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 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 into scientific arguments… you just want to know how to find BPA-free plastic glasses. Unfortunately, the media reports about polycarbonate and other types of plastic are confusing and sometimes downright wrong — making it tough to choose plastic tableware with confidence.
Happily, the three tips below we can offer shoppers some peace of mind. There are many different plastics used to make quality plastic dishes and glasses, and most are, and have always been, BPA-Free! Here’s what to know and look for:
Tip 1: If It’s Not Polycarbonate, It’s BPA-free Plastic
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, acrylic blends called SAN, and Tritan plastic are all used to make clear, glass-like items similar to polycarbonate. Some of our favorite BPA-free plastic drinkware and tableware brands include Clarus BPA-free Plastic Drinkware, Bentley Plastic Drinkware, Preserve Tableware & Kitchen Storage, Michley Plastic Wine Glasses & Tumblers, all featured below.
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 plastics other than polycarbonate.
Tip 2: Know 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, as we do on our website.
If you’re 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 acrylic blends items are marked “Dishwasher-safe” and occasionally “Microwave-safe.” But these plastics aren’t usually labeled “Unbreakable.” Unlike polycarbonate, acrylic and SAN can break.
Solid-color plastic glasses and dishes are rarely made of polycarbonate. 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 Rely on Numbers Printed on Glasses — They Don’t Tell the Full Story
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.
Want more info? The video we made for our sister site, KidSmartLiving, explains everything you need to know when shopping, plus we’ve highlighted the details below.