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