One thing I enjoy about a university is the philosophical conversations that take place on a daily basis. Sitting in the commons area I can hear tweets (the verbal kind) of every sort of mental meandering which young minds are known for, ranging from questions about our existence and religion to the current political climate. Hmmm, two subjects which we find cause contention in adult conversations.
Yet these young adults can speak with ideological conviction without worry of condemnation from their peers. The experience of returning to college has indeed re-energized my yearning for cranial contemplation and delightful debates (and impacted my alliteration skills!). I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to do so.
My two hour commute each day is shared with a woman graduating this year with a materials science engineering degree. This allows us plenty of time to engage in lively discussions, and we do. I will admit that material science is not in my “top ten” fun things to talk about, but we do touch on some issues with which I passionately connect. This past week we spent time discussing the virtues of plastics. Her polymer course is the impetus to our discussion.
We immediately began to focus though not on its virtues, but the disadvantages to plastics, especially when used with food. We discussed the use of BPA (Bisphenol-A) an estrogen-mimic chemical that is added to many plastic containers, and lines many cans as well as thousands of non-food products. The use of it in baby bottles has only just been phased out in the U.S.
Even though studies have shown that the exposure to BPA is at low levels, it is also a ubiquitous chemical. How many times in a day are people exposed to this chemical? Four years ago the National Toxicology government program (NTP) began to doubt the safe levels of exposure that the FDA has set for the chemical. You may recall buzz around the safety of heating up plastics in the microwave. BPA leaches out of plastics faster when heated.
Since then, numerous studies have been completed, many part of a $30 million investigative program by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) which has found significant correlations between BPA as an endocrine disrupter and diseases such as prostate cancer.
BPA is only one chemical found in plastic containers. What other chemicals are present in our kitchen that may be potentially hazardous? Knowledge about “good” and “bad” plastics is helpful here, especially at a time when many may be reheating their plastic-contained frozen foods processed from last year’s harvest. However, even though the plastic containers listed below may be safer, and many are labeled as “microwave safe”, it is always a better choice to thaw the contents in their container first and then pour out the contents into a glass bowl to microwave or reheat the contents in a saucepan on the stovetop.
Plastic containers are categorized by their Resin Identification Code (RIC), usually molded onto the bottom of the container. The code is used to aide manufacturers, recycling centers, and environmental agencies regulate and improve recycling efficiencies. RIC 1, 2, and 4 are considered “good” plastics, while RIC 3, 6, and 7 are considered “bad” plastics.
Nancy Chachula is a member of the Local Foods Work Group at the University of Illinois Extension – Winnebago County. She is a Landscape Architecture student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and owns Verde Terra, a small landscape design business. She blogs about local foods at blogs.e-rockford.com/gogreen.