Q&A: BPA and Plastics

  • August 8, 2012 8:18 am

Question:

Alexandra,
A friend just sent me a video of you talking about safety concerns about plastics and children. My wife and I are brand new parents. Our twins were born 6 weeks ago. We are using the Dr. Browns BPA-free bottles. My concern is we’ve been washing them in the dishwasher. I’m wondering about the possibility of substances (other than BPA) in the plastic leaching into the milk due to the heat in the dishwasher. Do you have any info on this? Where do you find your information? We’ve been reading a lot but haven’t seen any studies on possible dangers of BPA free plastics that are exposed to high temperatures. Do you think I should switch to glass or just start hand washing the plastic bottles I’ve got. Thanks for your help.

Best,
David

Answer:

Hi David,

Congrats on your new additions.

Watching that video of me talking about plastic, it should come as no surprise that I’m deeply wary of plastic for both environmental and health reasons and therefore fond of both shatterproof glass and/or stainless steel–especially for the early years and developmental moments. All plastics degrade when exposed to high temperatures. While the safety research has mainly been on BPA (plastic #7) and PVC/Vinyl (plastic #3), there are studies that have been done on what comes out of even the plastics that are considered safe by the scientific community, especially #1. Since you’re contending with twins, you might not be aware that the FDA recently finally banned BPA from baby bottles, though not from any other infant products (which is frustrating). There is no word on what manufacturers are supposed to be replacing BPA with, and if these chemicals are any safer than their banned predecessors. More reasons to avoid plastic….

Though there are great resources (like The Environmental Working Group) to turn to for information on plastic, staying on top of  the latest plastic safety details can be a full time job. This is another reason I prefer glass and stainless steel. You don’t have to keep on top of their safety.

Another bonus: If you are too tired to wash everything by hand, glass and stainless are your friends; both are fine in dishwasher. Keep in mind that any/all plastic you use should only ever go on the top rack of the dishwasher if you can’t hand wash.

Bottle issue solved, now get some sleep!

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: Breastfeeding vs. Formula

  • January 19, 2012 8:28 am

THE QUESTION:
Hello,

My name is Helene…I wanted to have your opinion on my little issue. I just had my 3rd baby, a little boy, Alexander. Like you, I believe in a sustainable and green way of life. I have been breastfeeding all my babies but this time I’m very tired and I feel my husband wants me to start the formula. I don’t know what to do because even the organic formulas are not a prefect solution. I have read that most of the toxic products come from the can that contains the milk.
Do you have an opinion on this matter ?

Have a nice day and thank you in advance for any piece of advice you can give me.

Helene

THE ANSWER:

Helene,

Sorry for the delay in responding. I know how hard these early weeks can be. I hope you’re managing to get some rest.

Since you–like me–are so devoted to breastfeeding, are there other things you can do to make you less tired? A lactation consultant can help you get your son on a schedule that might give you some time, and help you figure out when to pump so your concerned husband, babysitter, or even older children can help you feed the baby while you get some rest. Can you hire a babysitter to help out a few hours so you can have time to yourself and to rest? These are the things I would try before heading over to formula. At this point–last time I checked–even the staid old American Academy of Pediatrics suggests breastfeeding for a full year (and introducing solids at six months). Here’s a quote from a report they did in 2005: “Exclusive breastfeeding has been shown to provide improved protection against many diseases and to increase the likelihood of continued breastfeeding for at least the first year of life.”

If you are going to introduce formula, can you continue to breastfeed some? Organic formula is absolutely preferable to conventional–especially when it comes to genetically modified ingredients. I think choosing organic and reading ingredients is at least as important as the can linings, which can contain the hormone disrupting chemical BPA. One way to minimize the contents of the can’s lining getting into the formula is to use powdered over liquid. BPA can still be found in the linings of cans containing powdered formula, but the Environmental Working Group says powder is a better choice.

It’s important to consider the water you will mix with the formula. I prefer filtered for so many reasons, including that it helps minimize exposure to excess fluoride in the water, which can lead to dental fluorosis. The CDC says you can use bottled water for this purpose, but  that involves a lot of wasteful plastic bottles, on top of the formula containers.

I hope this helps and that you find your groove and get some rest. I know it was a long time after my daughter was born that I finally got some! This too shall pass.

Best,
Alexandra

Q&A: Safe Ice Cube Trays

  • December 1, 2011 2:27 pm

THE QUESTION

Hi Alexandra,

My question is –  I wanted to get metal ice cube trays, the kind with a lever so you can easily get the cubes out (we don’t have an ice maker).  Online, I’ve found aluminum ones for $7 and stainless steel “BPA free” ones for $30.  Is aluminum bad for you?  Does it have BPA  in it?  Inquiring minds want to know.
Thanks,

Matt

THE ANSWER

Hi Matt,

A perfect question just in time for holiday cocktail season! And what a great idea to avoid plastic.

There should be no bisphenol-A in unlined aluminum ice cube trays (there has been, however, BPA in epoxy linings of aluminum reusable water bottles — the company SIGG got in hot water over this a few summers ago and has since changed the lining they use to something else that is also proprietary, if I’m remembering correctly).

The issues with aluminum are that it isn’t durable, it’s not great environmentally as it is energy intensive to extract from the earth (though the components of stainless steel aren’t exactly energy neutral either), and there have been lingering concerns over the years–largely unsubstantiated but enough to warrant multiple studies–re links to Alzhiemer’s disease.

The long and the short of it is that I prefer stainless. The price evens out as you will probably have to buy five rounds of aluminum trays before your stainless shows any wear and tear. I’m not sure if aluminum is recyclable where you live, but that’s also something to consider. Stainless also goes easily into the dishwasher without any rusting (a big issue with flimsier aluminum). What else can I say? I’m big on the Precautionary Principle — if the risks of aluminum are unsubstantiated, what’s 23 bucks to err on the side of caution? Stainless steel is considered very safe and won’t leach chemicals into your ice.

Hope this helps. And cheers!
Best,

Alexandra

What You Don’t Know: What My Editorial Assistant Didn’t Know

  • May 24, 2011 9:46 am

This week I asked my editorial assistant (sounds much better than intern, no?) Glenny Cameron if she’d mind sharing what she has learned/what she didn’t know before starting to work with me a month or so ago–if anything. Needless to say I’m extremely touched by what she wrote. She’s amazing. Seriously, this is an inspiring must-read. Thanks, Glenny. Have anything to add to her thoughts? So curious!

—-

Before working with Alexandra I considered myself a very environmentally aware person.  I buy organic, I shop locally, I reuse plastic bags and refuse to buy bottled water.  Fortunately (and unsurprisingly), there are loads and loads of things to learn about the sustainable lifestyle, and I thank Alexandra for engaging me in them.  There is always more that can be done, more of the world to save.  So, here are the top five things I’ve learned in the past few months, complete with excerpts from The Conscious Kitchen and Planet Home.  Some are small and silly, but we all have to start somewhere, right?

1. Bananas.

I love bananas.  They are now a guilty pleasure.  Enough said.

There are a number of items in your fruit bowl (and in your cabinets – see chapter seven) that might be certified organic but fall into the realm of still not being great to buy.  In this realm, no exotic is more widely available, or controversial, than the banana.  The ubiquitous yellow fruit is nature’s perfect answer to packaged goods – every parent’s nutrient-dense dream snack.  Yet, it’s a deeply flawed food.  Its pretty much the poster fruit for how confusing trying to eat consciously can be.  Bananas are grown very far away, are environmentally destructive, are often harvested under conditions unfair to laborers, and the variety we all eat will apparently be extinct in the not-so-distant future.  The greenest and most environmentally devoted eaters around don’t eat bananas, or refer to them as a guilty pleasure…Americans eat as many bananas as apples and oranges combined.  Food for thought.

2. Organic cotton.

This is a difficult topic because most of my clothes are not made with organic cotton.  The main reason is that organic cotton can be very expensive and I am at times, very poor.  Another reason is that most of my clothes shopping is done in secondhand or vintage stores, where you will rarely find organic goods.  [Note from Alexandra: Secondhand is better than newly manufactured organic cotton items. Go Glenny!] After learning that cotton is the most heavily sprayed crop in the world (accounting for 25% of annual insecticide use globally!) I made a conscious decision to switch to organic cotton whenever possible.  This meant buying new sheets, towels, and looking into organic cotton alternatives for the clothes I buy new (socks, underwear, etc.).  Although I haven’t completely revamped my wardrobe, I now sleep soundly in my organic bed.  [Another note from Alexandra: Awesome!!] Check out ecochoices.com for more information on worldwide cotton production.

3. Plastic.

I know that all of the nasty chemicals that are found in plastics aren’t news to anyone reading this site.  They weren’t to me either, but I needed a push to start actively avoiding them in my life.

BPA – a hormone disrupter (it mimics estrogen) that has the FDA, Health Canada, and the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program, among other entities, in a tizzy, and parents and hikers across the nation switching their baby and water bottles to BPA-free versions.  Manufacturers have taken consumer temperature and are busily marketing “safe” plastic products.  Unfortunately, some of the resulting BPA-free items contain other chemicals that are new to this arena and haven’t exactly stood the test of time.

Phthalates – this family of chemicals, which make plastic flexible (among many other things), are endocrine disrupters and reproductive toxicants.  The are currently being voluntarily removed or banned from everything from nail polish to neonatal tubing to toys.  They’re less ubiquitous in a kitchen than BPA but are likely found in certain plastics (like meat and cheese wrappings) as well as PVC (vinyl) flooring and even in cleaning-product fragrance.

Sure, I use (organic) cotton totes and only use my plastic bags for my garbage can, but I when I looked in my cupboards I was ashamed to realize how much food was stored in plastic containers.  My cereal and pastas were in plastic bags and my fridge was filled with leftovers in plastic tupperware!  What was I thinking?  So I threw it all out and bought loads of canning jars to use as storage instead.  I even moved my spices.  It was easy! [Yet another note from Alexandra: Nice! Love this!]

4. DIY cleaning.

I must confess, I have a fairly high tolerance for dirt and dust and have never lived in a sterile environment.  Perhaps it’s leftover from growing up in the country, in a house where the windows were always open and pets of all kinds were rampant.  I truly believe this is why my brother and I have incredible immune systems.

That said, most of my cleaning was done with minimal products, usually just water.  On the occasion when I was inspired enough to actually use some disinfectant, I turned to the all-natural brands like Seventh Generation or Ecover.  Fortunately, Alexandra’s tips on DIY cleaning have buffered my “do less” attitude toward cleaning while still keeping my apartment germ free.  I’ve even passed these tips on to my mother, who I can thank for fostering my housekeeping habits (or lack thereof).

DIY Cleaners

-Soap plus water equals mopping solution.

-Soap plus baking soda and a drop or two of water equals excellent mildly abrasive paste.  Extras to mix in include lemon, natural essential oils, or even hydrogen peroxide.

-Water plus vinegar equals glass cleaner.

5. Unplug.

Living alone and living simply means that I have few appliances.  I don’t own a coffee maker or a desktop computer.  My TV is rarely used.  But, for the gadgets I do use – lights, clocks, speakers – I never thought to unplug them when not in use.  I admit, my cell phone charger was usually plugged in until reading Planet Home.

Appliances use energy even when turned off.  Pull plugs out of the wall to stop energy draw.  Alternatively, plug them all into a power strip and turn the strip off when not in use, as well as overnight.

A very simple step towards greening your life.