The Essential Guide

Well, the synthetic element of plastic is where the problem lies. Although most ... on plastics also means making our natural environment a better place for the.
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The Essential Guide For Families Living With Less Plastic

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The Essential Guide For Families To Living With Less Plastic

Contents The Basics

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The problem with plastic

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How do plastics affect our health and children’s health?

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Damage to the environment, marine life and wildlife

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Plastic types

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Common plastics

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Other plastics

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Plastic alternatives

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Plastics and their Alternatives

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Tips 16 Tips for living with less plastic Tips for safer plastic use

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Alternative products to consider: Kitchenware

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Alternative products to consider: Health & Beauty

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The Essential Guide For Families To Living With Less Plastic

The Basics The problem with plastic

Each year in the UK we use around 275,000 tonnes of plastic and this figure is i growing by around 4% annually . Plastic is a material that we use widely in just about every area of the home, from children’s’ feeding spoons through to the bathroom bin. The term basically encompasses a broad spectrum of synthetic or semi-synthetic moldable organic solids and you will often find plastic in unex-

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The Essential Guide For Families To Living With Less Plastic

pected places, such as pillows and carpets. Low cost, ease of manufacture and the fact that items made from plastics are generally practical, wipe clean and waterproof has encouraged widespread use, particularly when it comes to products for children. So, it’s cheap, easy to manufacture and highly practical too so what’s the problem with plastic? Well, the synthetic element of plastic is where the problem lies. Although most plastic is based on an organic compound ‘additives’ that are blended with those organic compounds are where the toxic element is introduced – in some household products additives can make up to 50% of the structure of the product. Additives may be introduced to reinforce strength, add versatility and durability, to make the product cheaper or to introduce an element of fire retardant. The chemicals ii that are most often added into plastics are phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) and tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA). These chemicals are grouped together and called endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs). The issue with EDCs is that they have the ability to disrupt the hormones of both humans and animals. Another group of chemicals that is sometimes found in plastics is called ‘monomers’ and these are even worse, with the ability to cause mutation and even trigger cancer-causing qualities. These chemical elements may enter our systems as a result of actions that are completely out of our control. For example, many are released during the production process of plastics, leading them to get into waterways as waste products and into the soil in which we grow our food before eventually making it into the human body. This kind of environmental pollution is something that many of us should be campaigning against but at the moment it is largely out of our control and a slow process to correct. What we are looking at more specifically here are the plastics that we ourselves bring into our own homes – in the form of bottles, containers, shrink wrapped food and toys – how this affects our families and where it might be possible to live with less plastics to reduce the impact this has.

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The Essential Guide For Families To Living With Less Plastic

How do plastics affect our health and children’s health? To most of us plastics might seem to be relatively harmless – after all, if they are being widely sold in every day household shopping and products, from drinking water bottles through to Tupperware, then they must be fairly safe. Unfortunately it’s not the plastics themselves that cause the issue but what can happen to them via the normal processes of household living once you have brought them into your home. We will look in more detail into the specific types of plastics and how the way that they react can affect us on an individual basis in the section below. However, to generalise, plastics can leech into any food or drink they contain (or directly into the skin) substances that are a skin irritants, which can alter the structure of human cells (particularly in children), which may affect the airways and the immune system, which can trigger reproductive issues, interfere with sex hormoiii, nes affect insulin levels and lower sperm and egg counts. Some of these problems arise with even those plastics that are considered to be ‘safe.’ When you get to the really hazardous plastics then you’re looking at risks such as tumours, preiv cancerous changes in the breast and prostate, asthma , problems with the central nervous system and a predisposition to neurodevelopment disorders like autism.

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The Essential Guide For Families To Living With Less Plastic

Damage to the environment, marine life and wildlife As well as causing health issues for humans, the production and waste processes of plastic have a very negative effect on the environment too. Plastic can take up to 500 years to decompose, which means that all the plastic that you use will outlive you and several generations of your family. When you look at it that way it’s no wonder that our landfill sites are overflowing with plastic waste that we just don’t know what to do with. Living with less plastic means reducing the impact that you and your family are having on the natural world around you, cutting down your part of the enormous amount of landfill that we create as a country and contributing to a better future for all our children. As well as helping to reduce the amount of waste that is generated, cutting back on plastics also means making our natural environment a better place for the non-humans that inhabit it. Marine litter is a big problem and around 60%- 80% 1 of it is plastic – hundred of seabirds and mammals have been found to have ingested marine litter plastic causing untold damage to their insides and many also become entangled in plastic items and die. Plastic marine litter provides a convenient mode for transport of ‘invasive species’ from one country to another and ‘biotic mixing’ i.e. mixing of different organisms is becoming a real problem, 1 6

http://www.endangeredspeciesinternational.org/plastickills.html The Essential Guide For Families To Living With Less Plastic

particularly as it has previously resulted in the extinction of some species. Plastic is easily discarded by humans as it’s cheap and so from the plastic bottle that has been dropped in the street to the plastic bag in the field few of us pay that much attention to throwing it away. However, it can cause real problems simply because it just doesn’t biodegrade. Discarded plastic can block drainage channels and cause floods as happened in Mumbai, India in 1998. Animals eat discarded plastic – one dead cow was found with more than 35kg of plastic in its stomach – and this causes an enormous number of wildlife deaths as the plastic remains in the stomach, blocking normal digestion, often resulting in starvation. Plastics that are dumped into landfills sink harmful chemicals into the groundwater and this affects not only humans who are consuming plants grown in it and animals fed on it but the entire natural environment that relies on it to survive. Although plastic is certainly useful, there isn’t a single element of it that is beneficial for the natural world around us.

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The Essential Guide For Families To Living With Less Plastic

Plastic types There are numerous different types of plastics and all have different uses. Most of the household plastics that pose a threat to us are those that are in products that contain food or liquids. This is because the toxic chemicals in the plastic start to leech into the food or drink inside the container and we then ingest it. It has historically been difficult to establish with any certainty the effects of ingesting food or drink that has been contaminated in this way as most of the studies carried out have not been tested on humans only animals. However, the harmful potential is clear and for most of us it is preferable to take steps to minimize exposure to these kinds of materials before it’s too late.

Common plastics

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The Essential Guide For Families To Living With Less Plastic

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) Where is it found? Usually in thin, clear plastic such as bottles for drinks including juice, beer, containers for salad dressing and ketchup, peanut butter, jam and pickles, microwavable food trays and oven friendly film. What’s the problem? This type of plastic is generally considered to be safe, however, heating PET increases the rate of leakage of antimony, which is a metalloid element with toxic qualities. Antimony can cause stomach ulcers, diarrhea and vomiting. Normally the rate at which antimony seeps into liquid is well below toxic levels, however, this calculation is based on the PET being present in a container that is not being heated above room temperature. Antimony leakage is increased where these types of bottles and containers are stored for a long period of time or are kept in conditions of increased temperature – for example, leaving a bottle of water in a hot car in the summer. Microwaving can also significantly increase the rate at which PET leeches from the container into whatever is inside.

High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) Where is it found? Tends to be in the cloudier, more opaque looking plastics, such as cereal box liners, shampoo and cosmetics bottles, water, juice and milk containers. What’s the problem? HDPE is considered to be a low hazard plastic but, as a 2011 study highlighted, like most plastics HDPE releases estrogenic chemicals. These can cause health problems, particularly in low doses in fetal and young mammals. Exposure to this in young children can be responsible for altering the structure of human cells. The release of estrogenic chemicals from plastics is increased as a result of the plastic being put in boiling water, exposure to sunlight or microwaved, for example heating up a baby’s bottle or leaving a juice bottle in the sun.

Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) Where is it found? Soft and flexible plastics, such as dry cleaning bags, refuse sacks, bags for frozen foods, hot and cold drinks cups, squeezable bottles (for example for marmite or ketchup) and some toys. What’s the problem? As far as we know there is to worry about here as LDPE is a low hazard plastic.

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The Essential Guide For Families To Living With Less Plastic

Polypropylene (PP) Where is it found? Hard but flexible plastics, such as bottle caps and closures, take away food containers, margarine boxes, ice cream cartons and yoghurt pots. What’s the problem? Again, as far as we know, PP is considered safe plastic.

Dangerous plastics Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) Where is it found? This type of plastic is found in a whole range of items including tamper proof lids, shrink-wrap, blister packs and deli and meat wrap. It’s also found in products like bathtub toys, tablecloths, inflatable bath rings, bibs and v artificial leather. What’s the problem? A study concluded in 2008 found that PVC leaches toxic chemicals into water. Di(2-ethylhexyl) Phthalate (DEHP), which is used as a plastic softener for PVC was the subject of two studies, one of which concluded that there was a potential association with asthma in children and the other that it was a compound that has an adverse effect on airways and immune system. DEHP is highly soluble and only loosely bonded to plastic, which means it will leach into blood or any other lipid containing solutions it comes into contact with. Although there is no conclusive evidence, as a result of lack of testing on humans, DEHP is one of the compounds the EU is phasing out as part of its Registration, Evaluation, Authorization & Restriction of Chemical substances (REACH) program. vi There is also significant evidence that PVC workers tend to have higher cancer rates.

Polystyrene (PS) Where is it found? Also known as Styrofoam. This is found in rigid plastics like takeaway containers, yoghurt pots, plastic cups, plates and bowls, meat trays and asprin bottles. What’s the problem? The styrene in the polystyrene can leech from this type of plastic. Styrene doesn’t have a formal carcinogen classification but it has been linked with cancer and the US Environmental Protection Agency has admitted an association to an increased risk of leukemia and lymphoma. In the long term, styrene can act as a neurotoxin. However, most of the styrene that leeches from polystyrene containers is at very low levels. The issue is when polystyrene is heated up. Officially, opinions are still conflicted as to whether leeched styrene could reach dangerous levels but a 2007 study found that hot water in polysty-

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The Essential Guide For Families To Living With Less Plastic

rene cups was found to be contaminated with styrene and generally polystyrene is not recommended for food products.rene cups was found to be contaminated with styrene and generally polystyrene is not recommended for food products.

Bisphenol A (BPA) Where is it found? Bottles, including baby bottles, oven baking bags, ketchup and juice bottles. What’s the problem? Some of the health risks associated with BPA include hormonal changes, lower sperm or egg count, asthma and enlarged prostate glands. Mice exposed to BPA were found to have pre cancerous changes in the breast and prostate. There are also links to obesity and insulin resistance. BPA has been found to suppress the expression of a vital nerve cell function gene that’s also key for central nervous system development. This is why it has been linked to neurodevelopment disorders, such as autism, in both animals and humans.

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene Where is it found? Lego, high chairs, mobile phones, water filter jugs. What’s the problem? Numerous studies have been carried out into whether ABS has leeching issues, particularly as it is made up of toxic components, such as styrene. However, at the moment the conclusion appears to be that ABS resin is stable and non-leeching. One of the easiest ways to get to know which plastics are safe and which are not is to look at the recycling code. You will find the number on most plastic containers and this will tell you what the plastic item you’re holding contains. The key to vii these numbers is as follows :

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The Essential Guide For Families To Living With Less Plastic

1. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) 2. High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) 3. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) 4. Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) 5. Polypropylene (PP) 6. Polystyrene (PS) 7. Other – includes Bisphenol A (BPA) and Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS)

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Plastic alternatives

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Although there are not that many conclusive studies into the risks of plastics, as a result of the lack of testing on humans, there are many other ways to live your life without resorting to plastic products. Glass – glass is made from sand so it is a much more environmentally friendly option than plastic. It is a non-toxic material that doesn’t leech, is easily recycled and is very effective when it comes to storage. It’s completely impermeable to liquids and gases, which makes it totally safe for food storage. Obviously the down side with glass is that it is breakable and can be heavy so it may not be suitable for transporting items around or for children. However, when it comes to storing food and drink of all sorts at home glass is a much better option than plastic. Ceramic – ceramics come in a number of varieties, including clay and earthenware traditional ceramics, as well as more advanced ceramics such as those made from carbides and oxides. Ceramics are very versatile, they can be clear or opaque, they are water, temperature and chemical resistant and some are harder than steel. Ceramics are similar to glass in that they are generally non leeching and impermeable. The only factor to watch out for is the glaze that may have been used on the ceramics in question (just make sure this is free from lead or cadmium). Stainless steel – stainless steel pretty much does what it says on the tin. It is a type of metal that is produced in such a way that it will stain less and which won’t rust (although the extent to which it will do this depends on the grade of stainless

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The Essential Guide For Families To Living With Less Plastic

steel). Stainless steel may release trace amounts of elements like iron, chromium and manganese as it goes through the process of normal wear and tear. How much is released (if any) will depend on the quality of the stainless steel. On balance, in comparison to the leeching dangers of plastic, most experts consider stainless steel to be a much better option. Stainless steel is a particularly good alternative for products for babies and kids, including feeding bottles, cutlery and plates. Other metals – Aluminimum is one of the most abundant metals on earth and commonly used in foil, pots, pans and beverage cans. We are all regularly exposed to aluminium and it is a naturally occurring substance so, on the whole, a better alternative to plastic when utilised sparingly. Acute exposure can cause neurotoxicity and there are some researched links to breast cancer and Alzheimer’s so if you don’t feel comfortable with aluminimum then choose an alternative. Cast iron – rust-free and resistant to wear and tear, cast iron is commonly used for pots and pans, tools and hardware. Cast iron pots and pans will release iron into the food when used for cooking but, unless you or someone in your family has an iron allergy, this is not necessarily something to worry about. However, if you have children under the age of six then it is often best to avoid cooking in cast iron pots – iron toxicity is a rare but serious problem and children in this age group are the most susceptible. Wood – wood that is untreated and non-painted is generally non-toxic and safe. Wood can be used to make utensils, bowls, plates and toys and if treated with natural finishes like linseed oil and beeswax is generally regarded as completely safe. Woods to avoid are mimosa, oleander, sassafras, and yew are these are viewed as inherently toxic. As wood has natural anti-bacterial properties it is often a much better choice for something like a chopping board than a plastic alterative and woods like pine and oak had been show to be more hygienic than plastic. Other – some other alternatives to plastics around the house include the use of natural fabrics (for example using fabric nappies instead of disposable) and waxed paper as an alternative to cling film. There are also some exciting new plastic alternatives currently in development or starting to make their way into the market: Corn plastic – a great alternative to toxic plastic, this type of plastic is made from corn and known as polylactides (PLA). It can decompose with 47 days and doesn’t release toxic fumes if burned. Could be used to make items like cups and utensils. Liquid wood – this originates from the by products of paper mills and appears very similar to plastic except that it is completely biodegradable. So far it has been used in test products like toys and has worked well.

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The Essential Guide For Families To Living With Less Plastic

Plastics and their Alternativesix Plastic Type

Alternative

Water bottles, fizzy drinks bottles, ketchup containers.

• Buy drinks in glass bottles and condiments in glass jars.

Any kind of opaque, wide mouth plastic container – for example yoghurt pots, margarine boxes, spreadable cheeses, sour cream and cottage cheese. Also in opaque beverage bottles, such as for milk and juice, and household detergents.

• Buy in glass containers instead or if you need something more portable opt for occasional aluminium beverage cans. Look for yoghurts, deserts and cheeses sold in glass or ceramic containers. • Buy powdered detergents that come in cardboard boxes not bottles.

Shrink wrap Bathtub toys Wipe clean tablecloths

• Buy from cheese and meat counters direct to avoid anything that has been shrinkwrapped. Use cloth tablecloths that you can put through the washing machine. • Replace plastic bathtub toys with wooden boats or toys made from non-toxic rubber.

Refuse bags

• Minimise use of refuse bags with a compost heap and by using your recycling bin.

PP

Some margarine/butter and yoghurt pots, drinking straws.

• Buy butter in paper wrapped cubes, look for yoghurts in glass pots, stop buying drinking straws.

PS

Packing peanuts, hinged takeaway boxes, take out coffee cups, plastic cutlery, meat trays used in packaged meats.

• Invest in a stainless steel commuter mug instead of getting your takeout coffee in a new disposable cup every day. Avoid/minimise take-aways and make your own food or take your own containers for the take away food. Buy meat from a butcher or a delivery outlet that provides non-PS packaging. Use metal cutlery.

Tupperware, storage containers, babies bottles, water bottles and any plastic that doesn’t have a recycle number 1-6.

• Reuse glass drinks bottles. Invest in a stainless steel reusable water bottle, use glass and ceramic containers for storage and microwaving. • Buy a stainless steel baby feeding bottle instead of plastic.

PET HDPE

PVC

LDPE

Other

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The Essential Guide For Families To Living With Less Plastic

Tips Tips for living with less plastic

If you look around you and find that your home is full of plastic then you’re in the same position as many other people. However, it doesn’t have to be that way – for anyonelooking for ways to live with less plastic then here are a few tips on how to do it: 16

The Essential Guide For Families To Living With Less Plastic

1. Don’t buy packaged and processed foods (including frozen foods). If you have garden or space for plant pots then this is the ideal time to start growing your own. Where time or space simply doesn’t allow for this then buy your foods whole and prepare them yourself rather than purchasing packaged and pre-pared foods, which usually come in several different types of plastic packaging. If possible, buy items like rice, pasta and cereal from bulk bins and fill a reusable container. 2. Re-use glass jars. Glass is a great alternative to plastic for storage so make use of your glass containers and re-use them for everything from pasta sauces to home made jams, orange juice and leftovers 3. Avoid plastic lunchboxes. When you’re preparing lunches for your family steer clear of Tupperware, cling film and lunchboxes made of plastic. Instead, choose unbleached wax paper to wrap your sandwiches in and containers made of glass or ceramics to pack them in. if you want a lighter option, or you’re packing lunch for children who might struggle with glass or ceramics then stainless steel x is a simple alternative. 4. Try making your own cleaning products. Household cleaning products always come in plastic packaging and we often keep them for long periods of time in warm environments. If you want to try and avoid cleaning your home with products that might contain leeched chemicals then simply stop buying them and try more traditional methods instead. You can clean just about anything with a combination of baking soda, essential oils and vinegar. 5. Wherever possible choose natural fibres. Plastics are found in the most unusual of places in home products and furnishings so the safest option is often simply to make sure what you’re buying is 100% natural. For example, plastics can be found in everything from pillows to carpets and babies nappies. Choose items made from fabrics like cotton, wool and hemp instead and look out for indications that what you are buying is 100% biodegradable – if it’s not then it’s likely that it contains plastic of some description. 6. Look out for the hidden plastics. It might surprise you to learn that chewxi ing gum is made of plastic (synthetic rubber) , for example. It’s also a good idea to avoid anything that comes in individual portions, from cheese slices to juice boxes, as the portion dividers are usually made of plastic. 7. Don’t buy bottled liquids like water and juice – invest in your own water carriers and take these with you instead. Drink filtered tap water, squeeze your own juice and make your own smoothies rather than buying them in plastic bottles.

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Tips for safer plastic use

In modern life it simply isn’t possible to avoid plastic as it’s a substance used so widely that makes such a difference to our lives in terms of convenience. However, there are ways to make sure that the plastic you do use isn’t causing serious problems for you and your family by changing the way that you use it.

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The Essential Guide For Families To Living With Less Plastic

Opt for safer types of plastic. As you can see from the plastics guide above, there are many different types of plastics and some have far more risks associated with them than others. In the case of all products available for sale, the type of plastics used in them should be labeled so, if you can’t avoid plastics altogether, make a choice to steer clear of plastics like Bisphenol A and opt for safer substances like Polypropylene instead. Be wary of storing items in plastic for long periods of time. This is one of the ways in which chemicals can leech from plastics into whatever is kept inside them. When you’re preparing or decanting food and drink that you know is likely to stay in its container for some time try to think of other alternatives. So, for example, you might want to choose glass jars to keep jams and chutneys in rather than plastic containers or you might consider decanting squash from its plastic bottle and keeping it in a glass one instead. Even if you’re only storing items for a short period of time you can avoid plastics – for example, switch from cling film to waxed paper instead. Avoid heating plastics. This is another danger area for chemical leeching, particularly if you’re using items that have the more dangerous plastics in, or those that we know speed up leeching when exposed to heat. Every time you are using something plastic stop and think about whether that item is going to come into contact with heat. Heat sources might include boiling water for sterilization, the microwave, a hot car, a radiator. Always use glass or ceramic in a microwave and keep your plastics at room temperature whenever possible. Don’t reuse or refill anything plastic. This can be challenging at first but once you have a system in place then it becomes second nature. When you have plastic empties then recycle them and buy new bottles or, if possible, find a source for your consumables where your food and drink isn’t arriving with you in plastic containers. Again, this is pretty challenging given the convenience of plastic containers and might be impossible for some items. However, there are many shopping delivery services that will now deliver organic vegetables in a box without plastic packaging, milk and juice in glass bottles and meat without the polystyrene trays so it is possible to start making small changes. Be informed. This is a developing area and the risks to children from playing with plastic toys or using plastic cutlery, for example, are still relatively unexplored. However, at present a lot of research is going on into the dangers and the alternatives – for example, in the US Wal-Mart and Toys R Us and requiring all toys imported into the US for sale to be lab tested by third parties to reduce the risk of exposure for children. Buy from responsible retailers, campaign for change and keep on top of the latest developments.

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Recycling Guide

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Children’s Environmental Health Network

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NHS

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The Guardian Newspaper

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United States Environmental Protection Agency

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Healthy Child

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Express Recycling

viii Ecofriend ix

Ecology Center

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Healthy Child – reducing plastics

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The Green Education Foundation

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