Living / 14 November, 2022 / Ellie Thompson
Microplastics are tiny fragments of plastic making their way into our food chain, household dust, and children’s toys. We’re all at risk from the danger of these plastics: they’re in the foods we eat, the water we drink, and the air that we breathe. Babies and small children are even more exposed as they tend to explore the things around them with their mouths, and eco kid’s brand Pure Earth Collection is on a mission to help spread more awareness about this to parents.
It’s been proven that indoor air pollution is up to six times worse than outdoor air pollution, thanks to the products we’re being sold. We’re busy ingesting harmful microplastics on a daily basis, but what’s most shocking is that recent research* found up to twenty times more microplastics in baby poo than adult poo. The main culprits are PET plastics that come from polyester textiles, water bottles and synthetic fabrics. We’re talking about everything from synthetic blankets, teethers, to their favourite teddy bears and comforters.
Microplastics in the human body are a growing health concern and ethical kids’ brand Pure Earth Collection is passionate about helping reduce exposure to our little ones.
Studies on animals and humans have found numerous toxic effects associated with high levels of microplastic ingestion, including reproductive issues, cancers, premature mortality, cell damage, hormone disruption, and obesity. There are links to the increase in allergic reactions and atopic disease, directly correlating with the number of microplastics in our lives.
The dangers come from the plastics themselves, as well as the multiple chemicals that are added to the plastics during the production process, which are released from the plastics as they break down inside the body. Research has proved that microplastics are inhaled into the lungs, passing into the heart, brain, and if you’re pregnant, into the placenta of your unborn baby.
Plastics are the go-to material for children’s products, thanks to their durability and low cost. A worrying example: it’s thought that 1.6 million microplastics are ingested by a plastic bottle-fed baby every day. So why then, are plastic baby bottles the standard?
Research by Good Morning Britain revealed that a typical 8-year-old girl’s bedroom had 22 times more microplastics in the air pollution than the rest of the household. The culprits include fluffy polyester blankets, synthetic carpets and rugs, pillows and soft toys, all busy shedding microplastics into the air every time your child moves around the room.
Look around your child’s bedroom, and you’ll no doubt see an audience of soft toys looking back at you, made from 100% polyester, or worse still, polyester plush.
As a general rule of thumb, as far as possible, we should be choosing natural options over synthetic products. Products kept as natural as possible present fewer dangers and exposure to microplastics. Founder of Pure Earth Collection Emma Bianco shares her top 12 tips on how to avoid microplastics and dangerous chemicals, the alternatives we can embrace, and ways to improve our indoor air pollution.
A baby spends 16 hours asleep in their bed a day, so it’s super important to make sure you choose a natural mattress with no synthetic foam. Opt for natural sheets and avoid PVC or plastic linings. When it comes to pillows, blankets, duvets or sleeping bag fillings, avoid polyester. As well as being a source of microplastic, polyester won’t help to regulate your baby’s temperature.
Invest in natural bamboo sleeping bags perfect for all seasons. Pure Earth Collection’s bamboo sleeping bags are 100% organic, perfect for room temperatures between 13-27°C. The natural, polyester-free fabrics reduce the risk of overheating and help regulate body temperature naturally.
The super-cute, fluffy rabbit tucked under your child’s arm every night as they sleep is likely to be shedding microplastics into the air that your child is breathing in, and it’s time we knew about the potential risks.
It’s not a secret that the vast majority of soft toys sold in the UK are made from 100% polyester, but the dangers of this fabric are not as widely known. Polyester is made from PET plastic, the same plastic-type as water bottles. Unfortunately, polyester plush (the fluffy fabrics often used for toys) sheds a lot more microplastics than tightly woven polyester yarns.
Our kids fall in love with their soft toys, so you can’t just break their hearts by taking them away. Emma recommends inventing a quarantine zone for polyester toys. Keep them out of their beds, and slowly edge the toys out. Put them on a shelf, and when they’re not looking put them away for two months, and if they haven’t asked for them in that time, it’s time to get rid. It’s a tricky one – giving to charity will only pass the problem on elsewhere, so the only option is landfill.
There aren’t many toy brands making cuddly toys out of 100% natural cotton, but where you can, offer cotton alternatives. Fill up their beds with cotton toys and ease out the polyester. For babies, choose Pure Earth Collection’s Organic Baby Comforters made with super-soft 100% organic cotton and safe dyes.
Top tip: For those much-loved teddies you can’t bear to part with, dress them in cotton baby clothes. This will cover a large percentage of the plastic, to stop them from shredding.
It’s not just soft toys – up to 80% of global textile production is synthetic, and we’ve seen a massive influx of plastics when it comes to the clothes we wear. Avoid polyester and polyester plush – one of the worst microplastic shedding fabrics. Polyester plush is commonly used to make children’s fleeces, onesies, snowsuits and waterproof outerwear. While it might seem super-soft and snuggly, it presents a huge health risk, so it’s time to source an alternative.
What’s so bad about furniture? Well, it can often contain formaldehyde and flame retardants, which house the PFAS chemicals, known as the forever chemicals. Once they are in our bodies/environments there’s no cleaning them up.
Avoid buying furniture that’s made from a lot of glue – for instance, MDF beds and wardrobes. Instead, opt for natural materials, such as oak or pine put together with nails.
It’s so important to choose soft furnishings that are flame retardant free and made from natural fabrics. Rugs, carpets, mats, floors, curtains, blinds can all contain flame retardants, so be sure to keep an eye on what you’re buying.
Paint can be very high in VOCs. Paint tins should say ‘high’ or ‘low’, so make sure you always opt for a low VOC option when it comes to your child’s room or nursery. Wallpaper glue is also a sticking point, so be mindful of what you choose here too.
It’s worth considering how long the paint and the wallpaper have been there. Typically, paint and wallpaper will release VOCs in the first couple of years, so you’ve got less to worry about if you’ve moved into a house or decorated a room with wallpaper that’s been there for a while.
Blackout blinds are usually made from PVC or polyester and are lined with a thick lining to make them truly ‘blackout’. These blackout blinds usually come with a warning not to use in direct sunlight, which is exactly what they’re meant for. PVC or polyester blackout blinds give off toxins in the heat of the sun, right into and around the room your baby is sleeping in.
It’s so important to opt for natural blinds. Pure Earth Collection’s black-out blinds are the only natural option on the market. These 100% organic cotton fabric blinds are made with a safe and non-toxic dye, so you can leave them up in direct sunlight without worrying about chemicals leaching into the air.
A recent study of reusable plastic water bottles found that there are around 400 microplastics and chemicals in a water bottle, but once it’s been in the dishwasher, it goes up to 1,500. Handwashing your plastics will significantly reduce the number of microplastics shed from these products, therefore reducing your family’s overall exposure to these toxins.
Ditch the perfumes, scented candles and diffusers. Fragrances contain a lot of phthalates, so if you’re cuddling your child while wearing perfumes or aftershave on your skin, your child will be breathing these in.
Cleaning your home will have a huge effect on your indoor pollution levels. Household dust is where a lot of these chemicals and microplastics collect, so it’s important to keep your nooks and crannies clean of fluff. Children and particularly babies are more exposed to household dust than we are as adults; they have their faces closest to the ground, dropping toys and snacks on dusty carpets.
Open your windows! It’s proven that even two minutes a day has a big impact on cleaning out your household air.
‘Recycled’ polyester is made from water bottles. This so claimed ‘eco’ polyester is just as bad for human health and for the environment as virgin polyester, as it still sheds toxic micro-plastics and, arguably, many more than would have been shed by the water bottle itself. You can collect plastic water bottles from the sea, but once they’re turned into microplastics, they’re in the environment and there’s no getting them back.
It’s not possible to change everything overnight, it takes time and money. Chemicals have only just been creeping into our lives and our everyday products since the 80s, and as parents, we shouldn’t blame ourselves. Start small and make the changes that are easy for you and your family first. Pure Earth Collection are encouraging parents and grandparents to take part in their Earth Day Challenge this Friday by choosing just one change from the list above, and implementing it before the weekend is out. You can share your change to help spread awareness and encourage others by using #PECearthdaychallenge and #PlasticFreeBabies on social media.
*sources: 1. Occurrence of Polyethylene Terephthalate and Polycarbonate Microplastics in Infant and Adult Feces. Junjie Zhang, Lei Wang, Leonardo Trasande, and Kurunthachalam Kannan. 2. A Review of Human Exposure to Microplastics and Insights Into Microplastics as Obesogens. Kurunthachalam Kannan and Krishnamoorthi Vimalkumar.