Real talk— polyvinyl chloride (or PVC for short), seems to be in practically everything, doesn't it? If you walk down a random aisle in a store, you can find this material in upholstery, shower curtains, toys and even school supplies. You might be thinking, if it's in so many things (including items for children), it should be safe right? In reality, the answer is no. BUT, don't fret, since there are simple, yet effective ways to avoid PVC in your everyday life.

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Food

Are Plastic Water Filter Pitchers Ok to Use?

Making sure your drinking water is healthy and safe

Water filter pitchers are a commonplace household item that almost everyone has. These handy devices magically turn our tap water into crisp, fresh mountain spring water. Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration, but it does make it taste better! Since many water filter pitchers are made from plastic, we decided to take a look at how healthy and safe they are when compared to alternatives such as tap water and bottled water. Let's dive in!

First, to better understand the use and necessity of water filter pitchers, we need to understand their purpose. The main use for most at-home water filters is to change and enhance the taste, color, and smell of drinking water, thereby improving the water's aesthetic effects (1, 2). The EPA has established both primary and secondary National Drinking Water Regulations meant to protect the public against consumption of drinking water contaminants that pose a risk to human health (2). Primary Standards are federally-enforced mandatory water quality standards, while Secondary Standards are non-mandatory water quality standards established as a guideline to assist public water systems in managing the aesthetic considerations for drinking water like taste, color, and odor (2). In some households, however, water filters are a necessity. Water from wells, older pipes, and other external factors can negatively impact water quality even with EPA regulations in place.

So, What Do Water Pitchers Filter Out?

When looking at different water filter pitchers, it is important to check their certifications. Certification is important because it shows the product has been verified by an independent third party to do what it says it does (3). Most commercial plastic water filter pitchers are certified by either the NSF/ANSI (National Sanitation Foundation/American National Standards Institute), the WQA (Water Quality Association), or both (4). However, even among certain certifications there are different standards they can be certified with. For example, water filters certified by NSF/ANSI can be either standard 42 or standard 53 (3, 5). NSF/ANSI standard 42 focuses on the aesthetic effects of drinking water treatment and establishes minimum requirements for systems designed to reduce non-health-related contaminants (5). NSF/ANSI standard 53 focuses on the health effects of drinking water treatment and establishes minimum requirements for systems designed to reduce specific health-related contaminants (5). NSF/ANSI standard 42 reduces contaminants like chlorine, taste and odor issues, chloramine, particulates, iron, manganese, zinc, and total dissolved solids (TDS) in drinking water, whereas NSF/ANSI standard 53 reduces contaminants like heavy metals (lead, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, mercury, and selenium), cryptosporidium, giardia, inorganic compounds, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in water (3, 5). Since PFOA/PFOS--fluorinated organic chemicals that are part of a larger group of chemicals known as PFAS--are also a concern for people, the NSF has a P473 standard for that as well (19, 20, 21, 22).

Table created from information from [3], [5], and [21].

If you are looking for filters that can remove specific contaminants in your drinking water, make sure to check the product's NSF/ANSI standard certification beforehand. While most water filter pitchers are able to remove contaminants that affect the taste of water like chlorine, zinc, and hydrogen sulfide, not all are able to filter out contaminants like heavy metals and VOCs (8). Because of this, it's important to know what's in your water. You can check your community water system quality reports at the EPA Federal Reports site here, which also shows you potential water system violations. If your drinking water contains serious contaminants like lead or other heavy metals, it's advised to install a more comprehensive filtration system in your house or apartment (8).

Are Plastic Water Pitchers Bad?

Most water filter pitchers are made out of hard clear plastic, and popular brands advertise that their pitchers are BPA free. For example, according to Brita, their pitcher lids and filter housings are made out of polypropylene plastic, the reservoirs and pitchers are made from either NAS (a styrene based plastic) or SAN (styrene acrylonitrile), and all are tested by the NSF for material safety (12). However, there have been several studies that show that many hard clear plastics, including BPA replacements, do release estrogenic chemicals (23, 24, 25, 26). Plastics and endocrine disruption are still being studied, so erring on the side of safety, here are a couple of suggestions to help you properly take care of your water filter pitcher.

Tips for properly taking care of plastic water filters

  • Hand wash plastic components with a mild detergent and air dry upside down; make sure to not use any abrasive cleaners. Hand wash only, since the heat from dishwashers can stress the plastic over time.
  • Store filled pitchers in a cool, dim place away from sunlight to prevent algae formation. Both heat and UV light are shown to increase leaching from plastic, so it's safer to store your pitcher in the refrigerator or away from windows.
  • If you go on vacation and water has been left in the pitcher for a long time, it's a good idea to dump that water, give the pitcher a wash, and then refill it. Time of contact increases the potential of leaching from plastic, and standing water increases the risk of other contaminants building up.
  • Regularly replace filters for optimal performance depending on guidelines; most standard filters recommend replacement every 40 gallons, which is approximately every two months. Bacteria build up in the water filters themselves, so it is important to do this.

What If I Don't Want a Plastic Pitcher?

If you would prefer to not use a plastic water pitcher, no worries! There are glass and steel pitchers as well, although options are limited. It should be noted that most water filters do contain some plastic, even if the pitchers themselves are a different material. There are also water filters that screw onto the tap and countertop water filters that attach to taps that have less plastic. If you want to ditch the plastic pitcher completely, you can invest in a whole house filter or an under-the-counter reverse osmosis system.

Sustainability of Single-Use Filters

Since water filters need to be replaced on a regular schedule, you might be wondering what to do with the filter itself, which is usually housed in plastic. Many water filter companies have recycling programs, so you can look to see if there is a recycling component for your used water filters. For example, Brita currently partners with TerraCycle to offer a free mail-in recycling program for Brita filters, pitchers, dispensers, bottles, faucet systems, and packaging (14).

Make sure to not throw the filter directly into your municipal recycling bin as it can contaminate the recycling stream. It is also not recommended to cut open the filter to separate the plastic from the filter media inside. While the filters are made out of less plastic than bottled water, they are not a plastic-free solution.

Other Alternatives?

Popular alternatives to filtered water include tap water and bottled water. The EPA has established protective drinking water standards for more than 90 contaminants as part of its comprehensive Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), although there are still incidences where violations occur (16). Bottled water also presents various health hazards, so it should not be regarded as the de facto standard either. The plastic of bottled water is made from PET, a material regarded as safe for one-time use, but refilling bottles or storing them in hot places increases the risk of chemicals and microplastics leaching into the water (1, 17). The bottled water industry is also self-regulating and not always liable to FDA regulations, so there's a greater chance of contamination occurring (1, 17). Recent tests have actually found PFAS and arsenic in bottled water for sale (27, 28). Bottled water also has a huge environmental impact, since 86% of all plastic water bottles end up in landfills rather than being recycled (18).

Final Take-Aways

Plastic water filters are helpful tools that allow individuals to enhance and improve the taste and smell of their drinking water, as well as remove potentially harmful chemical contaminants. While we work to create better water filtration systems within our communities, plastic water filters are a good alternative for people's current drinking needs.


References

  1. http://www.uvm.edu/~shali/Brita.pdf
  2. https://www.epa.gov/sdwa/secondary-drinking-water-standards-guidance-nuisance-chemicals#self
  3. https://www.wqpmag.com/sites/wqp/files/notallfiltersarecreated.pdf
  4. https://wqa.org/programs-services/product-certification/industry-certifications/wqa-certifies-to-nsf-ansi-standards
  5. https://d2evkimvhatqav.cloudfront.net/documents/dw_nsf_ansi_42_53_401.pdf?mtime=20200417153151&focal=none
  6. https://www.brita.com/why-brita/what-we-filter/
  7. https://www.pur.com/why-pur/filter-comparison-pitcher
  8. https://www.consumerreports.org/water-filter-pitchers/things-to-know-about-water-filter-pitchers/
  9. https://www.pur.com/why-pur/filter-comparison-pitcher
  10. https://www.brita.com/why-brita/health/whats-in-your-tap-water/
  11. https://healthykitchen101.com/best-water-filter-pitchers/
  12. https://clearandwell.com/are-brita-water-pitchers-made-from-safe-plastic/
  13. https://www.brita.com/water-pitcher-support/
  14. https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/brigades/brita-brigade
  15. https://www.pur.com/help-pitchers-dispensers
  16. https://www.epa.gov/sdwa
  17. https://time.com/5686811/is-bottled-water-safest-best/
  18. https://green.harvard.edu/tools-resources/green-tip/reasons-avoid-bottled-water
  19. https://www.nsf.org/knowledge-library/perfluorooctanoic-acid-and-perfluorooctanesulfonic-acid-in-drinking-water
  20. https://www.nsf.org/knowledge-library/contaminant-reduction-claims-guide
  21. https://www.aquasana.com/info/education/nsf-certification
  22. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/nsf-international-certifies-first-water-filters-that-reduce-pfoa-and-pfos-in-drinking-water-300370732.html
  23. Guart, Albert, et al. "Migration of plasticisers from Tritan™ and polycarbonate bottles and toxicological evaluation." Food chemistry 141.1 (2013): 373-380.
  24. Yang, Chun Z., et al. "Most plastic products release estrogenic chemicals: a potential health problem that can be solved." Environmental health perspectives 119.7 (2011): 989-996.
  25. Bittner, George D., Chun Z. Yang, and Matthew A. Stoner. "Estrogenic chemicals often leach from BPA-free plastic products that are replacements for BPA-containing polycarbonate products." Environmental Health 13.1 (2014): 41.
  26. Bittner, George D., et al. "Chemicals having estrogenic activity can be released from some bisphenol a-free, hard and clear, thermoplastic resins." Environmental Health 13.1 (2014): 103.
  27. https://www.consumerreports.org/bottled-water/whats-really-in-your-bottled-water/
  28. https://www.consumerreports.org/water-quality/arsenic-in-some-bottled-water-brands-at-unsafe-levels/
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If you've read our pantry packaging materials article, you'll know that all packaging is not created equally. Traditional food packaging like plastic and cans can contain harmful chemicals like BPA, phthalates, or PFAS. That's why we recommend glass containers, cartons (like Tetra Paks), or paper whenever possible. And it's easier than you think to find pantry staples packaged in these materials!

Take beans, for example. Up until recently, you could basically only find beans in cans with BPA lining. Now they come in a wide variety of packaging, including Tetra Paks and glass jars! Our roundup features brands that are widely available; you'll have no problems finding these products in your local supermarket! And most of these brands carry many different kinds of beans! Jovial., for example, has organic chickpeas, cannellini, kidney, and borlotti beans in jars. Your pantry is about to get a major upgrade!

a) 365 Organic/Whole Foods

b) Jack's Quality

c) Inspired Organics

d) Randall

e) MaiaOrganic

f) Jovial


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9 Veggies You Can Grow Indoors

Gourmet dinners with fresh veggies and no more plastic herb packets are in your future

What's better than having an indoor plant baby? How about one that gives you food? Since we are all spending more time at home these days and making less trips to the grocery store, it's a perfect time to try your hand at some indoor veggies that you can grow in your windowsill. Plus this is a great project to do with kids if you are homeschooling them due to COVID-19 school closures. Some ideas include helping plant and water the seeds, writing down weekly observations, measuring and drawing the vegetables as they grow, and finally learning to cook with them. Here are our suggestions for 9 veggies and herbs that are easy to grow inside and are useful to have on hand.

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Food

Why It's Not a Good Idea to Use Melamine Dishes for Kids

Plus, non-toxic alternatives that will withstand mealtime mayhem

Let's face it... babies, toddlers, and even school-aged kids can be rambunctious at meal times. We'll try anything to make mealtimes go a little more smoothly, including brightly colored bowls and plates with a fun kid-friendly design. But before your next dinnerware purchase, it's good to check what those dishes are made of. Some kids dishes are made from melamine, a material that has potential harmful health effects. Fortunately there are some good alternatives that are non-toxic, kid friendly, and super cute too! If you're just looking for alternatives to melamine, check out our roundup of Non-Toxic Kids' Dishware.

What is Melamine?

Melamine is a chemical compound that, when combined with formaldehyde, makes a hard plastic that can be shaped into tableware. We know that melamine in large quantities is toxic; remember when it was used as a filler in baby formula in 2008, that led to 6 deaths and 50,000 hospitalizations in China? Eating off of melamine dishes won't kill or cause acute poisoning in the same way, but research has shown that small amounts of it does leach into foods (1). And new research is showing that low dose exposure to melamine is neurotoxic and changes how hormones work in the body (2). Kids can be especially vulnerable since their bodies and brains are rapidly changing and developing.

How Do I Know if a Dish Has Melamine?

Melamine dishware is generally very smooth and durable. It feels and looks harder than plastic, but is also lighter than a ceramic plate. Melamine can easily be made into many different colors and patterns, so it's no wonder it's used a lot in kids dishware. It's also used as a binder in bamboo dishware and is commonly found in colored bamboo dishware. Many times the word melamine will be in the product description or details.

What Do I Use Instead Melamine?

If you're looking for a dish that can withstand erratic eating habits and the occasional drop, we like kids' dishware made with the following materials:

  • Silicone: a great choice as long as it is 100% food grade without plastic fillers. Silicone is heat stable, durable, and comes in fun colors and designs. It is however hard to recycle, so only purchase what you need and pass the dishes on when you're done using them.
  • Stainless steel dishes: these can't be microwaved, but are great for serving food in after items have been reheated or for snacks. There are also great stainless steel lunchboxes and food containers.
  • Tempered glass: a great sturdy option for kids. It's hard to break and we have found that the loud noise it makes when dropped helps toddlers learn that throwing dishes isn't a good idea.
  • Bamboo dishware (with a caveat): unfortunately a lot of bamboo dishware is made with melamine as a binder. But there are some bamboo options that are safe. Read more about bamboo dishes or check out our Non-Toxic Kids' Dishware roundup.
  • Enameled dishes: not only do these have a hip retro look, but they are also plastic and melamine free!

If you're looking for melamine free, plastic free, non-toxic baby dishes, check out our Non-Toxic Kids' Dishware roundup for some great options made with these safer materials.


References

  1. Wu, Chia-Fang, et al. "A crossover study of noodle soup consumption in melamine bowls and total melamine excretion in urine." JAMA internal medicine 173.4 (2013): 317-319.
  2. Bolden, Ashley L., Johanna R. Rochester, and Carol F. Kwiatkowski. "Melamine, beyond the kidney: A ubiquitous endocrine disruptor and neurotoxicant?." Toxicology letters 280 (2017): 181-189.

Bamboo dishes — you've probably seen them as a healthy and eco-friendly looking alternative to plastic bowls and plates. Maybe you've thought about investing in bamboo dishware for their hulk-like unbreakable properties. Or maybe you love them for their fabulous colors and modern style. With all of these amazing characteristics, it does seem almost too good to be true… right? If you're wondering how bamboo dishware really measures up against all the above claims, we've got you covered. We'll let you in on the secret: when it comes to bamboo, looking at what materials are used in combination with the bamboo really matters. Here's why!

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Life

Mardi Gras Beads Don't Belong in Your Mouth (or your kids')

Don't let these harmful chemicals ruin your celebration

Every year, over one million parade goers will fill the streets of New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday as it's also known in the Christian calendar, is a day of feasting before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is known for many things like parades, masks, costumes, and music. But for most people a central part of Mardi Gras is collecting and wearing beads, also known as throws. While collecting throws can be a fun way to celebrate, there is growing concern about the health hazards of the beads and the environmental cost of the beads.

The vast majority of beads that are handed out during Mardi Gras originate from China. Back in the day, the beads were made of glass, but now they are made of plastic. It's estimated that China manufactures 25 million pounds of beads for Mardi Gras alone (1). Despite government regulations to keep hazardous chemicals like lead in children's products to under 100ppm, over two thirds of these beads did not meet the concentration requirement (2). Researchers at the Ecology Center, who tested Mardi Gras beads, estimate that a single year's inventory of Mardi Gras beads may contain up to 900,000 pounds of hazardous flame retardants and 10,000 pounds of lead. Based on the composition of the chemicals found in the plastic beads, the researchers concluded that plastic from electronic waste was likely being recycled into producing Mardi Gras beads (2).

While exposure to lead and flame retardants is harmful to everyone's health, it's particularly dangerous for children. Even though Mardi Gras beads are not a children's product, many children collect and wear them during the parade and often put them in their mouths to chew on. Children also play with them and residues may end up on their hands, which is another way they could be potentially eating these toxic substances. It is recommended to limit the interaction your little ones have with Mardi Gras bead to prevent exposure to these toxic substances. If you have a toddler or baby who is teething, don't let them chew on the beads. And for older children, let them wear them for a short while and then consider donating them to be reused. And for everyone who touches the beads, make sure to wash hands before snacking or eating.

Aside from the health effects, there are also harmful environmental effects from Mardi Gras beads. The plastic beads end up in landfills or down storm drains, and contribute to the problem of plastic waste in our environment. In 2018, the city of New Orleans found 93,000 pounds of Mardi Gras beads in just 5 city blocks that had washed down into storm drains (4). The toxic substances, like lead and flame retardants, then leach from the beads and end up in the waterways, eventually draining into the Gulf of Mexico. These substances accumulate in fish, and in turn, put seafood lovers at risk for lead poisoning (3).

However, all this bad news doesn't mean that your kids (or you for that matter) can't accessorize with beads and have fun this Mardi Gras! A handful of companies are aware of the adverse impacts of traditional beads and have created more sustainable options. ArcGNO collects and reuses the same Mardi Gras beads each year while Atlas Beads creates handmade Mardi Gras beads from paper. Both are much better options than single use beads! Many krewes are recognizing the problem that Mardi Gras beads pose and are coming up with creative and reusable throws, such as aprons, cooking spoons, hats, and t-shirts. Some are even handing out local food items such as red beans, jambalaya mix, and coffee beans. It's great to see such creative alternatives to plastic Mardi Gras beads!

References
  1. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/toxic-truth-mardi-gras-beads-180962431/
  2. https://www.ecocenter.org/healthy-stuff/reports/ho...
  3. https://setac.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/etc.2641
  4. https://www.npr.org/2018/01/26/580933914/new-orleans-finds-93-000-pounds-of-mardi-gras-beads-in-storm-drains
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Is Your Tea Bag Made with Plastic?

Silky pyramids, plastic sealed bags, and what brands are actually fully compostable

Whether you like to pretend you are British all the time, or just have a cold, chances are you are making that cup of tea with a conveniently packaged tea bag. While tea bags are great (and basically everywhere) there's something you should know about that innocent tea bag. Many of them use plastic to keep them sealed shut. Nope, not just on the wrapper the tea bag actually comes in, but the bag itself. The idea of a plastic soaking in boiling hot water just does not sound cozy to us. But thankfully, there are some easy changes you can make if you feel the same way we do.

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