Is melamine safe? What to know before buying kids melamine plates.
In recent years, kids dinner plates have come a long way in materials and design. From bamboo plates for toddlers, to plastic polypropylene that is free of melamine, as used in Munchy Play plates.
But, while we’re all aware of the dangers of BPA products, we’re only starting to understand the potential issues around other commonly used materials, such as melamine in kids plates.
You just have to type ‘is melamine safe for kids’ into Google and it produces the following result by The Spruce:
In this feature we’re going to explain what is melamine, look at some of the independent research around it, and present some melamine alternatives to help you make an informed decision.
Above: Munchy Play plates which do not carry melamine.
What is melamine?Melamine is defined as a 'nitrogen-rich chemical compound' which is commonly used in products, including kids melamine plates. It is widely used in manufacturing since it’s cheap and highly durable, making it good for long-term use.
However, a growing body of research (outlined further down in this article) suggest that kids melamine plastic plates could have potentially harmful effects in some circumstances.
Nonetheless, a number of melamine plate and bowl sets are widely available. Just go into your kitchen and take a look at the base of the children’s plastic plates in your cupboard. Underneath you’ll see some symbols.
Anything with ‘MF’ refers to melamine-formaldahyde resin, while ‘MP’ refers to melamine-phenol resin. Sometimes, however, there will be no indication of the material used and you’ll have to look on the company’s website or packaging.
Typically, melamine plates tend to be hard and shatterproof - meanwhile polypropylene plastic and silicone kids plates have a bit more give, although are equally as durable.
A popular melamine alternative is polypropylene. This is shown with the ‘PP’ or number 5 symbol on the back of kids’ plates.
Are melamine kids plates safe?
Over the years there have been certain concerns around the safety of kids’ melamine plates. It is understood that once heated, melamine has the potential to leach toxins in some, but not all, instances.
The concern around melamine comes from a famous study, published by JAMA International Medicine in 2013. The findings suggests that melamine can leach from dishes into food and subsequently the body, under certain conditions, such as high-temperature foods. This spawned headlines like “melamine can leach off bowls and into food study finds but risk of harm uncertain” from news outlets like The Huffington Post.
Seperately, melamine was also in the headlines in 2008 when China was the centre of a global news story, when traces of melamine were found in baby formula. Tragically, this took the lives of six babies, and made a further 300,00 ill, reported the BBC.
More recently, another independent study found that melamine-based tableware can be a “source of human exposure to this nephrotoxicant”.
It’s understandable with so many questions around the potential dangers of melamine, that you might seek alternative options for your kids' paltes. The good news is that there’s plenty of options for children's tableware, and here's just a few to inspire you:
Polypropylene plastic plates
Polypropylene is a popular material for children's plates, as it's durable, practical and does not have the same safety concerns as some other materials. Healthline says it is "generally considered to be one of the safer plastics". Ideal for children’s plastic plates, it has a high heat tolerance, which according to Livestrong.com “do not leach harmful chemicals into foods or liquids and are not associated with any known health issues.”
Polypropylene plates are highly resistant even to the most enthusiastic of toddlers, making them ideal for children. What’s more they can be recycled at the end of their long life, making them an all-round winner.
There’s a growing trend for reusable bamboo plates UK. Some of these provide an eco-friendly solution, even if they are not dishwasher or microwave safe.
However, not all bamboo plates for toddlers are manufactured the same way, so it’s important to do your due diligence and seek out brands that are committed to ethical and sustainable practices.
In some cases, particularly where bamboo is used in fibre or powder form, the bamboo is ‘agglomerated’ sometimes using melamine as a binder. In a recent feature in Bio Plastic News, it was reported that as many as one in ten bamboo objects could carry ‘abnormalities’. However, this is not the standard with all bamboo kids' plates - many are free of plastics, and it's important to research each supplier on an individual basis.
Ceramic and porcelain plates tend to be less commonly used in the early years, since they can easily break, shatter and chip, making them less than ideal for inquisitive toddlers that like to throw household objects about!
That said, the material is dishwasher safe and easy to clean.
However, do be aware that toxic materials - lead and cadmium - can sometimes be found in the glazes, clays and paints used, although this tends to be less common these days and far more associated with older versions of this tableware. It is best to check each brand individually, as this can vary from kids plate to plate.
Stainless steel dishes
Stainless steel is a durable material that will last you for many years. That said, unless it has a non-slip feature, you may decide this it’s more suitable for older children that are less likely to push it around a table.
Due to the nature of the material, it cannot be printed on, keeping the design basic. However, it is easy to clean, unbreakable and highly resistant to toddler tantrums, making it a practical choice.
Is melamine eco-friendly?
Typically, melamine plates are a ‘thermoset plastic’ which is not biodegradable and not recyclable. There are other kids’ plates on the market which are made from more sustainable materials.
Disadvantages of melamine
As with any product, kids melamine plates have pros and cons. Lets take a look at some of them here:
- Melamine is hard wearing and shatterproof, it will last you many years
- Melamine kids plates often come in fun colours and patterns
Disadvantages of melamine
- Potential concerns around the use of melamine according to some studies
- Melamine kids plates are not advisable for microwave use
- Not the most eco-friendly matertial
As a parent you naturally want the best for your child, and that means limiting their exposure to potentially harmful products. The above studies and information around melamine raise important questions to consider. It is also clear that more research needs to be undertaken to understand the issue in full.