Making Decisions Monday: Action Items for a Safer Toy Holiday or Birthday

November 17th, 2014 by Hilary Thomas

When beginning your research for safer toys, start here to learn more about wood toys, and don’t forget my key questions to ask yourself before purchasing a plastic toy.

While we can’t replace everything in our house immediately (it’s too expensive for me, even if I could get my kids to give up many of the toys they love at once!), we can strive to make better choices going forward, and holidays and birthdays make a great opportunity to do so.

christmas-gifts

1) Tell your friends and family that you are looking to make more conscious decisions about the toys you’re bringing into your home. Recommend some brands you’re interested in (here and here are some suggestions), and offer key terms they should look for on packaging and websites.

Key terms: Organic, BPA-free, Phthalate-free or nonphthalate, type of plastic (food grade preferred)

Terms to avoid if they are unsubstantiated: Eco-friendly, Green, Natural, Non-Toxic. Ask yourself why they are Eco-friendly, Green, Natural or Non-Toxic. If the company explains that their toys are made with food-grade plastic, or use a certified non-toxic paint, etc, then Yes! Feel comfortable in making your judgment call based on that factual information rather than an unsubstantiated and unregulated claim.

2) If you have a particular brand or toy you’re interested in lacking details about how the toys are made, don’t hesitate to reach out to the manufacturer and ask their Quality Assurance team or Customer Service, but make them aware that you understand that though they may comply with federal standards, you are looking for toys which go above and beyond in chemical safety for children.

3) This is a great opportunity to ask for replacement toys that regularly go in the mouth with safer alternatives. This year, on my kids’ Christmas wish list (which I luckily still get to make for them), I am asking for replacement play food items and bath toys. You may also be interested in replacing things like tea sets, whistles, horns and recorders, and teethers.

Happy shopping!

The State of Mattress Recycling and the States that Mandate It

November 13th, 2014 by Dale Sebastian

 

Some 30 to 40 million mattresses are disposed of every year in the U.S. That’s a lot of mattresses taking up a lot of landfill space. Landfill operators are not fans of trashed mattresses, either, as they are difficult to move around and don’t compact well.

While mattress recycling facilities exist, they are relatively scarce. This, however, is changing.  Here are some innovations and initiatives in mattress recycling occurring throughout the U.S.

Spring Back Mattress Recycling

The group’s goal was to develop a sustainable mattress recycling model that would simultaneously provide employment opportunities to the disenfranchised, such as homeless individuals or former prison inmates. The team spent a year developing the model and by 2012 Spring Back Mattress Recycling incorporated as 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The program proved a success.Spring Back Recycling logo

Since then, Spring Back Mattress Recycling has expanded into other geographic areas, with operations in Denver, CO; Tacoma, WA; Charlotte, NC; and Salt Lake City, UT. Spring Back charges $20 per piece for pick up and $10 per piece if brought to the center. According to the organization, about 90% of the mattress is recycled.

Mattress Recycling Initiative: Connecticut, Rhode Island and California

In 2013 Connecticut, working with The International Sleep Products Association (ISPA), became the first state to pass comprehensive mattress recycling legislation. Since then, Rhode Island and California have passed similar legislation.ISPA Logo

The Mattress Recycling Initiative was formed by ISPA and mattress manufacturers to help administer the laws. The Initiative is currently working to build state-wide networks of collection sites, transporters and private recyclers for implementation of the recycling laws. ISPA continues to work with legislators and stakeholders in other states in anticipation of additional state mandated programs.

 Community Action / Creative Business

Individual communities, nonprofits and environmental organizations have also stepped up to the challenge.

Recycle Ann Arbor logoRecycle Ann Arbor in Michigan offers a Drop-Off Station featuring one of the nation’s most comprehensive recycling drop-off centers. For nominal feels, residents can drop off mattresses, electronics and other items. Recycling initiatives are offered by Houston Furniture Bank as well as St. Vincent de Paul’s DR3 (which stands for Divert Reduce Re Use Recycle) recycling program in California and Oregon. Nine Lives Mattress Recycling in South Carolina has worked with a pilot program of mattress recycling with the U.S. Navy. Even hotel chain Hilton has piloted a mattress recycling program.

Do a web search to see the mattress recycling options available in your area.

Modular for Less Waste

Looking to the future Naturepedic strives to be in the forefront of sustainable mattress efforts. Toward that goal, we have increased our focus on modular design. Our EOS allows select components to be replaced as needed rather than the entire mattress, reducing waste overall. For light weight crib mattresses, we use easily recyclable materials such as polyethylene foam. While we understand recycling facilities for the foam are relatively scarce, we are ready for when more recycling options come online.

Modular design of Naturepedic's EOS mattress allows users to swap out components without disposing of entire mattress for less waste and better economy

Modular design of Naturepedic’s EOS mattress allows users to swap out components without disposing of entire mattress for less waste and better economy

Making Decisions Monday: Questions to Ask Before Purchasing Plastic Toys

November 10th, 2014 by Hilary Thomas

Thanks for joining me on our hunt for safer toys! Last week, we talked about wood toys for toddlers and preschoolers, like my own 19 month old daughter and nearly 4 year old son.

I was on a mission to find safer action figures and dinosaur toys my son might still be interested in playing with. The wood toys I found didn’t meet that criteria, though there are some available. We all need to find our own level of comfort with what we provide to our children, so I began to look for some safer plastic toy options.

plastic-baby-dolls

PLASTIC TOYS

Here are the questions I ask myself when looking at plastic toys, in order of what I personally consider to be the most important factors regarding safety.

1) Is it BPA free or non-detectable?

Generally, I only thought of Bisphenol A as it relates to baby cups and bottles, food storage containers, etc. However, BPA is a phthalate, and a report done by HealthyStuff.org revealed that BPA was reported in certain toys just a few years ago. This year, the EU has further regulated BPA in toys effective by the end of 2015.

Bottom line: If the manufacturer doesn’t state that they are BPA-free on their website or on the product packaging, then consider reaching out to their Customer Service or Quality Assurance team directly for confirmation, or visit HealthyStuff.org to see if they have a report on the product you’re interested in.
However, remember that BPA testing isn’t required currently for toys, and a manufacturer may state that they are compliant.

2) Is it phthalate-free or non-detectable?

bath-toys

There are plenty of concerns you may have about PVC and other types of plastic, but my bigger concern is the effects of the plasticizers which soften plastic, specifically phthalates. Only six types of phthalates are regulated in the US for toys. It’s not enough, for my personal peace of mind, to have the manufacturer state that they are complying with the CPSC/CPSIA phthalates requirement.

Bottom line: Look for a manufacturer or packaging to say phthalate-free or nonphthalate, though remember phthalates may also be in inks, so look carefully at the language used.

A manufacturer is also dependent on working in cooperation with their suppliers, and while no phthalates may intentionally be added, the term phthalate-free may be misleading. You can ask for test results of a toy to see what phthalates it has been tested for specifically. Or, you can also look for toys made of a hard plastic. It’s less likely (though not guaranteed) that a hard plastic toy would contain phthalates anyway.

3) Is it PVC-free?

There are a lot of types of plastics, but this one gets some of the worst press. If you’re interested in learning more about plastic from its chemical footprint during manufacturing to health hazards, I’d invite you to read the Plastics Score Card v. 1.0.

Bottom line: Brands using food-grade plastic like polyethylene are a better bet. However, I am more comfortable giving my son a phthalate-free plastic made of PVC than my daughter, who is still putting toys in her mouth.

Bonus Question: Is it recycled?

We can all feel better for the environment and our health buying a toy made of recycled plastic! Plastic doesn’t break down easily in the environment. Here are some brands I found using recycled plastic.

Bruder Trucks
Green Toys
Sprig Toys

The following brands as of this publication date have plastic toys which are BPA- and/or phthalate-free. Be sure to research and double check yourself for your own peace of mind. Remember that formulas and manufacturing processes may change over the years.

Disclaimer: By listing these brands, neither I nor Naturepedic are endorsing them over another brand with similar qualifications. Nor have we tested all of these products or contacted each brand individually. I used publicly available information, reached out as a consumer to a few customer service agents, and made decisions about what to include here based upon: the types of toys I am seeking for my kids, their ages, and the level of comfort I have personally with the safety and quality information provided by each company.

B. Toys/Terra (Owned by Battat)
Boon
Crocodile Creek
Infantino
Lego
Spielstabil
WOW Toys

Next week I’ll be discussing action items you can do to help your loved ones select safer toys for gift-giving, including key terms to look for on packaging.

Wellness Within Your Walls

November 7th, 2014 by Dale Sebastian

 

I attended a wonderful webinar sponsored by the Sustainable Furnishings Council in which interior designer Jillian Pritchard Cooke spoke on the importance of better indoor air quality. She also discussed how the furnishings in a home play a part.

DES-SYN interior designs consider environmental and health impacts

DES-SYN interior designs consider environmental and health impacts

The webinar was entitled Reducing Harmful Toxins in the Home: Combating the tight box syndrome. Tight box syndrome, also called sick building syndrome, refers to a health condition created by modern houses and offices where indoor contaminants remain circulating in in the air, trapped by the tight seals of today’s buildings like air in in a spaceship.

Pritchard Cooke is a principal at design firm DES-SYN and the founder of Wellness Within Your Walls, an organization dedicated to not only reducing toxins during the interior design process but also in promoting more sustainable and responsible materials. She said she became focused on designing more eco-friendly living spaces after she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, which she suspects was caused by years of working with off-gassing furnishings and flooring, paints and finishes.

According to Pritchard Cooke, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) consistently ranks indoor air pollution in the top five environmental risks to public health. She also points out that science is far from understanding how the combination of multiple indoor pollutants, ranging from flame retardants in our furniture to VOCs in our paint, combine together to impact our health.

Part of the problem, according to Pritchard Cooke, is that during many interior design projects an entire room or series of rooms get huge doses of NEW: new paint, new carpeting, new sofas, new windows … new, new, new. The problem is these new additions often off gas VOCs, and the home is suddenly swamped with odors and chemicals at one time. Furthermore, tightly sealed windows and doors keep the chemicals inside, ready for our lungs.

Some solutions, she said, are common sense, even though they are often overlooked. For example, open windows, when realistic, factoring in of course weather and outdoor allergens. Also, If possible, allow new furnishings to breathe in a garage or open space out of their protective plastic wrappers instead of bringing sealed products into the home.

kitchen_4

A beautiful kitchen design from Jillian Pritchard Cooke and company

Pritchard Cooke points out fabrics can also contain a variety of additives, from waterproofing agents to flame retardants, which affect air quality. So many additives can be found in fabrics she points out that some people with chemical sensitivities can have adverse effects from even going into clothing stores full of brand new clothing items.

Of course finding healthier options that aren’t releasing high levels of harmful chemicals is ideal. Pritchard Cooke points out that integrating antiques and legacy items that have long since cured can not only help to protect indoor air quality but also reduce waste and use of energy and natural resources.

 

California’s Green Chemistry Initiative Debuts Draft of Three Year Work Plan

November 6th, 2014 by Dale Sebastian

 

Logo for California Green Chemistry InitiativeLooking to encourage the creation of safer consumer products, the state of California under its Green Chemistry Initiative launched a draft of its Three Year Work Plan. The draft plan, published in September of 2014, will ultimately focus on specific Priority Products and their associated chemistries for which safer chemical alternatives must be evaluated. By focusing on select products, the plan hopes to encourage overall “market shifts toward a green economy.”

Over the next three years the plan will limit its evaluations to seven broad product categories:

  •  Beauty and Personal Care
  • Building Products and Household, Office Furniture and Furnishings
  • Cleaning Products
  • Clothing
  •  Fishing and Angling Equipment
  •  Office Machinery and
  • Clothing

Specific types of products within the categories have also been identified for further examination. At this stage specific products have yet to be chosen, with the plan instead looking to lay the roadmap for future regulatory actions by California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), the agency responsible for the plan.

The seven categories and their product types were selected after rigorous study and debate, each selected based on multiple aspects such as potential exposures or end-of-life effects.

For example, beauty and personal care was selected not only because products are directly applied to the body, but also because chemical ingredients are often not disclosed. Additionally, this category was selected as common ingredients are known as hazardous for humans and wildlife and may pass through wastewater treatment plants.

Potential chemicals used in health and beauty products being considered for safer chemistries include phthalates, toluene, Triclosan, aldehydes and more, but other chemicals could be later added. beakers

The plan intends on selecting a limited number of Priority Products over the next three years, and expects that likely no more than ten products will be added each year.

Taking a long-view approach, the plan looks to be part of an overall design and approach shift in manufacturing toward safer chemistries. While this ambitious plan only is for California, it will likely be watched by other states and if successful even impact national chemical policies.

 

 

 

Organic: Tell Me What It All Means

November 4th, 2014 by Dale Sebastian

 

While there can be confusion about what constitutes an organic body wash or lipstick, when it comes to food items and agricultural materials the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has set specific criteria.  At Naturepedic, we use USDA certified organic cotton. Ever wonder what that means?

USDA Organic logo

Food and other agricultural products displaying the USDA Organic logo must meet specific criteria

For cotton (or an apple or melon, for that matter) to be called organic and display the familiar USDA organic circle logo it must meet specific standards.  For example, land must have had no prohibited substances applied to it for at least 3 years before harvest. Also, genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, synthetic fertilizers and sewage sludge are prohibited. Believe it or not, sewage sludge is often used in commercial farming, even on food items. If available, operations must use organic seeds.

Crops must use approved methods such as crop rotations and cover crops. Pests should be primarily controlled through management practices including biological controls, like ladybugs. When these methods fail, only substances on an approved list can be used.

Hopefully you won’t be eating cotton, but if you’re eating beef or chicken or other organic meats, to be USDA certified organic the animals must not have been given hormones to promote growth or antibiotics for any reason. Also, they must have been fed 100% organic feed products, although vitamin and mineral supplements are allowed.

Organic livestock must have access to the outdoors year-round Photo: CC license Wikipedia

Organic livestock must have access to the outdoors year-round
Photo: CC license Wikipedia

For dairy animals, they must be managed organically for a minimum of 12 months in order for milk or dairy products to be sold, labeled or represented as organic – six months just isn’t going to cut it. Whether for meat or dairy, all organic livestock must have access to the outdoors year-round. (Actually, that’s not a bad plan for children, either.)

Year-round access to the outdoors is also a good choice for kids!

Year-round access to the outdoors is also a good choice for kids!

Organic agricultural products must also meet specific rules in handling and shipping, mainly to make sure they don’t get mixed in with non-organic products that likely look exactly the same. If non-organic ingredients are used, they must be approved.

There are other guidelines, also, but these are the main ones.

Organic Acronym Quiz

You probably knew USDA stood for United States Department of Agriculture. Some of you might know that NOP stands for National Organic Program. But do you know what AMS stands for? The AMS is the agency arm of the USDA that manages the NOP.

Give up?

Agricultural Marketing Service.

 

Making Decisions Monday: Safer Toys for Toddlers & Preschoolers

November 3rd, 2014 by Hilary Thomas

About 6 months ago, I came to work for Naturepedic just a few months after purchasing my own new mattress (sadly, non-Naturepedic). Imagine my surprise and disappointment as I began to learn the complexities of this industry and the chemicals that surround us on a daily basis. I quickly learned that organic is not just about food.

Working here, I’ve had the benefit of being exposed to a lot of knowledge about toxic chemicals, regulations, and above all, the impact chemicals can and do have on my children. I won’t pretend to be an expert: I’m a mom learning to reevaluate the world I live in day-to-day.

One of the most important lessons I learned early on was to pick one thing important to me to begin to change. Re-stocking and replacing an entire household is too overwhelming (and expensive). Since that time, I’ve changed a few things from cleaning products to my kids’ pajamas.

I’ve recently begun tackling my biggest challenge yet: my children’s toys.

weekend-playtime

I have a 19 month old daughter and my son is almost 4. I have his birthday and Christmas approaching. This year, I wanted to make more conscious decisions about what toys we bring into our home at holiday time.

Listen, I’m realistic. Kids love plastic toys. I’m not buying only toys made out of wood, or completely organic (though there are some great ones I’m considering!). I certainly can’t control everything that other family members purchase for our kids. They are, after all, the only grandchildren, niece or nephew, on either side of the family!

And so began my venture in finding safer toys to recommend for gift-giving to toddlers and preschoolers.

WOOD TOYS

blocksI assumed that wooden toys were inherently safe, but that’s not strictly true. Does a painted piece chip off? In my opinion, that’s unacceptable, even if we are confident that that paint is lead-free. While there are a lot of non-toxic paints (some are actually even certified), I also looked for wooden toys which have a natural stain or sealant.

Here are some brands I discovered in my search whose toys I would feel comfortable giving to my kids.

Disclaimer: This is not an all-inclusive list. There are a lot of great brands making safe wooden toys, brands using better plastics, as well as manufacturers of organic cotton plush toys and blankets. By listing these brands, neither I nor Naturepedic are endorsing them over another brand with similar qualifications. Nor have we tested all of these products or contacted each brand individually. I used publicly available information, reached out as a consumer to a few customer service agents, and made decisions about what to include here based upon: the types of toys I am seeking for my kids, their ages, and the level of comfort I have personally with the safety and quality information provided by each company. If you have a recommended addition, we’d be happy to hear about it!

anaMalz
Haba
Hape
Kid Kraft
NovaNatural
Plan Toys
Smart Gear/Wonderworld

Next week, I’ll be talking about safer plastic toys. There’s definitely some debate about whether any plastic can considered safer, but I feel like I can do my part to make more responsible choices as I’m able. Stay tuned for key questions you should ask yourself before buying a plastic toy.

Chemical Flame Retardants: Here, There and Everywhere

October 28th, 2014 by Dale Sebastian

 

Chemical flame retardants: we at Naturepedic don’t like them or use them and we’ve worked to ensure our mattresses pass flammability standards without them.

Depending on the specific compound, flame retardants have been connected to neurobehavioral issues, developmental disorders, endocrine disruption, reproductive health problems, diabetes, and even cancer.

Additionally, many of these chemicals can sneak past waste water treatments and pollute our streams, rivers and lakes. For these reasons, ALL Naturepedic products are free of chemical flame retardants.

Recent initiatives in California and elsewhere are attempting to reduce the use of flame retardant chemicals in couches and other upholstered furniture. These efforts have not yet been extended to mattresses, however, which use different testing standards.

Chemical flame retardants get past treatment plants and into our rivers and lakes

Chemical flame retardants get past treatment plants and into our rivers and lakes

Nonetheless, did you know that chemical flame retardants can be found in a lot more everyday products than furniture and mattresses?

Cell phones and other consumer electronics, toys, carpeting, building materials, paints, even paper products (yes, paper) can all contain these problematic chemicals.

BizNGO, an organization promoting safer chemistries in business, estimates that four billion pounds of flame retardants are used globally by manufacturers each year. (For reference, this is about the equivalent weight of 1.25 million cars). Of that amount, two-thirds is used in plastics.

As BizNGO works to help companies reduce their chemical footprint, it asks companies to start at the beginning by asking: Is the flame retardant necessary?

As research grows regarding the effectiveness of flame retardants, flammability standards are changing and companies may find they no longer need to use them. If companies find they do require them, BizNGO encourages companies to use safer additives and polymers and even redesign products to reduce the need for toxic chemicals.

While the use of flame retardants is a complex issue, increasing public awareness is slowly leading some companies to seek safer alternatives. Apple and other electronics manufacturers, for example, have committed to build enclosures without brominated flame retardants. While plastics can contain a whole list of additives beyond brominated flame retardants, this is a move in the right direction.

Flame retardant chemicals can be found in many items around the house

Flame retardant chemicals can be found in many items around the house

The use of alternatives to dangerous flame retardants may ultimately be driven by consumer demand for safer products. Safer chemistries and products will arise from the interconnected efforts among informed consumers, companies, researchers, governments and organizations.

While consumers will likely never find an “ingredient” label on their new cellphone listing the flame retardants and chemical additives present in the plastic housing, through diligence and research (and a few letters to their government representatives) the people buying the products can ultimately effect change.

Here are just a few of our favorite sites for consumers wishing to research flame retardants and trends in safer products.

BizNGO

Center for Environmental Health

Environmental Work Group

HealthyStuff.org

Healthy Child Healthy World

Washington Toxics Coalition

Just Because You’re Asleep Doesn’t Mean You’re Not Paying Attention

October 21st, 2014 by Dale Sebastian

 

Being in the business of sleep, we were fascinated by a new research study out of France that demonstrates a sleeping brain continues to both hear and process speech.

Although the study name, Inducing task-relevant responses to speech in the sleeping brain, may be sleep-inducing, the findings are much more captivating.

In the study, volunteers did simple word association tasks. In one experiment, subjects were verbally given a word and pushed a button with their right or left hand depending on if the word was categorized as either an animal or an object. A second experiment used the same button pushing, but subjects selected left or right based on if the words were actual words or pseudowords.push_button_zzz_rt

Working in Your Sleep

Easy stuff, particularly when awake. Test subjects were wired to an electroencephalography (EEG) device, which allowed researchers to monitor brain activity. The EEG could clearly differentiate between the brain’s signals for a right or left hand button push.

The amazing part, however, happened after subjects fell asleep. What the researchers found was that most of the subjects continued to respond appropriately to the verbal words, if only in their brains. The subjects didn’t physically push the buttons while asleep, of course, but their brains did. Even while asleep, a left side word caused the appropriate brain activity: activity on the right side of the brain (left hand activities activate the right side of the brain and vice versa).

In other words, not only were the subjects hearing the words in their sleep, but they were also processing them, correctly determining if they were animal or object and activating signals for an push_button_zzz_lftappropriate left or right hand response! Previous studies had shown that external tones and odors can influence sleep, but this was the first formal study looking at external stimuli that was associated with a task. Beyond sleep walking, could this be an example of sleep working?

While the study does not allow sweeping conclusions to be drawn, it shows we might be processing more stimuli in our sleep from the external world than realized.

Next time you say something is so easy you can even do it in your sleep, you might just be right.

The study was published in the Sept. 24, 2014 issue of the journal Current Biology. The lead researcher was S. Kouider.

Avoiding GMOs – what are your current options?

October 16th, 2014 by Dale Sebastian

 

We believe consumers should have a right to know what they are eating and drinking (AND sleeping on!) In a previous post we mentioned our partnership with Just Label It, an organization advocating labeling of foods using Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). At this time, however, companies are not required to disclose GMOs. Nonetheless, consumers that wish to avoid GMOs do have a few tools available.

Buyers can look for:

USDA_LogoThe USDA Organic label. USDA certified organic food currently can not contain GMOs. While this logo can also apply to non-edible raw natural fibers and materials such as cotton, this label is not designed for finished textile products.

 

Non-GMO Project Verified label.nonGMO1 While this voluntary certification guarantees food does not contain GMOs, it does not mean food is organic, so food with this label can still be grown with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Also, because this verification is voluntary, the absence of the label does not mean an item necessarily contains GMOs. Smaller organic food operations may be unable to afford the certification process.

 

GOTS certified textiles and mattresses do NOT contain GMO cotton

GOTS label. While not for food but for textiles, apparel and mattresses, the GOTS label applies to cotton, one of the top five GMO crops in the world. GOTS does NOT permit the use of GMO cotton. That means all cotton in Naturepedic mattresses (which are independently certified to GOTS) is free of GMOs, and this goes for cotton fabrics as well as cotton filling. Any raw cotton we source is U.S. grown and certified USDA Organic.

 

 

While the above labels help people know whether their food or textiles were made with GMOs, we believe people have the right to know what’s in their food at all times. We invite you to join us and the other partners in Just Label It to ask the FDA to protect your right to know. Sign the online petition for GMO labeling at justlabelit.org/take-action.