person putting plastic food container into microwave

While the mass adoption of single-use and reusable plastic might not be healthy for the environment, it’s certainly a cheap and easy way to heat up yesterday’s leftovers during a busy day at the office. Turns out, it’s not exactly healthy for us humans, either. As research emerges, it’s becoming increasingly clear that microwaving plastic may be one of the worst health decisions that many people make on a daily basis. According to Food Network, heating your meals in plastic containers can release toxic chemicals such as phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) directly into your food. Seeing as how both of these substances are endocrine disruptors, those who are worried about their hormone levels and reproductive health should be especially wary about their use of plastics in the microwave.

According to SHARP, phthalates and BPA are added to a wide variety of plastics in order to strengthen and stabilize the end product. Due to the added durability of these products, they are present in many "microwave safe" food containers that people use to heat their food in the microwave. SHARP clarifies that the "microwave safe" designation simply means that the container won’t be destroyed by the microwave, not that it is safe for your health.

Avoid heating plastic containers

person eating from plastic food container

Given that there are so many different varieties of plastic that are used for food containers, it’s important to point out that not all plastic products are created equal. Helpfully for consumers, plastic products are typically labeled with recycling symbols that can also indicate which are particularly unsafe. As SHARP explains, plastic products labeled with a recycling symbol numbered 1, 3, 6 or 7 are especially harmful and should be avoided whenever possible.

Since heat is the catalyzing factor that makes microwaved plastic so harmful, it’s best to avoid exposing plastic products to all kinds of heat. This might mean throwing out your bottled water that was left in a hot car or using ceramic mugs for your morning coffee instead of a plastic tumbler. According to Food Network, even heat from the dishwasher can cause plastics to leach chemicals, so take care to hand wash your plastic products instead. If you’ve been looking for an excuse to replace your dingy, old tupperware, here you’ve been presented with the perfect justification. To continue to reduce waste or save money in the long run, consider switching to safer glass containers instead.