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The Truth About Plastic Water Bottles

by Marianne Marchese, ND

The Truth About Plastic Water Bottles



It seems everyone is asking me about plastic water bottles lately. For the most part people are concerned about the safety of drinking out of plastic bottles.

Some of my patients, friends, family and even colleagues have certain beliefs that simply aren’t true. Here are a few of the beliefs people have about plastic water bottles.

  1. If you don’t heat plastic water bottles then it is ok to drink out of them.
  2.  Freezing plastic bottles is what makes them bad.
  3.  The problem is only in water bottles not plastic soda or juice bottles.
  4.  Plastic water bottles are only harmful to children and babies.
  5. You need to avoid numbers 3, 6, and 7
  6. You need to avoid numbers 1 and 5

Confused? Well you are not alone. There has been a lot in the news recently about the safety of water bottles. It is time to set the record straight so you can make an informed and educated decision as a consumer and take control of your health.

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When talking about plastic water bottles we must talk in general about plastic bottles. It doesn’t matter if it is water or soda or juice that is inside. Plastic bottles are made with chemicals known as plasticizers. Their purpose is to made plastic strong and flexible. There are two main forms of plastic that make up plastic water bottles: Polyvinyl chloride plastics (PVC) and polycarbonate plastics. PVC contains the most common used commercial plasticizer known as phthalates. Polycarbonate plastics contain a chemical called bisphenol-A (BPA).

Both phthalates and bisphenol-A are known hormone disrupting chemicals, often called hormone mimicking compounds. Studies show that both phthalates and BPA have adverse health effects in humans and are linked to infertility, premature puberty, asthma, allergies, menstrual cycle irregularities and breast cancer and prostate cancer.

But what is in the average plastic beverage bottle. Some bottles are soft and flexible and crunch when you squeeze it when empty. Some are hard and firm and sturdy and sound hallow when empty. Are they all the same? Do they all have these harmful chemicals? The answer is complicated but the number on the bottom of the bottle can be used as a general guide as to what chemical plasticizer is in the bottle.

Flip that bottle over to find out what it is made of.

#1 PETE or PET (polyethylene terephthalate) - used for most water and soda bottles. The ingredients include resins made from methane, xylene and ethylene combined with the chemical ethylene glycol and other chemicals. These have flame retardants and UV stabilizers added.

#2 HDPE (high density polyethylene) - used for cloudy milk and water jugs and opaque food bottles. Resins made from ethylene and propylene resins and have flame retardants added. When burned these release formaldehyde and dioxin if chlorine was used during manufacturing.

#3 PVC or V (Polyvinyl chloride)- used in some cling wrap, soft beverage bottles, plastic containers, plumbing pipes, children’s toys, vinyl windows, shower curtains, shades and blinds and many other items. They create toxic by-products when burned such as PCB’s and dioxins. Made from petroleum resins and have flame retardants added.

#4 LDPE (low density polyethylene) - used in plastic grocery bags, plastic wrap, bubble wrap, dry cleaning bags, and flexible lids. Resins made from ethylene and propylene resins and have flame retardants added. When burned these release formaldehyde and dioxin if chlorine was used during manufacturing.

#5 PP (polypropylene)- used in yogurt cups, some baby bottles, screw-on caps, toys, drinking straws. Resins made from ethylene and propylene resins and have flame retardants added. When burned these release formaldehyde and dioxin if chlorine was used during manufacturing.

#6 PS (polystyrene)- used in egg cartons, foam meat rays, clear take out containers, plastic cutlery, toys, cups, CD containers. Resins made from ethylene and propylene resins and have flame retardants added. When burned they release styrene and polyaromatic hydrocarbons.

#7Other (usually polycarbonate) - used in 5 gallon water bottles, some baby bottles, and lining of metal food cans. They create toxic by-products when burned such as PCB’s and dioxins. Made from petroleum resins and have flame retardants added.

In general, polystyrene plastic leached the solvent styrene, polycarbonate plastic leaches bisphenol-A, polyvinyl chloride and polyethylene terephthalate leach phthalates. This accounts for #1, #3, #6, and #7.

The remaining plastics, #2,#4,#5 may leach chemicals too but there are no studies to show that they leach chemicals known to cause hormone disruption in humans.

In terms of recycling, #1 and #2 are the most commonly recycled plastics by most cities.

Keep in mind that both the production and incineration of all types of plastic creates toxins that contribute to air pollution.

Hopefully this helps answers some questions. Many of my patients ask which plastic bottles I use. The answer is either glass or metal.



About Dr. Marianne Marchese:

Dr. Marchese is the author of 8 Weeks to Women’s Wellness: The Detoxification Plan for Breast Cancer, Endometriosis, Infertility and Other Women’s Health Conditions

Dr. Marchese is a clinician, author, and educator. She graduated from Creighton University in 1990 with a B.S. in Occupational Therapy and received her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine (NCNM). She completed a two-year postgraduate residency in Integrative Medicine and Women’s Health and a six-month post-graduate training in Environmental Medicine.

Dr. Marchese has been an adjunct faculty member at NCNM supervising women’s health and environmental medicine clinic shifts and later taught toxicology and nutrition at Life Chiropractic College. Currently she is adjunct faculty at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, Tempe, AZ, teaching gynecology.

Dr. Marchese has had articles published in magazines, newspapers, and journals such as; The Arizona Republic, Raising Arizona Kids Magazine, Taste for Life Magazine, The Townsend Letter and Symbiosis Journal. She has been interviewed and quoted as an expert in many national magazines. She currently writes a column on environmental medicine for The Townsend Letter.

You can learn more about Dr. Marchese by visiting her website at

Editor's Note:

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These articles are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always consult with a physician before embarking on a dietary supplement program.

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Wow. Not the news I was looking for, but very thorough and helpful. Thanks!

What it means if on botle is writen PET and number is 6 or 9 because I don’t know in wich direction to read the number

This is another example of misleading articles floating around in this industry.

For example:

This common misperception is regularly touted in erroneous media reports and other venues. Despite its pervasiveness, this assertion is untrue. Phthalates are not used in plastic food packaging or food storage containers that are manufactured or sold in the United States. The term “phthalates,” short for “orthophthalates,” refers to a class of additives, which are used in some plastic products, specifically products made with a particular type of plastic – polyvinyl chloride (also known as PVC or vinyl) – to make the material soft and flexible. Vinyl shower curtains, cable and wire, and flooring are examples of flexible PVC products that can contain phthalates. Most plastic food packaging and storage items (e.g., containers, freezer trays, beverage bottles, resealable bags, etc.) are made with other types of plastics and do not require softening agents, such as phthalates. Although certain specialized plastic food wraps are made with PVC, adipates and citrates are used as softeners instead of phthalates.
PET and Phthalates are not the same: Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is a type of plastic used extensively in food packaging applications like beverage bottles, microwavable trays and packaging films. Although “polyethylene terephthalate” (the plastic) and “phthalate” (the additive) may sound alike, they are chemically dissimilar. PET is not considered an orthophthalate, nor does PET require the use of softening additives.

Also this statement of the author is simply not true:  “There are two main forms of plastic that make up plastic water bottles: Polyvinyl chloride plastics (PVC) and polycarbonate plastics.”

The truth is that most of the bottled waters you buy at a store are made with PET (and water jugs in HDPE), which is not PVC or polycarbonate. Also, most of the polycarbonate refillable water bottles and baby milk bottles sold in USA, Canada and Europe are now free of BPA.

If possible, avoid plastic water bottles entirely. If a plastic bottle is all that’s available, the relatively safe plastics used in food and drink containers—according to Rick Smith & Bruce Lourie, leading environmentalists & authors of “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” (a GREAT READ!) will have the recycling numbers 1,2,4 or 5. I remember this using the mnemonic “4,5,1&2—all the rest are bad for you.”

Article should discuss the plastics used to line cans and so-called paper cartons & cups - which are ubiquitous.  Plastic containers are commonly used for various foods too.  The plastics issue isn’t simply water bottles!

The #6 info should have explicitly mentioned Styrofoam as one form.

And the leaching issue isn’t so simple.  I.e., the danger may be more or less depending on what’s in the food/beverage, like oils, water, acids, alcohols, etc and whether its heated.  For example, that Tetra-Pak plastic-lined carton that’s so common includes a flash heating cycle with the ingredient inside - even if its later refrigerated.

Lastly, is this ND recommending using aluminum beverage containers?!  And no word about the metal bottles which are plastic lined???  Or the relative safety of ceramic containers.

The elementary info (easily found all over the internet & elsewhere) in the article actually does a disservice because it easily leaves the impression or implies here’s the info one needs to make good decisions about plastics - which it is far from providing.  I.e., there’s no value added in recycling 101-level information.

Am I allergic to bottle caps as every time I un screw the cap I ended up itchy and big welts?

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