Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Global Warming Wednesday: Putting plastic on notice

A week or so ago, Trillian sent me a link to a Globe and Mail article entitled "'Inherently Toxic' chemical faces its future" (I'd link to it, but it has unfortunately been long enough that it requires paying to read now). The gist of the article: bisphenol A, a chemical found in polycarbonate and other plastics and the lining of tin cans, is an estrogen disruptor at even small levels. My reaction: minor freak out over all of the plastic in our house.

Plastic has been on my shit-list for a while anyways. I recognize that so many things in our lives are plastic or packaged in plastic that will never break down. And so, in the back of my head, there has been a little voice that urges me to have less plastic around. This goes for food storage too. I had even heard about bisphenol A leaking into the things it comes in contact with, so I'd mostly stopped using my Nalgene bottle. But I hadn't known it's used in the lining of tin cans and hadn't thought about just how pervasive it might be.

So I poked around a bit. Again, not exactly high level research (yes, a lot of it is Wikipedia, so I know there's a chance of faulty information), but enough to get somewhere between total freak out and action plan. Here's some of what I found:
  • Bisphenol A is primarily in plastics labelled #7.
  • #7 stands for "other," so the number is not entirely helpful.
  • Melamine is also a #7. Yes, the stuff that has caused the pet food recall.
  • More accurately, this is melamine resin, which is made of melamine and formaldehyde. (Just gets better and better, huh?)
  • No idea if there's any bisphenol A in these products (e.g., my son's many character plates). But then again, I'm not sure it's absence would make things any better.
  • As far as I can tell from brief searches on the various types of plastic, #2 and #5 are the least harmful, from a human health perspective.
So I went through our cupboards and looked at the plastics we have. Among the things I discovered, our old Avent bottles are not labelled, yet the fact that they are clear, rigid plastic almost certainly points towards polycarbonate and bisphenol A. Many other items are not labelled either. On the other hand, most of his sippy cups and all of the Ikea plastic plates are #5. So still evil plastic, but maybe not poisoning my son. The food storage we have (generic version of GladWare)? No number, not entirely sure what type of resin, probably not great to have food sitting in it, especially concerned about heating things up in it.

As a result of this panic, our action this month falls somewhere between personal health action and environmental action. We have quit using the plastic containers for storing our food; our bit of consumerism towards this end was to purchase a few glass food containers from Ikea.* The seals are silicone and, from what I can tell, silicone is chemically inert and does not impart anything to the food it touches. This makes sense, given that it is made from the same base as glass--and glass is used to contain solutions in scientific experiments precisely because it does not react with the chemicals inside. The containers have been really great, and we will buy a few more.

We have also gathered up all of our polycarbonate bottles and will not be using them anymore. Scooter never did like a bottle, so he didn't use them much, but we won't be keeping them for the next child (who, fingers crossed, will readily take a bottle to make up for the hellish feeding schedule we had when I went back to work when Scooter was 5 months old). For that one, we will be getting a hold of several glass bottles.

In terms of canned foods, we are now making an effort to get more things frozen or fresh--trips to farmers' markets are planned! We are also taking some other steps that will be my action for May (just getting a head start). And one thing that will be on our minds when we move and settle into a house for the long term will be garden space and a freezer (energy efficient and no bigger than we truly need, of course).

Not that all of this is figured out yet. Given what I've read about even small amounts of bisphenol A, I worry about whether or not handling items with it is a concern--or if it's just a problem to ingest the chemical. Also, I stare at this bunch of stuff we have and no longer plan on using and don't know what to do with it. I could put it on Craig's List or Freecycle, but is it fair just to pass the problem onto someone else. Similarly, most of these plastics are on the non-recyclable list, so they'd just need to go into the garbage. Where they will not biodegrade beyond releasing some of these chemicals into the surrounding area and groundwater, thus exposing more people.

See, this is why plastic is on notice!

*I have been resistant to glass in the past because I am somewhat clumsy, sharing some of the balance and movement traits with my son, the same ones that are sending him to occupational therapy. But, I've convinced myself just to be a little more careful--and to accept that things will break on occasion.


Suz said...

There's also a brand of plastic bottles sold that claims to be "green" and free of chemicals. I don't know the name off-hand, but I'm sure you could find it fairly easily.

Lisa b said...

The article had a pic of some bottles that it said were bisp A free. I am trying to hunt them down. Can you let me know if you find anything I'll do likewise.
I learned this stuff ten years ago in school and when I was trying to get my daughter on the bottle I just felt so guilty as it was plastic. But I am a total clutz, everyone else was using the avent bottles and I have not even seen glass bottles for sale anywhere.
BTW the avent site claims their plastic is safe yet I think they actually identify it as having bisphenol A!
thanks for the other info on the ikea plates. Mine don't have numbers but ikea seems to be up on much of this stuff.
These globe and mail specials are driving me INSANE. I have been trying to get clear info about PBDEs in mattresses since that special in the summer and I am getting nowhere. Ikea has a policy but I cannot stand their mattresses and no one else has been clear. Sleep Country told me PBDEs are not used in Canada but no one prints materials on their mattresses except Ikea.

I guess we should just buy everthing there.

Ken Kapalowski said...

is a company that sells BPA free baby bottles.

Trillian said...

We went to Whole Foods yesterday and they had an entire display of Bisphenol-A free bottles, sippy cups, nipples, etc. I still think glass is the way to go, but Mouse may disagree and considering we have stone floors in the kitchen, plastic may just be a necessity.

Trillian said...

We went to Whole Foods yesterday and they had an entire display of Bisphenol-A free bottles, sippy cups, nipples, etc. I still think glass is the way to go, but Mouse may disagree and considering we have stone floors in the kitchen, plastic may just be a necessity.

Steve said...

Some other options for sippy bottles are the Born-free sippy bottles, which are bisphenol-A Free and the Klean Kanteen Stainless Steel bottles. If you want to stay away from nalgene and other plastic bottles, Stainless Steel(Klean Kanteen, thermos) or Aluminum (Sigg's) are good options.