Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Walking the walk

When I wrote Knit Green: 20 Projects and Ideas for Sustainability, I tried to give information on sustainable ideas as choices that anybody could make. That's how I see it--we each make choices based on our individual values. One of the things I wrote is that I'm a moderate...I haven't given up my car or gone off the grid. That said, I feel like I have to strive to do more.

When I wrote the book, no babies were on the horizon for us. We had a long struggle with fertility and designing and knitting for babies was hard. I did a few baby designs anyhow. (Lots of people knit for babies, so it was just one of the parts of my job that wasn't my favorite....)

In doing research about fertility issues, I found a lot of recent research has gone into environmental pollutants that cause hormonal disruptions. Hormonal disruptions affect fertility. Plastics, like Bisphenol_A, can significantly affect the human body. While humans are actively using plastics in all parts of life, we're not sure yet what its long term effects are for our health. Some of those research results and effects are pretty worrisome. We often only find out long term affects of our inventions a long time after they are developed. (nuclear reactors and radiation, for instance)

In our case, there were no clear causes to why we didn't get pregnant, so no easy way to fix the problem.

Yet, the information I learned about plastics--a petroleum based product--led me to think a lot about why and how it is used.

I am now applying the same research skills to things one needs for babies...and I am stunned by how much baby stuff out there is synthetic. Synthetic: Plastic, man-made, petroleum-based, not natural, etc. It's hard to avoid the sheer number of plastic things out there--right down to basics like disposable diapers or bottles.

As I research, I'm making different decisions than I think many people may make when it comes to these fetuses I'm toting around. The professor and I are trying to find a lot of second-hand things, because if the stuff is plastic, it off gasses and doesn't break down in landfills. We can reuse it instead and reduce waste. For instance--we can try cloth diapers to reuse materials, reduce landfill waste, and avoid plastics. Yes, cleaning them takes energy, but it takes less energy and costs less than manufacturing new diapers and throwing them away after one use.

We are trying NOT to buy or acquire polyester or synthetic materials if we can avoid it. Not only is this oil dependent (oil is a non-renewable resource) but on a practical safety level, it is very flammable. Put your kid in synthetics like fleece all the time? Have you done a burn test on that? It melts!! Wool, on the other hand, is naturally flame resistant.

Since we aren't zealots, we're not going to be able to avoid plastics in everything we do. Our house has plenty of it. Despite my best efforts, my wardrobe is certainly not free of synthetics.

That said, here are answers to a couple of questions that have been posed to me:

So-and-so (average 5 year old) loves his fleece vests! What have you got against all that? (As in, Joanne, what is your problem!? Just buy synthetics and stop being such a vigilante.)

Answer: Kids wear what their families offer them to wear. (So-and-so also loves sugary cereals, but doesn't have to eat them if they aren't offered to him.) Just because someone loves something doesn't mean it is good for them. A fleece synthetic is made from oil (a non-renewable resource), is flammable and melts on the body, and doesn't biodegrade easily. It may cause health issues--researchers are still trying to figure that out. Further, many people find that polyester based materials do not breathe well, so people sweat more and have more skin-related problems with that.

Will I manage to avoid all polartecs/fleeces, etc.? No, but I can make an effort not to buy more of them. I can hope to raise kids who love soft wool, organic cotton, or cool linens instead.

Some babies CAN'T wear wool!! NOT even superwash! What will you do if your kid is extra-sensitive? (This has been extended to...some babies can't tolerate or thrive with cloth diapering/nursing/etc.)

My first response would be REALLY? So, you're saying that plastics/synthetics/polyesters (been around for 100 to 150 years) are always better for babies than natural fibers? That I am essentially going to be abusing these kids by putting them in things like cotton/hemp/linen/wool? While we've had humans in natural fibers for, at minimum, the last several thousand years--and they've done admirably-- we really don't have that long a track record for synthetics.

I'd argue that a very small percentage of people are sensitive to certain commonly used natural fibers. It is the exception and not the rule. It is also likely that someone sensitive to superwash wool is sensitive to the chemical process used to make the wool "superwash" as compared to the actual fiber itself. (Chemicals used to process wool or cotton commercially can be very toxic--a good reason to try organic fibers or locally handprocessed fibers instead. Cotton commercially processed with formaldehyde or wool "cleaned" with sulfuric acid can be toxic...no doubt about it.)

It is also just as likely that the kid is having a reaction to plastics as natural fibers. The kid might be allergic to detergent rather then the fiber. In some cases, the person might just have sensitive skin. That is, he/she is sensitive to everything.

Conclusion? I know that the last few generations of babies have been raised with lots of polyester/plastic/synthetics in their environments. That's what many households are used to--but it doesn't have be that way. We can think it over and review these things. These are just habits/tools for childrearing and we can try to create new habits instead.

Am I being naive? Perhaps. We'll see...but new is not always better when it comes to using plastic. There are reasons I am trying to "walk the walk" and "talk the talk" that I wrote about in Knit Green.

At the end of the book, I mention that it's important to find people who support your new "green" choices. I'm working on that for myself, because it does get tiring to be told that "of course plastics are the right, better, intelligent choice." Sometimes surrounding oneself with positive or neutral opinions is the way to go. I hope I can do that for others. I hope that sometimes, people can also do that for me, too.

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Blogger Akasha said...

Good for you! You are the mom and you get to decide what's best. It's amazing how many "judges" you find out there are in this world when you have babies. We need to support each other, not cut other's down.

People still look at us like we have 3 eyes when they find out we turfed our microwave years ago. "but how do you heat up baby food????". Ummm, hot water in a bowl works pretty good! It's like the world ceased to exist pre-technology.

March 22, 2011 at 3:50 PM  
Blogger Sharon Jones said...

Amen! Joanne and Mamameah!

I am the proud mom of 4 children. All were nursed for the first 2 years of their lives. We used cloth diapers for all 4 along with hand-knit wool soakers. We had very little problem with diaper rash and all 4 have grown to happy healthy adult-hood with no apparent side-effects from our dangerous choices.

With today's wonderful washers and driers, I am really stymied that anyone would willing pay for all those disposable diapers. As far as hauling along bottles of formula and the constant need to mix, sterilize, heat, test etc., etc., when you nurse you everything you need ready and waiting!

March 22, 2011 at 6:07 PM  
Blogger Freyalyn said...

As thoughtful and intelligent as I would expect from your blog. Good to read.

March 23, 2011 at 5:20 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

Go Joanne! One other thing about people who feel they're allergic to wool: most woolen mills use a harsh chemical to dissolve out the vegetable matter from the stuff the sheep rolled around in: no thorns nor twigs need apply. I've always wondered if that, not the wool itself, is what my MIL reacts to.

March 23, 2011 at 1:13 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

We had home births, cloth diapers, child led weaning, homemade baby food, 100% cotton clothes - all that stuff. Also no microwave, dishwasher or TV! These were good choices for us and we raised healthy, happy kids.

You will make good choices for yourselves and your children, too!

April 13, 2011 at 3:12 PM  

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