Wednesday, August 8, 2007


Non-Tubby Food Tubs

In Hawaii, where I’m from, you can’t stop guests bringing food, no matter what. Good local manners simply prevent your showing up empty-handed. The container of choice: classic, reusable Tupperware. It stands for something good and homemade, like Aunty Dot’s fruit Jello-mold or Mom’s chicken hekka.

Hence my brother Ethan’s distress when he heard on Honolulu talk radio about phthalates in some plastic containers that could migrate into your food and drink. Next, by popular demand: Greener Picnic Ware. “Apparently, men with higher levels of phthalates in their bodies have 3-inch bigger waistlines. The announcer called it blubberware,” said Ethan, who’s been fighting to keep his buff surf body since the arrival of child #3. “Do we have to throw out all our Tupperware?” The answer: No huhu (don’t worry). Tupperware’s a keeper, with just a couple of exceptions (see “Caution,” below). So use it—and reuse it—for picnics, commuting, back to school, parties and leftovers. Most Tupperware is made of plastics that have not been found to release Bisphenol-A (BPA, linked to hormone disruption, obesity and breast cancer in lab tests), or phthalates. These better plastic wares include: #2 HDPE, high-density polyethylene, also the most widely recyclable plastic: Tupperware FreezeSmart, Ice Cube Tray, Ice Tups Set and Jel-Ring Mold. #5 PP, polypropylene: Tupperware Modular Mates, Quick Shake Containers, One Touch Reminder Canister, and all Tupperware Bowls. The following are included, with other makers’ containers, in Greenerpenny’s BPA-free water bottle list, now on the home page at For kids: Thirstbreak Tumblers with straps, 14 oz, $13.50, or 32 oz On-the-Go version for $13, featuring Tinkerbell; an On-the-Go featuring Shrek, for $13.50. Lunch sets of sealed tumbler and sandwich box feature the Little Mermaid, Dora the Explorer and Diego, $16. For Babies: Pooh meal set with sealable sippy cup, bowl and snack cup, $17. For Commuters: 24-oz insulated (double-wall) Tumbler with Drip-less Straw Seal, $19.95, or Commuter Mug with swivel-open sipper cap, 16 oz., $18.50. Caution: Tupperware Rock ‘n Serve containers, meant to go directly from the fridge to the microwave, are made of #7 (the recycling code for “other” plastic, including polycarbonate), according to The Green Guide, As polycarbonate has been found in some tests to leach BPA when heated, this probably isn’t a good idea. The same goes for Tuppercare Baby Bottles, which are also polycarbonate, according to The Green Guide’s thorough research. And, while Tupperware Crystal Wave Microwave Containers are made of safer #5 plastic, Greenerpenny advises, as a precaution, heating foods in microwave-safe ceramic or glass, instead.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Lead-free Playthings

Poor Big Bird! Like a canary in a coal mine, this feathered icon took a toxic hit last week when 967,000 Sesame Street and Nickelodeon toys were recalled due to lead paint. Suddenly, these trusted educational brands were associated with a heavy metal that can cause learning disabilities. According to Herbert L. Needleman, M.D., professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School and top researcher into the developmental and behavioral harm caused by lead exposure, lead remains the number one environmental health threat to children in this country, despite its removal from gasoline and house paint over twenty years ago. Made in China between April 19 and July 6, 2007, more than 300,000 of the lead-painted Mattel/ Fisher Price toys were sold to U.S. consumers. For a list of recalled items, go to, the website of the Consumer Products Safety Commission. For photos of all the offenders, see Mattel's site, Fisher Price’s hotline, 800-916-4498, provides info as well. You can return a recalled item for a voucher that will get you a substitute toy of the same price. This is small compensation to parents, burdened with taking the toys away and the hassle of mailing them. It’s small consolation to children, who, on top of being inadequately protected by government and industry, may be disillusioned to learn that Giggle Grabber Elmo, as well as various Big Bird, Ernie, Oscar or Cookie items, could hurt them. This, on the heels of the mid-June recall of 1.5 million Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends trains and accessories by RC2 Corp, and 17.9 pieces of leaded children’s jewelry and charms recalled since 2005, may make parents wonder--with good reason--if any toy is safe. “My children don’t have any Fisher Price toys, but I wonder about all kinds of toys made in China, like some other baby toys we have,” says Ethan Won, father of three young children in Honolulu. His first job after art school at the Rhode Island School of Design was in toy manufacture, Ethan says. “And the paint on the Chinese-made miniature cars my older boys play with is always chipping off and taking bits of the soft metal, and it looks like lead, which makes sense because the forms have to be stamped out of a soft material like that,” he adds. Time to grab those giggles elsewhere! Below are some safer alternatives for children under three, who are most likely to put toys in their mouths and thus ingest lead. The following toys are also PVC-free and therefore free of phthalates, the hormone-disrupting chemicals used to soften this brittle plastic. Some PVC children’s products can also contain lead. Lead- and Phthalate-Free Toys Instead of the Sesame Street Shape Sorter, which is being recalled, give a Wooden Shape Sorter Puzzle, $22.95, or Wagon, $54.95, both made in Germany. Slightly older tots may like the challenge of a rubberwood Shape-Matching Puzzle, made in Thailand of fast-growing rubberwood, $19.95. All from The Playstore, Instead of lead-contaminated Elmo Stacking Rings, why not the charming new Witty Worm Stacker, crowned by a smiling antenna’ed head, in rubberwood from Rosie’s Hippo, ? The wooden Rainbow Stacking Tower with waterbased stains has triangle-shaped pieces, $29 from Nunoorganic, Classic wooden doughnuts fit on a Rocky Color Cone, $18.95 from Holgate Toys,,which uses Forest Stewardship Council certified wood when it can. To console a child who’s had to surrender a Big Bird Collectible figurine, present an irresistible Bird Family Pull Toy with 3 bright birds in nontoxic colors and rubberwood, $29.95 and new from Rosie’s Hippo, above. While children who want to make a joyous sound had better not try it on the lead-painted Elmo Saxophone, they might enjoy a 4-tone train whistle, made in the U.S. from pine wood, $5.20 at, or a Hohner harmonica, made in Germany, $18.95, from Rosie’s Hippo. Adorable and affordable wooden trains, made in Vermont, include zoo animal, construction and emergency vehicle sets, $19 and up at Maple Landmarks, above. Before the Thomas train sets, there were (and still are) Brio wooden sets with nontoxic paint. Very pricey, but hey, they’re heirlooms, and a few go a long way. Cute wooden animals, too. For plastic toys comparable to the recalled Fisher Prices, see Other Tips: Avoid toys made in China as much as possible, unless the toy company can assure you that they do regular lead tests independently of their Chinese contractor, and/or the CPSC implements stricter regulations. Ideally, companies will provide independent third-party certification of lead-free composition for every toy. For a Toy Report Card that lists PVC-free manufacturers, see Why buy toys at all? In summer you and the children can play outside, skipping stones on the water, making leaf and gourd boats, paper airplanes, twig teepees, sand castles or clothespin dolls, collecting shells or interesting pebbles, watching birds, or blowing bubbles.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Bye-Bye, BPA

BPA/ Phthalate-Free Shopping List

Part One: Drinking Bottles

It’s hot! Time to hydrate. And while you’re at it, every time you refill a reusable water bottle, rather than buy disposables, you’re helping the Earth’s health, too. If all Americans did so, we’d save the estimated 16 million barrels of oil used to make the bottled-water containers we bought last year. This from the August Harper’s Index, (, which also notes that twice as much water was used to make the containers as was drunk from them.

Choose the right reusable bottle, and you won’t get bit by the chemicals that can leach from some plastics in these sizzling dog days.

Bisphenol-A (BPA) has been found to cause developmental harm in animals, and there’s preliminary evidence of reproductive harm in women. And, while a family of plasticizers known as phthalates has long been linked to cancer and hormone disruption in lab animals, studies in 2005 and 2006 show some connection to genital abnormalities and lower testosterone in infant boys. This inspired a worried phone call from my brother Ethan Won, father of three young boys, ages 5 months, 4 and 6 years. “I’ve been hearing about all these chemicals coming out of plastics. Some plastics smell really bad, especially in the heat,” says Ethan, who lives in Honolulu, Hawaii. “And what about when we warm the baby’s bottle?”

A good question, as many clear plastic baby bottles, along with some of those pretty Nalgene Lexan bottles in transparent jellybean colors, are made of polycarbonate (recycling code #7) plastic, which has been found to leach BPA when heated, worn or scratched. “We always want kids’ products to be safe in any way they’re used,” says Sonya Lunder, M.D., a scientist with the Environmental Working Group (, which encourages consumers to seek alternatives to polycarbonate bottles, especially for babies and children.As Greenerpenny reader Bridget Collins writes,“I am very interested in shopping for products that do not contain BPAs. My kids are active and use water bottles several times a day!”

While it doesn’t accumulate in our bodies,“with BPA detected in about 95% of people in a recent CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control] test, we can assume that most of the American population has daily exposure,” Lunder says. These chemicals may also play a role in the development of obesity and diabetes, according to a 2006 Spanish study of BPA and a March, 2007 article on phthalates in Environmental Health Perspectives. Even if fat is “contagious,” as raised by a study in the New England Journal of Medicine last week, it’s far less extreme to drop risky plastics than an overweight friend.

Below are the safest, greenest and most affordable reusable bottles we could find. Pennypinchers, rejoice: In addition to keeping disposables out of landfills, and conserving the tons of carbon dioxide otherwise released in shipping, bypassing bottled water can save each of us about $1,400 a year, by the estimate of New York City officials.
Top Pick: Stainless Steel
Go plastic- and petrochemical- free with 100% stainless steel, the most recycled metal.

Perfect for kids or those of us who feel oppressed by heavy totes, Klean Kanteen’s lightweight, 12 oz volume stainless bottles are the same size as soda cans; caps have a stainless interior and non-leaching polypropylene (#5) top. From $13.95 to $22.95 for a 40-ouncer. For better totability, order a loop cap with a hole in it, or neoprene insulating sling or sleeve that snaps around pack straps, bike or stroller bars. At

Slightly cheaper stainless bottles are $11.95 for 27 oz or $19.95 for 40 oz from,/ which also sells Klean Kanteens.

Thermos 18 oz. stainless steel Hydration Bottle with stainless interior and exterior vacuum insulation walls; $17 at; insulated sleeves also sold.

Preferable Plastics

You can identify better plastics by the recycling code numbers stamped in them. Look for reusable bottles made of:
#2 (HDPE, high-density polyethylene, the most widely recyclable)
#4 (LDPE, low-density polyethylene) or
#5 (PP, polypropylene).
These plastics have not been found to release BPA or phthalates.

On the other hand, most single-use water bottles are made of #1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE). These bottles, if old, reused or heated, may release two phthalates: Di(2-ethylhexyl adipate), or DEHA, and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), which are possible human carcinogens, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And, although this plastic is easily recyclable, about 90% of the PET water bottles sold each year wind up in landfills. After all, they’re made to be tossed!

Top Plastic Picks:

Nalgene HDPE #2 Loop-Top Bottle, 16 oz, $4.99,

Tupperware for Keeps:

For Kids: Tupperware’s polypropylene #5 bottles include colorful Thirstbreak Tumblers with straps, 14 oz, $13.50, or 32 oz On-the-Go version for $13, featuring Tinkerbell; an On-the-Go featuring Shrek, for $13.50.

Ideal for picnics or back-to-school: #5 lunch sets of sealed tumbler and sandwich box feature the Little Mermaid, Dora the Explorer and Diego, $16.
For Babies: Pooh meal set with sealable sippy cup, bowl and snack cup, $17.
For Commuters: 24-oz insulated (double-wall) Tumbler with Drip-less Straw Seal, $19.95, or Commuter Mug with swivel-open sipper cap, 16 oz., $18.50.
All at

Easiest to Grab and Go: Rubbermaid’s Polypropylene #5 Chug Sports Bottle, about $3.99 for 20 oz size, widely sold at supermarkets, drugs and home improvement stores or or

Sigg Aluminum Bottles

No doubt about it, these lined aluminum bottles are light, beautiful and strong. And doubts about possible BPA leaching from Sigg’s patented epoxy linings have been laid to rest by tests commissioned by the company in May, 2007. After water was heated in the bottles for 3 days, no detectable residues of BPA were found, and EWG, as of this writing, has agreed to remove from its website its warnings about Sigg.

Available in 4 colors, the .6 liter Traveler Classic is $18, and .3 liter Travelers or children’s bottles picturing friendly mammals, dinosaurs, vehicles and the sun, are $15.95, with some NOW ON SALE for $10.95; patterned .4 liter kids’ versions cost $17.95, all at

Given the environmental ravages caused by the mining of bauxite for aluminum, however, and the 75% more energy consumed in the production of aluminum, according to the Worldwatch Institute, from raw materials as opposed to recycled metal, reusable bottles could be a lot greener if they were made from post-consumer-recycled stock.

BPA-free Baby Bottles


Evenflo Glass Baby Bottles, 4 or 8 oz., three for $8 at
made of opaque colored #4 LDPE

Bornfree Glass Baby Bottles, 9 oz, two for $19.99 or four for $37.99 at

Non-Polycarbonate Plastic

Medela breastmilk storage and feeding set, white #5 PP, four bottles, $18.99 at

Gerber Fashion Tints, #5 PP in opaque colors, 9 oz, three-pack for $4.99 at

Bornfree Polyamide (PA) plastic baby bottles, 9 oz, six for $57.99, eight for $77.99, both sets include nipples and a free trainer cup,

Bottle Brushes

Tip: In a pinch, you can always use a chopstick, tip of a long-handled spoon or a twig to work in a sponge, dish cloth–or the hem of your t-shirt.

Twister baby bottle brush with soft, non-scratching sponge, $10 at

Natural coir (coconut fiber) brush on a long wooden handle, best for glass or unlined stainless (might scratch plastic or epoxy linings); $2.95 at

Classic Baby Bottle & Nipple Brush Set from Evenflo, $1.98 at

Coming Next: List #2, Food Storage

Please share this info with interested friends, and send them to