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Take-out containers have come a long way from the bulky white Styrofoam boxes of years past. In recent years, the demand for a new and improved travel food container has graced us with a variety of sizes, shapes, and uses. Today, take-out containers are more functional and sturdier; and some can even be used for reheating the food they carry.

With the advancements of the take-out container (as well as high quality plastic food containers from store-bought products such as yogurt and tubs of butter) many people have decided to utilize them beyond their original function; to wash and reuse them multiple times. While this can save you money on buying permanent containers, such as Rubbermaid or Ziploc; not all take-out containers are made to be reusable. The following are some helpful hints on determining whether your containers are meant for one-time use, or can be used over and over again.

BPA (a controversial chemical often used in the making of certain plastic and resins; and believed to negatively effect brain, behavioral and prostate development in fetuses, infants and young children) is slowly being phased out of food and beverage containers; it is still found in some along with other questionable chemicals that are feared to leach through the plastic and into your food.  If you want to reuse your plastic containers, look for the recycling number on the bottom of the container. This little number says a great deal about the type of plastic it is, what chemicals it is comprised of and how safe it is for reuse.

 Distinguishing the numbers

  • #1 (PET or PETE – Polyethylene Terephthalate)

This type of plastic is most commonly used for water and soda bottles as well as foods like peanut butter or cooking oil. While they are considered safe for one-time use, it is not recommended to wash and reuse these bottles multiple times.

  • #2  (HDPE – High-Density Polyethylene)

This type of plastic is most commonly used for milk and water jugs as well as laundry detergent, shampoo bottles and toys, among other things. This type of plastic is considered safe to wash and reuse multiple times.

  • #3  (PVC – Polyvinyl Chloride)

While PVC is linked to many heath issues, including cancer, it can still be found in plastic bibs, mattress covers  and even cling wrap for food. It is advised to avoid plastics with PVC altogether, and is especially considered unsafe to reuse.

  • #4   (LDPE – Low-Density Polyethylene)

This type of plastic is mostly used in grocery, garbage and dry cleaning bags as well as plastic wrap. It is considered safe for reuse.

  • #5  (PP – Polypropylene)

This type of plastic is often used in hard, durable ice cream and yogurt containers, as well as drinking straws, salad bar containers and even diapers. This is considered safe for reuse.

  • #6  (PS – Polystyrene)

This is often found in plastic silverware as well as styrofoam take-out containers and coffee cups. This chemical is known to leach Styrene ( a neurotoxin), and is not considered safe for reuse.

  • #7   (“other” chemicals, including Polycarbonate, Nylon and Acrylic)

This type of plastic can be found in baby bottles, clear plastic silverware, sports bottles and the inside linings of cans of food. The problem with this number is that it can have anything from Polycarbonate (which is a source of BPA) or newer greener plant-based plastics. It is best to avoid #7 plastics unless they specifically state that they are made with the newer plant-based resources.

So, what does this mean for the future of your takeout containers? Just check the number. If they have a 2, 4 or 5, they are most likely safe to reuse. If they have a 1, 3, 6 or 7, you should probably just recycle it after its initial use.

    If you’re looking for more great tips for your home, check out NEST!

Sources: “Safe or Harmful: Know Your Plastics”


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