Much ado about chemicals
March 07, 2011

Donald and I have been trying for quite some time to cut down on the number of plastics and various chemicals in our home.  People invariably raise their eyebrows at us when we mention this, and I always say the same thing.  I say, LOOK, we aren’t really worried about the chemicals in that Tupperware we just packed tonight’s leftovers into.  We’re worried about the chemicals in that Tupperware PLUS the chemicals in the little poop baggie at the dog park PLUS the chemicals on Charlotte’s plastic bus toy PLUS the chemicals in dish soap PLUS the chemicals in baby shampoo PLUS the pesticides on grocery apples AND so on and so forth.

Last week, NPR had a discussion on “All Things Considered” about plastics and the leaching of estrogenic chemicals.  It made me feel overwhelmed, the sort of overwhelmed that takes a few days to recover from, and we spent the weekend focusing on very simple chemical-free activities as a result.  Activities like walking the pup to the grandparents’ house.

Shortly after I gave birth to Charlotte, I read Christopher Gavigan’s Healthy Child, Healthy World.  The book, like the non-profit it is associated with (also called Healthy Child Healthy World), is about everyday toxins and what we can do to eliminate them from our children’s lives.  Although very little of the book was news to me, pulling all of the information together into one set of pages completely revolutionized the way that I view parenthood and the way that I parent.  More than that, it inspired me to make small differences in our family’s life (i.e. sweeping more frequently to cut down on lead dust in the house) that ultimately could make big differences in Charlotte’s long-term health and development.

Donald and I made the decision to cut back on plastics in our lives a couple years ago and at the time our choice was largely governed by a sense of environmental stewardship.  We have been slowly working toward the ultimate goal of living a plastic-free life ever since, but now our primary reason for doing so is more closely related to a desire to provide our child with the healthiest upbringing we can than it is an interest in promoting ocean health.

Every time I come in contact with new studies or information about plastics and chemicals and how they may or may not effect the body and what the impact may or may not be on the environment…the first thing I think is WHEN WILL THIS END?  When will I be able to walk along the tidepools without filling a trash bin with old bleach bottles and straws and juice boxes?  When will I be able to borrow a friend’s sunblock without wondering if the chemicals therein will increase my child’s odds of developing skin cancer?  When will I be able to pick up a newspaper without a single article about plastics negatively affecting the environment or human health?  When will I be able to eat food at someone’s house without wondering if the additives or pesticides in those foods that I don’t know very much about will end up in my milk, and then in my child’s bloodstream, and then in the milk she gives her babies a couple decades from now?

When will I be able to go into a toystore and find a toy that doesn’t outgas, that doesn’t harm, that doesn’t leach estrogenic anything?

Do you worry about chemicals and plastics?  How do you maintain a balance between your concerns and what you can reasonably eliminate from your life?

My Plastic-Free Life | 5 Easy Steps | Californians Against Waste | Think Beyond Plastics


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  1. By Leslie Crane on March 07, 2011

    I just read an article online about the estrogen-like chemicals leaking from plastics the other day and this has been heavily on my mind as well. I TRY to be conscientious about my consumption in general, with plastics at the top of my list of things I try to cut back on. I use cloth diapers, I use cloth shopping bags I buy few plastic toys,I just bought a beco-potty that you can plant inthe garden after potty training is complete etc. As far as the baby items go, I bought BPA free BUT, I had a feeling that BPA wasn’t the only issue and I handwash his dishes and cups and don’t put them in the microwave. I just try to do the best I can and limit, like you, the overall exposure. Honestly though, I sometimes can’t think about it because it is very overwhelming and I feel hopeless at times. I just try to remind myself of this quote by Margaret Mead that hung on my fridge while I was growing up: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.“
    In fact I think that quote will be my blog post today!

  2. By Leslie Crane on March 07, 2011

    And P.S. Keep up the good work sister, you are changing the world every day with your blog even if you can’t see it !!!

  3. By Stephanie @ Confessions of a Trophy Wife on March 07, 2011

    Oh gosh, I could have written this post!  Well… probably not as eloquently, but you’ve pretty much nailed my thoughts exactly!

    I’m definitely the kind of person who could go off the deep end and probably wouldn’t be happy unless I was living in a cave off the grid or something, but in the real world I try to remind myself that I’m doing the best I can.  We eliminate and avoid chemicals as best we can in the food we buy, the cleaning products we use, the water we drink, and the products that we use on our skin (especially for our 1yo son), but I can’t worry about what chemicals are coming out of our couch every time we sit on it, or our mattresses, or our carpet.  It’s just not in our reality to replace all these things right now.

    So, although I know that our quickly growing son is still exposed to lots of nasty things I try to take comfort in the fact that we’re at least reducing that load where we can.  It has to count for something, right?

  4. By on March 07, 2011

    I agree with the others. I can’t think about it too much or my heart starts to pound and I wish that I still had a prescription for Xanax—and that’s not good for anybody, is it?

    We might not be able to eliminate all the chemicals, but doing something is better than nothing.

    This is terrible, but when I think about how we just ate some non-organic strawberries at a friend’s house, I remind myself of all the people in the country who are eating non-organic every day. At least we’re ingesting fewer pesticides than they are!

    It would be even better if the norm were for all strawberries to be grown without pesticides, so I figure that when I buy organic, I am voting for organic farming with my dollars.

    Now I just need to get my strawberry plants in the pot so I can grow my own!

  5. By Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama on March 07, 2011

    I can soooo identify with you! I try to make small choices that will keep our family safe as much as possible, but when I let myself think about the big picture, or when I read something new about this topic, I feel soooo overwhelmed and anxious. I know we just have to do the best we can without it infringing on our happiness or quality of life, but sometimes it REALLY freaks me out. Thanks for this post!

  6. By Sara on March 07, 2011

    I completely agree with you!  Five years ago, my family made the decision to eliminate household chemicals - and we’ve never felt BETTER about that decision.  We shop online at a wellness company that does TONS of research on every single ingrediant - and we know we’re getting the best for us.  My kids simply don’t get sick - and I have four!  (Yes, two of them are school - two are still at home with me.)  I’m so thankful for the knowledge provided to me to make the difference for our family.  Yes, it may be awhile until I see clean beaches - but like you said, we’re making this decision, ultimately, for our health - and that works for us!

  7. By Mary @ Parenthood on March 07, 2011

    What do you put your leftovers into?

  8. By Sarah Christensen on March 07, 2011

    Mary - Mostly we use glass or earthware dishes to store leftovers, but we do also have some plastic storage containers that were given to us when we got married.  We’ve been slowly replacing them all.

  9. By Jessika on March 07, 2011

    By the way—bed bath and beyond carries these great containers for leftovers. The bowl/body part is this really sturdy glass. The tops are plastic, but none of it actually touches the food (unless you wayy overfill the bowls). They are so easy to use, do not warp, and are VERY sturdy. Plus: They’re glass!  They’re a bit more expensive than plastic storage containers, but they last a ton longer. I can’t recommend them enough. I tried other places’ glass bowls (Crate and Barrel’s broke FAST), and these are the best ones. Had them for 2 years and not one has broken.

  10. By on March 08, 2011

    you’re smart to worry.  as someone who was diagnosed with breast cancer 6 months ago at age 35, with no family history, i have to think that the chemicals in our environment are the cause.  eliminate what you can, i know i am!!!

  11. By on March 08, 2011

    We also received a ton of Tupperware when we got married. Since we just bought our first house and moved, I thought this was the perfect time to toss most of the plastic stuff. Hubby thinks I’m a little nuts, but it’s studies like the ones you mentioned that make me nutty. Plus it’s the adorable 15 month old girl asleep right now that forces me to read those studies. :-)

  12. By on March 09, 2011

    This is something that is always on my brain as well, and this may finally be the motivation I need to do something about it!

    I’ve got some Pyrex dishes with plastic lids that are pretty good all-purpose storage and can go from freezer to fridge to microwave, and I find it fairly easy to avoid plastic around food for the adults, but I’m always afraid my 10-month-old is going to throw a glass or ceramic dish off the table.

    My question is this: do any of you have any recommendations for baby/toddler feeding products that aren’t plastic and aren’t just glass/breakable (eg, sippy cups, plates/bowls, baby food storage, spoons that are baby-gum-friendly, etc)? Do these things exist? I’m in the UK but am American so luckily have access to both American and European companies.

  13. By Sarah Christensen on March 09, 2011

    Sarah - We have the Pyrex dishes with plastic lids too.  I love them!

    We have found a variety of baby-friendly utensils and have been replacing our plastic ones with them slowly but surely.

    Sippy cups: there are stainless steel sippy cups made by Klean Kanteen, Eco Vessel, Thermos, KidBasix, and a few others.  We use this one: http://www.kid-basix.com/  We only have two in use in our home right now and honestly I think the ideal number is probably three or four, but two works if we stay on top of the dishes.  The only problem we’ve encountered with stainless steel sippy cups is that they’re a little heavier than plastic ones.  Charlotte learned very quickly not to drop it on her toes or swing it around where it could hit her face.  My only complaint about KidBasix is that the spout is at an angle.  It’s a totally useless feature because kids don’t understand that it will be easier to sip from one direction than from the other - and the spout is in the middle of the cap so there’s nothing sort of directing her use.  It isn’t a problem anymore but when she was first learning how to use it, she’d get frustrated when she couldn’t figure it out right away because it was upside down.

    Diningware: Tiny Birds Organics makes wood bowls and utensils.  Munchkin also makes a wood feeding set - we have their set of wood spoons.  ThinkBaby and Lunchbots both make stainless steel diningware, incuding bowls, lunch canisters, and mugs - and those Lunchbots are great for storage, they operate alot like the Pyrex do.  Zwilling J.A. Henckels makes stainless steel utensils - my sister bought a set for Charlotte that we love.  It has two spoons which is perfect, and I love that the little fork is so much easier for her to use than the little wood forks we’ve found, but we don’t have much use for the knife yet.  At this point, we lean more towards the stainless steel stuff simply because we don’t always wash dishes immediately and it’s a bitch to get some hardened foods off wood.  It’s also a pain to accidentally waterlog a wood piece and then need to sand out splinters, BUT the wood spoons are probably more baby-gum friendly honestly.

  14. By on March 09, 2011

    1. My son prefers to drink out of an adult cup over a sippy cup of any sort. This is not to say we give him one on car rides and stuff, but if we’re around the house he’s usually drinking out of a glass. That being said, I’m a pretty relaxed parent when it comes to things like that.

    2. We got one of those huge utensil sets as a wedding gift that had everything from serving spoons, to butter knifes and even had cocktail forks. Jude loves using the cocktail forks… they’re just like ours, but smaller - and doesn’t require purchasing specialty items that he’ll eventually outgrow (and quite frankly, makes use of something that otherwise would collect dust).

  15. By on March 11, 2011

    Thanks! All very helpful. I found a few things on a website called babyearth that might be interesting to try, specifically utensils, plates, and bowls made from corn. Definitely a better use of corn than HFCS… :)


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