Archive | Ask Suzanne Questions

Should My Family Be Using Silicone?

When food and products are put on the market without real testing, it’s up to parents and consumers to complete their own. Yes, silicone was FDA approved in 1979 but we are unsure if there’s been follow-up since as it’s really evolved as a ‘go-to’ material in recent years. Silicone is widely used in bake-ware, dishware, and freezer molds and the fun colors and price point have helped increase it’s popularity in family kitchens all across North America. There are many stores that promote and market silicone as a wonderful sustainable option… so is it?

The problem with using silicone to manufacture products is that it doesn’t have an end of life (EOL). The strategy of how to properly dispose or recycle silicone wasn’t implemented with the wide roll-out of silicone products. I called the largest recycling depots in the greenest cities I could think of across North America, I could not find one that recycles silicone. So when you market a product as waste-free, but it ends up in the trash, then landfill, is it sustainable? So the environmental effects of the silicone revolution in my opinion are not the best.

What about health effects? My research of silicone started from the fear it could possibility be leaching when heated at high temps or put in the freezer. For parents of pre-teens and older, we remember the recalls, uproar, and frustration when we discovered all plastics weren’t created equal. It turns out there are different types of silicone, but unlike plastic, silicone isn’t labelled or coded with symbols because there is no point to it having recycling codes.  To keep it brief, the type of silicone you want to be using is called platinum rather than tin based which are usually cheaper (price and quality), not suitable for skin contact, and cured pieces have a shorter life as they loose their elasticity.  Here are the benefits of platinum silicone:

– platinum is added as a catalyst and there are no by-products

– little shrinkage, high chemical resistance (dimensional stability)

– high resistance to high temperatures and aging

– environmental odorless and non-toxic

Silicone itself is a rubber material composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. With the different ways to form silicone, the difference is if fillers have been added to change properties and reduce cost. Many experts say if you twist your coloured silicone and see white bending than the silicone you are using contains fillers and is the cheaper quality (tin) silicone.  But if you are using silicone in the kitchen, especially heating it at high temps (microwave, dishwasher) or freezing (making ice or popsicles) it’s important to talk to the manufacturer and ask what type of silicone they’ve used to make the product. If they have NO idea, ask how the silicone is cured in the manufacturing process. The options I found for this process are : platinum-catalyzed cure system (or called an addition system), a condensation cure system (also called tin based cure system), a peroxide cure system (medical products produced from this system), or an oxime cure system.

Experts have been concerned that the process of adding colour to silicone might disrupt inert properties of the polymers, but manufacturers I’ve talked with that have tested for any breakdown from adding colour say that is incorrect. If this concerns you, stick to plain silicone commonly used to keep stainless steel or glass containers air-tight.

I hope this helps you answer the question “should my family be using silicone?” To summarize, if you are concerned about what happens to that silicone ice cube tray after it starts to smell or breakdown, you can not recycle silicone in most recycling depots in North America. There isn’t research to support how long silicone takes to decompose in a landfill. It’s a natural element made from sand and rock, but if containing fillers and colorants – I would assume these are a problem for the earth to absorb.

It also appears that similar to plastic, there are different types of silicone. It’s unfortunate for consumers that our Governments don’t mandate these types be coded at the bottom of all products. If you love using your silicone bake-ware, etc., take the time to call the manufacturer and inquire about what type of silicone is used. You are looking for the word platinum for a higher quality. Also, ask what the manufacturer is doing to close the loop of the end-of-life for silicone with recycling efforts.

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Baby & Children Car Seats – How to Dispose or Reuse?

I’ve been asked a few times over the last 2 months if I had seen the wording on Health Canada’s website regarding the giving or reselling of used car seats since the new car seat regulations came into force January 2012. In December 2011, Health Canada published this statement regarding updates to child car seats and requirements from car seat manufactures.  But it was the wording on the Health Canada website that had many parents of local Facebook groups concerned which is how I become involved with deciphering the language used on their website which included:  “Health Canada, which is responsible for the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act (CCPSA), requires that seats for sale (or giving or loaning) must meet the criteria set out by CMVSS. It is not lawful to sell, distribute or advertise a seat that doesn’t meet the current criteria of CMVSS.” But it was the next statement found here that includes “Any person who sells, distributes, or gives away products not complying with the current legislation is breaking the law in Canada. By selling or giving away an item that poses a hazard, a person could also be liable in a civil court of law” that has parents stressed about breaking the law if they gave or sold a used car seat (that wasn’t expired)! My question when I spoke with Health Canada last week was asking them “if parents have a car seat and it’s not expired, are they not allowed to resell or give it to a friend/parent/sister to use”?  I mentioned that parents are not used to being told to put something into a landfill with our green minded parenting focus. The official answer from Health Canada is they hold children’s safety first and would like to see children in car seats meeting the new regulations set forth Jan, 2012. But, since this doesn’t help the thousands of parents wondering what to do with car seats that haven’t expired and taking up space in their garage if they are finished using them, there is another option. Health Canada did say that if a parent contacts the manufacturer of the car seat with a model number and serial number and the manufacturer approves that this car seat still meets the new requirements, then it’s okay to resell or give your sister (for example) your car seat. And if your sister/friend/person that purchases the 2nd hand seat is in an accident down the road and injury occurs, you are no longer liable for being sued, etc.  – the manufacturer is now liable for the safety of that car seat. If the manufacturer doesn’t know what these updated car seat safety regulations are – here is a link as provided by Health Canada for you to send them.  Click here.  And while you are talking with the car seat manufacturer – I would recommend putting pressure on them and asking the following questions:

~ is the interior of your car seats made from recyclable material? (I did talk with Transport Canada in my research and apparently different car seat brands are better with using recyclable materials than others)
~ when will they (the manufacturer) be starting a car seat recycling program for car seats they manufacture?
~ would they consider the option of being shipped back the car seat if parents have kept the original box?

Now all of this addresses the issue of parents having car seats that have not met the expiration date. What do parents do if the car seat HAS expired? Bad news on this one. Unless you live close to a recycling depot like our friends at Gibsons Recycling Depot who take used car seats for a very inexpensive rate, and look after stripping down and recycling the car seats for you, pressure needs to be put on Environment Canada and within your own municipality for car seat recycling programs. Of course I agree that kid’s safety and car seats needs to be the number one priority, but the massive amounts of waste that results from parents dropping off car seats in the landfills is not a satisfying answer. How many car seats do your children go through over the course of their life?  Anywhere from 2-4 with many people using infant seats, rear/front facing seats, then booster seats. Why isn’t there a country wide recycling program?  And smaller car seat recycling centers that ask parents to strip down car seats (cut off straps, rip off foam, etc.) should NOT be asking parents to do this?  Why?  The foam within car seats contains flame retardant chemicals that will become air born and ingested if you are doing this without training. A parent trying to do the right thing and strip down a car seat to see if the plastic inside, etc. can be recycled should not be asked to ingest toxic chemicals – this is something that a trained professional should look after.

I loved having my talk this morning with Barb from Gibsons Recycling Depot this morning. They are a West Coast recycling depot that is truly changing the earth and encouraging consumers to be responsible for the items they bring into their life.  She agreed with my points on car seats and agrees that consumers need to speak up and ask our communities for car seat recycling programs.

I personally would have loved to have seen more interaction between Health Canada and Environment Canada regarding regulating baby products and their disposal when they reviewed car seat safety standards in 2010. When parents are being encouraged to not reuse and recycle baby and children’s products due to safety, we need to give them options to lesson the impact on the environment with the waste these actions will cause. The largest ripple effect I could see being levied by the government would be to research the car seat manufacturers that DO use recyclable pieces when making car seats and give them a green star and spread the word throughout the country and have their be a cost reduction if parents make the decision to purchase and use these car seats. Then give parents a place to dispose of their car seats. The cheapest option I could see if having parents return (ship) expired car seats back to the manufacturer to reuse the parts.

I personally found the strong wording on the Health Canada website frustrating because at every level of our parenting journey, we are asked to be accountable for everything to do with our children’s safety. These are not things we are taught or educated on before we give birth to our beautiful children. Of course we want them to be safe, but when you are juggling trying to feed them healthy meals, reduce their chemical exposure, find products that don’t contain toxic ingredients, etc., being responsible for one more thing like car seat safety just doesn’t seem fair. And it doesn’t seem fair to our environment to take the easy way out and ditch them in the land fill. I’m thankful that Health Canada took the time to answer all my questions and although they do recommend using new car seats that meet all new safety requirements, I’m thankful they agreed to give parents the option to call the manufacturer to check if not-yet-expired car seats meet specifications so they can be reused or sold.  Thank you for putting the responsibility of car seat safety back to those who have the expertise…the car seat manufacturers!  But there is a ton of work to be done and without the public’s encouragement back to car seat manufacturers, this problem won’t change. Tell your car seat manufacturer that having a method to dispose of your car seat when it’s expired is important to you. Take action and call!  And if the car seat manufacturer doesn’t know if a) car seats they manufacture meets the new specification set forth here or b) can’t answer if their car seats are made from recyclable materials – we need to know who these companies are!  Post the brand to my fan page: Mommy Footprint and let’s find out which companies are ready to help buffer the environmental  impact with car seat recycling!

I’ve tried to break down my discussions with Heath Canada in easy to understand wording, but I’d like to include Heath Canada specific recommendations on car seats so that their voice is documented. Here were my initial questions:

Q1) What is Health Canada telling parents to do with car seats that have not expired and who want to sell them or give them to someone else?

Look for the date of manufacture printed on your car seat. If you own a car seat or booster seats made before January 1, 2012, you can still safely use it. However, under the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act you may not be able to advertise, sell or give it (including lending) away because it may not meet the latest requirements set out by Health Canada and Transport Canada. For more information, go to: www.tc.gc.ca/eng/roadsafety/safedrivers-childsafety-faq-1131.htm.

Q2) How can parents meet the criteria set out by Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards in order to sell or give their car seats to someone else before they are set to expire?

For car seats manufactured prior to January 1, 2012, parents and caregivers should contact the manufacturer to find out whether or not their specific model is compliant with the new requirements. Any seat with a manufacturing date of January 1, 2012, or later will meet the new requirements.

Q3) Is Health Canada telling parents that car seats for which they are no longer needed and are not expired have to go into the landfill? If so, what should parents do with car seats that are sitting in the garage? Is there a place where parents can bring their old car seats to be safely recycled?

Consumers should contact their municipal recycling program to see if they accept car seats.

There is no necessity to replace a child seat that hasn’t expired unless the child seat was in a car that was involved in a collision. Even if your child wasn’t in the child seat when the accident occurred, the child seat could be damaged. The previous standards have provided a high level of safety for children for many years and will continue to provide protection throughout the useful life of a child restraint.

I know that many of my readers are from the US so I called the Transport office for the United States and the rules for car seat reselling or giving away is very simple – if the car seat is over 6 years old, it’s considered expired and should not be resold or given to a friend. If the car seat is under 6 years old, there are no regulations on resell or giving away. There isn’t a Government supported program for car seat recycling. Again, it’s a topic that needs to be addressed with manufacturers.

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Teflon Lined Diaper Bags

A recent question from Pearl on the Mommy Footprint fan page had me interested from the moment I read it.  Thank you for asking about Teflon lined diaper bags Pearl!  I had no idea that some of the many popular diaper bag options sold are lined with Teflon. Since reading Pearl’s question, I’ve spent a few hours researching the article from the standpoint “if I was to purchase a bag with Teflon lining, how would I dispose of this material at the end of the bags life?”.  Well, I cannot find a way for an owner of a diaper bag to dispose of the Teflon after the bag’s use is over. Not only that, most articles about Teflon lined diaper bags think it’s okay to use this material since the bag won’t be licked or eaten from. I’m not a chemist or scientist but the problem with Teflon is when the material is heated. So why would you worry about that in a diaper bag? I go back to my initial argument about how you’ll dispose of the bag once it’s cracked and smelly? You cannot recycle the materials it’s made from so it’s going into the garbage. What happens to garbage? It gets incinerated. The toxic chemicals that teflon omits are called Perfluoinated Teflon Pollutants: PFOA and PFOS. You have no doubt heard of these compounds because environmentalists have been suggesting for years to not cook with Teflon frying pans because of PFOA and PFOS. Why are these chemicals such a big deal?  They are some of the worst chemicals in the environment today because once they are released they never go away. They can be found in all humans (babies still in utero), whales, and polar bears in the arctic that have never made themselves eggs using a Teflon pan. This fact shows how destructive these chemicals are to the environment and to our children! These chemicals are causing infertility, tumors, thyroid disruption and weakened immune systems.   Even if your diaper bag doesn’t end up in the incinerator – PFOA is released into the environment when produced. Like PVC, it is toxic from the time it’s produced and there is no way to dispose of it without causing further harm to the environment and human health.

It’s long been documented that DuPont who creates Teflon in their Virginia plant has had to compensate their employees for their elevated levels of rare cancers and birth defects with their children.  Let’s take a moment to remember that there is a rule when trying to decide as a consumer if a product should enter your home. If something is bad for the environment – it is bad for human health. I’ve said this many time on Mommy Footprint and if there is a material or chemical that meets this criteria, it’s Teflon. So in my mind, it doesn’t matter if a baby or mom is licking the diaper bag because it’s lined with one of the most environmentally damaging materials in use today. Do I want this material in my home, on my shoulder, or close to my baby?

A few other random checkpoints came up while I was looking at different models of diaper bags. Many models talk about a ‘foam’ or memory foam that is inside the change mat for added comfort. Here is a Mommy Footprint test. What question as consumers do we always have to ask when a product has foam and it’s going to be near our baby?  Synthetic foam is a highly flammable material so what needs to be added so it passes North American regulation?  If you answered flame retardants you have been listening!  I would mark this as another question to ask when purchasing a diaper bag with a change pad. Has the foam inside the diaper bag or change pad been treated with flame retardants?  If they cannot answer this question, you’ve got your answer.

Lastly, a covering of scotch guard or antibacterial coating or protection on a diaper bag might be marketed as an amazing feature. Yes, children poo, throw-up, and more around a diaper bag, but doesn’t it make more sense to create a product that is washable rather than coated with chemicals to ‘protect’ against germs?  Scotchgard has the same effect on the environment as Teflon by distributing PFOA into the environment with devastating consequences.  We also know that products that are marketed as containing an antimicrobial agent – you are looking at nanoparticles that are largely unknown for health effects and destroying healthy and bad germs that it comes into contact with. I would recommend always avoiding these marketing tactics because chemicals that belong in hospitals for their strong level of antibac properties can contain triclosan and the concern over the rise in bacterial resistance in our children.

So thank you Pearl for asking me a question that in your heart you already knew the answer.  I felt very emotional researching this topic because once again products geared to mothers, breast feeding mothers, and babies often contain chemicals that are extremely toxic to nature and health. I always like to give examples of where I would shop or point someone looking for safer alternatives in wet bags or diaper bags. Let me introduce an amazing woman that creates hand-sewn, one of a kind creations and bags…

Pip’ n’ Milly Creations is Fiona’s store and she makes diaper bags with lots of functional pockets from natural materials that are washable.  I love that you can pick your own fabrics and work with an artist to create a hand-crafted work of art for a diaper bag!  Working with an artist that can make you a diaper bag ensures you know the materials being used. A really easy cheat sheet when researching diaper bags to narrow down synthetic materials is to ask:

Does this bag contain:

~ flame retardants in the foam?
~ teflon in the liner?
~ PVC in the liner?
~ antibacterial or scotchgard on outer fabric?

If a company cannot answer these questions, you are not purchasing a chemical free diaper bag. Diaper bags cost a lot of money!  Make it an important aspect of planning a baby shower or wish list for gifts and research the key items…not only for the effects that product will have on baby, but on the world they are inheriting!

Related Articles:

Antibacterial Products Heading Back To School


Car Seats and Flame Retardants


Is You’re Child’s Bed or Crib Toxic?


Self Cleaning Oven – Toxic for Humans Or Only Birds?

 

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Finding Food In Glass Jars

I had a great question arrive from Dan who wrote: “I am having a harder and harder time finding foods in glass jars (mayo, vinegar, ketchup, etc.). Can you help with a source?” Thanks for the awesome topic to write about Dan! It instantly reminded me of ‘The Ketchup Riddle’ Rick Smith, co-author of Slow Death By Rubber Duck, writes about. Here is the quote from Slow Death by Rubber Duck that is promoted by a late-night run to the supermarket by Rick:

I stood blinking – staring – at the ketchup selection, honestly perplexed.

~ The organic ketchup came in a plastic bottle.
~ Alymer ketchup, an old Canadian brand made from locally grown tomatoes, also came in plastic.
~ The only option in a glass bottle was the non-organic, non-local Heinz ketchup.

Rick summarized his ketchup paralysis and although I found it entertaining to read, imagine putting this much thought into every product we purchase at the grocery store or mall. It does create a type of paralysis for consumers…even eco-savvy ones. I completely agree with Rick in his summary of this situation that only government action can solve the problem of having to choose between limiting packaging containing plasticizing chemicals or pesticide use, or production of local food. Decisions like this creates huge challenges for consumers that want to make better choices, but run up against all of these questions when purchasing something supposedly easy like ketchup.

Some of you might be wondering why Dan is trying to find food that is packaged in glass. The plastic packaging that surrounds our food can contain plasticizers and other chemicals. Food packaging and chemicals like BPA and Phthalates have been very newsworthy lately. This article isn’t aimed to scare you, but we need to be aware that although chemicals like phthalates are starting to be regulated in toys, there isn’t regulation for food packaging because government and large companies don’t think the trace amounts found in packaging is enough to warrant concern. But savvy green consumers are looking for better options. We know that those squeezable plastic bottles that we purchase our condiments contain plasticizers. We know that you cannot find a tin can in your traditional grocery store that doesn’t contains an epoxy liner – containing BPA – that separates the food or liquid from the aluminum can. Lead in juice boxes, produce and meat counters that place our food on styrofoam and wrap in PVC wrap to ensure ‘freshness’ …the list goes on and on. It seems that plastic is most often the material that touches our food and for numerous reasons regularity discussed at Mommy Footprint, we are trying to avoid this – for human health improvement and for the environment. So after saying all this, the easiest way to avoid food that is packaged in plastic is to avoid heavily packaged foods. Don’t worry, this isn’t my only suggestion for Dan, but when you start shopping with a heightened awareness of packaging, little lightbulbs start going off in your heads and even better if you drop a few hints at your local grocer. They have the power to order our favorite condiments in glass jars – it might be the first time they are asked. Take a closer look at what you purchase. I love the example of cheese strings and yogurt tubes. They are a favorite snack item brought out at preschools and lunches in schools all across America. Cheese strings are sold in completely plasticized packaging…right up against the cheese! Once it’s pulled away, you can tell the outside of the cheese string has been effected…it’s rubbery. You are telling me that packaging hasn’t effected the quality of this product? Another is yogurt tubes that are again packaged in plasticized plastic, but then as a treat, many parents pop them in the freezer to serve the yogurt frozen! So we are taking another product containing plasticizers and then weakening the packaging by placing them in the freezer before given them to children to eat. Gross. And yes, I did used to buy and love the convenience of yogurt tubes, but haven’t purchased them in years because of the issue of packaging. I would hope the power of my consumerism helps to drive change even with a basic item such as yogurt.

On to better choices with food and packaging. It does seem to be hit and miss in large grocers with items like ketchup, mayo, etc. and glass containers. I’ve purchased them before but it’s not a guaranteed offering. Visiting a store like Whole Foods will open up many options to you, but here are two that I’ve found online that offer not only better options with the packaging of products they sell, but improving the quality of the food.

Tropical Traditions
Leading the way with their vast line of coconut oil (my new favorite product) this company has a big commitment to understanding how the products they carry are produced and manufactured. I found many organic vinegars, oils, etc. on this site and many are packaged in glass. I thought the products listed under Organic Food category might be helpful for the everyday consumer. This site’s knowledge of coconut oil benefits is amazing and I recently started following their Fan page on Facebook. Lots of great information there!

Eden Organic
We’ve talked about Eden Organic before, we love their commitment to packaging their beans in tin cans, without using BPA in the can lining. The food, not surprising, is sourced with supporting organic farmers and providing consumers options that are wheat-free, gluten-free, low in sodium, etc. Funny the parallel in healthy food and better packaging options?! Going through the Eden site, I found juices, sauces, butter, oils, vinegars, tomato products that are packaged in amber glass rather than plastic.

We do seem to have options. They are not endless like the contemporary brands found at traditional grocery stores. Voice your concerns regarding packaging and your food. We are continually talking about making better choices with the food we buy: local, organic, GMO-free, etc. Let’s think about how those products are stored and packaged because trace amounts of chemicals leaching into my food is something I’m concerned about. Stop purchasing food that is packaged in soft plastic and cans and tell your grocery manager why you’ve made this decision. You’ve left the decision in their hands where you’ve decided to spend your money – hopefully these decisions will help inspire change.

Related Articles:

A Plastic Rant


PVC Items In Your Everyday Life

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Mommy Footprint’s New Format

Hello! With this post you’ll notice a new look to Mommy Footprint. After three years of growing this website, it has become a database containing hundreds of articles geared to parents on a greener journey with raising children. To mark Mommy Footprint’s third year, my friend and co-worker for the site recommended a make-over. I’m thrilled with the results and I think the site has a much cleaner, easier to read layout. I’d like to thank the countless subscribers and people that have supported this blog over the years – it’s very close to my heart and will always remain a place that is driven by content & research. I will always cover companies and products that are fabulous and I usually have a sponsor that I like to support with links to their site. These sponsors are compatible with my blog because I’ve found their products to be safe and I’m passionate about supporting them.

I’d like to say a special thanks to Dave Zille for 3 years of encouragement and technical support with Mommy Footprint. I often get asked by moms where they can get a blog template just like mine – Dave would be the person to contact…from setting up your own domain and working with you to customize your website requirements. Also a huge thanks to Marina Duque for the custom banner and new Twitter background that truly reflects where the focus of my writing comes from – my children. She’s very creative and works quickly…thank you so much!

Three years later I can answer my site’s tag-line “…what will your legacy be?” I hope my legacy will include children that learn respect for the environment and seek to find ways to improve the world they were born into. And for myself…everytime I learn about a new place chemicals exist – I think there couldn’t possibly be more. But there always is and wait for the day our children look at us proud that our generation turned the tide and made a difference for future generations with chemical exposure. Becoming a parent shouldn’t involve so much research and self-doubt about everything that surrounds our children. One day products sold on store shelves will be properly regulated and something toxic that’s a known carcinogen will not be sold! Before I feel a rant coming….I’ll stop. And just say “thank you” for the encouragement to keep writing and finding my own journey.

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