Why Choose Organic Baby Clothes

What to Look for in Eco-Friendly and Natural Baby Clothes

Whether it’s cotton grown with conventional agricultural methods or polyester fibers made from petroleum byproducts, your baby’s clothing could come with a variety of environmental and health hazards. Keep reading to find out why and how to get around these baby clothing conundrums to find more natural, organic baby clothes.

 

Conventional cotton’s eco and health challenges

Regular old cotton may seem like a natural baby clothing fiber, but unfortunately, its environmental record is far from natural.

  • Though cotton crops make up only 2.5% of the world’s agricultural land, it uses more pesticides than any other crop, with 16% going to grow this textile crop. Cotton is also the fourth most fertilized crop worldwide.[1]
  • Farmers exposed to agricultural chemicals like those used for cotton crops suffer from a wide range of serious health problems.[2] The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that well over 10,000 people die every year due to exposure to insecticides.[3]
  • Children’s skin and internal systems are far more vulnerable and sensitive to the effects of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals. Pesticides have been linked to many childhood health problems, including birth defects, autism, endocrine disruption, and neurodevelopmental delays.[4]
  • Cotton is an incredibly water-intense crop. To grow the cotton for a single cotton T-shirt, a farmer uses 400 gallons of water on average.[5] Additional water is required to wash, dye, weave, and size cotton fabric.
  • When cotton is converted into material suitable for making clothing, loads of hazardous chemicals are used to process it, including softeners, heavy metals, silicone waxes, ammonia, and formaldehyde.[6]

 

The eco-problems with polyester, nylon, and rayon

Human-created fabrics like polyester, rayon, and nylon don’t have the same agricultural eco-woes as cotton, but they do come with their own special environmental problems:

  • Rayon is made from wood pulp and requires toxic chemicals like sulfuric acid to transform the pulp to fabric.
  • Polyester and nylon are both fabrics made from petroleum-based ingredients, supporting the hazards of this industry (greenhouse gas emission, oil spills, and so on).
  • Producing polyester results in dangerous byproducts such as volatile monomers and solvents that are sent into our fresh water systems.[7]
  • Creating human-made fabrics like polyester and rayon requires a lot of energy.[8]
  • Acrylic fabrics are polycrylonitriles which is a class of substance that is suspected to cause cancer according to the US EPA.[9]

 

Toxic chemicals used in fabric production

Today, there are all kinds of chemical additions mixed in with our fabrics to provide a variety of convenience features like iron-free and stain-resistance. But these chemicals have come under scrutiny for their human health risks.

  • Some manufacturers add perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), the same material used in Teflon cooking products, to give fabrics a no-iron quality. PFCs have been linked to many human health problems, including cancer.[10]
  • Formaldehyde is often applied to clothing to keep them from shrinking, but this chemical has been linked to allergic skin reactions.[11]
  • Synthetic dyes used to color all types of fabrics contain strong solvents, heavy metals, acids, and other toxic components.[12] Cotton is inherently resistant to dyes so much of the color applied to it i washed away into rivers.

 

Solutions for natural, organic baby clothes

Reviewing the above statistics on the problems with conventional textiles might leave your head spinning, but thankfully there are several good natural baby clothes options that will allow you to cloth your baby without worrying about the environmental hazards and health concerns associated with conventional choices.

 

Organic cotton

Organic baby clothing made from certified organic cotton fibers are a great choice for new parents and their babies. Certifications through official bodies are best:

Though organically-grown cotton will use the same amount of water as conventionally-grown cotton crops, it will not come with the same chemical burden. Nevertheless, organic cotton still requires a lot of energy and water to process into textile form.

 

Bamboo

The benefits of bamboo are nearly boundless! Not only is it an extremely soft fabric for use on babies, bamboo baby clothing is long-wearing and very environmentally-friendly. See why:[13][14]

  • Bamboo stocks (bamboo is actually a grass) can grow up to 47 inches in a single day, making it rapidly renewable.
  • Bamboo will grow in almost any climate, making it highly versatile.
  • When bamboo is harvested, it is only trimmed back—the plant goes on to produce more bamboo.
  • Bamboo does not naturally require irrigation or pesticides. There are some large plantations, however, using these agricultural methods, making it important that you choose organically-grown bamboo.
  • Bamboo has a complex root system that can benefit the local ecosystem by preventing soil erosion.
  • As bamboo grows, it releases a great deal more oxygen into the atmosphere compared to trees.
  • Bamboo is easily dyed (unlike cotton) so that the effluent flowing from factories is much less hazardous.

Yet despite all of bamboos benefits, it isn’t a perfect fiber. In many countries, tropical forests and complex ecosystems are being bulldozed to make room for single-crop bamboo plantations, which depletes the soil and degrades living spaces for wildlife. Looking for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified bamboo is therefore a good idea. Additionally, turning bamboo into a fabric can be water and energy intense, though perhaps no more than cotton or rayon.

 

Hemp

The growing of hemp fibers is surrounded by controversy, mostly because the average consumer doesn’t understand that hemp used for its fiber is a very different plant species than hemp grown for marijuana.[15] But if you can get past that controversy, you’ll see that the environmental benefits of hemp as a clothing fiber are numerous:[16]

  • Hemp produces three times more fiber than cotton per acre.
  • The industrial growth of hemp requires no agricultural chemicals like pesticides or herbicides.
  • Soil in which hemp is grown is improved by the process as hemp adds nutrients, stimulates beneficial microbial growth, and helps to prevent weeds.

Like bamboo, hemp isn’t a perfect fiber. It does require a good dose of water to keep it growing, and many crops rely on synthetic fertilizers to make it grow plentifully.

 

Wool

Wool offers several benefits when it comes to eco-friendly baby clothing, too:

  • Because wool is sheared from sheep many times throughout their lifetimes, it is a renewable resource.
  • Wool has some wonderful natural color, but when dyed it requires much smaller quantities of chemicals than cotton.
  • When you buy good quality wool, it is very comfortable for baby’s skin—it is highly breathable and very soft.
  • When it comes to clothing, it’s important that babies don’t overheat, and wool is perfect in this regard as it helps to keep baby’s temperature 4°C cooler than synthetic options.

Just be sure that you choose certified organic wool products to ensure that the sheep from which the wool was sheared were treated well. Conventional methods of raising sheep involve cruelty as well as organophosphates (for pest control), making them less kind than more natural, humane options.[17]

 

Eco-friendly dye alternatives

Whatever your textile choice, it’s a good idea to consider fabrics that are free of toxic synthetic dyes as well, including:

  • Color-grown cottons that are bred to produce pre-colored fibers right off the plant.
  • Fiber-reactive dyes are organic substances that react directly with fibers to create covalent bonds and provide vibrant, long-lasting color. Though based on synthetic formulations, these result in lower quantities of hazardous waste water, require less energy during the dying process, and are free of heavy metals. The one downside is that these do contain sodium carbonate, which can irritate lungs and trigger asthma attacks in workers.
  • Plant-based dyes are made by using things like flowers, nuts, leaves, bark, fruit, vegetables, and roots—things that occur naturally in nature—and are therefore renewable. They are not plagued by problems like heavy metals and do not create the same pollution problems as other dyes that are rinsed into natural waterways.

 

Other eco-friendly baby apparel solutions

In addition to looking for sustainable fibers that are colored using eco-friendly dyes, you can further green-up your baby’s clothing by looking into a few other green habits and products:

  • Buy used baby clothing: Secondhand baby clothes is such a great option for parents and babies alike. Not only are they cheaper (especially since babies outgrow clothing so quickly), they also help to prevent good clothes from going to the landfill and they require no additional resources to make.
  • Use eco-friendly laundry detergent: The kind of clothing you buy is important, but so is how you care for it. Be sure to use laundry detergents that are made without dyes and fragrances, and look for brands that are based on plant formulations rather than synthetic concoctions to reduce their environmental impact.





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References

1 Cotton and the Environment. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from Organic Trade Association: http://www.ota.com/organic/environment/cotton_environment.html

2 Field of dreams: How the ecofashion boom is transforming the lives of cotton farmers in central India. (2007, December). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from Ode Magazine: http://www.odemagazine.com/doc/49/field-of-dreams

3 Acutely Toxic Pesticides. (2002, June 6). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/heli/risks/toxics/bibliographyikishi.pdf

4 Pesticides - Children at Higher Risk. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from Pesticide Action Network: http://www.panna.org/pesticidesandchildren

5 Hydrology Primer. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from USGS: http://ca.water.usgs.gov/hydroprimer.html

6 Cotton and the Environment. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from Organic Trade Association: http://www.ota.com/organic/environment/cotton_environment.html

7 Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry. (2007, September 1). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from Environmental Health Perspectives: http://ehsehplp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/info:doi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.115-a449

8 Well dressed? As clothes become cheaper and fashion becomes ‘faster’, how are we to balance our consumption with environmental, economic and social sustainability? (2007, April). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from University of Cambridge: http://www.ifm.eng.cam.ac.uk/sustainability/projects/mass/UK_textiles.pdf

9 Finding Tolerable Clothing or Fabric . (1993). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia: http://www.environmentalhealth.ca/fall93cloth.html

10 PFCs. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from Environmental Working Group: http://www.ewg.org/node/21726

11 Diagnosis and Treatment of Dermatitis Due to Formaldehyde Resins in Clothing. (2005, November 5). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from Medscape Today: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/497713

12 Natural "Green" Dyes for the Textile Industry. (2003). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from TURI - Toxics Use Reduction Institute: http://www.fibre2fashion.com/industry-article/market-research-industry-reports/natural-green-dyes-for-the-textile-industry/natural-green-dyes-for-the-textile-industry1.asp

13 Benefits of Bamboo Clothing. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from Buy Organic: http://www.buyorganic.com.au/articles/bamboo-clothing.htm

14 Promoting the Beauty and Utility of Bamboo. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from American Bamboo Society: http://www.americanbamboo.org/GeneralInfo.html

15 Background of Industrial Hemp. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from Global Hemp:http://www.globalhemp.com/Media/Magazines/Global_Hemp_Magazine/2000/January/il_task_force_report.shtml#Plant%20Description

16 Industrial Hemp can be used for Paper, Clothing and Energy. (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2010, from Hamline University: http://www.hamline.edu/personal/dhudson/eng3370/3370s01/lutterman/hemp5.html

17 Save the Sheep campaign. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2010, from PETA: http://www.savethesheep.com/f-boycottAuWool.asp

 

 

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