+ Well Nourished | Safety of Plastics

Safety of Plastics

So when I first thought about sharing my experience as a Naturopath, freestyle cook and mother via my website here at Well Nourished, I really wanted to create a platform to share the many things that contribute to leading a happy, healthy life. I’m comfortable covering food and nutrition, but I’m pretty keen to leave the rest to the experts – I’ve never set out to do it alone. So I’m really lucky to have psychotherapist Jane Faulkner covering the all important mental and spiritual aspect of health and now accomplished Naturopath and Building Biologist Nicole Bijlsma is on board to share her tips for a healthy home and keeping your environment as safe as possible.

Words by Building Biologist and Naturopath, Nicole Bijlsma

Plastics have infiltrated every part of our kitchen from building materials to containers and cookware. In 1987, Ana Soto and Carlos Sonnenschein at Tufts University in Boston discovered that a chemical leaching from the plastic test tubes caused a rapid growth in breast cancer cells (Soto et al, 1991). This was the first time that scientists became aware of hormone-altering chemicals in plastics. Since then there has been a flood of studies on the adverse health effects of plastics – namely PVC, polycarbonate and polystyrene because they contain the hormone-altering chemicals DEHP, bisphenol-A (BPA) and nonylphenol respectively. These xeno-oestrogens adversely affect the reproductive system with mounting evidence to suggest they could be responsible for early puberty and increased rates of testicular and breast cancer. They are also suspected to play a role in obesity, diabetes and heart disease (Environment California, 2007).

The recycling number at the bottom of the plastic container will inform you of the type of plastic it is made of. Plastic containers and bottles that don’t have a number on them should always be avoided.


# 1 Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) is the most commonly used plastic for disposable water bottles, soft drinks and in cleaning products because it is the most recyclable of all the plastics. This plastic degrades rapidly when exposed to heat or when washed and was not designed to be reused. Whilst phthalates or other softening additives are not used in the manufacture of PET, recent reports suggest they may leach into the water causing an oestrogenic like effect (Wagner and Oehlmann, 2009; Pinto and Reali, 2009; Montuori et al, 2008). These phthalates may arise from recycled PET that was previously used for personal care products which embed themselves in the plastic and cannot be eliminated simply by washing the plastic. As such it is not recommended to store food or liquids in this plastic.

#3 Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is used in a variety of food packaging including some types of cling wrap, storage containers, juice bottles, as well as in water pipes and some toys. It is one of the most toxic of all the plastics as the plasticizers used to make it flexible are phthalates including DEHP (diethylhexyl phthalate) and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP). As a result of their impact on male reproduction, and the fact that they easily leach because they are not chemically bound to the PVC, they are banned for use in toys and cosmetics in the European Union.

#6 Polystyrene (PS) is used in a wide variety of applications from disposable cups, plates, trays and cutlery to take-away containers; yogurt and margarine containers, egg cartons, number plates and so on. There are serious concerns associated with the migration of contaminants into the food or drink such as nonylphenol which is an endocrine disrupter and benzene – known cancer causing agent.

#7 all other types of plastics such as BPA. There are both safe and unsafe plastics that fall into this category. One of the unsafe plastics is polycarbonate (PC) used in plastic baby bottles, drinking water bottles and storage containers because it contains BPA (bisphenol A). Number 7 bottles should be avoided unless you know what type of plastic it is made of and its health impact.
SAFER PLASTICS (remember ALL plastics leach chemicals)

#2 High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) is a hard plastic commonly used in water bottles, milk cartons, fruit juice bottles, detergents and shampoos, margarine tubs, as well as some toys and shopping bags. HDPE is one of the most recycled plastics and is more stable than most other types of plastics and does not leach endocrine disrupting chemicals into the water.

#4 Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) is a soft, flexible plastic used in garbage and grocery bags, squeezable bottles (eg honey), cling films, flexible container lids and some sports water bottles. Unlike HDPE, LDPE is not recyclable and, therefore, creates an environmental concern.

#5 Polypropylene (PP) is used in rigid containers such as ice-cream and yoghurt containers, drinking straws, syrup bottles, diapers, margarine tubs, microwaveable ware, disposable take-away containers, domestic water pipes, some drinking water bottles, as well as disposable cups and plates. Whilst it is suspected to be free from any known hazards, it is not recyclable.

NEVER heat or freeze food or liquids in any plastic containers as it will leach contaminants into the food.

Hormone-altering chemicals found in PVC, polycarbonate and polystyrene plastics should be banned to store our food or beverages because they have been linked with premature puberty, obesity, diabetes, sperm defects and infertility.

Avoid plastics and instead, use glass, stainless steel and corning ware to store food and beverages especially if you intend to heat or freeze them.


Nicole Bijlsma is an accomplished Naturopath, Acupuncturist and Building Biologist who is the founder and CEO of the Australian College of Environmental Studies, and was instrumental in bringing building biology into Australia. Nicole is a popular public speaker and best-selling author on environmental health having featured on every major television network. Nicole writes a Healthy Home column for Body+Soul which is published in NewsCorp newspapers across Australia. Nicole is passionate about empowering people to create healthy homes. To find out more about Nicole and her amazing work, click HERE.

NEXT MONTH – Many of us find comfort in choosing BPA-free plastics. But are they actually as safe as we are lead to believe?  Hint – BPA-free plastics should also be avoided as they are likely to contain bisphenol S monomer which has also been shown to display hormone disrupting effects in animal studies. But more on this next month (sign up to my newsletter so you don’t miss this).

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  • Great post – thank you so much! x

  • kelly seach

    Where does melamine sit?

    • Sorry for the late response Kelly, I’ve been on holidays. So according to Nicole “Melamine is increasingly used in dinnerware and unlike plastic, is not derived from petrochemicals and has all the benefits of plastic without the hormone disrupting effects. Melamine is used in the production of melamine resins, typically by reacting it with formaldehyde (a known carcinogen). It has many industrial uses, including in the production of laminates, glues, adhesives, moulding compounds, coatings and flame retardants. Unfortunately, it has a sordid history: first it caused kidney failure in Chinese children who drank infant formula from which it had been illegally added to, and then in 2007, there was a large outbreak of renal failure in cats and dogs in the USA associated with ingestion of pet food found to contain melamine and cyanuric acid. A recent 2013 study, found traces of melamine in food (Chai-Fang, 2013). The World Health Organization concluded that there was sufficient evidence that melamine can act as a carcinogen in animals, but inadequate evidence it acted the same in humans (WHO, 2008). My take on it, is to avoid it if you can.”

      • kelly seach

        Thank you for replying at all Georgia! I hope you had a great and restorative holiday 🙂

  • Linda Robinson

    Would love to know your thoughts on the Ultrasonic Diffusers/Vaporisers that seem to be all the rage at the moment. The part that contains the water and essential oils always seems to be plastic (even if the outside is wooden) but given it doesn’t heat up does that make it ok? Do you feel they provide all the benefits claimed? If you like them do you have a particular brand you would recommend?

  • Linda Robinson

    Oh and dehydrators too – I have borrowed that one that is all plastic so not keen on it. Do you use one? Have a brand you can recommend?

  • They are hard to come by, I think one brand may have recently made one with SS trays. I have a Sedona which I love and I just dehydrate on silicon sheets or my safe banking paper (made by “If you care”) so there is a barrier. G x

  • Hi Linda, I really don’t know nothing about ‘ultrasonic’ – mine is an electric one and yes is plastic inside but like you said, it doesn’t heat. I love my diffuser, a permanent fixture in my bedroom. Shame no one makes them in ceramic. G x

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