Three Simple Ways to Tell if an Item is Made of BPA-Free Plastic

Can you really rely on the recycling numbers when it comes to buying plastic tableware?
Can you really rely on recycling numbers when shopping for BPA-Free plastic tableware?

A popular plastic, polycarbonate, has been the focus of  recent media stories questioning whether the chemical BPA, used in this particular plastic, is safe for use in plastic glasses and dishes. 

In truth, the the facts, science, pros and cons behind the BPA question could fill a lengthy article. But if you’re a concerned shopper, you probably aren’t  too into scientific arguements… you just want to know how to avoid BPA. Unfortunately, the media reports about polycarbonate and other types of  plastic are a bit conflicting, making  it tough to  choose plastic dishes with confidence.

Happily, we can offer a little peace of mind. There are many different plastics used to make quality plastic dishes and glasses, and most have always been BPA-Free! But you need to know what to look for, and what to avoid. Here are a few tips to help you in your search:

Tip 1: In Plastic Tableware, if it’s not Polycarbonate, it’s BPA-Free
Among the many different plastics used to make glasses, cups and dishes, only ONE contains BPA, and that’s polycarbonate. Polycarbonate is FDA-approved for food use and is usually found in better quality, unbreakable, dishwasher-safe plastic tableware. It’s often clear or tinted, feels rigid, and appears glass-like. 

But it’s not the only type of plastic used in plastic tableware. Acrylic, an acrylic blend called SAN, Tritan co-polyester and even corn-based bioplastics are all used to make clear, glass-like items similar to polycarbonate. Plus, opaque plastics like melamine and polypropylene are used to make a variety of dinnerware. Unlike polycarbonate, these other plastics are, and always have been, BPA-free. So, if the BPA question worries you, look for items made of these other plastics instead of polycarbonate.

Tip 2: How to tell if an item is made of polycarbonate… or not
Identifying plastic tableware by the label can be discouraging since items are not always marked by plastic type. Your best bet is to shop somewhere that clearly identifies the type of plastic used in products, like on KidSmartLiving.com.

If shopping in a store where product information is scarce, first look for items labeled “BPA-free.” With media attention on BPA, many manufacturers are clearly labeling their non-polycarbonate plastic items “BPA-Free.” These include acrylic, SAN, or Tritan for clear items, and rigid melamine or rubbery polypropylene for solid or semi-opaque items.

If not labeled BPA-Free, look at the care instructions. In clear and tinted plastics, acrylic items are generally marked “Hand-wash,” or “Top-rack Dishwasher-safe,” while most SAN items are marked “Dishwasher-safe” and sometimes “Microwave-safe.” But these plastics aren’t usually labeled “Unbreakable.” Unlike polycarbonate, acrylic and SAN can break.

In solid-color plastic items, you’ll rarely find polycarbonate on store shelves. Solid-color plastic dishes are more commonly made from melamine and marked “Not for Microwave Use.” Polypropylene is also used for solid and semi-opaque dishes, and is easily identified by its rubbery feel.

The only clear tableware plastics you’ll find labeled “Unbreakable, Dishwasher-Safe” and occasionally “Microwave-safe” are Tritan and polycarbonate. Luckily for shoppers, being BPA-free is a major selling point for Tritan, so these items are always labeled as such. If a clear or tinted glass-like item is labeled “Unbreakable, Dishwasher-Safe” but is not marked “BPA-Free,” it’s probably polycarbonate.

Tip 3: Don’t count on the numbers… because they don’t count for identifing these plastics
Contrary to some media reports, the recycling numbers printed on plastic items don’t specifically identify polycarbonate or BPA-free plastics. In fact, it’s the reverse. Almost all non-disposable tableware plastics fall under the same catchall #7 recycling code, which simply means “Other.”

“Other” plastics are usually durable and have a longer useful life than disposable plastics, so they’re not collected in most recycling programs. These widely different #7 plastics include acrylic, SAN, Tritan, bio-plastics, melamine — and polycarbonate.

Even more confusing, recycling codes aren’t required for “Other” plastics and many of these items don’t carry a recycling mark at all. So, knowing how to tell these plastics apart, or shopping with a reliable seller, is really much more helpful than relying on the numbers when it comes to buying BPA-free plastic dinnerware.

KidSmartLiving.com carries just about the largest selection of high-quality plastic glasses and dishes in the nation, so we’re definitely keeping up with the BPA story. To make finding BPA-free plastic tableware even easier for our customers, we list all of our BPA-Free plastic products on one page.

Please let us know if you have any plastic dinnerware shopping tips or comments on the BPA issue.

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5 Responses to “ Three Simple Ways to Tell if an Item is Made of BPA-Free Plastic ”

  1. Mr. Ed on August 18, 2013 at 8:32 am

    You find toxic chemicals in harmless tiny trace levels in most natural foods untouched by any plastics. The toxic chemical methanol can be found in most fruit juices and oxalic acid can be found in cherry juice and spinach. Eating too many carrots is far more likely to kill you from carotene poisoning than ever experiencing the slightest ill effects from BPA leaching out of plastic drinkware. Plastics used and approved by the FDA are generally safe. These companies will probably avoid BPA because of media attention and public hysteria. The human race has always been prone to witch-hunts and public-lynches and the media tends to stir up such reactions for notoriety and popularity.

  2. Krista Fabregas - KSL founder on February 21, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    Hello,

    Yes, they are very different compounds used for different purposes. Phthalates are softeners, and are used to make normally rigid plastics soft and piable – that’s why they were present in childrens products such as soft toys, soft sided lunch boxes, etc… for many years. Though not all soft pliable plastics contain phthalates – vinyl and polypropylene can be soft and pliable in their plain state. Phthalates are not be found in any type of plastic tableware because there’s no need to make these items soft and pliable

    BPA plastic is a compound used in one, and only one, tableware plastic – polycarbonate. BPA makes polycarbonate items very durable and rigid. Non-polycarbonate plastics do not contain BPA, yet there are several that perform neatly as well in use – look for Tritan plastic products or SAN products for high performance without BPA.

    I hope this answers your question! Cheers!

  3. Twyla Price on February 20, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    Is there a difference between bpa and phthalates? Can you tell us more about the relationship between phthalates and bpa plastics?

  4. Krista - KSL founder on February 18, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    Abrasive cleaners and hard water are the two most common causes of cloudiness in SAN plastics washed in the dishwasher. Believe it or not, gel detergents are more abrasive than powders or tablets (and are actually not recommended by dishwasher pros). Cloudiness from hard water can be minimized with a rinse agent. SAN is a plastic that’s used heavily in the restaurant/hotel industry because it’s quite tough and does retain its clarity for years, but unfortunately no plastic is immune to hard water or abrasives. I hope this helps!

  5. Mrs. Wendy Lewison on January 16, 2011 at 3:03 am

    I have a set of your SAN stemmed glasses, which I have been using daily for everyday drinking (water, juice, etc.) for the past two years. I do wash them in my dishwasher, on the top rack. I have enjoyed them a lot, but they have gotten so cloudy looking that they look “dirty.”

    Is two years’ use about all I can expect from these SAN glasses? Is there any way to renew their clarity? Can you recommend similarly styled glasses that won’t cloud as much?

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