Many mothers, if not most, are not able to exclusively breastfeed their baby. Modern mothers go to work, are acquiring an education, they need to run errands, and maybe they just choose to pump rather than breastfeed. This means there needs to be a way to store there expressed breast milk, with the main method being disposable plastic breast milk storage bags.
Yet, for parents mindful of their environmental footprint, plastic storage bags raise concerns. They contribute to a large amount environmental pollution and carry the risk of chemical leaching which could make it to their baby and ecosystems.
Plastic baby bottles pose the same issues. They are a source of synthetic chemical exposure risk and environmental waste. There's no doubt they are cheap and convenient, but the potential risk of these chemicals leaching into the breast milk and the subsequent environmental harm have led many parents to reconsider their use.
- The Global Plastic Problem
- Plastic Breast Milk Storage Bags/Bottles and Their Environmental Impact
- Overview of Harmful Chemicals Found in Plastics
- Alternatives to Plastic Breast Milk Storage and Bottles
- Making The Change: How to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Breast Milk Storage and Feeding
At Burrbaby, we're dedicated to being a part of a healthier world for your children. We hope to accomplish this through our zero-plastic glass breast milk storage containers and bottles. These completely non-toxic, sustainable choices protect your baby's health and our planet.
The Global Plastic Problem
The overwhelming prevalence of plastic waste is a pressing global issue. Approximately 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced since the 1950s, with 6.3 billion metric tons ending up as waste. Shockingly, only 9% of that waste has been recycled, while 79% has ended up in landfills or the natural environment.
This accumulation of plastic waste significantly threatens ecosystems, wildlife, and human health.
The contribution of single-use plastics
Single-use plastics, designed for short-term use and immediate disposal, account for considerable plastic pollution. According to a United Nations Environment Programme report, single-use plastics comprise roughly half of all plastic waste generated globally. In addition, items such as plastic bags, cutlery, and food packaging are only used briefly before being discarded, ultimately contributing to the growing plastic waste problem.
Impact on marine life and ecosystems
Marine ecosystems, in particular, suffer significantly from plastic pollution. It is estimated that 8 million metric tons of plastic enter our oceans yearly which has disastrous consequences for marine life. Animals can become entangled in plastic debris or accidentally ingest it, often leading to injury or death.
Furthermore, microplastics (tiny fragments of plastic) have been found in even the deepest parts of the ocean, showing the pervasive nature of this pollution. These microplastics become dissolved in the water, making them inescapable to both humans and wildlife. The detrimental impact of plastic waste on marine ecosystems has broad implications for biodiversity, food chains, and human health.
Plastic Breast Milk Storage Bags/Bottles and Their Environmental Impact
Plastic breast milk storage bags and bottles are a popular choice among breastfeeding mothers, primarily due to their convenience, affordability, and widespread availability. However, the growing awareness of the environmental consequences of plastic use has led many mothers to reconsider their storage options.
Estimated Number of Plastic Breast Milk Storage Bags Used Annually
The precise number of plastic breast milk storage bags used annually is challenging to determine. However, considering that approximately 83% of babies born in the United States receive breast milk, and many mothers use these bags to store their milk, it’s safe to assume that millions of plastic bags are used each year. This figure only increases when considering the global usage of plastic storage bags.
To get more granular, it is estimated that mothers who exclusively pump their breast milk and store it in freezer bags use 5-8 per day on average. That's roughly 1800-2800 per year!
Since they are single use, every one of those ends up being thrown away. To put that in perspective, if this even represented just 1 million mothers, which the real number is much higher, that would be at least 1.8 billion wasted breast milk bags per year. That's startling.
Waste Generated by Single-Use Storage Bags
The environmental impact of single-use plastic breast milk storage bags is multifaceted. First, there’s the sheer volume of waste generated. Each bag, once used, is discarded, contributing to the ever-growing problem of plastic waste entering our ecosystems.
Additionally, these bags often take hundreds or thousands of years to decompose, slowly releasing harmful chemicals into the environment as they break down.
The Carbon Footprint of Plastic Storage Bag and Bottle Production
The production of plastic breast milk storage bags and baby milk bottles also results in a significant carbon footprint. The manufacturing process for these bags typically involves using fossil fuels, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Furthermore, the transportation and distribution of these single-use products generate additional emissions, further exacerbating their environmental impact.
Chemical Leaching in Plastic Breast Milk Storage Containers and Bottles
The chemicals in plastic storage containers and bottles can leach into stored breast milk, posing potential health risks to infants and ecosystems where the waste ends up. In addition, temperature fluctuations, such as those experienced during freezing, thawing, and warming, can increase the likelihood of chemical leaching.
Research has shown that chemicals from plastic can migrate from plastic materials into breast milk. Similarly, studies have detected bisphenols in breast milk stored in polycarbonate containers. These findings highlight the need for careful consideration when selecting breast milk storage options.
Overview of Harmful Chemicals Found in Plastics
Plastic materials often contain various chemicals that can potentially harm both human health and the environment. Among these harmful substances are phthalates, bisphenols, polyethylene, polypropylene, and more, which are widely used in the production of plastic storage containers, including those intended for breast milk storage and infant milk bottles.
Phthalates, nicknamed the “everywhere” chemical, are a family of chemicals utilized as plasticizers to provide flexibility and durability to plastics. They can be found in a wide range of consumer goods, including food packaging, toys, and medical devices. However, phthalates have become a topic of concern due to their potential negative health effects.
Studies have linked phthalate exposure to reproductive and developmental issues and endocrine disruption. Many families choose alternative materials like glass containers to safely store their breast milk to avoid phthalate exposure.
Bisphenols, such as Bisphenol A (BPA), are chemicals used as monomers in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. BPA has been widely employed in various consumer products, including food and drink packaging, water bottles, and baby bottles. BPA has garnered significant attention for its potential endocrine-disrupting properties, which can interfere with the body's hormone system.
Due to these concerns, many countries have banned or restricted the use of BPA in baby bottles and other food contact materials. Nevertheless, parents may still worry about the potential risks of using plastic containers for breast milk storage as other chemicals in the bisphenol family still exist. BPA was banned, but that just means other chemicals are brought in to take its place.
Polypropylene is a versatile, lightweight, and cost-effective plastic material derived from petroleum. Due to its high heat and chemical degradation resistance, it is widely used in various industries, including food packaging and storage.
Although it is considered safe by many regulatory organizations, there are initial studies suggesting that it may have negative effects on hormones and cause stress to cells. While these concerns require further research, some mothers may prefer alternative materials for breast milk storage, such as glass containers, to ensure their baby's safety and well-being.
Polyethylene is another commonly used plastic material derived from petroleum. It comes in several forms, such as high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE). It is utilized for a wide range of purposes, including packaging, containers, and bags. In the realm of breast milk storage, polyethylene is often used to make storage bags due to its flexibility and durability.
Similar to polypropylene, polyethylene is generally considered safe by regulatory organizations. However, there are studies indicating potential negative effects related to hormonal disruption and estrogenic dysregulation. Consequently, some parents may opt for alternatives like glass containers for breast milk storage to mitigate any potential risks associated with plastic materials.
Most breast milk storage bags are made from polypropylene, which is the same plastic cheap sandwich bags are made from.
Microplastics are tiny particles of plastic, typically less than 5mm in size, which originate from a variety of sources including larger plastic debris that degrades into smaller and smaller pieces. They are pervasive in the environment and found in our oceans, soils, and even the air we breathe. When it comes to health risks, microplastics can be problematic because they can absorb and carry other pollutants, such as pesticides and heavy metals.
These particles, along with their chemical load, can accumulate in the food chain and may end up being ingested by humans. The potential health impacts of microplastics on humans are still being researched, but concerns include physical harm to the digestive tract, disruption of the endocrine system due to associated chemicals, and potential effects on growth and reproduction.
Initial cellular studies show they can cause cell death and inflammation, which is the cause of many chronic diseases. This is bad for babies and ecosystems alike.
More research is needed to fully understand the extent and implications of these risks.
The bottom line is that while many of these chemicals have initially been deemed “safe” by regulatory organizations, there is conflicting scientific evidence showing negative health consequences when ingested. In addition to this, history is our greatest teacher in showing us many chemicals that were initially considered safe prove to be the opposite when long-term data is collected.
When we store breastmilk in plastic or use plastic bottles for feeding babies, there is always a chance some of those chemicals will make it into the breastmilk.
Environmental Consequences of Chemical Leaching
Chemical leaching from plastic materials is not only a concern for human health but also for the environment. When plastics degrade, they can release their synthetic chemicals into the ecosystem, contaminating water sources and affecting aquatic life. In addition, these chemicals can accumulate in the food chain, potentially harming wildlife and even making their way back to humans through consuming contaminated seafood.
Alternatives to Plastic Breast Milk Storage
As mothers seek eco-friendly and health-conscious alternatives to plastic breast milk storage, glass has become one of the top sustainable and healthy options. Glass offers numerous advantages for preserving the quality of breast milk while minimizing environmental impact.
Benefits of Using Glass Containers for Breast Milk Storage for the environment.
- Chemical-free: Glass containers are free from all BPA, phthalates, polypropylenes, polyethylenes, microplastics, and other potentially harmful chemicals commonly found in plastic waste. This keeps the ecosystem free from pollutants.
- Durability: Glass containers are very durable and is highly resistant to scratches, degradation, and other wear and tear. This allows them to to be-used indefinitely, which saves the environment from all those disposable plastic bags. You'll also need way fewer products overall, reducing your overall carbon footprint.
The Environmental Advantages of Bamboo or Wooden Storage Boxes
When you start building up a supply of breastmilk storage, you’ll need a way to keep it organized. Many of the options available are plastic. However, we know that is not ideal. One great alternative to this is bamboo or wood storage boxes.
- Renewable resource: Wood and bamboo are renewable, biodegradable materials, which means they have a lower environmental impact than their plastic counterparts.
- Long-lasting: Well-crafted wooden and bamboo boxes can last for years, reducing the need for frequent replacements and minimizing waste.
- Carbon footprint: Wooden boxes have a lower carbon footprint than plastic storage options. Responsibly sourced wood or bamboo can even help mitigate climate change by absorbing and storing carbon dioxide.
- Aesthetic appeal: Wood and bamboo storage boxes offer a natural look that seamlessly integrates with various home decor styles, making them an attractive and functional option for organizing breast milk storage while allowing for re-use after your baby no longer requires milk.
In conclusion, alternatives to plastic breast milk storage, such as glass containers and bamboo storage boxes offer numerous health and environmental benefits.
How to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Breast Milk Storage and Feeding
In today’s world, making sustainable choices is more important than ever. Parents can significantly reduce their environmental impact by transitioning to eco-friendly alternatives for breast milk storage while prioritizing their baby’s health.
Tips for transitioning from plastic to eco-friendly alternatives
Gradually replacing plastic storage bags with glass alternatives can help make the transition easier. Instead of making an abrupt switch, slowly introduce eco-friendly options while your plastic supply runs out.
It's easier if you catch it early and start right away with glass.
When choosing glass containers, look for high-quality, durable options specifically designed for breast milk storage like those offered by Burrbaby. The containers should have secure, leak-proof lids that are freezer-safe. The glass should be thick and durable. Burrbaby chose to go high-quality glass with premium stainless steel lids since they are much more durable than plastic or silicone alternatives.
Although the initial investment in glass containers may be higher, their durability and reusability can lead to long-term cost savings as fewer replacements are needed. In the end, making the switch to eco-friendly breast milk storage options benefits both your baby’s health and the environment.
The environmental repercussions of using plastic for breast milk storage and baby bottles are significant, contributing to a higher carbon footprint and the dispersion of harmful chemicals throughout ecosystems.
Plastic is known for its persistence in the environment, leading to pollution and damage to wildlife. When it comes to breastfeeding, using plastic storage options can also introduce potential health risks, as harmful chemicals may leach into the milk alongside microplastics.
Sustainable alternatives like glass and bamboo are eco-friendly and safe for both babies and the planet. Glass containers for breast milk storage and bottles are durable and free from chemicals, among other benefits. They are also more cost-effective in the long run due to their ability to be re-used.
Transitioning from plastic to these sustainable alternatives represents a conscious decision to protect our environment and the health of our planet.
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