freezing water in plastic bottles releases dioxins into the water.
  3. The number on the bottom of plastic cups, bottles and containers informs consumers about how to use a product or package.
  4. Plastic food wraps and packages are made with phthalates.
  5. Six-pack rings (beverage binders) are a hazard to wildlife.
  6. Plastic bag bans and taxes are spreading like wildfires across states and cities across the country.

Myth Busters

  1. Myth: Using plastic food containers or wraps in microwaves is dangerous.

    Busted: Plastic wraps and containers are not dangerous to use in the microwave if they are used in accordance with the directions on their packaging or the container itself.  The public should be sure to use any plastics for their intended purpose and in accordance with directions. Many plastic wraps, packages and containers are specially designed to withstand microwave temperatures. Be sure yours is one of them by checking the item or its label.

    Before entering the market for consumer use, the components of products that come in contact with food must be submitted for review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has assigned an entire office, the Division of Food Contact Notifications, which employs approximately 35 chemists, toxicologists, and other scientific staff, for the purpose of evaluating the safety and environmental impact of chemicals used to produce packaging and other products that may contact food.

    Plastics and additives are permitted only after the FDA reviews the scientific data and finds that they are safe for their intended use, such as in microwavable plastic trays. FDA's review includes an assessment of the potential for substances to migrate into the food under the specific condition(s) of use, in this case at high temperatures present in microwave cooking applications.  FDA then calculates the estimated dietary exposure to any substances that could migrate, reviews all toxicological data that is available on the substances that may migrate and determines whether that data supports the safety of the potential exposure.  The higher the potential exposure to a material, the more toxicity data is needed to support the safety of that exposure.  FDA’s comprehensive regulatory scheme ensures the safety of food contact products, including microwavable plastics, allowing FDA to focus its resources on other issues, such as foodborne illness.

  1. Myth: Freezing water in plastic bottles releases dioxins into the water.

    Busted: The belief that plastic water bottles, if frozen, will release dioxins into the water they are holding is simply not true. Most plastics used for beverage bottles do not contain the chemicals that can produce dioxins. According to the FDA, "With regard to dioxins, we have seen no evidence that plastic containers or films contain dioxins and know of no reason why they would."

    Dr. Rolf Halden, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health, speaks to the recent email warnings that claim dioxins can be released by freezing water in plastic bottles. " This is an urban legend," notes Dr. Halden. "There are no dioxins in plastics. In addition, freezing actually works against the release of chemicals. Chemicals do not diffuse as readily in cold temperatures, which would limit chemical release..."

    Most plastics used in beverage bottles do not contain the chemical constituents that form dioxins. Furthermore, dioxins are only produced during combustion at extremely high temperatures (generally 700 degrees Fahrenheit or more) and do not form at room temperature or freezing temperature.

  2. Myth: The number on the bottom of plastic cups, bottles and containers informs consumers about how to use a product or package.

    Busted: This is false and potentially harmful misinformation. Many plastic items are marked with a resin identification code—usually a number or letter abbreviation—which indicates a specific kind of plastic material. The codes were originally developed by SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association to provide consumers and recyclers with a consistent, national system identifying resin types that can enter specific recycling streams for recycling plastics through the normal channels of collecting recyclable materials from households. The code is generally on the bottom of containers and is usually displayed inside a three-arrow recycling symbol. The resin identification codes do not provide guidance on the safe or intended use of a product and should not be used for this purpose.

  3. Myth: Plastic food wraps and packages are made with phthalates.

    Busted: This claim is false. Plastic food packaging or containers made in the United States do not contain "phthalates," which are a class of additives used only in those plastic products made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl) in order to make the material flexible. Vinyl shower curtains, cable and wire, and flooring are examples of flexible PVC products that can contain phthalates. Most plastic food packaging and storage items are made with other types of plastics and do not require agents to increase flexibility, such as phthalates. Although certain plastic food wraps are made with PVC, a different kind of agent to increase flexibility (adipates or citrates) is used instead of phthalates.

  4. Myth: Six-pack rings (beverage binders) are a hazard to wildlife.

    Busted: In 2006, the Warner Bros. animated movie Happy Feet featured a penguin character that becomes entangled by a six-pack ring, as his neck grows larger over the passage of time. The widely distributed movie caused a stir in the environmental and animal rights communities. However, the makers of the film did not do their homework. Under federal law, since 1989, six-pack rings have been required to be 100 percent photodegradable. Laws have also been passed in 26 states that also require that these devices be photodegradable. In other words, the inventor and sole global producer of this product manufactures it with a proprietary and proven resin that disintegrates in sunlight, beginning in just a few days. While the penguin in the film wore the ring over a long period of time, in reality, creatures overwhelmingly escape from brittle and crumbling rings. The Chicago-Sun Times reported in 2006 that representatives from both the Sierra Club and Oceana state that six-pack rings are "not a major issue for them," and that the U.S. Department of Energy states on its Web site that "if an animal were to become entangled in [a] six-ring carrier, it could rip through the weakened pack to free itself."

    Perhaps the most important point here is that concerns about beverage binders and wildlife could be eliminated if humans would dispose of the rings properly. The Ring Leader Recycling Program is an educational experience for students about the proper disposal of six-pack rings. It is designed for implementation in both formal and informal educational environments to allow students to learn about and participate in an effective school recycling program.

  5. Myth:  Plastic bag bans and taxes are spreading like wildfires across states and cities across the country.

    Busted: American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) myth busters.

Recycle Plastics 365 - Pursuing Zero Waste

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