There is no “microwave safe” or “dishwasher safe” plastic

Heating Plastic: there is no "microwave safe" or "dishwasher safe" plastic! Why and how to avoid heating food in plastic | Conscientious Confusion

Our trusty old dishwasher finally died lately, and I am super excited to have a shiny new one. Those 2-3 weeks handwashing dishes were no fun! But, regardless of whether we have a working dishwasher, there are always dishes in my sink. Why? Because I always hand wash plastics.

Why handwash? First of all, plastics are made out of chemicals. Yep, there is no natural substance out there which can be harvested to produce plastic in it’s final form. It’s all created in a lab. Most plastic is made flexible by PVC, a chemical that is well known to be toxic. Even plastics that are made without PVC are made of other chemicals. You can pick plastics that are “safe-r” to hold food by using this handy list, but there are no completely non-toxic plastics.

Here’s the thing: those chemicals are made active again when the plastic is heated. By default, any plastic that is heated will be releasing some of it’s chemical components. That is why plastic dishware degrades, gets spots, and warps over time. The chemical components of the plastic are slowly breaking down (read more here and here and a more technical study here. Relevance to cancer from chemicals in plastic.). When it comes to dishware, the heat allows those chemicals to mix with our food. Do we really want to be eating a side of chemicals with our meal? Remember that the FDA does not approve chemicals used in houseware (they only oversee Food and Drugs) — there is no regulation of the materials being used in your plates/bowls/sippys/storage containers.

You’ve seen the plastics labeled “microwave safe” and “dishwasher safe”, right? What does that even mean? The definition of “microwave safe” and “dishwasher safe”, as far as I can tell from online research, comes from appliance manufacturers. Both terms mean that your dishes won’t be visibly damaged, melted or broken in the appliance, not that the dishware won’t leach chemicals into your food. In other words, there is no “microwave safe” or “dishwasher safe” plastic.

Ideally, it would be fabulous to own no plastic food containers or items at all, but I have two preschool children. I do still use a microwave. With children this young, I still do not have the bandwidth in my food prep time to forego the microwave altogether for quick meals like leftovers and lunches, so stainless steel isn’t always practical. When using the microwave to reheat even something small, transfer the food to a glass container.

Tip #1: I bought small glass bowls from the dollar store specifically for reheating. I have about 4 of them so that there is always one clean. I just pop whatever I want to reheat into these open bowls and toss them in the microwave. The bonus is that I can also safely put them into the dishwasher.

Tip #2: To make storing and reheating from the refrigerator easier, I have replaced all of my formerly plastic storageware with glass food storage (affiliate link). These sets are easy to find at Target, Walmart, Amazon, and even Costco. I replaced it slowly, over time, when I could find sales and coupons. It can be pricey to do it all at one time, although Costco will frequently have good deals on glass storageware.

We have been working on teaching the kids to use glass responsibly. I still don’t allow them to have glass containers unsupervised, but they are getting much more mindful. Soon I hope to transition completely away from plastic cups and bowls for them and to ceramic and glass, which is what we use for the adults in the family.

For more information on the toxicity and environmental impact of plastic, I highly recommend my friend Beth Terry’s book “Plastic-Free: How I Kicked My Plastic Habit and How You Can Too” (affiliate link).

How do you avoid plastic in your home? Do you have any favorite products that you like?

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