How to Get Rid of Old, Unsafe Plastic Bottles

You've replaced your polycarbonate water bottle or baby bottles and sippy cups with aluminum or safer plastic that doesn't contain bisphenol-A, the hormone-altering chemical that's been stirring up controversy lately.

But I still have my old bottles lying around and I've been wondering what to do with them. Other consumers are wondering too, out loud on Web sites, blogs and listserves.

You don't want to just throw them out and have these chemical-laden things sit in a landfill, and many municipal recycling programs don't take plastics with the recycling number 7 on them, which is the category these bottles fall into.

Most charities don't take used bottles, and even if they did it's hard to pass along in good conscience something you are getting rid of because you believe it's harmful.

What to do?

You could offer them up on your local edition of Freecycle or Craigslist, making it clear that these are the bottles that have Bisphenol-A. With any luck, some creative soul will have found an alternative, non-food use for them.

The wide-necked Nalgene bottles are versatile and could be good for collecting coins or holding a portable first-aid kit. Or you could repurpose them yourself.

There are rumors circulating on the Web that some BabiesRUs stores are taking back bottles that parents are worried about in return for store credit. A spokesperson said in an email that that the store is adhering to its usual return policy -- no more, no less.

Shoppers can return items without a receipt, but the company reserves the right to refuse refunds on these receiptless items at its discretion. This gives store managers wiggle room and might account for the varying degrees of success parents have had returning older bottles.

If you have a BabiesRUs near you, give it whirl. At best you can exchange your bottles for a safer brand you would prefer. At worst, you can hand them over without a credit and put it on ToysRUs to dispose of them safely or send them back to its suppliers.

ToysRUs promises to sell only BPA-free bottles by the end of this year, but New Jersey and Connecticut stores I visited recently had displays that were bulging with Avent, which is owned by Royal Philips Electronics ( PHG), and Dr. Brown's bottles while whatever alternatives they offer were out of stock. Winding up with a pile of bottles that its customers don't want would probably spur the company to stock up on the better bottles more quickly.

Or skip the middleman.

A parent on my local ParkSlopeParents listserve suggested returning bottles directly to the manufacturers.

"Personally I am so angry that Avent seems to not take this seriously and refuses to make non-BPA bottles," she wrote. "I cannot understand a company willing to take a risk with children's health."

I know her frustration.

The FDA still considers polycarbonate a safe plastic for food-related use. But there's a lot of information out there suggesting it might not be 100% healthy, particularly for small children. Alternative materials exist and competitors use them, so why not play it conservative when it comes to the tiniest consumers and make the switch?

Below are the addresses for the makers of Nalgene water bottles as well as three prominent baby gear companies that are still cramming store shelves with polycarbonate bottles (Avent is the only one of the four that has no alternative plastic bottle on shelves or on the way).

Nalge Nunc International
Outdoor Products Division
75 Panorama Creek Drive
Rochester, NY 14625 U.S.A.

Avent
1600 Summer St.
Stamford, CT 06945

Dr. Brown's
Handi-Craft Company
4433 Fyler Avenue
St. Louis, Missouri 63116

Gerber ( GRB)
200 Kimball Dr.
Parsippany, NJ 07054

If these companies receive piles of their own bottles in the mail it will send a message that consumers expect better. And, practically speaking, perhaps they can use their scale to sell the bottles for recycling into products that aren't food-related.

If we can't make these problem bottles go away than at the very least, perhaps we and the companies that made them can find ways to keep them out of landfills.

What have you done with your polycarbonate bottles? If you've found an affective or creative way to recycle or reuse them, let me know.

Eileen P. Gunn writes about the business of life and is the author of "Your Career Is An Extreme Sport." You can learn more about her at her Web site.

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