PLASTICS/BPA: Safe to use? baby bottles, sippy cups, plastic wrap, Tupperware, melamine?

Updated May 13, 2008, Updated May 21, 2008, Update December 6, 2008

It seems like everybody is just confused about plastics for formula, breast milk, and food storage.  PVC, phthalates, BPA – what the heck should you use?  And how do you figure it out?  I’ve gotten tons of questions – is melamine safe to use?  Can you use cling type wraps?  What about Tupperware?  Which baby bottles are safe?  Can I use the Beaba Babycook?

You don’t want phthalates in your food.  Phthalates leach from polyvinyl chloride.  You don’t want bisphenol A in your food.  BPA leaches from polycarbonate plastic (and also the epoxy resins used to line virtually all canned food and beverages).  But what is safe to use? 

First – a plastic primer.  The resin identification codes are #1 through #7.  Not all products have the resin identification code (often referred to as the recycling symbol).  Why?  Because it is used primarily on disposable and single use items – those items intended to be recycled.  And, just keep in mind that it is an identification code to make sorting plastic easier – just because there is an identification code on your plastic does not mean that your jurisdiction actually will recycle it.

Recycling Logos

Okay, so the plastic resin identification codes are: 

#1 is polyethylene terephthalate.  Considered a safer plastic, although some reports of leaching antimony after long storage.  And, although the word “phthalate” appears in the name, this plastic is NOT know for leaching the phthalates used as plasticizers in PVC.

#2 is high density polyethylene.

#3 is Polyvinyl chloride (PVC).  Avoid.

#4 is low density polyethylene.

#5 is polypropylene.

#6 is polystyrene.  Avoid.

#7 is other (not one of #1 – #6).  Often polycarbonate, although also includes the new bioplastics.  Avoid polycarbonate.

 Here are Smart Mama’s Simple Steps for most common items.

For baby bottles, skip polycarbonate plastic to avoid leaching of bisphenol A (BPA).  Here are some options

For sippy cups, skip polycarbonate plastic to avoid leaching of bisphenol A (BPA).  Here are some options.

For pacifiers, use silicone or natural rubber.  Keep in mind that the guard may be made of polycarbonate plastic.  Exposure to BPA from the guard is probably a lower risk than exposure from food storage containers since the baby’s mouth may not touch it, or may not touch it that much.  However, there is probably some leaching from the guard through saliva contact.  There are options if you want to avoid BPA-containing plastic pacifier guards altogether.

For sandwich bags, most of them are low density polyethyelene (LDPE – #4) and considered to be made from a “safer” plastic.  However, they are not as eco-friendly as using a re-usable container (such as stainless steel) or using butcher paper.

For plastic wraps, some are made of PVC (#3).  If they are made of PVC, they may leach phthalates.  However, many plastic wraps intended for in home use on the market today are not made of PVC.  Glad Cling Wrap, Handi-Wrap and Saran Premium Wrap are not made of PVC but are made of low density polyethylene (LDPE).  It is my understanding that you are likely to find PVC containing plastic wraps in discount, no name wraps and commercial wraps. 

Tupperware, Rubbermaid and others have some products that are polycarbonate and many that are not.  Tupperware’s list of of its products and the plastics from which they are made can be found here.  Rubbermaid has a list of products that contain BPA and those that do not contain BPA with pictures so that it is easy to use.  However, for food storage, it would be best to switch to glass or ceramic.  If you use glass, keep in mind that some of the painted on decals can have lead, and if you use ceramic, make sure it is free of lead.

What about the so called safer plastic, polypropylene (#5)? Recent news reports stated that #5 plastic may leach potentially harmful chemicals.  A team of researchers found that quaternary ammonium biocides and oleamide were leaching for #5 plastic and interfering with their experiments.  The results are preliminary – the researchers weren’t studying leaching but discovered the leaching inadvertently.  Further testing will have to verify the results.

Is melamine safe?  It appears to be.  The melamine used in dinnerware is made from melamine being combined with formaldehyde to produce melamine resin.  It is a very durable thermoset plastic.  However, there are studies showing leaching of formaldehyde and melamine at extremely low levels.  However, if you are trying to exposure to chemicals, you may also want to skip melamine.  Also, some decals used have been found to have lead and cadmium present.  Also, keep in mind that the issue with melamine in milk products such as infant formula and pet food involved the ingestion of granular melamine.

What about the 5 gallon water bottles, such as for Arrowhead water?  They are typically polycarbonate plastic.  You might want to choose another option for water, such as glass.

What about the Beaba Babycook?  After many emails, we have confirmation from the manufacturer that the Beaba Babycook is NOT made of polycarbonate plastic.

Finally, a personal note, I’ve switched to undecorated glass and stainless steel as much as I can.  As I replace broken or lost items, I’m buying glass and stainless steel because I’m trying to reduce our plastic consumption and because, well, I’m not so sure there really is a “safer” plastic.


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