The Kitchen: Buy Products Without Byproducts
Cheryl Arnold is a mother of two living in Miami Beach, Florida. Her green "a-ha" moment came when daughter Zoey was born. "As a baby she was diagnosed with asthma," says Arnold. "I thought I was doing everything right. She was breastfed exclusively, and I made all her baby food." Even still, her daughter had to take four medications. "I was devastated." Arnold became an infant asthma expert. She learned about alternative cleaning products, how to read labels and the food additives in her pantry. Today her home is a model for green living, and the kitchen is ground zero. The family belongs to an organic co-op where they buy fruits, vegetables, eggs and chicken. She only uses all-natural cleaning products. Even her pest control is green -- the exterminator pours vinegar down the sink drain. The result? "Zoey is no longer on any asthma medication." Arnold's green mission has birthed something else: Froganic Fundraising, specializing in eco-friendly fundraising for schools and organizations. (Think Girl Scouts, but trade Thin Mints and shortbreads for BPA-free water bottles and reusable snack pouches.)
What's an easy starting point for new parents? "Clean the house and walk outside for a few minutes," she says. "When you come back, what do you smell? What is permeating the air?" For Arnold, the window cleaner was first to go, and for good reason. Many household cleaning products contain VOCs, formaldehyde and bleach that can cause respiratory irritation. To clean floors, kitchen sinks and countertops, try castile soap, a vegetable-based, all-purpose cleaner. (Visit drbronner.com for all kinds of castile-based cleaning products.) Sweet Grass Farms, a New Hampshire company that manufactures all-natural household products, recently unveiled Farmhouse, a nontoxic, plant-based spray that works on windows, woodwork, tile, laminate and wood floors. Visit sweetgrassonline.com to buy it online or to find a retailer in your area.
You might also consider going organic with your produce. Pesticides are connected to cancer and reproductive problems. If you buy regular, keep in mind that peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers and celery carry the highest pesticide load of all fruits and vegetables.
The Parent: Taking Care of You
Everyday decisions parents make for themselves shouldn't be overlooked. For starters, consider the lotions you wear and the fragrances you spray. For example, who knew we needed protection from sun protection? Some sunscreens contain octinoxate and oxybenzone, which can actually raise the risk of cancer, according to the EWG. Try a natural mineral sunscreen using zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, such as those from California Baby (californiababy.com).
Greene adds that a lot of cosmetics are chemically enhanced. And don't assume there are teams of scientists ensuring these products are safe: The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, enforced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, does not require cosmetic manufacturers or marketers to test their products. Keep an eye out for mercury (mascara), lead acetate (hair coloring products) and petroleum distillates (lipstick and lip balm). Target stores have a bevy of natural and organic products including baby shampoo, eyeliner, lip-gloss and stretch-mark cream.
There's no question that going green can involve a few inconvenient truths for many families -- after all, changing buying habits and lifestyles isn't easy. But after the green trend fades like a deciduous tree in autumn, we'll be left with the research, the evidence and the ability to choose wisely. "The green movement will be a fad," notes Greene. "But paying attention is here to stay."