I normally suffer from consumer paralysis – a term you’ll hear more often with parents feeling like they can’t purchase everyday items without researching them first. I definitely suffer from this and whenever I make an ‘on the fly’ type purchase without researching first, I’m never usually satisfied with my decision. Just coming off a very busy week with the kids last crazy week of school activities before they are done for the summer, I decided to purchase life jackets for my twin girls while I was in Canadian Tire. What do I know about life jackets? Yesterday I didn’t know much…today I do. At the time I made my decision not based on price – there were cheaper life jackets there, but most of them had Microban advertised on the tag. What is Microban and why don’t I want it on a vest my kids will wear? It’s a chemical that coats the outside of a product and is marketed as a ‘bonus’ to the life jacket because of it’s antimicrobial solution that will help combat mold, etc. I don’t want this added chemical near my kids and their skin, so I decided to pick the brand that didn’t have Microban on the label. At the time this was my only marker for making a better decision. When I got to the till and asked the person helping me, I also asked if the life jackets had PVC and flame retardants. They did not know. Why was I asking about flame retardants? Life jackets have foam inserts to make the jackets float…this is a question all parents should ask when purchasing anything for their children that has foam inside. More info here.
A few hours later I noticed a 1-888 number on the life jackets I purchased so I called it with my questions. The customer service representative put me on hold to ask their production department if they add flame retardants to the product. He got back on the line with me and said he wasn’t allowed to tell me the answer. (!!) Apparently it depends on which country you live in and the government decides if flame retardants are added to products…not the manufacturers themselves. I spent hours this morning looking through Canadian gov. websites looking for a list of products they mandate include flame retardants in order to be sold in Canada…I only came up with the obvious products we already know about: mattresses, PJs, car seats, etc. I will assume that yes, my Government would mandate flame retardants within the foam of a life jacket. Why? Because both North American governments are very behind the times and overuse flame retardants in so many products….especially the US. Also, once I got the life jackets home, the smell of PVC was evident, so I no longer needed to ask the question if they contained PVC. Also I’ve learned that all cheaply made items usually contain PVC as a material because it’s the cheapest and when it’s not used, a company will advertise this fact on the label. So long story short, the life jackets were returned today. I actually felt bad for the Canadian Tire customer service rep when she asked me “why are they being returned?’.
So this morning I took to the internet and tried to research greener life jackets. I didn’t find much on-line which is surprising. The only types I could find that looked like a greener option contained a foam called Gaia foam. This apparent eco-friendlier foam ensures that the foam in life jackets doesn’t contain PVC, halogen, and phthalate plasticizers. Looks like this foam is replacing mats made from EVA or PVC (petroleum products) in yoga mats because it’s chemical resistant, naturally resist fungus (making this material ideal for water products like pfds and workout mats that might absorb sweat), is fire resistant and self extinguishing. Hmmmm looks like car seat makers could be using Gaia foam to make booster seats and car seats for children, but I’ll save that for another article. Back to life jackets…
I called two camping equipment type stores in my area and one of the sales people at Atmostphere was amazing with product knowledge. He recommended the Stohlquist WaterWare line for PFD (personal floatation devices) and they are made without flame retardants, PVC, or Microban. After visiting the Stohlquist website, the product description confirms that these life jackets are produced PVC-free, there’s no listing for Microban, and they use Gaia foam. The people at Atmostphere told me that they don’t sell anything with Microban and the only reason they could think of needing flame retardants in a floatation device is if it was specially sold for fire evacuation. Good to know that a store focused on selling gear to get you into nature is actually selling products to protect nature. I can’t thank them enough for helping me out today…it’s rare when a store and their employees can produce more knowledge than the internet and today that was the case.
I’m very interested in the Gaia foam. If this material is eco-friendly and doesn’t need chemicals added to make it flame resistant, this would be an ideal solution for infant or children items that are currently doused in flame retardant chemicals in order to make them ‘safe’ to be sold in Canada and the US. Out of curiosity, I tweeted the following 9 twitter handles from the top infant car seat manufacturers to see if they’ve thought of alternatives with the foam used in their car seats – I can’t wait to hear their thoughts on this: @Britax, @eddiebauer, @EvenfloBaby, @babytrendonline, @MaxiCosiCarSeat, @ChiccoBaby, @Safety_1st, @GracoBaby, and @Peg_Perego. And now that I have my zinc sunscreen and eco-friendlier life jackets in hand, just need to find water proof shoes for one of my boys and this summer can officially begin!