Creating a Plastic-Free Environment for Children: A Holistic Approach to Health

Plastic is convenient, there’s no doubt about that. From easy to heat up containers to cups and dishes that won’t break, plastic has made our lives easier. But has it really made our lives better or healthier? Plastic usage definitely comes with its health risk for adults and especially children. Their still growing and developing bodies are much more susceptible to the chemicals in so many of our everyday plastic products.  

Plastic bottle on the sand at the beach, illustrating the environmental impact of plastic pollution

Like many of you, I’m still navigating this plastic-free path. I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% plastic free because that’s just not realistic or possible but I’ve made significant progress along the way.

One of the first steps I took was switching all our water bottles and cups to stainless steel or glass. It was a small change, but it made a big impact since that’s what we used the most. I also stopped using plastic wrap and plastic disposable sandwich bags. Ditching these plastic items not only eliminated our reliance on single-use plastic, but it also ensured that my family were not exposed to the harmful chemicals that can leach from plastic containers.

I have to admit that I’m still a work in progress when it comes to certain areas, such as food containers. It’s a gradual process, and I’ve been gradually replacing our plastic food storage containers with safer alternatives like glass. It’s not always easy, but every swap brings me closer to my goal of minimizing plastic exposure for my child.

Food in plastic containers, highlighting the potential risks of plastic use in food storage

Health Effects of Plastics on Children

Hormonal Disruption

Certain plastics contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can interfere with the normal functioning of hormones in children. These chemicals, such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, mimic or block the actions of hormones, potentially affecting their growth and development. It’s crucial to be mindful of the types of plastics used for food containers, bottles, and other items that come into contact with our children.

Respiratory Issues 

Plastic particles, often present in the air due to plastic degradation and waste, can be inhaled by children. These tiny particles may irritate the respiratory system and contribute to the development or exacerbation of respiratory problems such as asthma and allergies. Indoor environments with poor ventilation or high plastic content can be particularly problematic.

Neurological Impact 

Emerging studies suggest a concerning link between plastic exposure and neurological disorders in children. Exposure to certain chemicals found in plastics, such as phthalates and flame retardants, has been associated with an increased risk of neurodevelopmental disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and cognitive impairments. Minimizing children’s exposure to these harmful substances becomes paramount for their neurological well-being.

Obesity and Metabolic Disorders 

Research is shedding light on the potential link between certain chemicals found in plastics and an increased risk of obesity and metabolic disorders in children. These obesogens can disrupt the endocrine system and interfere with metabolism and body weight regulation. By reducing exposure to plastic chemicals, we can create a healthier environment for our children’s metabolic health.

Immune System Suppression

Some plastic chemicals, including phthalates and bisphenols, may have immunotoxic effects on children. Prolonged exposure to these substances can weaken the immune system, making children more susceptible to infections, illnesses, and immune-related disorders. Minimizing contact with plastic items containing these chemicals is crucial for maintaining a robust immune system.

Strawberries in plastic containers, illustrating the common use of plastic packaging for fresh produce

Developmental Delays

Plastic toxins have the potential to hinder children’s development, affecting various aspects such as motor skills, cognition, and speech. The endocrine-disrupting properties of certain plastic chemicals can interfere with the intricate processes of child development, emphasizing the importance of reducing plastic exposure during critical developmental stages.

Cancer Risk 

While more research is needed to establish definitive links, some studies suggest a potential association between plastic exposure and an increased risk of certain cancers in children. Chemicals such as BPA and phthalates have been identified as potential carcinogens or tumor promoters. Limiting exposure to plastics that contain these chemicals is a proactive step towards reducing the potential cancer risks for our children.

Chemicals Found in Plastics

Plastics, those seemingly harmless materials that surround us, are composed of a multitude of chemicals. Now that I shared some of the potential health implications of plastics here are some commonly found chemicals in plastics and their associated risks:

Bisphenol A (BPA)

This is the most commonly known chemical found in certain plastics. BPA is a known endocrine disruptor that can mimic estrogen in the body. Exposure to BPA has been linked to hormonal imbalances, reproductive issues, developmental problems, and an increased risk of certain cancers. It is essential to be cautious with products such as water bottles, food containers, and dental sealants that may contain BPA.

Phthalates 

These chemicals are used to make plastics more flexible and can be found in vinyl products, such as shower curtains, plastic toys, and even some medical devices. Phthalates have been associated with disruptions in hormonal balance, potentially affecting the development of reproductive organs and leading to long-term health risks. Minimizing exposure to phthalates is especially important for infants and young children, as they are more vulnerable to these chemicals’ effects.

Crinkled store receipt, highlighting the presence of bisphenol compounds and potential plastic exposure

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

PVC, commonly known as vinyl, is prevalent in various applications, including plastic pipes, toys, and packaging materials. The concern lies in the harmful additives, such as phthalates and lead, that are used to stabilize and soften PVC. Over time, these additives can leach out of the plastic and contaminate the surrounding environment, posing risks to children’s health. Choosing PVC-free alternatives can help reduce exposure to these harmful additives.

Polystyrene (Styrofoam)

Styrofoam, a widely used plastic foam, is known for its insulating properties. However, when heated, it can release toxic chemicals, including styrene, which has been classified as a possible human carcinogen. Avoiding the use of polystyrene containers for hot food or beverages is crucial, as the heat can accelerate the release of harmful chemicals.

By familiarizing ourselves with these chemicals commonly found in plastics, we can make informed choices to protect our children’s health. Opting for products that are labeled as BPA-free and phthalate-free can significantly reduce their exposure to these potentially harmful substances. Using other materials like glass, stainless steel, or bamboo can provide safer options for our children’s everyday use.

Glass jar with rice on a counter, showcasing eco-friendly food storage alternatives

Sources of Plastic Exposure for Children

Children have plastic exposure from various sources on a daily basis, making it crucial to identify these avenues and take steps to minimize their impact. Keyword here is minimize, not 100% eliminate because that’s just not possible. Here are five common sources of plastic exposure that children often encounter and you can slowly work on swapping for non-plastic alternatives. 

Food and Beverage Containers

Plastic food containers, water bottles, and even microwave-safe dishes can pose risks when it comes to chemical leaching. Particularly when exposed to heat or used for hot liquids, plastic containers may release harmful substances into the food or beverage they hold. To reduce exposure, consider using glass or stainless steel containers for storing and heating food and opt for BPA-free and phthalate-free alternatives whenever possible.

Plastic Toys and Teethers

Children love exploring the world through touch and taste, and plastic toys and teethers are often part of their daily interactions. However, these items can increase the risk of chemical ingestion or absorption through the mouth. Choosing toys and teethers made from natural materials, such as wood or silicone, can be a safer alternative to minimize plastic exposure during this developmental stage.

Personal Care Products

Many personal care products that we use daily, such as shampoo bottles, toothbrushes, and bath toys, are packaged in plastic. Opting for natural and organic alternatives packaged in glass or eco-friendly materials can help reduce their exposure to plastic chemicals.

Dust and Indoor Air

Plastic particles can accumulate as dust in our homes, settling on various surfaces and becoming airborne. These particles can be inhaled or ingested by children. Regular dusting, vacuuming with HEPA filters, and maintaining good indoor ventilation can help reduce the presence of plastic particles in the air and minimize children’s exposure.

Store Receipts

Surprisingly, even something as seemingly innocuous as store receipts can contribute to children’s plastic exposure. Thermal paper, commonly used for printing receipts, is coated with bisphenol compounds, including BPA. When handling these receipts, the chemicals can transfer onto hands and subsequently be ingested if children touch their mouths or handle food without washing their hands afterward. Minimizing unnecessary receipt printing and washing hands after handling receipts can help reduce exposure.

Three glass containers with food, showcasing eco-friendly and plastic-free food storage solutions

Understanding the health effects of plastics on children and the chemicals commonly found in them has been eye-opening. It has motivated me to be more aware about the products I bring into our home. I now carefully read labels, looking for BPA-free toys and personal care products made from natural materials. It’s a small investment in their well-being that pays off in the long run.

When it comes to food, I’ve become more conscious of choosing fresh and unpackaged options whenever possible. Not only does this reduce plastic waste, but it also ensures that my little one has less exposure to plastics in food. It’s a win-win for both their health and the environment.

Stacked glass containers filled with food, showcasing eco-friendly and plastic-free food storage options

I never realized that these seemingly harmless like slips of receipts could contribute to plastic exposure. Now, I’m more mindful of washing our hands thoroughly after handling receipts and I don’t let my child play with them.

So, as a holistic health coach, I encourage you to embark on this journey with me. Prioritize your family’s well-being by reducing plastic use and minimizing your children’s exposure to harmful chemicals. Remember, it’s a process, and each small change brings you closer to a plastic-free lifestyle. Here are more sustainable options for the home for the whole family!

It’s important to note that regulations and restrictions on these chemicals vary by country. Staying informed about the latest research and guidelines can help us navigate the complex landscape of plastic chemicals and make choices that prioritize the health and well-being of our children.

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Welcome! It is so great to have you here. As a Certified Health Coach and Nutrition Consultant, my mission is to support you in achieving a healthy pregnancy. Whether you are ready to prepare your body for pregnancy, aiming for a smooth and healthy nine months, or seeking support in your postpartum recovery. I also help parents and their young children embrace nutritious eating and a healthy lifestyle. I provide practical advice and support to help you meet your goals: from getting your body ready for pregnancy, to enjoying a healthy pregnancy journey, and nurturing your children’s well-being. As a mom myself, I’ve gone through it and I understand your aspirations and the hurdles you might face. Let’s partner together to create a healthy journey into parenthood.