Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET / PETE) – Is it Safe for Your Baby?

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If you’ve spent any time researching green, eco-friendly or non-toxic crib mattresses for your baby, you might have come across mattresses containing polyethylene terephthalate (most commonly abbreviated as PET or PEET).

PETE might sound scary and take a few tries to pronounce (pol-eeee-eth-ul-eeen tet-ra-fal-ate). However, most current research and international safety standards suggest it’s an okay choice for your baby’s crib mattress.

Today, some of the top “natural,” “non-toxic” and “organic” crib mattress manufacturers make use of PETE in their mattresses. Companies use it as a mattress filling, as waterproofing, and as a fabric (in the form of a polyester – the textile version of PETE).

Nook Sleep‘s Pebble Lite crib mattress, Lullaby Earth, the Colgate Eco Classica III, and the Newton Baby are examples of crib mattresses that incorporate PETE (or polyester – the textile form of PETE) in different ways.

But is it safe for your baby? And what about the environment? Is a smart choice for families trying to go green?

In this article, we’ll answer all the questions you never knew you had about buying a crib mattress made using polyethylene terephthalate.

Introducing Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE/PET)

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE or PET) is a common, everyday plastic you probably use a lot in your day-to-day life.

In fact, PETE makes up more than 50% of the synthetic fiber used in the world today. You probably know it as polyester (the textile form) or by the #1 recycling symbol on single-use water bottles and food containers.

Furthermore, PETE has become increasingly popular in recent years as a crib mattress component.

As such, it is important parents inform themselves of the pros, cons, risks and benefits of using products made from polyethylene terephthalate in their baby’s nursery.

Polyethylene Terephthalate is Probably Already Everywhere in Your Life

Think back to the last time you drank bottled water or soda from a plastic bottle. If you drank that beverage in the United States, chances are it came in a PETE bottle.

Empty Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE or PET) water bottles in the hand of someone cleaning litter from a patch of grass.

In fact, you’ll probably find PETE throughout your home if you go looking for it:

“It is also popular for packaging salad dressings, peanut butter, cooking oils, mouthwash, shampoo, liquid hand soap, window cleaner, even tennis balls.

PETRA

In other words, PETE is everywhere.

But what, exactly, is it?

Polyethylene Terephthalate is a Hydrocarbon

PETE is a plastic. Manufacturers combine its building blocks – ethylene glycol (a hydrocarbon derived from crude oil and natural gas) and terephthalic acid – to create a polymer chain.

Going from this initial material to a final product involves several stages of processing, followed by liquefaction. PETE is super useful from an industrial perspective, because it can be liquified and shaped into almost any shape.

Sounds great, right?

At this point, you’re probably wondering what’s the catch….

Safety First: The Benefits and Concerns Around Polyethylene Terephthalate

Many Experts and Governments Agree PET or PETE is a “Safer Plastic”

Leading health authorities around the world widely consider PETE to be one of the safer plastics.

According to the PET Resin Association:

“PET is approved as safe for contact with foods and beverages by the FDA and health-safety agencies throughout the world.”

PETRA

While the PET Resin Association certainly has “skin in the game” and can’t be expected to be neutral, there are many other reputable organizations that consider PETE to be one of the safer plastics.

For example, Paediatrics & Child Health, a peer-reviewed medical journal and the official journal of the Canadian Paediatric Society, identifies PETE as a “safer” plastic in this 2008 article discussing Health Canada’s decision to declare BPA a harmful substance.

Some Studies Suggest Safety Concerns

However, this is only part of the story. Plastics safety – and the research around it – is constantly evolving.

Don’t believe us? Consider how widely-accepted BPA was until recently.

What are the Known Health Concerns with PETE?

One of the main health concerns related to PETE has to do with antimony, a chemical used as a catalyst during the manufacturing process, that is also a possible carcinogen.

According to this study published on the Royal Society of Chemistry: 

“90% of the PET manufactured worldwide employs Sb2O3 [antimony trioxide] as a catalyst. Antimony trioxide is a suspected carcinogen, and is listed as a priority pollutant by the US EPA, the EU, and the German Research Foundation.” 

Much of the research has focused on antimony leaching from bottled water stored in PETE containers, especially at higher temperatures. However, there is also evidence that antimony from polyester clothing can be hazardous to the wearer, as well.

A 2013 Greenpeace report regarding chemicals in clothing found:

Antimony … was detected in fabrics from all 36 articles investigated, which were composed either of polyester, or a blend of polyester and other fibres.

This is indeed concerning. However, a 2003 Danish government funded report into chemicals found in textiles concluded detected antimony levels were not sufficient to cause health concerns.

Perhaps the quote below best sums up the issue of PETE safety:

“I used to say: ‘4, 5, 1, and 2. All the rest are bad for you. Now, I’m not saying that anymore. We don’t know about 4, 5, 1, or 2. This raises questions about all plastic bottles.”

Shanna Swan, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, referencing a 2009 German study that found estrogen mimicking chemicals in bottled water

Going Green and Polyethylene Terephthalate

If the question of health and polyethylene terephthalate is a bit unclear, same goes when it comes to the environment.

Environmental Pros Associated with Polyethylene Terephthalate

Industry associations argue PETE is a responsible environmental choice:

  • PETE is fully recyclable (identifiable by recycling symbol number 1). PETE is the most recycled plastic in the USA.
  • It’s an energy-efficient packaging material as compared to glass and aluminum.
  • 40% of PETE’s energy use is at the raw material level, making recycled PETE far less energy intensive than “new.”
  • It’s very lightweight, which means it requires less energy for shipping.

Environmental Concerns Associated with Polyethylene Terephthalate

However, there’s no getting around the fact that PETE is not biodegradable. Once produced, it remains in our ecosystem pretty much forever. And with it, come countless environmental concerns.

One environmental concern associated with PETE use is microplastics. According to this 2018 study published in Polymers,

“At present, the pollution of microplastic directly threatens ecology, food safety and even human health. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is one of the most common of microplastics.”

In addition to contributing to microplastic pollution and being non-biodegradable, PETE can cause water pollution.

Further, it’s an energy-intensive process. Polyester requires far more energy to produce than more natural choices, including both conventional or organic hemp and cotton (source).

What Does This All Mean for Your Family?

Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer.

When it comes to deciding whether to use PET or PETE in your baby’s nursery, families need to weigh up the pros and cons individually, and with their paediatrician.

At the time of writing, most health authorities consider PETE a “safer plastic.”

However, the research is evolving, and it’s hard to say what the final verdict will be.

PETE / PET Free Crib Mattresses

Polyethylene Terephthalate FAQs

What is Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE/PET)?

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE or PET) is a common, everyday plastic. Most likely, you use it quite frequently in your day-to-day life in the form of single use water or soda bottles, food packaging, and more.

When used for packaging, it’s known as PET or PETE. When used as a textile, it’s known as polyester.

Where is Polyethylene Terephthalate Found?

You can probably find PETE throughout your house and day-to-day life. It’s a common packaging material for food and drinks, and you’re likely to find it throughout your refrigerator and pantry. You might also find it in your closet (as polyester) or in carpet, rope, sleeping bag filling, construction materials, and more. 

PETE is commonly used to package beauty products and cosmetics; water, juice, and soft drinks; sauces and salad dressings; cooking oils; video and film; and more.

How is Polyethylene Terephthalate Made?

PETE is a plastic derived from crude oil and natural gas. Ethylene glycol (a hydrocarbon) and terephthalic acid are the “building blocks” behind PETE. They’re combined to create a polymer chain, processed, and liquified before being shaped into its final form.

Most of the PET manufactured in the world uses Sb2O3 [antimony trioxide] as a catalyst. Antimony trioxide is a suspected carcinogen, and is one of the main health concerns surrounding PET.

Does Polyethylene Terephthalate Contain BPA or Phthalates?

No. Polyethylene Terephthalate is a BPA-free plastic and does not contain phthalates.

Is there a connection between Polyethylene Terephthalate and SIDS?

No (according to this article). Antimony, which is widely used in PETE manufacturing, is considered to be the most problematic aspect of PETE from a health perspective. However, multiple and extensive studies have investigated antimony as a possible cause of SIDS and failed to confirm a link.

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