The Truth About Plastics

I want to say one word to you. Just one word … Are you listening? …  Plastics … There’s a great future in plastics.
    Mr. McGuire in the 1967 film, The Graduate


Bird tangled in plastic bag*

In 1967 no one was all that concerned about the impact that plastics would have on our ecosystem. In 2013 the impact is ever obvious. Disturbing images of wild animals tangled in plastic detritus abound on the internet. In 1967, when paper bags were the norm at grocery stores and Chinese take-out food was served up in clever folded cardboard containers, did anyone imagine what plastic would become?

These days we spend a lot of time worrying about plastics and their impact on the environment, but we use them all the same because plastics are convenient and we humans like convenience. We are thoughtful about trying to reduce the number of plastic objects in our lives, but the prevalence of plastic from throwaway Styrofoam plates to reusable BPA-free water bottles  makes it difficult to get it out of our lives completely.

That said, it’s useful to know that however convenient plastics are, not all plastics are made the same and not all plastics are safe for every type of use. You know those cute little recycle symbols on the bottoms of plastic containers? Each of those symbols has a number inside and that number tells you what sort of plastic it is. Following is a guide to the various consumer plastics and their safe use and re-use.**

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET, PETE): Soft drink, water and salad dressing bottles; peanut butter and jam jars.  Safe for food use but NOT safe for food re-use!
High-density polyethylene (HDPE): Water pipes, hula hoop rings, five gallon buckets, milk, juice and water bottles; grocery bags, toiletry bottles. Safe for both food use and food re-use.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC): Blister packaging for non-food items; cling films for non-food use; electrical cable insulation; rigid piping; vinyl records. NOT safe for any food use!
Low-density polyethylene (LDPE): Frozen food bags; squeezable bottles; cling films; flexible container lids. Safe for food use but NOT safe for food re-use!
Polypropylene (PP): Reusable microwaveable ware; kitchenware; yogurt containers; margarine tubs; microwaveable disposable take-away containers; disposable cups; plates. Safe for both food use and food re-use.
Polystyrene (PS): Egg cartons; packing peanuts; disposable cups, plates, trays and cutlery; disposable take-away containers. Safe for food use but NOT safe for food re-use!
Other (often polycarbonate or ABS): Beverage bottles; compact discs; “unbreakable” glazing; electronic apparatus housings; lenses including sunglasses, prescription glasses, automotive headlamps, riot shields, instrument panels. Safe for food use but NOT safe for food re-use!

Safe and Creative Container Re-Use

So, as you can see from the above list, some plastics are not safe to be re-used for storing food, but that does not necessarily mean that you should just throw away such containers. Sure, recycling is an option, but you can also re-use such containers, or at least parts of them, in craft projects. For example, check out this tutorial for making a necktie wrist cuff, which can be stabilized with a strip of plastic from many types of containers. Or you make a coupon wallet or an iPad sleeve using parts of an otherwise worn out reusable plastic grocery bag.


Below is a good example of safe re-use for a “01” container: all my spare buttons, most organized by color in sandwich bags, tucked into a clear snap-lid box that once contained arugula.


The re-use possibilities are endless! In fact, stay tuned for Wednesday’s post where we’ll be sharing a bunch of great ideas for re-using plastics and links to some cool tutorials. If there really is a great future in plastics, you’ll find it right here!

What ideas do you have for plastic re-use?


*Image from; **Information on plastics from Wikipedia

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  1. Thank you Linda. Great post and great information. I like the idea of using plastic for stabilizing a bracelet. Kind of like old fashioned collar stays.

  2. I have a tutorial coming up using up plastic pet food bags or reusable grocery bags too.

    While we try to avoid plastic daily, some plastics are just unavoidable. So we do what we can do reuse them as long as we can….as long as we don’t reuse them for food.

    Great post Linda!