Friday, August 28, 2009

Detox Your Kid's World (or at least some of it!)

I recently read an article in Chicago Baby about making your child's room/space green and non-toxic. The leaching toxins that lurk in your childrens' rooms as well as elsewhere in the house are touched on in the article. These include the flame retardants in crib bedding and PJs, VOC's in carpets, paints and flooring, phthalates in lotions and sunscreens, BPA in plastic toys and baby bottles, and formaldehyde in particle board furniture. This is a lot to take in! It was generally a good article and raised some important points, but as I read it, there were some things that nagged at me...and I think we as parents can do even better, and make these decisions for even more reasons. Here are a few:
  • Instead of just getting rid of the toys made in China, request that family and friends not buy more for your child, and definitely stop buying them yourself! Not only are these toys at the highest risk for containing lead and other toxins, but ask yourself how much you really want to support China's economy right now. Another important consideration is the pollution created when making "cheap, toxic toys" and then the zillion carbon miles used to ship all of these items to the US and to all the big box stores (another type of economy that my husband and I would rather not support). Instead, if you buy toys for your child or as gifts for other kids, research companies and consider toys like the wooden "Zimbos" pictured here. Blue Orange Games manufactures Zimbos and has stringent safety tests for their products. They also plant 2 trees for each 1 used to make their products.
  • The article also suggests reducing the number of toys that need batteries due to the toxins that they contain. I agree and would go even one step further to say even though batteries can be recycled, this and new battery production also add to the big carbon footprint. In addition, though not a toxin issue, experts say open ended toys like blocks or a puppet are better at helping your child develop important skills rather than the battery operated toys that just do the same things in response to pushing buttons.
  • Since most nurseries are updated or redecorated within a few years, this gives parents the perfect opportunity to choose non-toxic and sustainable options the next time around. Looking for "green" carpet and flooring options can be easier than you think, and every year more companies are coming up with new colors and better practices. You can even get low VOC paint from Home Depot these days! For our son's new room, we opted to use cork flooring, recycled drywall, sustainably forested wood baseboards, no-VOC paint from Green Depot (formerly Greenmaker Supply), and now we are looking into safer bedding options that will not leach the flame retardant chems into his little lungs all night. If an organic mattress is out of your price range (and I think it's out of mine!), look for organic mattress pads or covers that help block the chems and are much less expensive. This is also thought by some to prevent SIDS.
  • Other than just avoiding lotions, creams sunscreens, etc. with phthalates, there are a slew of other chemicals to avoid in personal care as well. Check out this site that clearly lists the top harmful things to avoid. This is important because the skin absorbs everything we put on it, and it's our body's largest organ! The list might rule out just about everything in your bathroom cabinet right now, but instead of feeling overwhelmed, just look for brands that are all-natural or organic as you run out of your current stash. Soon you will e be rid of all the bad stuff. We use a lot of Method products here since they are safe, accessible, and use natural extracts for their fragrances. Plus, their diaper cream works great!
  • As far as flame retardants in baby's and kid's jammies, that can be easily avoided by dressing them in close-fitting all cotton PJs. You can even go the extra step and buy organic cotton, but even the regular cotton ones can be found basically everywhere. Some have warnings on the tags that state they should fit snugly since they are not coated with the anti-flammable chems. Avoid the ones that are polyester at all costs since in addition to leaching the toxins into your little one's skin and respiratory system, they don't breathe and are surely not as comfortable for your babe. They may look and feel cozier, but think about how much you'd like to sleep in something that's 100% polyester!

From my perspective, the idea is not to have to spend a ton of money and revamp or "green" your entire household in a month. For my family, this has been a gradual process of making small changes, and I've found that one thing leads to another. If you just take it one step at a time, and make a conscious choice each time you need to make a purchase, you will not only be making your home more safe and comfortable, but you'll be voting with your dollars on what you believe in.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pay Attention to the Numbers...

Have you ever paid attention to the little stickers on the produce at the grocery store? Until recently, like over the past year, I never gave them much notice. Then one day I was shopping for produce at Stanley's, a woman was almost having a panic attack that they had some apples labeled as organic but their stickers started with a "4". Whaaaa?

So, wondering what she was talking about but not wanting to egg her on or engage her in conversation (since she was clearly already over the edge!), I silently started noting the numbers on the stickers. Sure enough, all the organic stuff had numbers that started with a "9", and the conventionally grown items started with the "4" that had gotten her so upset. Stanley's had obviously made a mistake, but they are famous in Chicago for their great deals on as well as conventionally grown. How blindly I had been shopping all this time, just believing whatever the sign and price said and ignoring those smart little stickers! The stickers often tell you where the produce was grown as well, in case you are interested in trying to eat locally. (Becoming a "locavore" is challenging, but also has huge health, economic, and environmental benefits)

I started paying more attention at all the stores, wondering if anything else I was paying the organic premium for was mis-labled, and I noticed something else...some stuff started with a mysterious number 8. What did that mean? I did a little research and found a very concise answer at this site. Oh no! Genetically modified? Ewww! I definitely wanted to choose the numbers that started with a "9" over the ones that started with the "4" if I could afford to do so, but now I wanted to avoid the stickers that started with an "8" like the plague!

OK, so now that I (and you) know what the numbers mean, making informed decisions is easy, or at least easier. I want as much of my produce to either come from my CSA (community supported agriculture) crop share or my little balcony garden (both are local AND organic!) is great, but when I buy fruit and veggies for myself and my family at the grocery store I want to see a little sticker's number starting with an "9"! But as far as the number 8 is concerned, I urge you all to try and avoid that one even more vigilantly that the conventional produce. Not only was it probably still grown with pesticides, herbicides, and other harmful stuff, but it is also not as nature intended. These "frankenfoods" might cause humans health problems down the road, but in the present they are doing damage to our land and our ecosystems for sure. Google GMO's to read both sides of the argument. Since our government is leaning toward support of GMO's (read: big business) and many consumers are fighting against them, there's plenty out there to explore on the topic.

If you are interested in learning more about the differences between conventional, organic, and genetically modified foods, as well as how our food in this country is produced, I strongly recommend "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan. It's not at all "preachy" and is very eye-opening and informative. Also, there's a new movie out called "Food, Inc." about our industrialized food system and its effects on the environment, our health, worker's rights and the economy. I haven't seen it yet, since it's hard to get out of the house without my 2 month old at this point, but I plan to catch it at soon as possible! If any of you have seen it, feel free to post a review in the comment section.