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Plastic or Panic? A Busy Mom’s Guide

After reading the Atlantic article about the possibility of even BPA-free plastics being unsafe, I wanted to throw out all of the plastic in my house.  And then I realized how impractical and impossible that would be.  So, I set out on a quest to find the easiest and highest impact ways to eliminate plastic from my home.

Warning: This is a long post, but I tried to condense a lot of information here so you don’t have to hunt all over the Web for it.

Why are Plastics Worrisome?Image used under Creative Commons license. By found_drama on Flickr.

The way I see it, there are different levels of concern when it comes to the current plastic paranoia:

  1. Plastic is everywhere.  It seems safe enough to me.
  2. As long as it’s BPA-free, I’m not concerned.
  3. BPA-free or not, I’m wary of plastic.
  4. Plastic is the devil.

I’d say that I fall in category #3, and this post is written mostly for the people in that group.  I’m not a scientist, and I’m not trying to convince you that plastic is going to kill us all.  The goal of this post is to give people actionable, and hopefully easy, ways to lessen the potential negative impacts of plastic.

And what are those potential negative impacts?  Well, according to a new study, even BPA-free plastics can release chemicals with estrogenic activity.   Estrogenic activity has been linked to early puberty in girls and decreased sperm counts in men, and a whole host of other ailments.

Operation Plastic Purge

Plastics are all around us, so as to not overwhelm myself, I’m concentrating on plastics that come into contact with food and beverages.  My first few steps toward a less plastic-y existence were easy.  I threw out/recycled Nic’s plastic feeding bowls and spoons  (to be replaced by our regular china and silverware—green and frugal!), ordered some glass storage containers for the fridge and made a “no plastic in the dishwasher or microwave rule.”  I felt like I was making real headway.

The next step was to replace Nic’s sippy cups with non-plastic ones.  Here’s where I hit a wall—pretty much everything I could find had at least some plastic components.  How could I possibly figure out which plastic was ok and which wasn’t?  I almost gave up.

Truth be told, we can never know if something is 100% safe, but it turns out that there are some good resources out there for parents trying to make good decisions for their families.

“Safer” Plastic Resources

I came across two companies that are each doing two great things:  1.) Educating people about plastics and the potential dangers 2.) Providing a carefully curated selection of products that meet very stringent safety guidelines.  These companies are MightyNest and The Soft Landing.

There is a LOT of great information offered by these sources, but too much information can be overwhelming.  My goal here is to tease out the things I found most valuable and offer a thorough, but manageable, overview.

Many Types of Plastic

Who knew that there were at least seven different kinds of plastic!?  Not me!  Here’s a tip: Flip over something plastic and you’re likely to find that little recycling triangle with a number in the middle.  That number lets you know what kind of plastic makes up the item.  If there’s no number, check the manufacturer’s website or contact them for material information. (If that sounds like too much work, check out the pre-screened collections on MightyNest and The Soft Landing.)

MightyNest has an awesome guide to plastics.  Here are the big things I gleaned from this list:

  • Plastic #1: Single use only (like water bottles).  Do not reuse.
  • Plastics #2, #4 and #5: Considered “safer” plastics.  These are the best of the bunch.
  • Plastic #3 (PVC):  These plastics are pervasive and dangerous.  They can be found in soft plastic toys, squeeze bottles and shower curtains.  How to avoid these merits a whole different post.
  • Plastic #6 (Styrofoamy stuff): Avoid.
  • Plastic #7: This one’s tricky—it’s the “other” category.  It includes the bad plastic polycarbonate (which contains BPA) as well as bio-based plastics which are seen as safer.  The take home is to avoid #7s unless you know it’s not polycarbonate (a clear hard plastic, like baby bottles).

Seriously, I Have to Worry about BPA in Canned Food Too?

Yeah, I know.  Plastic really is everywhere.  It turns out that plastic, often containing BPA, is used to line cans.  Here’s a handy little wallet card that tells you which products are the worst offenders.  By the way, it’s killing me that canned soup is #2.  That’s my go-to meal on a chilly night when I can’t bring myself to cook. 

The Safest Plastic is No Plastic

Back to my idea of ridding the house of plastic!  I know it’s not possible to be plastic-free, but here are some steps that I and some other MommyBetas have taken:

  • Replaced my giant plastic hospital-issued water jug with a stainless steel straw cup.
  • Swapped standard coffee pot with a French press (heat and plastic don’t mix!).
  • Tossed the Tupperware and invested in glass storage containers.  I can’t tell you how much I love these!  This also saves me from using plastic wrap to cover leftovers.
  • Bought some tiny glass bowls with lids for packing Nic’s meals on the go.
  • Decided Nic doesn’t need baby spoons.  I’m now feeding him with the dessert spoons that came with our flatware set.  I think the soft-tip ones are necessary for starting solids, but after a year or so, a regular spoon should be just fine.
  • Rid my cooking utensil holder of plastic ladles and pancake flippers.  I have enough metal and silicon ones to do the job.
  • Breastfeed when possible.  There’s no BPA in boobies!

If Plastic is Unavoidable

Sometimes, there’s just no way around it.  Plastic is convenient and widespread, so let’s learn how to co-exist.

  • Try to only use #2, #4 and #5 (#7 is ok if it’s bio-based).
  • No microwaving, no dishwasher (and if you must, top rack only), no heat.  Heat breaks down plastic and lets it release those naughty endocrine- disrupters.   Dishwasher and microwave safe only mean that the plastic won’t melt.
  • Don’t use scratched or cloudy plastic.
  • Don’t store oily, greasy or acidic food in plastic.
  • Two plastic things that did make the cut were my Mumi&Bubi trays and my Brita pitcher.  The trays are made from #5 plastic (one of the safest) and it seems that Brita filters are relatively safe as well.  I’m still going to stick to my no dishwasher rule though.


If you’re hungry for more information, check out these sites.

So what do you think folks?  Is all this plastic hoopla a waste of time and energy, or is it worth it to make some small changes to the way we live?  Even between us MommyBetas there are some differences in opinion, so we'd love to hear your thoughts.

Reader Comments (13)

Nathalee - very nice post! It provides a ton of good information. Moving forward I will do my best to buy safer plastics or simply buys glass or stainless steel but for now I don't feel the need to rid my home of plastics. I consider myself part of the in the worrisome No. 1 and 2 group but I will certainly pay attention now to "the worst offenders." Thank you!

June 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

This is a great post. I think you'd really like the book Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood ( It's mostly about pregnancy and breastfeeding, but throughout the whole thing it discusses contaminants that get into our bodies in various ways. The way you feel about plastic I felt about basically everything in modern life after I read it! It's good to live as simply as possible. My little guy is still exclusively breastfed, but you've inspired me to make sure his eating and drinking containers and utensils are safer when he starts to use them. Thanks!

June 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmilie

Nice post Nathalee. We're with you as a number 3. I also join you in your frustration and confusion. We're making the switch from plastic to glass for food storage, but we still use "BPA free" reusable water bottles. Never with hot liquids. I'm also trying to avoid using the microwave, but my hubby is an old dog about it. I'm wondering if , during your research, did you find any information on hot water coming through PVC pipes? Breastfeed that sweet baby as long and as much as you can! I wish I had done it more. Beware of canned soups that you didn't make yourself. Most "broth" contains MSG or other glutamates which are neurotoxins. See Next can you tackle GMOs? See

June 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

Natali ,that was great story,I don't have any kids so I doubt I'll be throwing out plastics anytime soon. You should be concerned about genetic Modified foods with pesticides,all corn in the U.S. Have this.,a lot countries banned ,even India banned Genetic modified corn with pesticides. Too many people getting sick. Robert.

June 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

Great article Nat and excellent tips. I agree that it's important to point out that just because it says BPA-free does not mean it is chemical free. It has some other chemical from the Bisphenol family that hasn't been tested and could potentially be as dangerous as BPA. BPA-free is the first step to ridding plastics of chemicals but still isn't good enough. There is too much PR hype around it so people think oh, it's ok if it's bpa-free. It's not! Thanks for shedding light on the topic!

June 1, 2011 | Registered CommenterJennifer

BPA can pass into the placenta. I would be concerned that it is in breast milk as well, so watching your own plastic exposure may be prudent. (FYI , I remember reading that there are some places/cultures where it was recommended that women NOT breast feed because of all the toxins coming from the mom.)
So sad that feeding our babies is so worrisome and difficult.

June 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStaci


I too have been concerned about transferring toxins to my baby. I was pretty freaked about the coffee maker - all those toxins from the plastic going into my body/breast milk. I know I can't remove everything but working on things where I can. Also, I thought about the plastic shields with pumping breast milk but there's nothing I can do there except direct feed more.

Thanks everyone for all of the positive feedback! I really expected to get a couple of people flaming me for being paranoid, but I guess most people realize that there is some merit to limiting plastics. Hooray for rational people!

June 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathalee Ghafouri

Thanks for this - I've read so much post-baby and am trying to make good decisions - I have to say, it's not easy! I am wondering about a couple of things - sterilizing BPA-free bottles (I breastfeed and right now my little one won't take a bottle, but I'm returning to work soon and we are working on this). I have both a steam sterilizer and microwave bag sterilizer - is it not safe to use either of these to clean the bottles/nipples/pump equipment?

Also, do you know how quickly (or even if), the "bad" stuff leaves your body? Meaning, if one were to hypothetically eliminate ALL plastic from their life, how soon would the toxins leave their body and would their body eliminate all the toxins eventually?

Thank you!

June 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

Hi Julie! Those are excellent questions, and unfortunately, I don't have the answers. I'll reach out to the folks I talked to for this story and see if they have input.

June 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathalee Ghafouri

Hi Julie,

You've raised two very important questions!

1) Should you sterilize BPA-free bottles? I recommend sterilizing new bottles once before you first use them. But I suggest doing it by submerging them in a pot of boiling water for about five minutes instead of using a sterilizer (especially one that is placed in the microwave). After that, you really only need to give the bottles a good cleaning in hot, soapy water, or place them in the top rack of the dishwasher. One exception would be if ou have well water, and then repeated sterilization may be necessary. You can read more about why you shouldn't microwave or over-heat plastics at
2) How quickly does BPA leave the body? Studies show it's metabolized pretty quickly. Recently the the Breast Cancer Fund studied a family who ate only fresh food, no cans or plastic packaging for three days. The effect was shocking as their BPA levels dropped a whopping 60 percent! But the downside is that researchers just announced yesterday that our overall exposure to BPA has been underestimated. Their study results indicate BPA accumulates more rapidly within the body than previously thought, so it's very important to make an effort to avoid this endocrine disrupting chemical as much as possible. You can read more about how to get that done at

Hope that helps a little!


I couldn't take it...

After reading your post and listening to you gals talk about plastic I just ordered the little glass containers and also glass storage containers. I also ordered Reese a stainless steel sippy cup. I can't wait to throw away all of my gladware :)

It's like every time I load and unload the dishwasher I see plastics staring me in the face. I'm still using plastic bottles. I feel okay with them since they are plastic No. 5.

June 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

I was a bit alarmed after I read this post. The most alarming would be the plastic bottles at home that is frequently used by babies might be unsafe and not BPA-free. The family's safety would have to be prioritized always. Nice move by the way.

December 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbalers

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