We’re starting to learn that choosing the right children’s tableware might be more a daunting mission than we ever thought. As parents, we assume and hope that any product sold for use by and for our children would not be harmful to them. However, it turns out that the most widely available options are made from plastic and impact the environment and our children’s health.
It’s easy to buy whatever we can at the nearest store or the first option with a high enough rating on Amazon because that’s what we know. Researching other options can feel overwhelming as new parents. That’s the last way we plan to spend our time. But, as we become more informed, we learn that we need to ask ourselves more of these questions. Still, most of us don’t even know what questions we need to ask.
What are the chemicals I should be avoiding? Is this actually sustainable tableware, or is it just wrapped in cardboard packaging to make me think so? What is melamine – is that plastic too?
Thankfully, learning about how and why to choose non-toxic, sustainable tableware for your children does not have to be challenging. In this article, you’ll find some what’s and why’s for why you should be considering more sustainable, non-toxic children’s tableware.
First, let’s talk about plastic. We commonly use this term to describe a variety of materials made from fossil fuels. While they have this characteristic in common, there are some crucial differences in types of plastics.
Not all plastics are recyclable. Soft plastics, such as PET (Polyethylene terephthalate), are often used to make everyday items such as water bottles or polyester clothing and are generally widely recycled. On the other hand, hard plastics are not. The amount of chemicals released in production also varies based on the type of plastic. For example, the widely used PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) releases dioxins, phthalates, vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, lead, cadmium, and more and is widely known as the most toxic plastic.
For the planet
Despite the differences, no plastic is good for the environment – some are less harmful than others. Due to the necessity to extract fossil fuels, plastic production is associated with oil spills, environmental degradation, and methane released from oil rigs. In turning burning fossil fuels into plastic, dangerous toxic chemicals like trichloroethane, methylene chloride, and benzene are released.
However, one of the biggest issues associated with the use of plastic is that it never truly decomposes. Instead, it only disintegrates into microscopic plastic particles – microplastics and nanoplastics – which linger in the environment even after it may seem like the item has decomposed. While the effects of this plastic pollution on a microscopic level remain heavily under-researched, what is known is still very concerning.
Microplastic pollution spreads fast, and it spreads everywhere. From the tap water in our homes to remote ecosystems in the Antarctic, it has been found everywhere. They are also heavily polluting our ocean and threatening marine life. Small marine animals can have their digestive tracts blocked by these plastic particles, leading to starvation and death. Plastic can also travel up the food chain, eventually affecting those who consume these affected animals.
Plastic isn’t only an environmental concern – it can also have some worrying effects on our health. One of the main benefits of creating a sustainable home and switching to sustainable children’s tableware is limiting our contributions to this problem.
For our children
Now to the health concerns related to plastic use. Many plastic children’s tableware options can contain BPA (bisphenol A) – a hormonal disruptor that can result in infertility issues, the early onset of puberty, hyperactivity, obesity, diabetes, immune dysfunction, and more. Some plastic products labeled as BPA-free may still contain BPS or BPF – the effects of which are very similar. Even plastics such as the commonly used PET, which doesn’t contain BPA, still act as a hormonal disruptor and can be detrimental to our children’s health.
Let’s talk about melamine.
Another material you’ll often find on children’s tableware labels is melamine – what is it? And how does it differ from plastic?
If you’re looking for a short answer – melamine is fancy organic plastic.
Melamine may feel firmer and more rigid than standard plastic, but it’s organic materials held together by plastic. Large amounts of chemicals are released into the atmosphere during its production, and just like other plastics, it never really decomposes once discarded. Research has shown that it does leach into food in small amounts when used in tableware and can disrupt hormonal function – especially in kids, who are the most vulnerable.
It’s important to know that melamine can be found even in children’s tableware labeled eco-friendly since it’s often used as a binder in bamboo products. If bamboo tableware is colored, it most likely has melamine in it. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to find, as it’s usually disclosed on labels.
If you want to create a healthy and sustainable home for your children, ditching plastic and semi-plastic children’s tableware and finding a sustainable alternative is a great and easy first step.