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DO YOU KNOW WHAT IS
IN YOUR BABY'S BLANKET?

You are a careful parent. You scrutinize every baby food label, read the latest research and carefully choose only lotions and shampoos that do not have harsh ingredients for your baby. You might want to use the same scrutiny on your baby’s blanket. Most parents think of a baby blanket as being soft, cuddly and harmless - but there are chemicals used in the processing and the finishing of some fabrics that could persuade some parents to find alternatives, both for their children’s health and for the sake of the environment. Infants are swaddled daily in a blanket, and learning about what is in that blanket, makes good sense. As parents, we make choices about what is best for our family, and the only way to make choices is to be informed and learn about better alternatives for both our children and our planet.

Because of the many concerns in the news about lead in children’s toys and plastics leaching harmful chemicals, more parents are starting to be concerned with other products that come in contact with their baby, and that includes their baby’s blanket. They are learning that many fabrics contain some very un-snuggly ingredients! Some examples of chemicals that can be found in fabrics are the finishing agents, bleaches and dyes, many of which can cause reactions in people and babies with sensitivities. There has been some recent concern that autism is linked to a child’s inability to process toxins in his/her environment, and that diseases like asthma may also be triggered by reactions to certain environmental factors.

So what are the issues with the typical baby blankets?

The two traditional baby blankets on the market, are cotton and polyester fleece. Conventionally grown cotton is, as one environmentalist put it “the nicotine of the earth”. Cotton, although itself a natural fiber, requires the use of huge amounts of pesticides and fertilizers each year to grow. Although it is known for its softness and comfort, parents should be aware that there are significant environmental concerns. Cotton is grown on over 90 million acres in more than 80 countries worldwide. All together, these crops account for approximately 10% of all pesticides and as much as 25% of all insecticides used worldwide. The US Environmental Protection agency has labeled 7 of the 15 pesticides used on cotton as either “known” or “likely” carcinogens. The pesticides and fertilizers applied to cotton fields can run off in groundwater, become airborne or end up in the food chain through cottonseed oil, used in processed foods and cottonseed which is fed to beef and dairy cattle. The equivalent amount of one third of a pound of chemicals is used to produce one cotton tee shirt, the Sustainable Cotton Project estimates.

The other typical blanket on the market is the polyester fleece blanket. The chemical compound of polyester, which may surprise many parents, is identical to that used for plastic water bottles – polyethylene terephthalate. To make polyester, crude oil is broken down into petrochemicals, which are then converted with heat and catalysts such as antimony into polyethylene terephthalate - the PETE plastic that forms both plastic soda bottles and polyester fibers. As a petroleum-derived product, polyester contributes to the depletion of our non-renewable fossil fuel supply. Its manufacture in addition to releasing pollutants, may be hazardous to workers, the additives, like antimony have been suspected of causing health and reproductive issues in workers exposed to it, and polyester, like plastic water bottles, take decades to decompose.

So, what are my alternatives?

Today, thankfully there are several good options. There are blankets on the market that are both better for your baby and better for the environment. There are natural fibers like bamboo, cashmere and merino wool, and the perhaps most readily available is organic cotton. Organic cotton blankets are a good alterative, as they have all the comfort and wear benefits of cotton, but are grown naturally, without chemical additives, and so are better for baby and the environment. Look for labels that say “certified organic”, which means that the fiber has been grown and processed in accordance with USDA standards that are verified by independent state or private organizations. The fiber has met the standards for organic farming and processing, which is without synthetic fertilizers, or harmful chemicals in production or finishing.

There are several things a parent can do:

• First, read the labels on the blanket! What is it made of? Is it natural or a synthetic fiber? Does it say “certified organic”? Ask the store buyer or owner where the product comes from – is it imported? The more you know as a parent – the better choices you can make for your family.

• Next research. Hit the internet, and learn more about how these fabrics are made. Some good sites are: Green Guide, Organic Trade Association, Coop America, EcoMall, Sustainable Cotton Project.

Choices:

The ideal choice for both a child and the environment would be to go completely organic and no chemicals, but that is not realistic for most of us. It is likely though, that there may be a BETTER choice, than what is typically available. There are wonderful organic cotton blankets and other alternatives that avoid either the chemicals in the fabrics or in the production and finishing process. The key is to learn more, so you have the information you need to make the choices that are right for your family. It’s about taking baby steps to be green. You don’t have to go ALL the way, and their may not be a perfect choice - but any choice you make as a parent, that puts your child next to products that are healthier for him or her and healthier for the environment is something to feel good about.

Written by: Susan Dorus


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