Finding plastic alternatives is becoming more important every year. Plastic is everywhere. In the U.S. alone, there are 35.7 million tons of plastic generated annually (as of 2018). This number keeps on going up every year both in the U.S. and across the world. And there are estimates that over 50% of global production is single-use.
Plastic being everywhere wouldn't be a problem if it were recycled properly. Most of this waste ends up in landfills, the environment, and even in our drinking water. On top of this, studies have shown that plastic can be detrimental to our health. This is particularly true for infants, whose growing bodies are especially vulnerable to harmful toxins.
In this article, we are going to go over some of the most common plastic baby products on the market and offer healthy, kind alternatives. We will touch on what plastic is made of, how it harms the environment and our health, and what safe alternatives you can invest in to help protect your baby.
What is in Plastic?
Plastics are made from a wide variety of organic materials. They can be derived from coal, natural gas, salt, cellulose, and the most common form, crude oil. Crude oil plastics, or petroleum-based plastics, are made by distilling oil in an oil refinery to separate out the lighter components, which eventually become the plastic we all use today.
This means that a great deal of the plastic that holds our food, our baby's milk, or makes up our baby's toys, is made from distilled crude oil. In fact, 99% of the plastic we use today is petroleum-based, ultimately derived from a fossil-fuel stock.
What does this mean for our health, and how does this impact the environment?
The Dangers of Plastic on Our Health
Plastic exposure for both adults and infants carries a risk, a risk that has only recently been studied. For infants, this risk is doubled, as their growing bodies are more susceptible to toxins in general.
Studies have shown that exposure to plastic as babies can lead to endocrine disruption, developmental effects, impaired immunity, birth defects, and reproductive effects.
Potentially harmful chemicals end up seeping into our products from plastic packaging (this is most common with food containers, like baby bottles). On top of this, infant toys are also made of plastic, and we all know that our little ones love to chew on things as often as they can.
Because of this, babies are consistently exposed to potentially harmful chemicals, which makes finding plastic-free alternatives important.
The Dangers of Plastic on the Environment
The environment is also at risk due to inefficient waste management. Despite what a lot of people think, less than 9% of plastics are properly recycled.
With all of our plastic waste ending up in landfills, the ocean, or being burned, there is a lot that ends up in our environmental systems, including microplastics.
Microplastics are one of the more common plastic pollutants. These chemicals end up in aquatic environments where they destabilize fish populations and affect marine life. Microplastics also end up in our drinking water, according to a recent study that found microplastic contamination in tap water samples across the globe.
Common Plastic Baby Products
Now that we know the dangers that arise with plastic consumption for both our babies and the environment, it is time to look at the most common plastic baby products.
Baby bottles easily sit at number one, with toys and teething rings quickly behind. The high chair you use is also probably made of plastic. Even traditional, disposable diapers use plastic in both the items themselves and the packaging.
While plastic is traditionally a horrible environmental and health toxicant, there are ways that it can be more kindly manufactured. Eco-plastics for example are a better choice than crude oil based ones.
So, what are some of the best alternatives on the market, and what are some environmentally kind plastic options for you and your little one?
1: Glass, Silicone, or Aluminum Baby Bottles
All three options are both safe for your baby and more environmentally responsible. There are a wide variety of brands on the market, but there are a few that stand out.
The Avent Natural Glass baby bottle is ranked best for glass alternatives. The Boon Silicone Nursh is reviewed highly for silicone options. And the Pura Kiki brand is loved as an aluminum alternative.
2: Wood, Leather, and Cotton Toys
Any toys that are made with wood, leather, and cotton are generally safer for your baby (and the environment). This doesn't mean that all toys are an immediate go, however! Make sure to get wood that isn't treated with toxic chemicals and cotton that is organic and responsibly sourced to be as kind possible.
Camden Rose is a great alternative baby brand for wood toys. They also include cotton fruit sets and other cloth toys so you aren't limited solely to wood options.
As previously mentioned, environmentally kind plastics do exist, and these can be common in the toy market. Green Toys is a well-reviewed toy company that uses 100% recycled plastic that is free of BPAs (the potentially harmful chemical that poses a risk to a baby's health). Since cotton toys can get very dirty due to your infant constantly taste testing them, a kind plastic alternative might be a better option for some families.
3: At-Home Teether or Rubber/Cloth Alternative
Teething is an especially important time in an infant's life. They need access to something to chew on to help alleviate the pain.
One thing you can do to save money and the environment is to make a teether at home. Wet a washcloth and use this as a teething toy. You can also use fruit that's cut up into chunks and put it in a silicone mesh feeder.
If making your own at-home teether doesn't work, we love this kind teething option made from Hevea tree rubber, which is both environmentally responsible and incredible for your baby.
4: DYPER Diapers
Diapers made with plant-based materials. Their diapers are made without harmful chemicals or potential irritants such as natural rubber latex, alcohol, perfumes, PVC, lotions, TBT, or Phthalates. DYPER diapers are also independently tested and certified Standard 100 by OEKO TEX®, a leading Swiss certification body, and achieved the coveted 5-star rating by DermaTest®. Choose to use their REDYPER™ system, and they'll take your diapers, compost them, and even purchase carbon offsets for you.
5: High Chair Made with Wood
A lot of high chairs have the tray made with plastic or even the entire chair made with plastic. It will be hard to find a high chair that is entirely free of this material, but the ones that are environmentally-friendly and safe for your baby use BPA-free plastic.
The chair with a consistently high rating is the Stokke Tripp Trapp high chair. The base is made entirely out of Rosewood with a water-based finish. The plastic tray is BPA and phthalate-free, and the strap/tray accessories come separate so the chair can grow with your baby.
6: Baby Food in Glass Jars
Once your little one grows out of milk and into solid foods, it is important to start looking at how that food is packaged and where it comes from.
A lot of kind, organic baby food brands package their product in plastic. While the contents are safe and healthy for your baby, the packaging is not. The prevalence of environmentally kind baby food being packaged in plastic pouches or containers is unfortunate, but there are plastic-free alternatives.
Yumi and Earth's Best Organics are the most popular brands that still use glass jars and keep the product itself safe and kind.
Avoid Plastic as Much as Possible
All in all, avoid plastic as much as possible. When you have to use it, make sure it is a BPA-free alternative, and try to ensure it is made from recycled materials.
Our overuse of this material is damaging both the environment and our health, so it is important to avoid it as much for our own sake and the sake of the environment.
Support companies that are making a difference by purchasing their plastic-free alternatives. There are a plethora of options on the market, and your baby will thank you for it.