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Parents go to great lengths to ensure that what they feed their baby is healthy and safe. Unfortunately, new research suggests that threats to baby’s well being—and the health of the environment—may be coming not from food, but from what we’re putting that food in. Plastic baby bottles and accessories—which harbor toxins like bisphenol A (BPA), a hormone disruptor, and phthalates, which can cause cancer and other serious health problems—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.

Find it! Green baby bottles and accessories

We've collected a whole range of baby bottle options, but if you're still uncertain about which baby bottles you'd like to try, check out the BPA-free baby bottle sampler kit offered by The Soft Landing.

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, global warming emissions, and land destruction 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 the most frightening 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 by next year. 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 Nestlé, 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.[1] And, of course, used bottles add to the solid waste stream, clogging landfills.

The nitty-gritty: Nanosilver

What we add to bottles during the production phase also poses some ecological risks. A March 2008 Friends of the Earth report found microscopic nanoparticles of silver in at least one brand of baby bottle, made by Baby Dream, Inc. The nanoparticles—which take apart and reconstruct silver at the atomic and molecular level to create new chemical characteristics—are used as a germ-killer to keep bacteria from building up in the bottles. But when products containing nanosilver are washed, tiny silver particles, sized at just billionths of a meter, end up in drain water, where they can harm aquatic organisms and inhibit the growth of beneficial bacteria that help break down harmful chemicals in wastewater treatment plants.

In May 2008, the International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA) and a coalition of consumer, health, and environmental groups petitioned the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to halt the sale of more than 200 consumer products, including household appliances, cleaning supplies, clothing, toys, personal care products, and electronics, containing silver nanoparticles. The groups are asking the EPA to treat nanosilver as a pesticide by requiring labeling, and analyzing the potential human health effects and environmental impacts on ecosystems and endangered species.

Related health issues

The health effects of nanoparticles are not yet known, but studies have shown that they may adversely affect the immune system. Preliminary studies have also shown nanoparticles to be more chemically reactive in the human body than larger particles.[2]

Glossary

  • 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.

External links

Comments

09/03/2008
10:15am
Rebecca

With so much about BPA in the news, BPA-free baby bottles are becoming available almost everywhere you shop for baby supplies. I bought my baby's Born Free bottles at Babies 'R Us and we love them. Just one tip: The kits come with #1 nipples for newborns; make sure to buy the appropriate nipple for your baby's age. We made the switch to the "pre-sippy cup" style nipples at 6 months.

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