I’ve got issues with plastic.
Before my son was born, I swore my house was not going to ever look like a toy box threw up there. Toys would be functional and fun, yet appealing to both children and adults’ aesthetic. And NO plastic toys!
Now a mom to a 2 ½ year old boy, my viewpoint has softened around the edges. I admit that my yard is often riddled with plastic dump trucks and shovels. Though, I’ve fought to keep those expensive wooden toys pristine and not laden with mud, I get that toys are meant to be played with and sometimes plastic happens.
Another big complaint of mine is the amount of plastic we human beings are producing, buying, and discarding. There’s been a loud buzz encouraging consumers to give up plastic bags and use less plastic bottles. Even my husband, after attending a benefit for water awareness by GiveAGlass.org, has sworn off plastic water bottles and even goes as far as to go a bit thirsty or seek out a glass if he’s forgotten his metal bottle.
Even though plastic is durable, cleanable, and frankly, convenient and affordable, I urge you to choose all plastic consciously and in moderation as the use of plastic has both serious health and environmental impact.
For Your Body
Plastic contains harmful chemicals which are an especially big concern for babies who put everything in their mouths. This is also an issue for children and adults, as plastics are widely used in packaging water and foods.
Harmful substances used in plastic include:
- BPA (Bisphenol-a), which disrupts the endocrine system (hormones). In animal studies, it’s been associated with accelerated puberty and a potential cancer risk. Widely used in the making of the hard, clear and nearly unbreakable plastic called polycarbonate, studies show that trace amounts of BPA are leaching from polycarbonate containers into foods and liquids.
- PVC (polyvinyl choloride) is used in toys to soften the plastic. PVC can release harmful fumes and is known to be a carcinogen.
- Phthalates are the softening agents found in items containing PVC and are believed to be a hormone disruptor and potential cancer risk. This substance has been banned from children’s toys by the EU in 2004, but in the US, regulations only limit the concentration of phthalates in children’s toys.
The problem with regulations and bans on harmful substances in plastic toys is they’re not always enforced. Although lead paint has been banned for years, it’s not uncommon for it to be found in new toys, and there’s obviously no way to regulate hand-me-downs toys.
It’s usually possible to identify harmful substances by looking at the identification code stamped on most plastic containers. Polycarbonates fall in the number 7 group, and the 7 stamp may also include the letters “PC.” Likewise, PVC may be designated by the number 3.
When you’re evaluating plastics, use the following guidelines developed by Dr. Randall Neustaedter of cure-guide.com to minimize the health risks to your family:
Relatively safe Plastics:
- #1 polyethylene terephalate (PET) used only once
- #2 and #4 polyethylene
- # 5 polypropylene (used for catsup bottles and yogurt containers)
- #6 polystyrene (Styrofoam)
- #7 polycarbonate (Nalgene) water bottles
- Food or drinks heated in plastic containers in a microwave.
- Styrofoam cups (polystyrene #6), especially for hot liquids.
- #7 polycarbonate (Nalgene) water bottles
- Plastic baby bottles. If you use bottles, use only glass baby bottles with silicone, not latex, nipples.
- Never reuse plastic water bottles.
Although it may not be possible to be able to completely control exposure to harmful substances, taking steps to reduce the amount of harmful plastics your child is exposed to is an important step in the right direction.
For the Planet
The harmful health effects of plastic aren’t the only reason to to make eliminating or using plastic in moderation a big priority. Plastic is already having a huge impact on the environment.
Plastic trash in coastal ecosystems and the ocean is dangerous to marine and birdlife and it’s a very big problem. Right now, there’s a mass of garbage twice the size of Texas swirling in the Pacific Ocean, and 90% of it is plastic. It takes decades or ever centuries for plastic to break down in landfills, and in water, it takes even longer.
Not only does plastic biodegrade very slowly, it’s also derived from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. According to the organization GLASS, it takes 47 million gallons of oil to fill America’s demand for plastic water bottles alone.
Disposable plastic products may be convenient and cheap, but our children will pay the price in the future. Each time we say no to plastic, we’re taking a step toward ensuring the world our children inherit isn’t overflowing with plastic trash.