Parents go to great lengths to ensure that what they feed their baby is healthy and safe. But, new research suggests parents might need to pay attention not to just what they feed their babies, but from what they’re serving it in. Some plastic baby bottles and accessories can contain a chemical called bisphenol A (BPA). Studies show phthalates like BPA, can cause serious health problems and have come under scrutiny not just by child safety advocates, but by the environmental community as well.
How to find green baby bottles and accessories
When searching for the perfect infant feeding implements, you'll want to consider bottles first, but don't forget about other oral products your baby may require, like replacement nipples and pacifiers.
- Baby bottle alternatives: For a healthier, eco-friendly alternative to polycarbonate plastic baby bottles, try glass bottles. Glass is an easily recyclable, renewable resource that does not leach toxic chemicals. Baby bottles made of opaque polypropylene plastic (marked with the #5 in the recycling triangle on the product) have not been found to leach toxic chemicals and are recyclable, making them another good alternative. Other safer plastic options include polyethylene plastic (recycling symbols #1 or #2).
- BPA-free accessories: Because of the risks associated with PVC plastic, bottle nipples made of this material should also be avoided. Rubber nipples may contain cancer-causing nitrosamines. According to the book "Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World" by pediatricians Philip J. Landrigan, MD and Herbert L. Needleman, MD and Mary Landrigan, MPA, clear silicone bottle nipples and pacifiers are safer than plastic or latex ones.
- BPA-free storage containers: Breastfeeding moms should also avoid #3 polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic containers when storing and freezing breast milk. PVC plastic can leach phthalates and adipates, which have been linked to reproductive harm and liver cancers in mice. Good alternatives include glass canning jars and polyethylene bags, which have not been found to leach toxic chemicals.
Before you buy
If you are buying plastic baby bottles and cannot find a recycling symbol on the bottom, or are unsure what type of plastic the bottle is made from, call the manufacturer's customer support line to get more information. And remember that, while safer for your baby, plastic production always takes a toll on the environment.
Choosing green baby bottles helps you go green because…
- BPA-free plastic baby bottles do not leach toxic chemicals into breast milk and formula, nor into the ground when they are disposed of in a landfill.
- Glass baby bottles avoid the pollution and land damage associated with petroleum extraction and production.
- Glass baby bottles are easily recyclable, keeping unnecessary trash out of the landfill.
Choosing containers for baby's food is just as important as carefully selecting what goes in them. Plastic baby bottles have always had their eco-challenges, but more recently have taken center stage in the news due to new studies drawing attention to problems with BPA.
BPA in the news
Reports of toxic baby products abound in the media. Among themost prominent of those reports is the discovery that the toxic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) may leach from plastic baby bottles. A 2007 report by the Environment California Research and Policy Center found that the clear polycarbonate plastic used by all five major baby bottle brands — Avent, Dr. Brown's, Evenflo, Gerber, and Playtex — releases BPA into the liquid inside of them. BPA has been linked to cancer, impaired immune function, early onset of puberty, obesity, diabetes, and hyperactivity, and is especially dangerous to fetuses and children under the age of 3. A study by Consumer Reports found that babies could be exposed to BPA in a dosage that is 40 times higher than the infant exposure safety level from these common plastic bottles. You can identify polycarbonate plastic by the #7 in the recycling triangle on the product.
In April 2008, the Canadian government became the first to ban BPA from baby bottles, stating that the action was a result of a review of 150 worldwide studies on the chemical. Canada's action and the subsequent release of a US National Toxicology Program report that found BPA could cause behavioral changes in infants and children and trigger early onset of puberty in females, led US Senate Democrats to introduce a bill that would ban BPA from all products made for infants and children under age 7. The bill would also require the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study all health risks posed by the chemical.
Mega-retailer Wal-Mart announced it would immediately pull all baby bottles, sippy cups, pacifiers, food containers, and water bottles made with BPA from the shelves of its Canadian stores, and said they will do the same in US stores. Playtex and water bottle maker Nalgene followed shortly with announcements that they too will cease production of products containing the chemical.
From the inside out: BPA in infant formula
In related news, BPA has also been found in the lining of formula cans. A study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found BPA in nearly all infant formula cans — including powdered formula — in levels far higher than those that leach from bottles under normal use. EWG recommends buying powdered formula in a can with as little metal as possible — such as NestlÌ©, Enfamil, and Similac, whose packaging contained BPA only in the top and bottom of the can.
Plastic baby bottles and environmental harm
BPA may be the trendiest environmental problem associated with baby bottles, but the issue of plastic production is not new. Plastic baby bottles — as with all plastics — are made from petroleum, a non-sustainable resource whose extraction and production has caused major environmental damage to soil, surface and ground waters, and local ecosystems. The production of petroleum also contributes to global warming.
The plastics industry as a whole releases millions of pounds of toxic waste into the air, water, and soil each year, and represents 7 percent of the 5.7 billion pounds of toxic chemicals dumped by all manufacturers each year. And, of course, used bottles add to the solid waste stream, clogging landfills.
- adipates: A light-colored, oily liquid used in making plastics, as a solvent, and as a plasticizer. It is known to leach from plumbing made of PVC plastic, contaminating drinking water. More than 450,000 pounds of adipate were released into the land and water between 1987 and 1993. Exposure can cause reduced body weight and bone mass, liver and testes damage, and cancer.
- bisphenol A (BPA): A chemical building block used to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins. Studies have linked BPA to hormone disruption, increased breast and prostate cancer cell growth, and early onset puberty, and obesity.
- nitrosamines: Any of various organic compounds characterized by the grouping NNO, some of which are powerful carcinogens.
- phthalates: A group of chemicals used as plasticisers in PVC plastics that are known to be testicular toxins and can disrupt hormones.
- polyvinyl chloride (PVC): A plastic, commonly referred to as vinyl, that is dangerous to human health and the environment throughout its life cycle. When produced or burned, PVC plastic releases dioxins, which can cause cancer and harm the immune and reproductive systems. PVC also releases mercury and phthalates, which may pose irreversible life-long health threats.
- ABC News - Chemical Threat in Plastics? An ABC News video report about bisphenol-A in plastic baby bottles.
- The Green Guide - Product Report: Plastic containers Scroll through to the last page for a shopping guide of brands to buy and those to avoid for children's feeding equipment.
- Green Living - Best Baby Bottle and Nipple Choices
- Live Science - Report Shows Dangerous Chemical Can Leach From Baby Bottles
- Nature Moms - BPA and Glass Baby Bottles: Siliskin and Wee Go
- NBC - Is your Baby's Bottle safe?: New study finds the bottles leach toxic chemical
- Newsweek - The Baby Bottle Blues: Worries about the safety of some plastics is driving a demand for more ecofriendly (and pricier) options
- New York Magazine - Market Research: The Nontoxic Alternatives
- SeattlePI.com - Health risk from popular plastic baby bottles
- The Soft Landing Baby Blog - Think Baby Bottles vs. Born Free & Green to Grow: What's the Difference?
- Fox News - Study Warns Of Plastic Baby Bottle Safety
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - Baby products under scrutiny: Congress to investigate use of bisphenol A in formula cans
- US Geological Survey - Environmental Impacts of Petroleum Production: Initial Results from the Osage-Skiatook Petroleum Environmental Research Sites, Osage County, Oklahoma
- Droolicious - Giving a New Meaning to "Born With a Silver Spoon…"
- Nano Werk - Groups file legal action for EPA to stop sale of 200+ nanosilver products