Single-use plastic and your health: can PET plastic cause harm?

Think about all the single-use plastic you touch every day.

Food containers, packaging, wrapping... it’s hard to avoid. 

Many essential products—milk, shampoo, peanut butter—are packaged in plastic. Other items such as straws and plastic lids make our lives more convenient.

We know that plastic is a huge problem. It litters the world and causes health risks. Cities, states, and even entire countries have banned or regulated plastic bags and straws

Despite this, worldwide plastic production continues to rise

Why more plastic?

The increase in plastic production is driven by the oil industry. Plastic is made from components of crude oil and natural gas. 

With the move towards renewable energy, oil companies are seeking other uses for the oil and gas they produce. 

What is PET?

PET is one of the seven types of plastic, identified as 1-7. If the recycling symbol on your plastic container has a “1” in it, it’s made of PET.

It is also known as plastic #1, PETE, polyester, and polyethylene terephthalate. 

You can find it in:

  • clear plastic soda and water bottles

  • salad dressing and condiment containers

  • clear shampoo bottles

  • peanut butter containers

  • cooking oil jugs

  • to-go containers

  • and much more

The most important thing to know about PET is that it is intended for single use only. After repeated use, some toxic chemicals in the plastic may ‘leach’ into food and drinks.

Can chemicals from PET cause harm?

Leaching is the transfer of chemicals from packaging into food or drinks. These chemicals can harm your health.

Leaching increases when the container is heated or contains acidic food.

Many toxic chemicals can leach from PET plastic into food and drinks:


The heavy metal antimony trioxide is used in the production of PET. After production, the antimony stays in the plastic.

The EPA has set the limit of antimony contamination in drinking water to 6 micrograms per liter.

Under room temperature conditions, very little antimony leaches out of PET into water. 

But in extreme heat (185°F), antimony can leach out at dangerous levels. 185 degrees may seem high, but the inside of a car or truck in certain areas could easily get this hot.

For mineral water, leaching differs between different beverage brands.

Antimony and related chemicals can cause:


PET itself is not a phthalate, even though it is called “polyethylene terephthalate.” But phthalates may be added to PET plastic. This is done to add flexibility, transparency, durability, or longevity to the PET. 

Like antimony, phthalates can leach from PET plastic.

A recent study showed phthalates leaching from commercial PET bottled water. These chemicals were even found in PET bottles kept at room temperature and for short storage times. High heat, UV exposure, and long storage time increased phthalate leaching. 

Phthalates may come from other sources as well, such as during the bottling process. 

Phthalate exposure can cause many health effects, including:

Estrogen-like chemicals

Several studies have shown that water stored in PET bottles has estrogenic activity. This means chemicals leach out that “act” like estrogen in the body. This causes problems with the normal workings of the hormone system

How can you avoid PET chemical exposures?

Even with plastic production on the rise, there are steps you can take to avoid toxic chemicals from PET plastic.

  • Avoid plastic food and beverage packaging when possible. Opt for glass.

  • Avoid high heat, which can increase leaching.

  • Reduce storage times. Long storage times can increase leaching.

  • Never microwave plastic. Microwaving increases the transfer of chemicals from plastic to food.

  • Reuse. Use durable cups, water bottles, straws, and food storage containers. Check out our list of approved products for ideas!

  • Support alternatives. Green chemistry offers the possibility of non-toxic plastics that can still be flexible and durable. Support legislation for regulating toxic products.

  • Get tested. Million Marker offers a mail-in test for plastic chemical exposure. With this test you can identify and eliminate the sources of toxic chemicals in your life.