We recently had the pleasure of meeting the formidable Sian Sutherland from A Plastic Planet an organisation campaigning for a plastic free aisle in our supermarkets it got us asking; what are the different types of everyday plastic our babies are frequently exposed to? And how could these be affecting their environment and health?
It is a fact plastic is everywhere - food containers (in the US they get through 80 billion food pouches a year*), feeding equipment, toys, pacifiers, teething aids, nursery furniture, etc. It is near impossible to avoid all plastics as a parent BUT you can choose safer plastics for your baby and their environment.
Plastic comes in various forms and is made from many chemicals but the two to be wary of especially as a parent are:
1. Bisphenol A (BPA) a chemical used to make plastic clear and give it strength. Sometimes rather worryingly found in plastic ploy-carbonate baby bottles and sippy cups, water bottles and metal food cans. Plastic # 7
BPA is believed to affect the immune, reproductive and neurological systems. In animals it has been proven to interfere with the brain function and endocrine system as well as acting as a pre-cursor to cancerous growths. It has also been linked to heart problems and other conditions such as diabetes & ADHD. This risk is increased in babies and infants as their bodies are still developing and they are less efficient at eliminating substances from their systems.
2. Phthalates - used to make plastic soft & flexible. Examples being plastic toys, baby bibs, food packaging, detergent containers and shampoo. Plastic # 3
Phthalates belong to a group of chemicals which are becoming commonly referred to as ‘gender-bending’ or ‘hormone disrupting’ chemicals because they are thought to disrupt the delicate balance of the endocrine system which controls reproduction in mammals.
A number of different studies in several countries have shown that phthalates are damaging to liver, kidneys, and reproductive organs and are easily ingested by children chewing or sucking on items which contain.
Babies and toddlers are fairly incriminate when it comes to sucking and chewing so although the EU has banned Phthalates being used in the manufacturing of toys and products aimed at under 3's campaigners argue this is not enough. They are also routinely added to cosmetics such as nail varnish so a mother's finger being used to suck on by an infant for example, is just one of the ways babies maybe ingesting these chemicals.
In the last few years researchers have linked phthalates to asthma, ADHD, breast cancer, obesity and type II diabetes, low IQ, neurodevelopmental issues, behavioral issues, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development and male fertility issues...
How to limit your baby's contact with harmful plastics.
A. Avoid plastic containers with #3 or #7 or the letters PC and try to use glass over plastic wherever possible.
B. Do NOT reuse single use plastics as when they breakdown they will release chemicals, recycle instead.
C. If using baby feeding bottles opt for glass or #2 coded plastic.
D. Try to opt for fabric or wood toys. If not check plastic toys state BPA & Phthalate free.
E. Do NOT microwave food in plastic containers - bottles, beakers etc or put them in the dishwasher.
F. Avoid baby bathing products (shampoo, lotions & powders) that contain phthalates.
But even if we switch to sable & safer plastics for the sake of our baby's health can these still affect the planet they will grow up in?
Plastic and our Baby's planet.
Unfortunately, yes safe or unsafe and regardless of plastic coding, experts estimate our oceans will have more plastic then fish by 2050. Plastics are believed to threaten at least 600 different wildlife species according to the Ocean Conservancy. Also, when plastic reaches landfill it can take 1000 years to decompose and can leak pollutants into the soil and water.
Pouches like the ones often containing baby food, coffee beans and snacks typically consist of layers of different materials laminated together. Now whilst these materials are recyclable on their own once fused together in the pouch they are very difficult to separate and they are not accepted in UK recycling collections. Some manufacturers do offer mail in or drop off programs but these are limited.
In 2015 in the US sales of baby food pouches reached $45 million up from $8 million in 2010. As blogger Lindsay Gallimore states in the Huffington Post ' There is definitely a push for clean eating both for kids and grown-ups' ...'but the buzz words associated with 'greener' lifestyle are packaged into a packaging that is not green at all'
It is ironic that the baby food industry needs to come up with a solution to the amount of plastic piling up from these baby food products or we will destroying the very planet our babies’ will grow up in.
* Pacific Standard 2016