Why You Don’t Want to Use StyroFoam Dishes This Summer (or Ever!)



It is finally summer fair and barbeque season. Yippee! However, I am reminded how often I see food being handed out on styrofoam plates and containers and why this is should be of concern to everyone.

I have always hated the feel of styrofoam cups on my lips so I started avoiding it years ago. I have since learned it contains some serious toxic compounds which can leach out into food. So shouldn’t we all be avoiding it? The challenge is that it is still so widely used.  As it’s likely you too will run into it this season, best to know WHY and HOW  to avoid styrofoam.

What is styrofoam??

  • Styrofoam is a trademarked name for an extruded foam made from polystyrene
  • Polystyrene is a synthetic compound derived from petroleum, and contains toxic compounds such as benzene. It is a lightweight, insulating material that is used in many formats in industry…unfortunately including disposable dish ware.

Studies have shown that the styrene leaches out of the styrofoam and into our bodies when we use styrofoam cups and plates.  In fact, a study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology found just that when the food (or drink) inside was hot. If it makes you feel any better, it was also found that styrene didn’t leach out of foam egg cartons, which are usually refrigerated. so we can assume the most harm to human health comes when the styrofoam is heated.

However the direct impact on human health shouldn’t be our only concern. Styrofoam has become an acute environmental issue. The Environmental Protection Agency released a report (1986) listing the polystyrene manufacturing process  as the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste. Fifty-seven toxic chemical byproducts are released during the manufacturing process of polystyrene, including benzene. Just think of the workers who manufacture it if nothing else.

As well, styrofoam takes 500 years to decompose. It makes up 25-30% of our world’s landfills AND has become a major source of marine pollution. And even though styrofoam is no longer manufactured with CFC (‘chlorofluorocarbon’ the famous ozone depleting chemical), it still uses hydrofluorocarbons linked to depleting the ozone layer and affecting global warming.

How to Avoid Styrofoam:

  • Look for the number 6. Polystyrene foam should be easy to spot by looking for a 6 inside the chasing arrow (aka ‘the mobius loop) symbol.  Unfortunately, polystyrene is also used in non-foam food containers, including clear-plastic clamshells and coffee-cup lids.
  • Don’t frequent restaurants or take out places that offer this type of food container.
  • BE PREPARED and take your own environmentally-friendly food and drink containers where you can to picnics, BBQs and fairs.

And remember that even though many jurisdictions are now trying to recycle styrofoam.. it is not a good option to use in the first place. So many chemicals used in its production affecting workers and our environment. We can all do better for the sake of our health, other people, AND our environment. So get yourself some stainless or glass re-usable containers and bamboo plates.

This post was inspired by the work of SaferChemicalsHealthyFamilies who work tirelessly to inform people of hidden toxins in their consumer goods….for which we should all be thankful 🙂


Happy (and Safe) Spring Cleaning!

young happy mother is a housewife with a baby does homework and

Spring is finally here! So the age-old practice of spring cleaning our homes from top to bottom is upon us. Throw open your windows, enjoy the spring air and keep these 5 things in mind for happy, healthy, and safe spring cleaning:

1) Keep Cleaning Products Out of Reach of Children. Many conventional cleaning products are made with chemicals of concern and must be kept out of reach of small children. Keep all cleaning products well out of reach of little ones and read up on household chemical safety.  The Government of Canada offers safety tips on household chemicals because unfortunately, household chemical products are responsible for far too many serious injuries in children under the age of five each year.

2. Know Your products.  I have found that the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning is a great tool in determining the toxicity of ingredients in common household cleaners.  Simply type in the name of your cleaning product into their database and all ingredients will be listed and ranked in terms of toxicity. Look for an ‘A’ which indicates cleaning products which are the ‘cleanest’. ‘F’ just as in school, is a fail. You may be surprised what you find. And be sure to check EWG’s Hall of Shame for the worst of the worst cleaners in terms of toxicity. I once found I owned one of these. Yikes!

3) It is Not Necessary to Use Conventional Cleaning Products. Many people have great success with D-I-Y cleaning products made with ingredients commonly found in a pantry. These home made cleaners are effective, non-toxic AND far more economical than conventional cleaners. Loads of recipes exist on the internet…everything from floor to window cleaners. A good source for D-I-Y cleaners is David Suzuki’s Queen of Green. Get a copy of some of her tried and true D-I-Y cleaner ‘recipes’ here and give it a go!

4) Ready Made Clean Cleaning Products Do Exist!  For those who don’t count D-I-Y among their talents (I am one of these!) know there are fantastic, smaller companies making products with NO toxic ingredients.  One of my favourite Canadian line of all-natural cleaning products (and deliciously scented with essential oils!) is by Vancouver-based Sapadilla. From laundry to floors, they have you covered. And I love Toronto company, GRAYDON for their all-natural product, Germs Away Mist.  In my house, this product alone takes care of all unwanted household smells (think diaper bin, bathrooms, yoga mat or gym bag). Even germs on hands benefit from the natural anti-microbial action of The Mist’s blend of 15 essential oils including clove, peppermint and geranium. And essential oils are much safer and easier on the skin and nose than synthetic perfume compounds.

5) And Be Aware of GreenWashing.  Companies can use the words ‘natural’ or ‘Green’ as a marketing term in Canada or the US without being held to the product really being better or safer than any other product. This is important for parents to know especially when the safety of children is at stake. I was surprised when I bought a household cleaning product with the word ‘Green’ in the product name just to find that its ingredients were too toxic for my comfort-level.

Mothers March: A Stroller Brigade To Demand Tougher Laws on Toxic Chemicals

A stroller brigade is planning to march in Washington DC on October 29 (tomorrow!.)

Stroller BrigadeThey will be demanding laws which protect people from toxic chemicals in everyday products. And they have my support…

From my home in Toronto, I will be watching and cheering on my American neighbours who are marching for change which will benefit all of us all.

This march brings to light that so many people are tired of hearing what to avoid in every day products. People have had enough of trying to research each and every ingredient in a product to determine whether it is safe or not. AND most of us are not accepting of our kids being used as ‘canaries in a coal mine’. The stats on increasing rates of childhood disease, including severe allergies, dermatitis, eczema, asthma and cancers are alarming. It has to stop. Laws need to protect us.

There are a number of reasons that Canadians should be paying attention to this march on the US Capital tomorrow.  Most of the Canadian population lives within 250 km of the US border, or buys US consumer goods, or shares water and air with the US (think Great Lakes, rivers which transverse our borders). Toxic chemicals do not stop at the 49th parallel.

And of course there’s always the hope that Canadian lawmakers will take note. Canadian laws concerning toxic chemicals have loads of room to be strengthened too so my fingers are crossed….

Please spread the word of this Stroller Brigade. Post details of this march to your Facebook page, tweet about it using hashtags #StrollerBrigade and #SaferChemicals. And you can sign up here to lend your support on line.

Happy ‘marching’ everyone! Together, we can make a difference.

Babies Are Born ‘Pre-Polluted’. So What’s A Parent To Do?

Recently Environmental Defence Canada reported on the results from testing umbilical cord blood OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAof three newborn babies born in Toronto and Hamilton, ON. A small sample size that indicated a potentially HUGE issue. Each baby was found to contain 55 to 121 toxic compounds such as flame retardants, PCB’s, organochloride pesticides, dioxins and furans, mercury and lead. Of 137 toxic compounds found in these wee babies, 132 are reported to cause cancer. So before our babies can even say the words….they are subject to these horrific toxins.

It is important to note that the test results reported by Environmental Defence, by no way are the result of the actions of any one of the women whose baby was tested. The reality is that toxic chemicals are most everywhere….including in a significant number of common household products. Lax laws on toxic chemicals are affecting all of us including our newborn babies.

Luckily, organizations on both sides of the 49th parallel are urging both the US and Canadian governments to make change and to tighten laws around toxic chemicals. This is an issue where conventional borders often mean nothing. Irregardless of where you live, it is most important to note that the US and Canada share waterways, airways, and consumer goods.  Lax laws affect all of us. While we all wait (Read: law reform can be very slow!), there are steps we can all take toward reducing our individual toxic loads:

1) Speak up! Feel free to sign petitions such as this one to get laws put in place to protect us. Give backing to those who are working on all of our behalf.

2) Follow and support organizations who are working on all of our behalf everyday. In addition to Environmental Defence, I follow Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and Women’s Voices For The Earth. I cannot tell parents how fabulous the information is I get just by ‘liking’ or following these organization that report on this subject matter everyday.

3) Inform yourself!  I like to say ‘make google your best friend’. Research and then make the decisions you feel are easiest and most important for you and for your own family. The Top 10 worst household toxins are easily found on-line making them easier for you to avoid.

4) Know that toxic chemicals are finding their way to you in your bodycare products, clothing, beds, couches, food, toys, backpacks, lunchboxes, laundry detergent just to name a few.  I know it can be overwhelming but make one small change at a time.  It becomes easy and feels so good to know you are reducing your family’s toxic load.

5) My mantra is ‘speak with your wallet’. I choose not to buy from companies that are not making change toward cleaner products and conversely I wholeheartedly support those who are. Companies that fight the move toward cleaner products or call it ‘fear-mongering’ when we ask for chemicals banned in other countries to be eliminated from products in our country, lose me AND my dollars.

6) Make it your business to know what is in your family’s foods. organochloride pesticides were found in that cord blood. Research organic farming and see why foods grown organically might suit your family better. Know what genetically-modified food is and that toxins are spliced right into the foods we eat.  Then make the decision if you want your family to eat that type of food? Or speak up so none of us have to even make that decision. Really all food should be free from toxins, shouldn’t it? Know that it has become the norm in processed grocery-store foods to add oodles of health-affecting additives most people don’t even know are there. For instance take a look at what is commonly in commercial breads. Who wants that for breakfast?

7) Choose safe body care products from reputable businesses. In Canada, Environmental Defence has a list of some pretty fabulous companies that offer all-natural and good quality products. And I am a fan of the Skin Deep database for being the best single database around for families to check out what is in their cosmetic products. Know that hundreds of UNTESTED toxic substances are allowed in bodycare in Canada and the US. Read your labels..research ingredients you find such as methylisothiazoline, oxybenzone, Quaternium-15, parabens, BHA, BHT, triclosan, sodium lauryl sulfate….just to name a few. Once you know what these chemicals are suspect of, you may change up the products you have been using.

8) Say ‘no’ to plastics! I know its a challenge but we all can do it it. Ditch the plastic wrap, plastic grocery bags, plastic toys, plastic shower curtains, plastic drinking containers, plastic rain gear.  And know some companies are even using plastics in exfoliating skincare products! So ditch the polluting plastic skincare products too….

Seemingly small changes by all of us can make a big difference not only to us here and now, but to our children and their children. Perhaps from all of our combined efforts, in a generation or two, babies will no longer be born ‘pre-polluted’.

Feel free to share changes you are or will be making toward reducing your family’s toxic load. We always love to hear from you!