Adria Vasil is the Ecoholic advice columnist for Toronto’s NOW magazine. She recently appeared on CBC Marketplace’s much talked about Lousy Labels episode and has a new book out, Ecoholic Body: Your Ultimate Earth-Friendly Guide to Living Healthy & Looking Good.
Vasil chats with Today’s Parent’s Laura Grande about greenwashing, lousy product labels and ways parents can make informed choices when buying for their families.
During the Marketplace episode you talked a lot about the bad ingredients in products to watch out for. On the flip side, what are some of the key ingredients parents should be on the lookout for?
They should be edible. You should be able to look at the ingredient list and see that every ingredient on there is wholly natural and hasn’t been chemically processed. If you can recognize the ingredients and they are something you’d buy in a grocery store, that’s what I’d look for. We don’t need any of the fancy, high-performance chemicals that you see in adult shampoo. A lot of plant-based ingredients have been chemically-processed in some way and it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are hazardous, but it’s really hard for parents to decide if it’s safe. Look for whole oils, almond, olive or sunflower oil, those kinds of things. Natural herbs like chamomile, lavender; very simple ingredients like that.
Some baby wipes are full of chemicals. What brand of wipes would you recommend?
I’m a fan of brands like NatraCare Organic Cotton Baby Wipes because it says clearly that they use organic cotton and only organic cotton. A lot of wipes that say they’re natural contain some synthetic preservatives.
How important is the order of the ingredients on the back of labels?
The lower the ingredient is down on the package, the less of it is in there. Companies are forced, by law, to list their ingredients in order of content. But, we’ve realized that, even at low levels, some of the chemicals in the environment are still questionable for our health. Just because it’s at the end, it doesn’t get a green light.
You had your top 10 Lousy Labels in the Marketplace episode. But, what are some children’s products that are your favourites?
I’m working on my next book, Ecoholic Body, which will be out in April 2012, and there will be a big baby care section, as there was in my first book, Ecoholic. I find I really like the little independent brands like Matter Company.
Next: Child-related products, baby’s room and more!>
What about other child-related products?
There are hidden chemicals, like formaldehyde coating, in kids clothing. You see a lot of clothes for kids that are really bright and colourful and sometimes they have that squishy bubble plastic on the front of their sweatshirt. That’s made with PVC, which is the most hazardous plastic to manufacture. More importantly, it’s softened and made squishy with hormone disruptors, which are now being banned from kids’ toys, but they are still allowed in things like PVC on clothes. Look for clothes made with 100% cotton or the second-hand stuff that is pure cotton that doesn’t have any plastic on it at all. And another source of hidden chemicals in adult and kids clothing is actually the formaldehyde that is used to make a lot of wrinkle-resistant clothes. When you bring clothes home from the store they have that sheen. As soon as you wash it, it doesn’t look as good and it’s kind of frumpy. Formaldehyde is one of the coatings they use to get that shine. No matter what you buy I recommend washing it at least once, ideally twice, before you actually put it on your child. Second-hand clothing is a great way to avoid chemicals because it has been washed so many times.
Any tips about babies’ rooms?
If you’re shopping for a new crib, make sure you stay away from any pressed wood. That stuff has been bound together with urea-formaldehyde and it actually continues to off-gas from furniture for years. If you’re buying a new crib or any children’s furniture, you want to look for solid wood above all else. Some major brands, like IKEA, are actually ahead of the curve because IKEA follows European standards and they are ultra-low in formaldehyde. I wouldn’t worry about any emissions coming from those products.
What would you like to see big companies do more of when advertising a product as “organic” or “natural”?
I just want them to be honest. I want them to stick to the set standards that exist for food. Baby care products and body care products are applied to our largest organ, our skin. These products are absorbed by our bodies like food, so if the word “organic” is policed with food, it should be policed everywhere else. It should mean that a product must be 95% or more organic to be labeled organic. That’s the standard for food. Companies should also stick to a specific definition of what they mean by “natural.” And I would like to see percentages. Companies can regain some of our trust if they at least say, “these diapers are 20% or 80% organic.” The government needs to step in and the Competition Bureau needs to get a bit more aggressive with fraudulent marketing.
What other tips would you offer to help parents make sure they are buying the healthiest and greenest choices?
If the product is vague, move on to the next product. One of the specifics you can look for is certification. So look for a third party seal like EcoLogo that is an independent organization that is verifying the claims. If you are making a bigger purchase, like baby furniture, you do want to spend time going online and looking up more details on what the right thing is to buy. You can also check your baby products’ toxicity scores.
GIVEAWAY: Want to receive a copy of Adria’s new book Ecoholic Body? Tell us an eco-friendly way you stay healthy and beautiful in the comments below!
*Giveaway closes April 22, 11:59 p.m. Giveaway is now closed.
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