Bad, Bad Plastics…and How to Avoid Them

If you’re a fairly in-the-know mommy or daddy, you’ve probably heard some rumblings about how some plastics are bad for you, how some are to be avoided. Perhaps you’ve heard rumor that you shouldn’t heat your baby’s milk in plastic in the microwave (a crime of which I was still guilty until only very recently, so you’re not alone). But, surprisingly, you’ve probably not heard a whole lot. Without going all conspiracy-theory on you as to why this hasn’t been more in the news (although a simple Google search does get quite a few good hits), here’s the skinny…

Research has show that most things plastic–from baby bottles to sippy cups to teethers to the ubiquitous “plastic food storage” (Tupperware by any other name)–contain dangerous chemicals that leach from the plastic container into the food or drink stored within. To be precise, Bisphenol A and Pthalates are two dangerous chemicals that leech from plastics at rates high enough to cause damage to lab rats. See Environment California’s research.

This leaching of bad chemicals is more pronounced when the plastic is heated (no more microwaving!), when food/drink is left in the container a long time (no more carrying around a bottle full of milk all day!), or when the plastic is scratched or clouded. (I’d say, “throw out those old containers!” but we don’t want them gumming up the landfills, either…more suggestions on what to do with those containers you don’t want to use anymore will come later.)

Here’s what to do and what to avoid:

  • Look for “PVC-free” on the labels of soft plastic toys and teethers.
  • Even safer, choose wooden toys. They were good enough for our parents, and for some of us…and they are newly “in.”

  • Keep an eye to the bottom/underside of whatever it is you’re contemplating buying. There should be a little stamped recycling triangle (just like this one right here) with some letters or numbers inside or next to it.

    • If you see “PC” (signifying polycarbonate plastic) do not purchase it.
    • Avoid #7 and #3 plastic.
    • Choose plastics labeled #1, #2, or #5 in the recycling triangle.

  • Avoid canned foods: bisphenol A is present in metal can lining, and can spread to the food within! Happily, most commercially prepared baby food is available in glass contianers (although in another post I’ll try to convert you to the simple joys of making your own baby food).
  • Choose metal feeding utensils and enamel or ceramic plates.

  • Avoid foods wrapped in plastic. That lovely shrink-wrap? yup, full to the brim of PVC and pthalates. If, like most of us, you can’t avoid buying plastic-wrapped foods, trying cutting off a thin layer of the cheese or meat when you get home.

And, here are the big NO-NOs…

  • Do not heat food in plastic containers or on plastic dishware, or heat liquids in plastic baby bottles. In case it hasn’t been made totally clear yet, let me just reiterate: Heating food and liquids in plastic containers can cause chemicals and additives in the plastics to leach out more readily—right into baby’s food and milk.
  • Do not put plastic bottles, containers, or dishware in the dishwasher. Stop using any plastic bottles, containers, and dishware that start to look scratched or hazy. (Instead, use them to store non-food items. Like, as baby-sock catchers. Or to corral Lego pieces. Or for all those fancy guest soaps that you have to hide so your toddler doesn’t insist on using them. Cut couple drainage holes in the bottom and use them to plant a window-side herb garden. The possibilities are endless! Just don’t throw them away…)
  • Do not let milk sit for long periods of time in plastic. This is where those glass bottles really come in handy!
  • Do not let your child put plastic toys in his/her mouth. Although some teethers will be safe (check packaging or the bottom of the item, or call the manufacturer to be sure), toys designed for your older children are not designed to be teethed, and are more likely to contain phthalates or bisphenol A.

Making the switch to safe-plastic or even plastic-free lifestyle is a big change. Lest you think that I am a goddess of all things green, let me just tell you how many plastic products are in my cupboards and refrigerator…on second thought, I’ll spare you the full confession, and instead confide that I still have a plastic baby bottle for pumping purposes tucked into my bag. Bad, bad me! After doing all this research, I’m committed to making at least some small changes, one change at a time. Starting with those glass bottles and finding an alternative to my son’s beloved sippy cups (any tips, let me know!). Small changes add up, and I think they’re a pretty good step in the right direction.

Information from:

Environment California’s Toxics Fact Sheet
IATP’s Smart Plastics Guide (a pdf)
Grist’s Ask Umbra on Plastics and Kids
Food Production Daily

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