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Eco-Parenting

Arabella Greatorex, owner of The Natural Nursery, reports on the rapidly rising demand for natural, environmentally friendly and ethically sound parenting products and highlights some of the concerns that have fuelled these demands.

Organic Food

There has been much media debate around the promotion of heavily processed foods to children, part of a long standing concern about the quality of food on offer in the UK. While some say the jury is still out on issues such as pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables, it is worth noting that only 30 additives are allowed in organic food, compared to over 300 in non-organic. Specifically, organic food bans the use of tartrazine (linked to hyperactivity in children) and GM ingredients.

The Soil Association reports that sales in organic food grew by 10% last year overall and purchases from farm shops and box schemes by a whopping 16%. This means that over 75% of households bought some organic food during 2004.

Organic baby and toddler foods now account for nearly half of total baby foods in the UK, with its market share growing rapidly, highlighting the level of concern felt by parents, and is a trend that looks set to continue.

Cloth Nappies

Modern cloth nappies bear no resemblance to the old-fashioned terry squares you probably wore as a child. They are cheaper and more hygienic to use than their disposable counterparts and parents are fast cottoning on to this. Ten years ago, only 2% of parents used cloth nappies; that figure has now grown to over 15% and is rising steadily.

Despite this growth in cloth nappy use, Bristol City Council still spends around ?500,000 each year dealing with disposable nappies. Conventional disposable nappies can contain up to 200 chemicals and some estimates say they will take over 200 years to decompose.

The alternative is to use cloth nappies, which are now available in a wide range of shapes and sizes and can be just as easy to use as disposables. You can choose from so soft organic terry or a natural eco-look or funky fleece prints or even retro patterns to really make a statement. They can be flat, shaped or stuffed, depending upon your child's personal needs and you will find other "clothies" are more than happy to help you decide which nappy is right for you.

They could help you save money as well; the Women's Environmental Network estimate that savings will be around ?500 for the first child and more for subsequent children, even taking into account the cost of home laundering.

Chemical Free Toiletries

Your skin will absorb around 60% of products applied to it and Green People estimates that the average woman will absorb about 2kg of chemicals through toiletries and cosmetics over one year, up to 75,000 different chemicals! We all know how sensitive a baby's skin is and rates of eczema are rising fast with almost a third of babies now suffering from it.

Many people believe that the chemicals in the lotions and potions that we use are to blame. Even some so called "natural" products contain a range of chemicals that are believed to cause or exacerbate skin conditions or be carcinogenic, even if they are originally plant derived. Worryingly, a product needs to contain only 1% natural ingredients to be legally labelled "natural".

Natural, organic and chemical free toiletries are no longer the preserve of the health food shop but are widely available on the high street or from specialist internet companies. The Soil Association estimate that there will be a 20% increase in the number of licensed organic manufacturers this year, reflecting the huge surge in demand, especially amongst families with young children.

Fair trade

When you are buying clothes or toys for your baby, international trade may seem like a remote issue but by choosing carefully, you could make all the difference to someone else's life. Farmers in the developing world are ill-equipped to cope with dramatic changes in commodity prices, which are caused by factors outside the control of the individuals most concerned.

Parents are being offered an increasing range of fairly or ethically traded products, including clothes, shoes, toys, toiletries and nappies. Sales of "Fairtrade" marked goods are now well over ?100m per year in the UK alone, up 46% on last year and we eat a third of a million fair trade bananas every DAY!

The growth in organic cotton

Most people assume that as cotton is a natural product, it is produced naturally, unfortunately, this is not the case. Around 150 grams of hazardous chemical pesticides will be used to grow enough cotton to make one t-shirt. The cotton farming industry accounts for about 1/4 of the world's insecticide use as well as huge amounts of fertilisers that can end up in the water system and food chain.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 20,000 people die every year in developing countries as a result of poisoning from pesticides used on non-organic cotton. Worryingly, much of the world's cotton production comes from genetically modified crops: over 2/3rds of China's cotton crop is GM.

Luckily, more and more organic textiles are now available and there has been an 80% increase in the worldwide production of organic cotton in the last 2 years, with sales in the UK alone now worth over ?20m from almost zero a couple of years ago. You can now buy organic clothes, bedding, towels, sheepskins and nappies from a range of suppliers ? even good old Marks and Spencer sell a range of organic cotton yoga clothes.

Katharine Hamnett, fashion designer, says: "This is part of a rapidly growing trend reflecting increasing consumer awareness and concern over global issues to do with the impact of pesticides, herbicides, dioxins and toxic chemicals used in textiles, on the environment and human heath. The good news is that this shows people are actually looking for positive alternatives."

And for the daddies

The Ecologist Magazine recently studied the contents of a can of shaving gel and found it to contain "several skin irritants, four potential carcinogens, three central nervous system poisons and two reproductive toxins" - and all this before breakfast!

Arabella Greatorex is the owner of http://www.naturalnursery.co.uk, an online store selling organic and fairly traded products for families including organic clothing and nappies, fairly traded toys and natural toiletries.

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