Home

Wondering If You Should Jump On the Organic Cotton Train?

The surprising reasons why it might not be the best bang for your buck when it comes to buying organics

If you've made the move to try and purchase organic products for the betterment of your health and the environment, you've probably heard of a slew of things that you can purchase that are organic - kale, apples, cereal, even cotton. We recommend a simple way to prioritize your organic produce purchases, but how does cotton fit into this? Is it worth the extra dollars? Clothes, sheets, towels, baby blankets, and all the other things around the house that are made from cotton can add up quickly. You might be thinking about organic, but aren't so sure. Well, we've weighed the pros and cons for you below to make an informed decision.


Reasons to Buy Organic Cotton

  • No synthetic chemicals: Cotton is considered a food crop, so in the United States it is regulated by the USDA and must follow strict guidelines. By definition, all pesticides need to be biologically based (a.k.a. no synthetic chemicals) and the product can't contain any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) (1).
  • Protecting farm workers, local communities, and the environment from pesticides: Growing cotton requires a LOT of pesticides and they can easily contaminate the air or water through wind and runoff, harming the environment (6). The main pesticides that are used during cotton production include Fluometuron, Acetamiprid, and Glyphosate. Just to give you an example of just how bad these pesticides can be, Fluometuron can mess with reproduction and fetal development, while Glyphosate is largely believed to cause cancer (12). It won't come as a surprise then when you hear that some workers miss out on earning wages for up to 50 days, just from the negative health effects of constantly being exposed to these pesticides (12). For most cotton producing countries, there is limited personal protective equipment which increases the amount of pesticides that the workers are exposed to (12). This ends up harming the workers and their families' health (12).
  • Helping conserve water: Many companies that produce organic cotton also adhere to more sustainable agricultural practices including water conservation, which helps A TON, as cotton requires a lot of water to grow (2).
  • Avoiding pesticide residues in conventional cotton (9, 10): Scientists have found pesticide residues on conventionally grown cotton. However, we have to note that this study detected pesticide residues through a highly intensive laboratory process. There are no studies indicating that this would happen through normal wash, wear, and use. One study showed that when raw cotton goes through the extensive dying, processing, and finishing stages to become fabric, pesticide residues are actually removed (11).

Reasons to Pass on Organic Cotton

  • Chemicals in the manufacturing process: Unfortunately, a USDA organic certification of cotton doesn't include the dyeing process, which is one of the most water intensive-steps (8). In addition, during the dyeing process, heavy metals, dyestuff, polymers and plasticizers are used to create the qualities in a fabric that we're used to (think eye-catching colors and fabrics SO soft you could use it as a blanket) (13, 14). These toxic chemicals can cause cancer or are known endocrine disruptors, posing a hazard to factory workers and surrounding communities. In some cases, consumers might even be at risk as some dyes that are used have a tendency to bind to skin (13). Take it from us to ALWAYS wash your new clothing before wearing! Check out more information below on the certified GOTS label if you want more assurances on dyes, in addition to just organic cotton.
  • Using more land: While organic farms tend to use more sustainable practices, in general, more land is needed to produce the same organic crop compared to a conventionally grown crop. However, studies show limited evidence that organic cotton yields are less than conventionally grown cotton (4).
  • Not a significant source of exposure: Pesticide residues in cotton products haven't been shown to be a significant source of exposure. You're much more likely to be exposed through food, so you might want to prioritize organic at the grocery store if you're on a budget.
  • Puts a larger dent in your wallet: Unfortunately, since organic cotton takes more time and land to produce, as well as uses more labor, it is more expensive (7). Products made from organic cotton will usually cost more than the same products made of regular cotton (7).

For the avid organic cotton connoisseur

If you're really invested in purchasing organic cotton, the best thing to do is purchase products that carry a GOTS label, a certified textile standard. This standard covers the whole cotton production process (growing, processing, dyeing) all the way until the product reaches the store for you to buy! A textile product carrying the GOTS label contains a minimum of 95 percent certified organic fibers AND covers environmental, social and human toxicity criteria that is not included in USDA regulation (5).




References

  1. https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/organic/labeling
  2. https://cottonleads.org/sustainable-production/regulation-and-compliance-united-states/
  3. https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~lhom/organictext.html
  4. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0081039
  5. https://www.global-standard.org/the-standard/general-description.html
  6. https://rodaleinstitute.org/blog/9-ways-you-may-not-realize-cotton-is-in-your-food/
  7. http://www.howstuffcompares.com/doc/o/organic-cotton-vs-conventional-cotton.htm
  8. https://qz.com/383562/these-chinese-textile-mills-are-going-green-and-saving-millions/
  9. Attallah, Emad & Abdelwahed, Mahmoud. (2017). Monitoring of Pesticide Residues in some Cotton Products in Egypt using GC-MS/MS and LC-MS/MS. Middle East Journal of Applied Sciences. 07. 102-109.
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17679434
  11. http://en.cnki.com.cn/Article_en/CJFDTotal-HXFJ201401020.htm
  12. https://www.pan-uk.org/site/wp-content/uploads/Cottons-chemical-addiction-FINAL-LOW-RES-2017.pdf
  13. https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/dcb253_bee8ca24afb1405bbd7c731b0885fdc6.pdf
  14. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325703378_A_review_of_textile_industry_Wet_processing_environmental_impacts_and_effluent_treatment_methods
Home

Why You Should Make the Switch to LED Light Bulbs

Better for the environment and your wallet

No one likes home maintenance and high electricity bills. Lucky for you, replacing your light bulbs with light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs can shorten your to-do list and save you money on your next energy bill!

Technology has advanced a lot since Thomas Edison created the first light bulb in 1878. The latest and greatest is called the LED bulb. The light emitting diode in the bulb are small (about the size of a fleck of pepper), don't need reflectors or diffusers, and emit very little heat (1). Here are a couple reasons why you should make the switch to LEDs.

1. Traditional Light Bulbs Contain Dangerous Chemicals

Traditional light bulbs like compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs use mercury and other nobles gases such as argon to create light (3). These chemicals are a hazard if the bulb breaks and can be detrimental to your health. LEDs on the other hand do not contain any mercury. Making the switch to LED bulbs is a good option to reduce your exposure to these harmful chemicals.

2. LED Bulbs Last Longer Than Traditional Light Bulbs

One LED bulb can last for years. It is estimated that LEDs last between 20,000 to 50,000 hours (2). That means that LEDs last 3 to 25 times as long as old-school incandescent bulbs and 10 times as long as CFLs. Imagine only having to buy one light bulb when you would otherwise have to buy 25. That's a significant cost saving and a large reduction in waste!

3. LED Bulbs Are More Energy Efficient

LEDs use 25-80% less energy compared to similarly bright incandescent and CFL bulbs (1). This is because they more efficiently transfer energy into light, whereas traditional bulbs lose a lot of energy in the form of heat. That's why traditional bulbs get so hot while LED bulbs remain cool to the touch. Replacing old holiday lights with LED lights can actually reduce the risk of combustion, burns, or Christmas tree fires.

Being more energy efficient means a lower energy bill! It is estimated that replacing one incandescent bulb with an LED bulb will save you $5 per year (4). This is a large reduction in your bill if you replace all the bulbs in your home!

4. LED Bulbs are Better for the Environment

When you switch to LED bulbs, you not only save money, but you also help improve the environment. How? Since LEDs last longer, you reduce the amount of waste you produce. If you're using fewer light bulbs, you have less to throw away! Other light bulbs contain hazardous chemicals, which can also create a challenge for safe waste disposal. LEDs are also an easy way to combat climate change because they use less energy, which means that you aren't using as much fossil fuel. It's a win-win situation!

Getting Started

If we have convinced you to make the switch to LEDs, make sure you purchase bulbs that are marked "Energy Star" on the box. This means that the bulb is approved by ENERGY STAR, a program run by the EPA and Department of Energy that promotes energy efficiency. While the cost of LED bulbs are slightly higher than incandescent and CFL bulbs, they do not contain any harmful chemicals and will save you money in the long run. Think of it as a small upfront investment in your family's (and the planet's) health and long-term savings!


References

  1. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/save-electricity-and-fuel/lighting-choices-save-you-money/how-energy-efficient-light
  2. https://www.thesimpledollar.com/the-light-bulb-showdown-leds-vs-cfls-vs-incandescent-bulbs-whats-the-best-deal-now-and-in-the-future/
  3. https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/q-and-a-mercury-in-energy-saving-light-bulbs/3003352.article
  4. https://ledlightguides.com/how-much-do-led-lights-save/
Want an easy way to live healthier?
Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.
/ SOCIAL
popular

Alison Mountford from Ends and Stems Shares Her Meal Planning Tips

Plus, a 25% Discount for Because Health Readers!

Have you ever had an ingredient go bad because you didn't know what to cook with it? Or end up making so much pasta that your meal for one could now serve fifty? We've all been there. After spending years in the food industry, Alison Mountford saw firsthand how much perfectly good food gets thrown out during meal preparation. This lead her to create Ends and Stems, a meal planning service that curates recipes and shopping lists to make mealtime easier for you while reducing the environmental impact of food waste. Read on for a Q&A with the founder.

PS: Because Health readers can receive 25% off a monthly or annual subscription using the code Because

BH: Why is food waste an important issue for you?

AM: I've been a professional chef for 15 years. My first business was a meal delivery and catering service. As the owner of a small food establishment, it was just good business sense to use everything up and not waste edible food. I sold that business in 2015, but I wasn't sure what my next step was, honestly I was a little bit lost. Right around that time, the NRDC released it's landmark report measuring how much food is wasted in America, much of it in our own homes, and detailed the dramatic effect this waste has on the planet.

Everything clicked for me when I read this. My entire cooking career had been dedicated to helping busy people and families reduce stress around dinner time and encourage them to cook more, eat better, and shop better. And for my entire life, I have been an outdoors person. Following the health of our planet and taking action to improve it has always been a core value and it was only strengthened by the birth of my daughter, also in 2015. Reducing food waste at home is something small that we can all do everyday and it can add up to something big. Often, I feel helpless at some of the major issues our country and planet are facing, but helping busy people reduce food waste doesn't cost them time or money - it saves both - and that makes it super fun to educate about and promote.



BH: What inspired you to start a meal planning business?

AM: Once I knew that as a chef I had to talk about cooking to reduce food waste, I needed a business model. I had been in business long enough to know that creating an idea in my own head, alone at my desk was not a recipe for success. So, I took the internet and starting interviewing people. I used a free survey tool and put out a questionnaire. Within 48 hours, I had just shy of 1000 responses! I asked people if they cared about climate change (yes), food waste (also yes), and how they were struggling at dinner time. 83% of those surveyed named "Deciding what to buy and cook" as a top concern! I expected the answer would be grocery shopping or actually doing the cooking, but it turns out that the emotional labor of choosing a recipe and making sure you have the ingredients was driving people nuts.

From there, I refined the idea to include impact reporting and tested ways to change the convention of recipe writing so that the meals are faster, easier, and use everything up.



BH: Is food waste an issue that you see other professional chefs embracing? Can you tell us more about food waste in the food service industry?

AM: Yes, I feel very excited about the role of chefs in food waste and the greater movement to combat climate change.

In my experience, chefs are the least likely group of people to let food go to waste. In the breakdown of where food is wasted, restaurants rank high, but do you know more specifically where the food is wasted? On the consumer side. Any thriving restaurant manages food cost tightly, meaning there's not that much food wasted in preparation. Diners however, are conditioned to look for large portions, free bread/chips, we over order, and we don't follow through to take home and eat leftovers.

Chefs also have the advantage of knowing how to use a product in multiple ways and can minimize waste and reinvent leftovers.

I was recently at a conference with some of the best chefs in the world and the focus of the entire day was how chefs can use our position and influence to reduce food waste and act on multiple other initiatives to combat climate change - reduce plastic waste, support bee habits, reject monocropping, buy from farms doing carbon capture, reduce portion sizes, educate diners, and so many others.


BH: What are your top 3 tips for people who want to start meal planning but have never done it before?

AM: 1) Get in the habit of writing ideas down when they pop in your head. Thinking of dinner ideas on demand feels akin to writers block. I know I had some ideas...why can't I remember them? For me, this means keeping a running list on my phone or emailing recipes to myself when I see them. When it comes time to choosing a few recipes for the week, I have some help getting the ideas flowing.

2) Ask family members for input. This helps kids especially, buy into meal time and complain less. My 4 year old will ask for a specific fruit or vegetable, burritos, or noodles. I can factor these into the plan and she feels accounted for.

3) Be realistic about your week and willingness to commit. When I polled those thousand families, most were willing to cook just 2-3 times per week. Don't write a meal plan for 5 nights on your first attempt. Start small with just 2 recipes. Perhaps, choose one meal that you know will make excellent leftovers and double it. On super busy nights, plan for takeout or leftovers! My family always orders in on Wednesdays because my husband works later and brings the kids home later. We simply aren't starting from scratch that night of the week.



BH: What are some ways that people can make cooking fun?

AM: I think the single most important thing to do is cook when you have more time. That means, if you arrive home from work close to dinner time, prep your meals the day before or do most of it on Sundays. As a personal chef, I have prepared hundreds of thousands of meals 3-4 days before anyone will eat them. There's almost nothing that can't be stored overnight or longer and then reheated for dinner time. When you cook hangry (or with a hangry family nearby), it's never going to be fun.

My second tip to make cooking more fun is to rid yourself of any guilt stemming from a lack of variety. I see so many people, parents especially, lamenting that they don't cook enough variety and it's coming from comparing their own lives to an influencers feed on instagram. The real truth is that variety in foods is healthy, but you don't need to reinvent the wheel every night or week. Add variety when it truly feels fun but for busy weeknights, a simple home cooked meal is already a huge win, it does not have to be Pinterest worthy.

Food

5 ways to eat LESS meat without eating NO meat

Here's what to do if you can't give up the flavor of meat but still want to be healthier

Interested in eating less meat, but can't commit to being a full on vegetarian, because... bacon? We feel you! But regardless of how you feel, eating less meat is actually great for you and the environment! Wondering why? Meat is extremely energy intensive to produce, all the way from how much food is needed to feed animals, to the energy required to process and ship the meat to you (3). This makes livestock a major contributor to greenhouse gases, and therefore climate change (3). In fact, scientists have found that eating a more plant rich diet is the 4th most effective thing we can be doing to help stop climate change (4).
Keep Reading Show Less

Fashion Week is right around the corner, and one trend we don't want to see on the runway is PVC. In recent years, PVC has made its way into the fashion world through trendy see-through bags or rain coats.

What is PVC

Polyvinyl chloride (AKA PVC or vinyl) is a solid plastic made from vinyl chloride gas. PVC can be hard and rigid, or it can be extremely flexible. It's flexibility depends whether or not phthalates are added during production. Because it's water resistant and durable, PVC is used in a lot of different products, including flooring, wall decals, pipes, medical equipment, and of course clothing.

The Problem

Although PVC is used in a lot of things, it's actually pretty bad for health. You can be exposed by touching a PVC product, inhaling fumes from a PVC manufacturing plant or landfill, or accidentally swallowing PVC from food packaging or contaminated water (1). Vinyl chloride, the main component of PVC, is a known carcinogen. Exposure to vinyl chloride gas is associated with an increased risk of liver, brain, lung, and blood cancers, as well as lymphoma. (2)

If you're exposed to PVC, you're also being exposed to phthalates and chlorine as well. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, which change the way hormones are made and disturbed throughout the body. Plus, PVC isn't good for the environment because it's extremely difficult to recycle.

How to Avoid PVC in Fashion

Steer clear of anything see-through! A clear bag is almost always made from PVC, so it's better to just avoid this trend all together. Plus, everyone can see what you carry around in your bag. Does the entire world need to see half dozen chapsticks and a phone charger floating around our purses?! Probably not. Instead of buying a plastic bag, look for one made from natural materials like cotton or leather. Natural materials are also extremely durable and will hold up well over time. The great thing about fashion is that trends come and go and in a year people will probably be onto the next big thing.


References

  1. https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/chemicals-and-contaminants/polyvinyl-chloride-pvc
  2. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/vinyl-chloride
Roundups

11 Non-Toxic Laundry Detergents

We searched and found all the safer options for doing your laundry

Updated for 2019!

After lots of research, we collected an assortment of safe, non-toxic detergents to keep your clothes smelling and looking new. Some specifically say they are for baby, others have versions for baby along with the original and both are safe, so choose what you like, and know they really are all safe for any age. You don't necessarily need a baby specific detergent. Choose what you think works best for you. And, while you're at it, check out our roundup of fabric softeners and dryer sheets. Yay for clean clothes!

Keep Reading Show Less
Procrast-cleaning, spring-cleaning or regular ole-cleaning. Whatever it is, you're determined to clean every nook and cranny and you might just do so by scouring the grocery aisle for the strongest cleaners you can find. If you're on a roll, you might not stop until your house smells spick and span. And safe...right? When it comes to household cleaners, this is a case of stronger isn't necessarily better. The "clean" smell often associated with traditional cleaners are the result of A LOT chemicals that haven't been proven to actually clean any better. Plus, they come with their own set of health risks.
Keep Reading Show Less
Roundups

The Best 5 Non-Toxic Dish Soaps

Healthy, safe, and effective grease-cutting dish soap power

Updated for 2019!

Get your dishes clean without worrying about the chemicals in your dish soap. We rounded up the top 5 dish soaps without toxic chemicals or preservatives that are well-reviewed and easily available. You're welcome! We've had some questions about whether parents need a separate soap specifically for bottles and dishes. With these 5 picks, you can be rest assured that they will work well on your dinner plates but are also safe enough for baby bottles and toddler dishes. Also, for all the dishes you choose not to hand wash, take a peek at our dishwasher detergent roundup.

Keep Reading Show Less
Want an easy way to live healthier?
Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.
/ SOCIAL