Is Polypropylene Safe? The Truth About This Common Plastic
In today’s world, we rely on plastic for almost everything. It’s convenient, affordable, and durable, so it’s no surprise that people worldwide take advantage of this modern convenience.
Polypropylene (PP) is one of these plastics. It’s a versatile plastic that’s harder, more heat resistant, and fatigue resistant than other plastics like polyethylene. Given these valuable properties, it’s used in a wide array of applications, like packaging, textiles, automotive parts, medical devices, and more.
Given polypropylene’s widespread use, we’re taking a deep dive into its applications and find out the answer to the question: is polypropylene safe?
- Polypropylene is a commonly used plastic in products like packaging, automotive parts, medical devices, and consumer goods due to its durability and heat resistance.
- While FDA-approved for food contact and generally considered safe, the long-term health impacts of chemical additives in polypropylene, especially under heat and acidity, remain uncertain.
- Environmental concerns include microplastic pollution from products like PP textiles and disposable medical masks.
- Research indicates potential health risks from polypropylene microplastics, particularly in respiratory health and infant bottle usage.
- Safe use recommendations include avoiding heating food in PP containers and reducing single-use plastic usage, opting for reusable alternatives.
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Polypropylene is Used Everywhere
From plastic wraps to car parts, polypropylene has become one of the most widely used plastics in daily life. This versatile material can morph into all kinds of useful products thanks to some handy properties.
Here are some of the most common uses of polypropylene:
- Packaging — Given its flexibility, PP can be used for either flexible packaging like plastic wraps, bags, and pouches, or rigid packaging like food containers, jars, bottles, and caps.
- Automotive Industry — PP is extensively used in automotive parts such as battery cases, interior parts like door trims, and instrumental panels. According to this product guide, some critical features that make it perfect for the automotive industry include the low coefficient of linear thermal expansion, high chemical resistance, good weatherability, low cost, and outstanding mechanical properties and moldability.
- Textiles and fabrics — PP plastic fibers can be used to make ropes, rugs, and clothing.
- Medical devices — Due to its chemical, bacterial, and steam sterilization resistance, medical grade PP is used in many hospital equipment components. Some of the most common medical applications are disposable syringes, medical vials, diagnostic devices, Petri dishes, intravenous bottles, and specimen bottles.
- Consumer goods — PP is used in several household consumer goods applications including housewares, furniture, appliances, and toys.
- Industrial applications — PP sheets can produce storage tanks, pipes, and sheets because of their high tensile strength and resistance to high temperatures and corrosion.
So, Is Polypropylene Safe?
Polypropylene is generally considered safe for use – it’s one of the safer plastics out there, in fact. The Food and Drug Administration approves it for food contact.
However, all plastics contain chemical additives whose impacts have yet to be fully known. It can leach plasticizers and other chemicals, especially with heat, contact duration, and acidity. Because of the variety of its plastic applications, it comes into contact with vastly different chemicals, which makes it even harder to determine the specific impacts.
Impacts of Polypropylene on the Environment
When polypropylene fibers are used in frequently washed products, such as textiles and fabrics, microplastics are produced and end up in our waterways.
In our article 11 Easy Ways To Avoid Microplastics, Starting Today, we discussed the many other impacts and dangers of microplastics on our health and the environment.
Polypropylene in Disposable Medical Masks
It turns out that all of those disposable medical masks we used during COVID-19 were mostly made up of polypropylene. This has some concerning repercussions.
According to this 2023 research article, the disposal of these masks is a cause for concern because of the potential environmental pollution.
Additionally, we are potentially inhaling these plastics since we use these masks to cover our noses and mouths.
The same study investigated its potential toxicological impacts on the respiratory system. The study results indicate that polypropylene nanoplastics contribute to the pathogenesis of inflammation, resulting from mitochondrial injury in the respiratory systems.
Another study used microplastics from polypropylene medical masks to conduct an acute toxicity study with the planktonic crustacean Daphnia magna. The researchers observed that the daphnids adsorbed and ingested microplastics.
They also found that different types of microplastics were obtained from the different layers of the mask. Therefore, further studies on these microplastics and their environmental impacts are needed.
Baby Bottles Made With Plastic Can Be a Concern
Infants using bottles made of polypropylene can also get exposed to microplastics.
Sterilization of the bottles and exposure to high-temperature water increase microplastic release. Therefore, we need to urgently study the potential risks that exposure to microplastic poses to infants’ health.
The impacts of occupational exposure to polypropylene also need to be investigated and studied.
Researchers evaluated the effects of exposure to polypropylene flock or microfibers in the workplace on the respiratory health of workers from Turkey. They found that it’s associated with pulmonary functional impairment. The study suggests the beginning of interstitial lung disease in polypropylene flocking workers.
How To Use Plastic More Safely
Even though polypropylene is FDA-approved and is generally considered safe for food contact, there’s nothing wrong with being careful. While polypropylene remains a safe alternative to other types of plastics, the mass production of this plastic still poses a lot of problems for the environment.
We have some tips for the safe use of plastics:
- Avoid heating fatty or acidic foods in plastic containers. While polypropylene does have high heat tolerance, it can increase chemical leaching. Use glass or stainless steel containers when heating foods.
- Avoid breathing dust or fumes from molten polypropylene. Ensure proper ventilation at all times.
- Refrain from using plastic bottles meant to be single-use containers. More importantly, whenever possible, reduce single-use plastics and try reusable alternatives altogether.
We have more helpful tips on how to significantly reduce your microplastic exposure in our article 11 Easy Ways To Avoid Microplastics, Starting Today.
Like it or not, plastics have become commonplace in today’s society – they’re in almost everything we use every day.
However, there are many ways to make a difference in our daily plastic usage. Using reusable, non-plastic alternatives in our lifestyles can make a huge impact not just on our health but also on the world around us.