Navigating Through the World of Plastics

by Jolene Marty
Co-Admin Eco-Friendly baby/family products Made in the USA

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There are many wonderful advancements in our world that have been made possible with the introduction of plastics. Many medical devices and lifesaving tools are made from plastic and they have most certainly made our lives more convenient. There is a plastic option, often times disposable, for almost anything. Plastic is durable with its strength being impressive enough to make moms and dads everywhere happy to use them for sippy cups and toys that get thrown across the room, and trust in it enough to keep our children safe in their car seats. Unfortunately in the quest to make things fast, cheap, convenient, and the impossible actually possible (like in medical equipment), companies have put our health on the back burner in order to achieve these things.

Plastic is a synthetic material made from a wide range of organic polymers such as polyethylene, PVC, nylon, etc., that can be molded into shape while soft and then set into a rigid or slightly elastic form. (Google Definitions) To manufacture plastic, depending on the type, you need to use chemicals – a lot of them.

There are already several great resources on which plastics mean what and why they are good or bad. There are some very conservative views on what is safe in terms of plastic but here is my ‘I like to be better safe than sorry’ evaluation of the different kinds, broken down by recycling codes:

Plastic #1: PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate)

Found In: bottled water, bottled cooking oil, juice and sports drink bottles, condiment  bottles, mouthwash bottles, carpet, textiles, microwavable food trays

Safety/Concerns: It is generally regarded as safe for a one time use but is advised not to  be used to refill, heat up, or reuse in any way. (HealthyChild, 2013) If you do choose to use these items, I would advise to buy in the winter/cooler weather only as sitting in a hot transport truck, the trunk of your car, etc. heat unused bottles up and leach chemicals into your item.

Plastic #2: HDPE (high-density polyethylene)

Found In: milk and water jugs, shampoo, toys, household cleaner bottles, pipes, wire and  cable coverings, picnic tables, recycling bins, grocery/retail bags, cereal box liners

Safety/Concerns: It is considered a low-hazard plastic. (Mercola, 2013) While generally  considered safe by the public, it also has tested positive for releasing estrogenic activity.

Plastic #3: PVC (polyvinyl choride)

Found In: cling wrap, shower curtain liners, mattress covers, toys, peanut butter jars, deli  and meat wrap, siding, window frames, blood bags, medical tubing, carpet backing and flooring

Safety/Concerns: Considered one of the most toxic of the plastics, releases PVC dioxins into the  environment, and is a potent carcinogenic to animals and humans. (HealthyChild, 2013) Linked to birth defects, reproductive disruptors, hormone disruptor, and cancer. This should be at the top of plastics to avoid.

Plastics #4: LDPE (low-density polyethylene)

Found In: garbage bags, dry cleaning bags, newspapers, fresh produce bags, floor tile, adhesives and sealants, toys, container lids, coatings for paper milk cartons, hot and cold beverage cups

Safety/Concerns: It is considered a safer plastic which is why it is used in many household and food bags however, studies have shown risks of it leaching estrogenic activity much like HDPE

Plastics #5: PP (polypropylene)

Found In: Ice cream and yogurt containers, drinking straws, syrup bottles, diapers, medicine bottles, car parts, garden rakes, appliances, storage bins, baby bottles

Safety/Concerns: Probably the safest plastic as of right now. It is highly resistant to heat and many companies choose to use this kind of plastic because of its safety. According to Mercola’s website, there was a study done where the PP did leach at least two chemicals but it is still under further study for accuracy.

Plastics #6: PS (polystyrene)

Found In: most disposable dinnerware, take out containers, packing peanuts, meat and poultry trays, packaging for electronics, aspirin bottles, coat hangers, toys, egg shell cartons, EPS foam

Safety/Concerns: Also known as Styrofoam, it can leach (especially when heated) styrene, a known neurotoxin. It can cause brain and nervous system problems, as well as kidney and stomach problems. Styrene leaches from containers significantly when oily foods are heated in such. (LifeWithoutPlastic.com)

Plastics #7: Other (includes polycarbonate, nylon, acrylic, and also alternative plastics)

Found in just about anything including toys, other children’s items, everyday items around your house, your car, etc. This is a catch all category that not only includes very dangerous plastics such as polycarbonate, which leaches BPA (and can be found lined in formula cans, 5-gallon water bottles, food can linings, to name a few) but it also includes some of the safer plastics including ‘green’ plastics made from rice, potatoes, etc.

A side note about acrylonitrile styrene (AS) or styrene acrylonitrile (SAN), and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) taken in an excerpt from LifeWithoutPlastic:

Two other types of plastic that fall under code 7 are acrylonitrile styrene (AS) or styrene acrylonitrile (SAN), and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). Both AS/SAN and ABS are higher quality plastics with increased strength, rigidity, toughness and temperature and chemical resistance.   AS/SAN is used in mixing bowls, thermos casing, dishes, cutlery, coffee filters, toothbrushes, outer covers (printers, calculators, lamps), battery housing.  The incorporation of butadiene during the manufacture of AS/SAN, produces ABS, which is an even tougher plastic. ABS is used in LEGO toys, pipes, golf club heads, automotive parts, protective head gear. Our research on risks associated with AS/SAN and ABS is ongoing. (LifeWithoutPlastic.com)

 Before you get too worried and start running around your house looking at every code (or not being able to find one) on everything plastic or worrying about every possibility in your child’s toys take a look at a few of these general rules listed below:

  • Absolutely avoid plastics with #3 and 6. Those are the two that leach the easiest and with the most chemicals.
  • Try to avoid, when possible #1, 2 and 4. If you must use them do not use if you know they have been heated, previously used and don’t reuse or heat up yourself, in order to keep them in the safest state.
  • Keep in mind #7 isn’t all horrible as long as it’s not polycarbonate (BPA or BPS). Alternative ‘green’ plastics, ABS, and AS/SAN are going to be high quality and even under heat the least likely to have any toxic release. So far through studies these are ok to use, even for children.
  • The safest plastic, if you need to use plastic, will be #5. Companies are using it more and more you would be surprised looking around!

As always, it is always best to find glass, wood, or stainless steel made options when you are cooking, eating, drinking; amongst many other things you would generally use plastic for. In our lives however, it is almost impossible to get away from plastic entirely. Also, eliminating plastic from our child’s toy box can be a hard and daunting task especially with family members who do not see you eye to eye on the trouble with plastic, continue to offer up those kinds of play things. Keep in mind the few pointers listed above and you will be able to navigate easier through the store aisles!

Listed below are several amazing resources that were found when writing this article. Included are the ASTM standards on plastics, an American Plastic Toys corporation, and a few lists of more common things you can find in each plastics category.

ASTM Plastics Standards: http://www.astm.org/Standards/plastics-standards.html

American Plastic Toys: http://www.astm.org/Standards/plastics-standards.html

  • Toy list that uses them and are made with no lead, PVC, phthalates, or BPA

A list of companies that sell the toys with APT plastics: http://www.americanplastictoys.com/products.htm

Plastics Numbers & What They Mean by HealthyChild.org: http://healthychild.org/easy-steps/know-your-plastics/

Grants Pass Oregon’s recyclables list by number: http://www.grantspassoregon.gov/index.aspx?page=1002  (Great resource to find out more things that contain which plastics number)

How to Recognize the Plastics That are Hazardous to You by Dr. Mercola: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/04/11/plastic-use.aspx

Another plastics breakdown: http://lifewithoutplastic.com/en/about-plastic/plastic-types

IF YOU ARE CURIOUS ABOUT MEGA BLOKS READ THIS ONE: A plastics article with some toy information: http://lilthumper.blogspot.com/2011/06/legos-mega-bloks-plastics.html

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Natural Candy Store refer-a-friend link

From my inbox: ” I was about to place an order with naturalcandystore.com, which I heard of through one of your posts. I noticed that they have a refer a friend program, if you want to refer me you can get a $5 coupon. Just thought I’d put that out there.”
It’s true, I can earn $5 worth of free candy for any new customer who shops by starting out with the link I’ll provide below. I don’t need your email or anything like to refer to Vitacost, you just have to be a brand new customer, and start with the link below. You don’t get anything, sorry, except the best natural & organic candy on the market. If I had known about this at Christmas when a ton of you shopped with them for the 1st time, I think I’d have free candy coming for a year   All those of you who now have shopped with them can use this the refer-a-friend now too, instructions on their website.
It’s a fabulous resource for great candy of all categories. Yes, organic sugar is still sugar, but I believe in indulging healthily from time to time! Shipping is expensive until you place a $50 order, then it’s $6.99 (from memory). They have a fabulous Valentine’s selection now, then will have Easter candy when that Holiday is over.
HERE’S THE LINK: http://www.naturalcandystore.com/?a=nHbolT

Mega Bloks: PVC-containing bloks in a PVC-free bag…

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My son received the 80 piece set for a Christmas gift from my Husbands parents. My side of the family is very aware of, and totally respectful of my wishes regarding made in the USA & (mostly) wooden play things for my family. I immediately assumed the Mega Bloks were going to be made in China, but was surprised to see they were made in Canada. OK, not terrible I thought, Canada has decent standards from what I know. My son dumped them out & within minutes of receiving the gift, Mega Bloks was suddenly part of his vocabulary, and Mega Bloks were suddenly all over our house.

I studied the bag for info on the Bloks. The bag boasts “PVC-free Eco-bag”. Cool. But, what about the blocks–the item my child will be playing with? So I wait for Christmas to get over & call their NA headquarters in Montreal, Canada. I get a recording that says to leave a message & they’ll call back, which I did. A week went by with no call back (I tried calling here & there only to receive the same “we’re busy, leave a message”). So I left my question on their FB page. Several days went by & they answered all messages around mine, but not mine, so I reposted it.

Q: What type of plastic are your blocks made of? Are they PVC & BPA-free? The bag advertises as PVC-free, but I find it odd that the info on the blocks is hard to come by, I see no info regarding it on your site, unless I’m missing it.

A: All Mega Bloks products meet United States and Canada Toy safety requirements for BPA and PVC. We do everything we can to keep them safe for kids of all ages.

Q: My question is whether they are PVC &/or BPA-free. I’m not familiar enough with the safety standards, but know that they may have an allowable limit, which is different than containing none

A: Our toys adhere to US toy safety standards and we are proud to enforce higher internal safety thresholds than required by the standards, but we cannot confirm that the blocks do not include trace amounts of PVC. We assure you that our toys are safe for our families and yours.

(It took me 3 posts to get to the bottom of it, here’s the ultimate answer: https://www.facebook.com/megabloks/posts/10152153976931703?comment_id=32101605&offset=0&total_comments=1&notif_t=feed_comment)

A different post on same topic shared on my wall yesterday: https://www.facebook.com/megabloks/posts/10151568026906703

What ticks me off the most? That they “assure” they are safe, although they cannot even confirm what is, or isn’t in them. No words can convey my frustration with that! WHY would they advertise the bag as PVC-free, when the blocks themselves contain them? To gloss over that fact… To create a smoking mirror… This frustrates me to NO end. I know that in the post or 2 I’ve done about this to date, while trying to get to the bottom of it, many parents have expressed frustration- they fell for the “PVC-free bag”, and assumed the same of the blocks. I’ve learned it’s never safe to assume anything, but feel their marketing ploy on this one is very deceptive!

While my son, who these were a gift for, is nearly 3 & not putting these in his mouth, his 6 month old Baby Sister is in the stage where EVERYTHING goes in her mouth. If it were not for her presence, I may just let my son keep these blocks, as he really, really was enjoying them. However, another issue that arose was I felt as soon as they were introduced to him the wooden block set he received a week prior from Smiling Tree Toys was a little less interesting to him, and that made me sad. And, I immediately loathed the mess they made around the house, as I was finding blocks everywhere. So, I packed them up one day during nap time & to my pleasant surprise he hasn’t asked about them once. We’re back to building towers & pyramids with his lovely, safe, handmade in MN wooden blocks, and I couldn’t be happier. I am going to send the Mega Bloks back to his Grandma & Grandpa’s, where they came from, and ask them to keep them there to play with while he’s visiting them. I will explain to them why I don’t want them in my house, which I’m happy to do as I know it’ll ensure we don’t receive any more Mega Bloks in the future! I REALLY, REALLY want to raise awareness on this issue, as I feel this company is “greenwashing” their products. I was surprised, after posting that we’d received these for a gift, how many replied that they’d received them too… So, please share this info on your page, and especially with other Mama/Dada groups you belong to.

My mission to stick to wooden toys with safe finishes, organic cloth toys, or plastic toys from Green Toys (free of PVC, BPA, phthalates & lead) has been greatly reaffirmed! I’m looking forward to adding more wooden blocks to our collection from Smiling Tree Toys with the next Buying Club order in February.

Sources regarding concerns related to PVC:

http://healthychild.org/easy-steps/reduce-your-use-of-pvc-in-plastics-and-other-household-products/

“Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or vinyl, is one of the most environmentally hazardous consumer materials ever produced.” http://chej.org/…/documents/PVC_Consumer_Products.pdf

http://www.healthystuff.org/chemicals.chlorine.php

A good resource with safe alternatives: http://www.safbaby.com/lead-free-pvc-free-and-fire-retardant-free-toy-manufacturers

My safe toy list: https://ecofriendlyusa.wordpress.com/made-in-usa-2/toy-list/

Work in progress: https://www.facebook.com/megabloks/posts/10152160438621703?comment_id=32137367&reply_comment_id=32152066&offset=0&total_comments=9&notif_t=feed_comment

Request for 3rd party verification: https://www.facebook.com/megabloks/posts/10152176171066703?comment_id=32246783&reply_comment_id=32250107&offset=0&total_comments=5&notif_t=feed_comment

How to Choose Disposable, Made in the USA Diapers

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A couple of weeks ago I asked for a volunteer to write a post about disposable diapers, as I get questions on my page often: what to look for, which are made in the USA, etc. I was happy that Sarah Mazzone volunteered to write a guest-post for us. She has her own site with a similar mission to mine: Made in the USA Challenge. For more info on cloth diapering, with made in the USA options, please check out this resource from my website: https://ecofriendlyusa.wordpress.com/made-in-usa-2/cloth-diapering/

Here’s the info she shared with us regarding disposable options:

What to look for in a safer, more eco-friendly disposable diaper.

None of the following environmentally conscious features eliminate the impact diapers have in landfills. They do decrease or remove common toxins used and are produced with safer manufacturing practices. All disposable diapers use a material call SAP, an absorbent gel that has been shown to be toxin-free, but not natural. Here are some of the things to look for when evaluating a disposable diaper for a safety and sustainability implications.

Chlorine free – Diapers are often bleached white with chlorine, releasing the toxic carcinogen dioxin.

Fragrance free – The ingredients “fragrances” and “perfumes” are unregulated and could mean many possible chemicals. Many artificial fragrances contain chemical irritants.

Dye free – Dyes are also unregulated and can cause skin rashes. They are used for wetness indicators and colorful designs on many conventional diapers.

Phalate free – Phalates are well known toxins found in many plastics, including the liners in many conventional diapers.

Contain no lotions – Most lotions used in disposable diapers are used to protect skin but are petroleum based.

How to choose made in USA diapers for your baby.

 Cloth Diaper Options

The purpose of this post is not to debate cloth versus disposable diapers. You can research the issues easily with an internet search. The issues with cloth diapers made in China has been explored thoughtfully by Kim of Dirty Diaper Laundry, who has also compiled a through list of cloth diapers made in USA and Canada. This is a great resource for those who choose the cloth diaper route.

Made in USA Conventional Disposable Diapers

Most conventional disposable diapers are American made. These diapers are the easiest to find and are the least experience. However, conventional disposable diapers typically do not include any eco-friendly features and often contain the toxins listed above. Major brands of conventional disposable diapers that are made in USA include Huggies, Pampers, Luvs, up&up (Target store brand) and Cuties.

Made in USA “Green” or “Alternative” Disposable Diapers

Pamper’s Swaddlers “Sensitive” – Marketed as a healthier, more eco-friendly version of conventional Pampers. “Green” claims include the inclusion of aloe, hypoallergenic and “blanket like softness”. Contains chlorine, latex, fragrance, and dyes. Not compostable or biodegradable. Clearly a greenwashed product that does not seem superior to the conventional version.

Huggie’s Pure and Natural – Labeled as “natural” and “with a touch of nature.” Made with a portion of organic cotton and liner made with some “renewable materials.” Contains chlorine and dyes. Not compostable or biodegradable. Mostly greenwashing, with some improvements to their conventional version.

7th Generation – Popular brand of green diaper. Fragrance free, chlorine free, no petroleum-based lotions, packaged with recycled materials. Contains sustainably harvested wood pulp fluff. Not biodegradable or compostable. A fairly green product, best option for a made in USA totally disposable diaper.

G Diaper – Hybrid diaper consisting of a cotton pant with a disposable plastic-free insert. Contains harvested wood pulp. Cotton pant is reusable, insert is flushable (dirty diapers) and compostable (wet diapers). The best option for a green made in USA diaper that is partially disposable.

Other green disposable diapers that are not made in USA: Nurtured by Nature (Mexico), Nature Babycare (Turkey), Babyganics (“imported”), Earth’s Best (Mexico), Honest Company (Mexico), Bamboo Nature (Denmark).

Other Resources:

For more on 7th Generation vs. G Diapers, check out this Sustainability Report by the University of Vermont.

More on the use of SAP in disposable diapers from the G Diaper site.

SourcesGood GuideDiaper DabblerBaby Gear Lab

Sarah Mazzone is a writer, nurse and Mom from Philadelphia, PA. She founded Made in USA Challenge in April, 2011 to detail her mission to find goods made in USA and become a more conscious consumer. She actively seeks out items made in USA to help strengthen our economy, protect our environment, safe-guard families from toxic products and minimize exploitation of workers in developing countries. Follow Sarah’s journey on her blog, Made in USA Challenge, as well as on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Harvard Study Finds Fluoride Lowers IQ

The question of fluoride came up the other day, and a Mama wanted credible sources to turn to in order to help her decide what is best for her family. I think most of us would agree Harvard is a credible source, and someone shared a link to a study they did, which had pretty significant findings:
“The children in high fluoride areas had significantly lower IQ than those who lived in low fluoride …areas,” “Choi et al. write, “Although fluoride may cause neurotoxicity in animal models and acute fluoride poisoning causes neurotoxicity in adults, very little is known of its effects on children’s neurodevelopment. They recommend more brain/fluoride research on children and at individual-level doses.
“It’s senseless to keep subjecting our children to this ongoing fluoridation experiment to satisfy the political agenda of special-interest groups,” says attorney Paul Beeber, NYSCOF President. “Even if fluoridation reduced cavities, is tooth health more important than brain health? It’s time to put politics aside and stop artificial fluoridation everywhere,” says Beeber.”
Please share this, it’s IMPORTANT info!! Link to full article: http://canadianawareness.org/2012/07/harvard-study-finds-fluoride-lowers-iq/

Adventures in Babywearing

Some people consider babywearing a recent development or new fad. I’ve had people say to me “that’s so cool, we didn’t’ have those when I was raising my children”. Of course they were around, just not everyone was aware of their existence, but babywearing is an ancient practice. It just makes sense! Different wraps have evolved in different regions of the world: wrap, sling, mei tai (tie on) depending on the climate, the type of work the mother is doing, etc. I LOVED reading this history of babywearing, which includes many great photos: http://www.slingbabies.co.nz/Site/History_2.ashx. With my 1st child, babywearing was convenient here & there, especially when traveling, shopping, etc. and I loved having his forehead close enough to kiss! With the addition of his little sister, it’s not just a convenience; it’s an essential part of our daily life. Baby Girl is 6 months at this time, and I’m starting to wear her a little less as she spends more time on a blanket on the floor, in her chair, etc. I still wear her ~6 hrs/day, down from 8+ her first several months. She naps in her carrier while I do dishes, fold laundry, or play with Big Brother. Or, she just hangs out in it, peering out & paying attention to everything Mama is doing. I absolutely love babywearing and wanted to share my experience with the few carriers I’ve tried. There are many, many carriers available. My main goal was to try each of the different styles: wrap, ring sling, mei tai, modern buckle system. It’s very possible my preferences will change as my baby grows. Althea was 10# 2 oz. at birth,  at 4 months she was 16#, at almost 6 months she’s 19.

Here’s a great article regarding the criteria that make a good carrier: http://www.babywearingadvice.co.uk/criteria.htm

So, here’s the one’s I’ve tried to date, in no particular order. I will update this as my babe grows, and if I should happen to try another one. There are many different makes of the following models:

Moby Wrap- made in Thailand. Organic available, $45- 60(organic), recommended to 35#. Great for preemies or small infants, in my opinion, although I’ve heard from many who love & wear their children until much older on back. I absolutely loved this wrap for the few times when I got it perfectly tight. Babe was nestled in there so snug & it felt very secure. However, the majority of the times I just couldn’t get it tight enough. I’d get her in there & find it too loose, and adjusting it is not easy. I’m so thankful that Debi who owns Baby, Go Green in Houston, TX (http://www.shopbabygogreen.com/) loaned this to me to try out! After using it for a few weeks I decided it just wasn’t for me (& my BabyHawk came), so I sent it back to Debi to use as a floor display. I really, really wanted to try it, and am so thankful I had the opportunity!
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Ergo- made in China. $114-$145(organic). Need infant insert for under 15# (although I’ve heard from parents who did not know they needed one/did not use one)- The insert is $25- $38(organic). Recommended to 45#. Althea was 15# by 4 months, although some don’t reach that weight until 1 year. Has hood & zipper pouch. I wore my son, who is almost 3 now, exclusively in our Ergo. I did like it, but I also had nothing to compare it to, which was one of the reasons I really wanted to try some of the other styles as I had a chance with a brand new babe. I found myself recommending the Ergo, but hated that it was made in China. I’m so thankful to have a few made in the USA options to recommend now!
ergo-infant-insert-all

Balboa ring sling- made in China, $60. Honestly, it didn’t feel safe. Maybe for preemie, or maybe it’s just that I’m used to babe being strapped to me, but I don’t like the separation that the pouch creates. Developed & recommended by Dr. Sears, who has done a lot to promote baby wearing which I appreciate, just not a fan of this carrier. Recommended to 25#. I don’t have much else to say about this one. I passed it on to a Mama interested in trying it out.
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Action Baby Carrier. Made in Detroit, MI! 2 carriers: standard $98 (recommended until ~18m) and toddler $114. The made in the USA Ergo alternative. Buckle system like Ergo. Has hood, very easy to put on, straps crisscross behind back. Here’s the recommendation I was given via email: “Standard Size is recommended from 8lbs to 40lbs. Toddler Size is recommended from 15-45lbs wherein the toddler is made wider so the support extends to the knee. If your 4months is already 10-15lbs, I may suggest toddler for longer use and you can also use it for your 2.5y.o.” However in my review I commented that I didn’t feel I could comfortably carry my babe as tightly as I’d like they said the typically recommend the standard size until 18 months. I think I will like this carrier as my babe grows. I LOVE that it’s made in the USA, and for anyone tempted by an Ergo, I’d DEFINITLEY point you to an Action instead! My email inquiring about organic options was not answered… To read my full review: https://ecofriendlyusa.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/action-baby-carrier-review-giveaway/.
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BabyHawk. Made in Oceanside, CA! $85-$90. No infant insert needed. You can get a perfect fit by tying it on to your tightness preference, I like my babe quite tight- it feels so safe, and she loves it! As she gets older I’ll prefer to wear her more loosely I’m sure! Straps crisscross behind back & go down to tie around your waist which helps distribute weight across greater portion of your body. No buckles, nothing mechanical that could possibly break (slammed my Ergo strap in the car door once, shattering a buckle), also no hood. Very easy to tighten up & readjust if loosens up. Recommended to 40#. I feel the BabyHawk creates the best M shape, as described above in the recommended criteria for a good carrier. As you don’t need an insert, 1 carrier is good to 40# AND it’s the cheapest, it is my favorite & will be my top recommendation! They also make a couple other styles of carriers; I’ve only tried the Mei Tai. I asked them about organic options, here’s the response: “Unfortunately at this time we discontinued the organic options because they were not selling. However we do have enough of the cherry twill to make one carrier if you are interested. We also have the black and white floral shown in the pic which is also organic.” So, contact them if interested, and if enough people request organic, maybe we can get them to offer it once again! My full review here: https://ecofriendlyusa.wordpress.com/2013/09/21/babyhawk-mei-tai-review/.
babyhawk
Questions, comments, experiences- please share!

Added 8/11/16: I just learned about these made in USA wraps: http://www.thenaturalbabyco.com/top-brands/brands-k-o/ovolo.html