Is it time to put away the plastic?

Polycarbonate plastic bottles stamped with the recycling code 7 began disappearing from retail shelves in 2007, as researchers revealed the potential dangers of bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used in the processing of the plastic. In early 2008, the Government of Canada made the bold move of becoming the first nation to conduct a risk assessment of BPA.

While calling for more research into the issue, the government announced it is taking action by reducing exposure of BPA, especially in newborns and infants, since infants would suffer the most immediate risk from overexposure to BPA.

People who rely on reusable polycarbonate plastic bottles may also be affected. Those clear, hard plastic bottles became popular because they seemed to be a convenient way to keep water on-hand while at work, at the gym, or trekking around town.

One-use plastic bottles offer an alternative. The ubiquitous clear plastic bottle you can buy by the case at warehouse stores or see strewn along the roadside is cheap and convenient. It's made from plastic marked with recycling code No. 1, polyethylene terephthalate, also called PET or PETE, which has been deemed a safe plastic. The downside of these one-offs is that they are one-offs. Use a PET plastic bottle more than once, and you run the risk of drinking down bacteria. And while this type of plastic can be easily recycled, the bottles often end up discarded and piled up on landfills.

Reusable bottles offer a simple, affordable, healthy way to stay hydrated and conserve precious resources. When you fill up a reusable container with tap or filtered water, you skip several costly and wasteful steps: the manufacturing, transportation, and recycling of a one-use plastic bottle.

To make sure that you're choosing healthier and safer options for yourself and your family, keep these bottle basics in mind:

  • Lots of safer options exist. Baby bottles made from BPA-free plastic or from glass are widely available, as are reusable sports bottles. Cloudy plastic bottles usually mean no BPA, and rubber or stainless steel bottles and mugs are safe and durable.
  • Turn off the heat. If you're hooked on your No. 7 polycarbonate bottles, avoid heating them or filling them with heated beverages. Washing them in the dishwasher at high temperatures may also cause BPA to leach from the plastic. To keep your bottle clean, use warm water and mild detergent soap.

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