You think you know which plastics in your home are dangerous to your health? Think again.

Even your best efforts to reduce your family’s exposure to toxic chemicals in plastics may ultimately be futile.

By all means learn about the dangers posed by chemicals like BPA, phthalates and styrene in your home. Get rid of plastics marked with the recycling numbers 3, 6 and 7, in your kitchen and elsewhere in the house.

But once you have done that, don’t think you’re done with identifying and removing all the dangerous plastics in your home.

Here are the three reasons why you’ll never know which plastics are dangerous and which are not.

1. Most plastics in your home are not marked with recycling numbers.

The recycling symbol, with the number at the center is there simply to facilitate recycling. And most of the plastics in our lives are never intended to be recycled, and therefore are not marked with the symbol or the number.

Think of your computer and its components. Your TV. Your cell phone. Your clothes. Your car. Your desk at work. Your coffee maker. The interior of a bus, train or plane. The water pipes in your home. The wiring. Your children’s toys. The insulation and moisture barriers in the walls of your home.

How can you tell which chemicals are leaching out of those items? You can’t.

2. Neither we, nor the government even know which chemicals are used in the manufacture of many plastics.

BPA and phthalates have been in the news a lot recently. Knowing of their existence and of the threat they pose to your health may give you the impression that the chemical components of all plastics are public knowledge. Not so.

There is no law requiring companies to disclose the chemical ingredients of a plastic product. There is a voluntary agreement in place between U.S. companies and the EPA. But it is voluntary, and companies very rarely comply. When they do volunteer information to the EPA, 95% of that information is marked as “confidential business information”. In other words, the EPA can’t reveal what it has learned.

The government doesn’t know or regulate the chemicals that are used in the manufacture of the plastic products that surround us in our homes and workplaces.

3. We don’t even know the dangers to health posed by most of the chemicals used in the making of plastics.

We know about BPA, phthalates and styrene. But the fact that these chemicals have been identified as being harmful does not means that every other chemical present in plastics have been given the green light.

Most of the time, we don’t even know which chemicals are used in plastics, because plastics companies are not required to disclose the chemical ingredients of their products.

And if we did know, chances are there have been almost no independent studies on the health implications of being exposed to these chemicals.

So what can you do?

First, reduce your expose to all plastics, in so far as this is possible in today’s world.

Second, support environmental and advocacy groups as they lobby national governments to address this problem.

Further reading:

Bad plastics...

Safe plastics...

Alternatives to plastics...