Safe Enough for Child’s Play

Boy with PET Water Bottle

Boy with PET Water Bottle

After my blog of March 30, 2015 “Materials With Some Concerns“, my partner suggested that I do a similar blog about our best known material, Origins, which uses High Density Polyethylene predominantly (with some Low Density Polyethylene occurring naturally in the “market” colors Milk Jug Natural and Confetti). So I goggled around and couldn’t find any serious concerns about Polyethylene except when it is PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) which we don’t allow in our resin feedstocks. Ummmm . . . what about my children’s water bottle ? Should I worry ?

While the Care2 article “Which Plastics Are Safe ?” noted that PET is “not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones”, I found conflicting information at the National Institutes of Health – Environmental Health Perspectives section. The report author Leonard Sax says – “Recent reports suggest that endocrine disruptors may leach into the contents of bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET). PET is the main ingredient in most clear plastic containers used for beverages and condiments worldwide and has previously been generally assumed not to be a source of endocrine disruptors.”

He goes on to say that – “The contents of the PET bottle, and the temperature at which it is stored, both appear to influence the rate and magnitude of leaching. Endocrine disruptors other than phthalates, specifically antimony, may also contribute to the endocrine-disrupting effect of water from PET containers.” He concluded that – “More research is needed in order to clarify the mechanisms whereby beverages and condiments in PET containers may be contaminated by endocrine-disrupting chemicals.”

And then, yet again, the PlasticsInfo.org website makes a strong case that PET is safe saying –
“As a result of advances in analytical chemistry, even the most miniscule level of migration from the plastic to foods can now be measured. Tests to determine the levels of compounds that have the potential to transfer from the plastic into food are conducted using conditions that simulate the actual use of the material. These tests have found that the migration of any components of PET plastics under laboratory conditions is well below applicable safety levels. Therefore, FDA has determined that PET is acceptable to use in the applications for which it has been tested.”

At Facts on PET – the Antimony question (“Don’t PET bottles leech antimony?”) that Leonard Sax expresses concerns about is answered this way – “Antimony trioxide is a catalyst that is sometimes used in PET production. Numerous tests have found that the level of antimony in bottled beverages falls well below even the strictest regulatory guidelines designed to protect public health. (See the International Life Sciences Institute white paper on PET) In addition, some resin producers are proactively shifting toward other catalysts that would reduce or eliminate the need for antimony in the production of PET”. The Environmental Working Group website judges PET to have a low overall hazard rating. Regarding Organ System Toxicity (non-reproductive) they note it is classified as “expected to be toxic or harmful” and to have a “medium health priority”.

It can be difficult for an average consumer to decide – “well below applicable safety levels” does not indicate the total absence of chemical leaching. I would tend to err on the side of the NIH researcher . . . and if Antimony did NOT pose “some concerns” then why would the industry be “proactively shifting toward other catalysts” to reduce or eliminate the need for it ? Hmmmmm, yeah – one can be grateful for that !!

That’s about all I can tell you currently about PET. Now on to “our” polyethylenes . . . the ones we recycle to make Origins. These are the #2 High Density Polyethylene and some #4 Low Density Polyethylene in the “market” resin colors.

It would be pretty difficult to swallow our Origins material in the sheet form that we make it into and sell it as. If small enough parts were created that could be swallowed without choking or causing an obstruction the polyethylene would pass inertly through the digestive system. Actually, I wrote in my Feb 9, 2015 blog “Better Living Through Chemistry ?” about the fact that a form of polyethylene (Polyethylene Glycol 3350) is the primary “active” ingredient in the laxative Miralax that our pediatrician recommended for our son.

RRP at Concord Elementary

Origins has been used in a variety of child-related applications because of its bright colors and interesting patterns. Our material has been used for eye-catching exhibit pieces at several children’s museums including the Palo Alto Junior Museum in California and the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum in Milwaukee WI.

Small Scale Construction System by Mark Frank for the Chicago Children's Museum

Small Scale Construction System by Mark Frank
for the Chicago Children’s Museum

The Chicago Children’s Museum even made interactive construction pieces out of various colors and custom specified the shapes they wanted for children to play directly with.

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh by Astorino

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh by Astorino

It is no surprise given the highly colorful (inside and out) design unveiled in 2009 by Astorino for The Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh that Yemm & Hart’s Origins material as fabricated into restroom partitions was used extensively throughout. Wherever children play Origin’s bright colors stimulate their imaginations which is why our 523 Purple Garden was used for restroom partitions at Kid’s Quest for the Santa Fe Station Casino in Las Vegas NV.

Kid's Quest 523 Purple Garden

Nor is it surprising that Skyline Design offers two Origins patterns – Warm Orange or Cool Blue – as surfacing options to its customers for their line of children’s furniture known as Greenplay.

Greenplay Children's Furniture in Warm Orange at  Advocate Lutheran General Hospital by Cannon Design

Greenplay Children’s Furniture in Warm Orange
at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital by Cannon Design

During our years of doing Earth Day celebrations in St Louis, children would often approach me to ask if our Confetti color was melted crayons. We gave away hundreds of little samples and in subsequent years children would often come back to our exhibit just to show me they still had their piece of our recycled plastic.

Darin Wacs Toys

It is difficult for us to conduct the kind of testing that most architects and interior designers rely on to feel safe about using a product. The changing nature of the post-consumer waste stream makes it impossible for us to have a material as consistently and exactly the same from one batch to the next that original manufacturers of plastic resins enjoy. We use the best processors that reliably sort and wash the post-consumer plastics to yield a clean and dependable resin that allows us to offer our customers a 100% post-consumer recycled content material we can all feel good about. We know that our business’ longevity from being in the recycled materials industry for over 25 years as well as the obvious safety of milk jug plastic (High Density Polyethylene) offer a reassuring confidence for our customers. After all, a material that is deemed safe enough to touch our children’s milk is pretty easy to trust.

~ Information Resources

“Polyethylene Terephthalate May Yield Endocrine Disruptors” by Leonard Sax posted Nov 25, 2009 – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2854718/

“The Safety of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)” – http://plasticsinfo.org/Main-Menu/MicrowaveFood/Need-to-Know/Plastic-Bev-Bottles/The-Safety-of-Polyethylene-Terephthalate-PET.html

POLYETHYLENE TEREPHTHALATE – http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/704991/POLYETHYLENE_TEREPHTHALATE/

FAQ about PET – http://www.factsonpet.com/frequently-asked-questions/

Patient Centered Design – Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh – http://www.fastcompany.com/1351198/patient-centered-design-childrens-hospital-pittsburgh

Greenplay Children’s Furniture by Skyline Design, Chicago – http://www.skydesign.com/products/childrens-furniture

Kid’s Quest – Santa Fe Station Casino – http://www.kidsquest.com/hourly-child-care/santa-fe-station-hotel-casino

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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A special NOTE for those who care – the Environmental Working Group is requesting signatures for a petition that opposes the Udall-Vitter bill which they feel is a deceptive effort under the guise of “reform” by the chemical industry that will prioritize industry profitability at the expense of consumer health. They indicate that the competing bill by Senators Boxer and Markey is preferable. Go to the ewg.org “POLYETHYLENE TEREPHTHALATE” link above to subscribe and a pop up on the page will yield you an opportunity to sign their petition). I’ve filled out their form . . . and yeah, I signed the petition.

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