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Plastic children’s cups can spill a mess of unwanted chemicals into the environment. Sipping from a cup free from bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) will help keep a lid on air and water pollution. Plus, Junior won't get a mouthful of questionable quenchers.

How to find eco-friendly no spill cups

To protect your baby and the environment from toxic chemicals that can leach from plastic, purchase only plastic cups labeled as PVC- or phthalate-free. You can also check the recycling codes on the bottoms of plastic containers:

  • Potentially toxic: Codes #3 (polyvinyl chlorine, which contains phthalates), #6 (polystyrene), and #7 (most are polycarbonate, which contains BPA).
  • Safe to sip: Codes #1, #2, # 4 (forms of polyethylene) and #5 (polypropylene) are safe for sipping. Or, bypass plastic altogether and opt for stainless steel.

Child health advocates recommend that no matter what type of plastic your children's food and drink is served in, it should never be microwaved. Chemicals are released more easily when plastic is heated, so ceramic or glass containers are recommended when heating food and drink.

For additional information on safe sippy cups and to see reviews and ratings of various products, visit:

Find it! Safe sippy cups

We've got all sorts of sippy cups to suit any finicky toddler, regardless of color or style preference.

Choosing environmentally friendly children’s no spill cups helps you go green because…

  • Avoiding PVC and polycarbonate children’s cups keep dangerous chemicals—like BPA and phthalates—out of the environment and baby’s body.
  • You avoid the environmental degradation associated with plastic manufacturing and disposal by choosing a stainless steel cup.

The three P's to ponder

Whether you've got a Penny or a Paul, you'll want to consider the three P's of sippy cups: plastics, PVCs, and polycarbonate.

Plastic production

Plastics are manufactured using petroleum and natural gas. Petroleum is a non-sustainable resource whose extraction and production has caused major environmental damage to soil, surface and ground waters, and local ecosystems, and contributes to global warming. The plastics industry as a whole also 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 released by all manufacturers each year.[1]

Polycarbonate cups: BPA and phthalates

To make a finished plastic product flexible or to give it a desired color, additional chemicals are added, including BPA and phthalates. In children’s no-spill drinking cups made of polycarbonate plastic, BPA is used to give the plastic clarity, durability, and flexibility, but the substance can liquefy and leach into drinks, especially at high temperatures. Despite the fact that BPA is especially dangerous to fetuses and children under age 3, the toxic chemical is used in the manufacture of over 90 percent of major baby bottle and sippy cup brands.[2] Phthalates—which are used to make plastics soft—and other toxic additives can leach into the ground and drinking water supplies when placed in a landfill for disposal.

On April 18, 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, as well as the April 14 release of a US National Toxicology Program report that expressed concern that BPA could cause behavioral changes in infants and children and trigger early onset of puberty in females, led one US senator to call for similar action in the states.

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 by next year. Playtex and water bottle maker Nalgene also announced that they they will cease production of products containing the chemical.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) cups

Children’s cups made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC)—a soft plastic used commonly in consumer products—pose severe environmental risks throughout their life cycle. The manufacture of PVC creates toxic pollution, threatening the health of both factory workers and the communities surrounding factory sites.

When disposed of, lead, phthalates, and other toxic additives can leach into the ground and drinking water supplies from landfills. Lead levels in the environment have increased by 1,000 times in the past few hundred years.[3]

Incineration of PVC products produces dioxins and furans, which are among the most toxic environmental contaminants and are known carcinogens. Recycling is not an option with PVC plastic: one PVC item can contaminate a batch of 100,000 recyclable bottles. PVC also contains health-threatening phthalates. In fact, 90 percent of phthalates in production are used to make PVC.[4]

Related health concerns

BPA has been linked to cancers, impaired immune function, early onset of puberty, obesity, diabetes, and hyperactivity. Phthalates can leach out of plastics and disrupt reproductive systems, and both phthalates and BPA are considered hormone disruptors. BPA has also been shown to cause female-like development in male test animals and early onset of puberty in females, as well as increased hyperactivity and aggression in animals.

PVC contains lead, which can cause developmental and learning problems, lower intelligence, behavioral problems, cancer, strokes, high blood pressure, kidney problems, anemia, cavities, and delayed puberty. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that lead exposure may be linked to almost 300,000 cases of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children. PVC also contains phthalates, which can cause reproductive problems, premature birth, early onset of puberty, impaired sperm in men, genital defects, and reduced testosterone production.

Controversies

A general rule of thumb for choosing safe plastics for serving and storing food and beverages, as stated by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, is: "With your food, use 4, 5, 1, and 2. All the rest aren't good for you." This easy-to-remember rhyme tells consumers to choose plastic products with a 1, 2, 4, or 5 inside the triangular recycling code on a plastic product. But there is a great deal of conflicting information about the safety of these plastics—especially polyethylene terephthalate (PET), marked with a #1 in the recycling code—both on the Internet and in the print media.

One claim is that dioxins—organic pollutants sometimes called "the most toxic compounds made by mankind"—are released by freezing plastic bottles or storage containers. Plastics don't actually contain dioxins. In fact, even if they did, freezing works against the release of chemicals.[5]

Some reports also claim that PET contains toxic phthalates. PET doesn't require plasticizers like the endocrine-disrupting phthalates, which are used in PVC and polycarbonates to make the plastics more flexible. An article in US News and World Report (USNWR), reported that a bottled water study conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that bottled-water plastics can leach phthalates, BPA, and triclosan. BPA is contained in polycarbonate plastic, used in baby bottles and water cooler bottles, but not in PET plastic. Triclosan is an anti-bacterial agent that's common in soap, but not found in PET. The USNWR may have mistakenly added information from another EWG report about San Francisco Bay water, which claimed that phthalates, bisphenol A, and triclosan in the Bay were a risk to health.[6]

    

Another widely circulated story claimed that di(2-ethylhexyl) adipate (DEHA) in PET plastic is a health risk. The American Chemistry Council states that this claim stemmed from a University of Idaho student’s masters thesis which had not been subject to peer or FDA review, and was unpublished. DEHA, a plastics additive, and potential (but debated) human carcinogen, isn't found in PET plastics. It is a common plasticizer found in lab equipment, which the Council concludes most likely contaminated the study's samples.[7]

Lastly, another widely held belief is that PET plastic shouldn't be reused because it can harbor harmful bacteria. This myth resulted from a study by the University of Calgary which found bacteria present in water samples taken from bottles that had been refilled by elementary school students without being cleaned. The study concluded that the bacteria were the result of "inadequate personal hygiene practices on the part of students reusing the bottles." The fact that the bottles were made from PET plastic had no bearing on the study.[7] Any parent or teacher familiar with the hygiene habits—or lack thereof—of elementary school students would not be surprised by these findings. Washing a water bottle after use, just as you would a drinking glass, should rid the bottle of harmful bacteria.

Glossary

  • 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.
  • 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 strong plastic polymer that can be made flexible through the use of plasticizers. These plasticizers, not the PVC itself, can be toxic and carcinogenic. However, the monomer used to make PVC, vinyl chloride, is carcinogenic, posing a serious health threat to the people who work at factories where PVC is created.

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