I knew that having a baby would change my life in unforseen ways, but there’s one aspect of modern parenting that I was totally unprepared for. Like Mr. Robinson in The Graduate, I have one word for you, potential parents: Plastics.
Plastic toys. Plastic bouncers. Plastic bottles. And of course, plastic diapers. If you don’t make a conscious effort to do otherwise, your house, your baby, and your life will soon be coated in a shiny, non-biodegradable plastic coating.
So why resist? Why not just enjoy that plastic rainforest bouncer? It’s cute, cheap, and shiny (like my ex-…but that’s another tragic story).
Well, because if we keep buying plastic rainforests, there won’t be any of the real rainforest left. There are two reasons to minimize our consumption of plastics: environmental and health-related. The environmental problems plastic creates are numerous and well-documented. Plastic is hard to recycle efficiently; most plastics are produced from oil, a limited resource; plastics are not biodegradable. The health problems linked to the use of plastics are more open to debate, but recent research suggests that one of the chemicals in most plastics, BPA, is especially toxic to babies. Moreover, BPA is leached out by the heating process. So when you sterilize your baby’s plastic bottles, you’re also releasing BPA. Yuck!
I’ll also add a third, more trivial reason for minimizing plastics: they’re just plain ugly.
And, like my aforementioned ex, in the short-term, plastics are often cheaper than other materials. But in the long term, the cost of plastics to your child’s health and the larger society’s well-being may be far greater than any of us have imagined.
So what is the environmentally-conscious, cost-conscious queer parent to do?
Personally, I haven’t been able to go cold turkey. There’s still a lot of plastic in my baby’s world. And yes, I still use that damned plastic rainforest bouncer—it’s the only thing she’ll reliably nap in. But we’re trying.
Here are some tips for taming the plastic beast in your baby’s world. I’d love to hear yours!
1) Buy ‘whole toys’—toys made from natural substances whose names you can pronounce. The recent lead paint scandal led a lot of folks to explore the old-fashioned world of organic wood toys. Other organic substances —linen, cotton, bamboo—are also great. Whole foods advocates suggest that we try to eat foods that are as close to their unprocessed, original form as possible, without all the unpronounceable additives. I’m suggesting we try the same approach in our toy selections. Wooden blocks and stacking games have proven to be a hit with my baby.
2) Use glass bottles instead of plastic.
Of course breast is best (no plastics! no additives!), but if you’re pumping or using formula (we’ve had to do both with our preemie at times), try using glass bottles. It seems scary at first, but well-made glass bottles are designed to be shatter-resistant.
3) If you do buy a plastic toy or other accoutrement, buy it used.
Conversely, when your baby or kid outgrows it, give it to a friend, or donate it to your local shelter. The limitation of this, I’ve found, is that a lot of plastic stuff is cheaply made, and will not be in donateable shape by the time your kid is through with it.
4) Seek recyled/recylable low-toxin plastics
I’ve already posted about alternatives to high-toxin plastic diapers. Bath products are another area full of hidden plastics; again, try to buy organic if you can. This site has plethora of pythalate-free baby product information. If you’re not doing so already, try using ‘green’ home cleaning products. You can find Seventh Generation and other organic brands at your health food store or at Whole Foods. They not only work just as well as the plasticy ones, but they smell better!
5) Network with other anti-plastic parents.
I’ve found that it’s far easier to make a big change in my life if I talk to other folks engaging in the same struggle. The parents of chemically sensitive kids are a great resource, as are queer families of all kinds. If you can’t find a group of folks in your area with similar concerns, start an internet group or list of your own! I’ll join. Just don’t make me give up that plastic fantastic bouncer…yet.
What other suggestions do you folks have for clearing the plastic clutter?