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Entries in Food Storage (1)

Wednesday
Jun012011

Plastic or Panic? A Busy Mom’s Guide


After reading the Atlantic article about the possibility of even BPA-free plastics being unsafe, I wanted to throw out all of the plastic in my house.  And then I realized how impractical and impossible that would be.  So, I set out on a quest to find the easiest and highest impact ways to eliminate plastic from my home.

Warning: This is a long post, but I tried to condense a lot of information here so you don’t have to hunt all over the Web for it.

Why are Plastics Worrisome?Image used under Creative Commons license. By found_drama on Flickr.

The way I see it, there are different levels of concern when it comes to the current plastic paranoia:

  1. Plastic is everywhere.  It seems safe enough to me.
  2. As long as it’s BPA-free, I’m not concerned.
  3. BPA-free or not, I’m wary of plastic.
  4. Plastic is the devil.

I’d say that I fall in category #3, and this post is written mostly for the people in that group.  I’m not a scientist, and I’m not trying to convince you that plastic is going to kill us all.  The goal of this post is to give people actionable, and hopefully easy, ways to lessen the potential negative impacts of plastic.

And what are those potential negative impacts?  Well, according to a new study, even BPA-free plastics can release chemicals with estrogenic activity.   Estrogenic activity has been linked to early puberty in girls and decreased sperm counts in men, and a whole host of other ailments.

Operation Plastic Purge

Plastics are all around us, so as to not overwhelm myself, I’m concentrating on plastics that come into contact with food and beverages.  My first few steps toward a less plastic-y existence were easy.  I threw out/recycled Nic’s plastic feeding bowls and spoons  (to be replaced by our regular china and silverware—green and frugal!), ordered some glass storage containers for the fridge and made a “no plastic in the dishwasher or microwave rule.”  I felt like I was making real headway.

The next step was to replace Nic’s sippy cups with non-plastic ones.  Here’s where I hit a wall—pretty much everything I could find had at least some plastic components.  How could I possibly figure out which plastic was ok and which wasn’t?  I almost gave up.

Truth be told, we can never know if something is 100% safe, but it turns out that there are some good resources out there for parents trying to make good decisions for their families.

“Safer” Plastic Resources

I came across two companies that are each doing two great things:  1.) Educating people about plastics and the potential dangers 2.) Providing a carefully curated selection of products that meet very stringent safety guidelines.  These companies are MightyNest and The Soft Landing.

There is a LOT of great information offered by these sources, but too much information can be overwhelming.  My goal here is to tease out the things I found most valuable and offer a thorough, but manageable, overview.

Many Types of Plastic

Who knew that there were at least seven different kinds of plastic!?  Not me!  Here’s a tip: Flip over something plastic and you’re likely to find that little recycling triangle with a number in the middle.  That number lets you know what kind of plastic makes up the item.  If there’s no number, check the manufacturer’s website or contact them for material information. (If that sounds like too much work, check out the pre-screened collections on MightyNest and The Soft Landing.)

MightyNest has an awesome guide to plastics.  Here are the big things I gleaned from this list:

  • Plastic #1: Single use only (like water bottles).  Do not reuse.
  • Plastics #2, #4 and #5: Considered “safer” plastics.  These are the best of the bunch.
  • Plastic #3 (PVC):  These plastics are pervasive and dangerous.  They can be found in soft plastic toys, squeeze bottles and shower curtains.  How to avoid these merits a whole different post.
  • Plastic #6 (Styrofoamy stuff): Avoid.
  • Plastic #7: This one’s tricky—it’s the “other” category.  It includes the bad plastic polycarbonate (which contains BPA) as well as bio-based plastics which are seen as safer.  The take home is to avoid #7s unless you know it’s not polycarbonate (a clear hard plastic, like baby bottles).

Seriously, I Have to Worry about BPA in Canned Food Too?

Yeah, I know.  Plastic really is everywhere.  It turns out that plastic, often containing BPA, is used to line cans.  Here’s a handy little wallet card that tells you which products are the worst offenders.  By the way, it’s killing me that canned soup is #2.  That’s my go-to meal on a chilly night when I can’t bring myself to cook. 

The Safest Plastic is No Plastic

Back to my idea of ridding the house of plastic!  I know it’s not possible to be plastic-free, but here are some steps that I and some other MommyBetas have taken:

  • Replaced my giant plastic hospital-issued water jug with a stainless steel straw cup.
  • Swapped standard coffee pot with a French press (heat and plastic don’t mix!).
  • Tossed the Tupperware and invested in glass storage containers.  I can’t tell you how much I love these!  This also saves me from using plastic wrap to cover leftovers.
  • Bought some tiny glass bowls with lids for packing Nic’s meals on the go.
  • Decided Nic doesn’t need baby spoons.  I’m now feeding him with the dessert spoons that came with our flatware set.  I think the soft-tip ones are necessary for starting solids, but after a year or so, a regular spoon should be just fine.
  • Rid my cooking utensil holder of plastic ladles and pancake flippers.  I have enough metal and silicon ones to do the job.
  • Breastfeed when possible.  There’s no BPA in boobies!

If Plastic is Unavoidable

Sometimes, there’s just no way around it.  Plastic is convenient and widespread, so let’s learn how to co-exist.

  • Try to only use #2, #4 and #5 (#7 is ok if it’s bio-based).
  • No microwaving, no dishwasher (and if you must, top rack only), no heat.  Heat breaks down plastic and lets it release those naughty endocrine- disrupters.   Dishwasher and microwave safe only mean that the plastic won’t melt.
  • Don’t use scratched or cloudy plastic.
  • Don’t store oily, greasy or acidic food in plastic.
  • Two plastic things that did make the cut were my Mumi&Bubi trays and my Brita pitcher.  The trays are made from #5 plastic (one of the safest) and it seems that Brita filters are relatively safe as well.  I’m still going to stick to my no dishwasher rule though.

Links

If you’re hungry for more information, check out these sites.

So what do you think folks?  Is all this plastic hoopla a waste of time and energy, or is it worth it to make some small changes to the way we live?  Even between us MommyBetas there are some differences in opinion, so we'd love to hear your thoughts.