Sunday, November 3, 2013

Eco-Friendly Fiberfill: Fact or Fiction?

 A lot of people are stating they use eco-friendly fiberfill in their toys and household products. But as yet, there is no measurable standard for the term eco-friendly. There is no carbon footprint marker. There are no maximum levels of waste produced in air, water, and landfills. And there is no requirement for biodegradability. Eco-friendly is a colloquial term only. There is no "there" there.

But there are products that are not harmful to the environment. So how should we choose? Here are some natural fibers and products.
  • wool
  • cotton
  • down and feathers
  • buckwheat
  • kapok
  • fabric, thread, and yarn scraps
  • recycled denim insulation
  • silk
  • corn-based
  • thistle down

Just because a product is natural does not always make it an eco-friendly choice. Case in point: NatureWorks corn-based fiberfill, while biodegradable and basically natural, is openly made from GMO corn products. For those for whom the GMO industry in general and Monsanto in particular is a red flag, corn-based eco-friendly fiberfill is simply not eco-friendly.

Bamboo has found a lovely following but now it has come to light that some bamboo harvesting is done unethically although there is a great deal of ethically managed bamboo as well. Additional concerns include claims of having naturally antibacterial properties, which bamboo has until it is highly processed and then it loses most of its antibacterial properties. This has led to companies adding synthetic antibacterial agents without reporting this to users of the product. Your bamboo stuffing may be clean and ethically made or it may be harvested improperly affecting local fauna adversely and coated with chemicals you didn't know were there.

Of course, plain old cotton isn't going to get away scot-free. Cotton is usually bleached which leaves a huge level of dioxin polluted waters in its wake. The cotton itself may have been grown saturated with pesticides. Natural cotton is not white. It may be yellow, brown, or green. Manufacturers heed your call for a clean-looking product and process and bleach and treat with toxic chemicals. But if you live near a cotton producer, chances are good you can purchase raw organic cotton for your crafts.

Mexico is a large producer of shredded denim insulation. This stuff is brilliant if not a complete mess to cut and use. But if you can get ahold of a bat or two of it, you could try it out.

PLA (polylactic acid) is the new watchword on eco-friendly fiberfill. read this Made from E. coli - I kid you not - PLA seems to use a much less polluting polymerization process than using oil waste. Still, it is new on the market and fermentation of E. coli as a renewable resource makes me wonder how much bacteria is entering the water table, but I'm hoping to see good results with this as long-term studies come in. CORRECTION: PLA is the same thing as the corn-fiber mentioned above. PLA is made from corn sugars. However, there is a new PLA material being made from E.coli.

Here's the ONE eco-friendly claiming fiberfill that will never be eco-friendly. Polyester fiberfill and/or recycled polyester fiberfill. Some people love the fact that poly fiberfill can be made from single use plastic water bottles. Some people think it is eco-friendly to manufacture plastic water bottles and then use and pollute the same amount of water to recycle those bottles into something else. Either way the carbon footprint is ridiculous and completely unnecessary.

Isn't it good to recycle? The question is faulty. It was a bad idea to use so much energy and throw so much pollution into air, water, and landfills to even make single serve plastic water bottles in the first place. We're not doing the world a favor by increasing the market for a polluter only to create nearly the same pollution a second time by reprocessing that synthetic and toxic substance. Eco-friendly would be to never have damaged the ecosystem in the first place. The only eco-friendly poly fiberfill is poly fiberfill that was never manufactured.

This brings me to my personal toy filling of choice: wool. Wool ignites at higher temperatures than cotton and synthetic fibers and has a lower rate of flame spread. It does not melt or drip causing burns or release highly toxic gasses into the air when burning as synthetic fibers do. 

Wool is considered to be naturally hypoallergenic because it is naturally mold resistant and is not as friendly an environment for dust mites which are the actual cause of many allergic reactions in people. Synthetic materials retain your sweat and encourage mold and dust mites and their droppings. 

Wool is an insulator and warms up next to the body making dolls comforting to hold and snuggle yet it moves moisture away naturally, without holding it to become a bacterial or fungal breeding ground. Wool is completely renewable. Sheep need shearing.

Wool alcohols in lanolin can be irritating to some people, that's a fact, but poly fiberfill can also cause skin irritation. Nothing is right for everyone. But sheep and organic cotton fields don't pollute our planet the way plastics manufacturing does.

Conclusion?  Plastics are the alternative. They were introduced less than 100 years ago. You don't have to look for "natural alternatives". Nature is the norm, not the alternative.
Cotton and wool have long been fibers of choice. Easily renewable. Can be organically produced. Bleaching not necessary. Warming in the hands and next to the skin. There are many natural, truly eco-friendly, and available sources for toy and pillow stuffing. We can be selective in our choices and not believe the lies of the oil and plastics industries.

We've always had the means to fill toys and dolls safely. There are existing cloth dolls from the 1st century. (Roman doll above.) This proves it isn't necessary to use something that will NEVER degrade to create a lasting product.

This online shop has eucalyptus stuffing, hemp stuffing, kapok, wool, cotton, and GMO-free corn stuffing. It is based in Australia. It's a woman-owned and run home business.

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  1. FWIW, older sheep breeds shed their wool naturally, which is why you see some rather tatty black-faced sheep in Scotland (ones that escaped roundup for shearing) and chunks of it lying about.

    1. I imagine lovely bird nests with bits of found wool. :-)

  2. Great info, thanks for the links, I have been looking for companies who supplied natural fibre-fill :D

    1. I haven't personally used, but they had a nice assortment of natural fillings. I have been getting my wool fleece from Elizabeth at MorningStar Crafts (online) and it is a great quality stuffing. I am looking forward to trying cotton also.