BPA Free Plastic - Is It Safe For The Kiddos?

Today our lovely contributor, Christine Dionese, of Garden Eats is here to answer a concerned reader's very important question. There are still so many toxins in plastic that even the BPA free products aren't all that safe! Read below for details, tips and products that are safe for kids. 

Christine: Great question Meli and I can completely relate- not so long ago, my daughter was putting everything in her mouth. Awesome job avoiding BPA- it can be a real challenge looking at every label. Here’s the scoop to looking beyond BPA. 

I think by now everyone is familiar with BPA aka bispehnol-A? Crash course if not. BPA, used in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins is a known endocrine disruptor and what we refer to in medi-science speak as a xeno-estrogen or estrogen-like compound (mimics the shape and activity of estrogen in a negative way physiologically). Why is this dangerous? BPA is a known carcinogen; therefore making it an endocrine disruptor. Not only can it cause cancer, but a whole host of other not- so- lovely health concerns such as learning disorders, allergies, gynecomastia, reproductive issues, neurological disorders and most recently it has been linked to increasing obesity in children and adolescents (1)(2). Babies and young children are like little sponges (we call it tissue permeability), so they absorb these compounds very easily and quickly. 

And, don’t assume because it says “BPA-free” that it is inherently safe. While the EPA is spending millions to study BPA in plastics, it isn’t pouring even a fraction of that into non-BPA plastics. If it’s made of plastic, I suggest avoiding putting consumables in it altogether. This is why preparing food fresh from whole, non-packaged foods is so imperative. Think about it- if it goes from the ground to your kitchen and then is packaged/saved in a glass, ceramic or stainless steel container, you’ve just minimized your risk of absorbing BPA significantly. 

You asked about other compounds that may still be dangerous for your children. Look for labels to include PVC, PBDEs and phthalate free as well. 

  • PVC aka polyvinyl chloride, commonly referred to as vinyl is bad, bad, bad- another known endocrine disruptor and carcinogenic compound. PVC cannot be manufactured without the use of exceptionally harmful environmental toxins including phthalates. Phthalates, you guessed it, also known endocrine disruptors are used to make vinyl more flexible or as solvents. Phthalates have been implicated in the increase of liver cancer. 
  • PBDEs are flame retardants that are currently found in foam and plastic covered mattresses, many products that are partially plastic and foam and in notable products such as Gatorade! 

Maria Blake, senior reporter for Mother Jones does an awesome job discussing the history of BPA along with the science and politics surrounding plastics and BPA in her article, The Scary New Evidence On BPA Plastics. From my perspective because I practice environmental medicine and I have a kid, her piece brings a bit of “justice” and insider-understanding to parents who are trying to do their very best to protect their families from toxic exposure. The Environmental Working Group is my favorite, accurate go-to source for updated, easy to digest guides on avoiding environmental toxins. 

A few products we use at home you might like: 

  • Safe Sippy Canteen. A stainless steel drinking vessel for babies and children. It never rusts, is non-leaching and will last for years and years. 
  • Ecobay rice husk dinnerware. Made from rice husk, these products are durable, non-leaching and 100% biodegradable. I also feel happy letting baby chew on her spoon or cup without worrying about what’s contained within. 
  • Mi-Yum soft toys. My baby girl loves these super cute, organic soft toys. Each soft toy is made with organic cotton, low eco-impact, non-toxic dyes and plant-based fibers. 
  • Life Without Plastic. The one-stop shop for safe, high quality, ethically-sourced, Earth-friendly alternatives to plastic products for everyday life.

Some of you may be thinking, “but I’m healthy and my kids are healthy, do I really need to watch out for these issues?” If you’re not, it’s a fairly risky roll of the dice. Consider this- if you’re reading this article right now, you’re probably 25 years of age or older. That puts you in a generation where in your childhood, you were likely exposed to everything I mentioned above. Unless in the past 15 years you’ve been on the pulse of this research concerning plastics, you continued to be exposed into adulthood. Maybe even while pregnant (3). So ask yourself that question again and see if your answer makes you think about whether it’s a “real risk” or not. 

You can successfully and inexpensively make your home and lifestyle BPA, PVC, PBDE and phthalate free with a little determination and label reading.

Quick Guide:

If a plastic must be used for food and drink consumption, be sure to use the following:

  • #2 HDPE (high density polyethylene)
  • #4 LDPE (low density polyethylene)
  • 5 PP (polypropylene) recycled plastic containers

Avoid & precautions:

  • canned goods (Eden Natural Foods offers BPA free cans)
  • sippy cups made from plastic
  • dishes and utensils made from plastic
  • toys made from plastic 
  • do not microwave food in plastic {even if the food comes in plastic}- plastic heats unevenly and breaks down, releasing chemicals into your food. Cover food with a wet paper towel instead of plastic 
  • throw away or recycle old plastics, especially ones that are scratched


(1) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23348055

(2) http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1556139

(3) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18949834