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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Eating Well


Is it safe to drink from plastic water bottles?

Barb Buffaloe, LEED A.P., M.S., former Extension Associate & Resident Instructor, Housing & Environmental Design, University of Missouri Extension


Plastic bottles are a very hot topic in the “green” world. One concern is that the plastic our bottles are made from is not safe because they can leach harmful elements into the water we are drinking. Another concern is that cracks and scratches in the water bottle can become a breeding ground for bacteria.


It is important to know that there are different types of plastics that drinking vessels are made from. The numbers listed below are the codes found on the plastic container to indicate what type of plastic it is made from.


#1 Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
Disposable water bottles like those from Aquafina, Dasani, etc.


#2 High-density polyethylene (HDPE)
Milk and water jugs, gray Nalgene bottles


#3 Vinyl or polyvinyl chloride (PVC or V)
Not typically used for food containers but can be found in shrink wrap and deli and meat wraps. Containers made with PVC are not safe to eat or drink from.


#4 Low-density polyethylene (LDPE)
Bags for bread, frozen food and groceries


#5 Polypropylene (PP)
Yogurt, margarine and other food containers


#6 Polystyrene (PS)
Compact disc jackets, plastic eating utensils and take-out food containers; there is also expanded or foamed PS, known as styrofoam


#7 Polycarbonate or Lexan (Other)
Indicates that package is made with a resin other than the six listed above, or is made of more than one resin and used in a multi-layer combination. Examples include three- and five-gallon reusable water bottles, some citrus juice and catsup bottles, and oven-baking bags.


The most widely encouraged plastic for drinking or eating from is #2. Containers made from #7 plastic leak bisphenol-A (BPA) into our water and can cause serious health problems — look for food and beverage containers that indicate they are BPA-free. Disposable bottles made from #1 plastic are safe to eat or drink from, but you should not reuse these bottles for a long period of time because they can get scratched inside easily which allows for bacteria to grow.


All of that said, plastic water bottles are still that — plastic. Plastic is a non-renewable resource and the manufacturing of it uses a lot of resources. A lot of plastic bottles require more energy to be recycled than they do to be produced. It is beneficial to reuse glass or ceramic containers because they are safe, they can be reused indefinitely and food and beverages typically taste better from this type of container.


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Last update: Monday, August 29, 2011