Been There, Done That: 15 Tips to Green You, Your Nursery and Your Home
Submitted by Rachel Sarnoff, Founder of EcoStiletto and MommyGreenest, July 20, 2010
Going green for your growing belly—or for when you bring that baby home—sounds good on paper, but is it doable in reality? I’ve been through it three times in 12 years (!) and became progressively more eco with each pregnancy. So even though my baby days are over (sniff), I put together 15 easy-to-follow tips—from what to look for at the market to how to create a safer nursery—to share.* Enjoy!
1. Target organics. The bad news is that most of us are carrying around a whole lotta toxins from chemically grown and processed foods, and these have been linked to health problems. The good news is studies have shown that eating organic for just one week can eliminate many of them. When it comes to organics, definitely opt for meat, milk products and delicate fruits like strawberries and peaches, which are typically heavily sprayed: Just one tiny blueberry can contain 48 different pesticides!
2. If you can’t find organic, opt for conventional fruits and veggies that you can peel, like oranges, watermelon, eggplant, avocados, corn, sweet peas and cabbage. Remove the outer skin, husk or leaves and you’re removing a significant amount of pesticide contamination.
3. Cook cleaner! When a pan is heated to high temperatures—like to make those quesadillas our pregnant friends are craving right about now—non-stock coatings such as Teflon break apart into potentially carcinogenic substances that don’t taste so good in the long run. Make your cook wear stainless steel, iron or copper coated—even if it means losing the 12-piece set and opting for a smaller number of new pots and pans.
4. Hydrate—the right way. Bottled water may be convenient, but it’s not exactly safe. Most plastic bottles contain BPA, a known hormone disruptor, which leaches into the water you drink. (Trust me, the last thing you want more messing with when you’re pregnant are hormones.) Plus, you may think it’s cleaner, but bottled water has tested positive for lead, copper, chlorine, mercury and—ick—giardia. A better bet is filtered tap water—even a pitcher filter will do—and a stainless steel reusable water bottle for when you’re on-the-go. Plus, avoiding bottled water can save your family $50 per month!
5. If you’re stocking up, make sure you buy bottles and sippy cups that are BPA-free. The U.S. government’s National Toxicology Program found infants and children at greatest risk of developing cancer from BPA exposure; Canada is considering banning the chemical altogether. It’s easy to find BPA-free bottles and cups at pretty much any store—make the distinction on your registry so friends and family follow your lead.
6. Okay, my last and final word on the subject of BPA: Please don’t microwave food—and later, your baby’s bottle or cup—in plastic containers. Yes, it’s quick and easy, but it also speeds up the migration of those cancer-causing and hormone-disrupting chemicals into your food. Glass or dishware is best for storing and heating food. (Can you tell I’m not a big fan of plastic?)
7. Mother doesn’t necessarily know best. Most of us clean our houses with the products that we remember from childhood—if it was good enough for mom, it’s good enough for us. But the chemicals in those products have been linked to serious illnesses. Clean greener with simple, chemical-free formulas based on tried-and-true cleaners like baking soda and vinegar (you can even make your own for pennies). These are the cleaners your grandmother probably used. Maybe Mom should have listened to her!
8. Open up! In several studies, the Environmental Protection Agency—not the most alarmist organization—found that the air inside the typical American home is actually dirtier than the air outside because of chemicals in our household cleaners and furnishings. One simple and easy thing you can do to create a clean environment for yourself and your growing baby is to open the windows. Even just 10 minutes a day can make a difference to your indoor air quality.
9. When the nesting instinct kicks in, one of the fastest and easiest ways to gratify it is to paint the nursery. Look for zero VOC paints—which means they won’t pollute the air you breathe with potentially dangerous chemicals. These types are paints are now easy to find: Most major paint lines now have zero VOC versions of their most popular shades.
10. Speaking of VOCs, these pesky polluters can also be found in conventional nursery furnishings. If you can’t afford environmentally friendly furniture that’s made without chemicals, try buying second hand gear. Over time, most VOCs are released into the environment to a point where they’re not so dangerous. But that doesn’t mean rescuing your neighbor’s creaky old crib—make sure the furniture meets today’s safety standards, too.
11. At the beginning, babies sleep about fifteen hours each day (and you’ll treasure every precious second). Create a toxin-free crib or bassinet that’s free of the flame-retardants found in most crib mattresses, which have been linked to autism and ADD, among other things. Yes, eco-friendly mattresses made from organic materials like wool or latex can be expensive. In lieu of a mattress overhaul, get a thick organic mattress pad to reduce your baby’s exposure.
12. Mr. Rogers was right—you should take off your shoes when you enter your home, as it reduces—by a full 85%—the amount of pesticides, insecticides and dirt on surfaces and in the air. This is good practice for when you have a little crawler, too.
13. Not to scare you or anything, but we absorb 60 percent of what we put onto our skin. The problem gets even bigger when you realize that the chemicals in our personal care products don’t just stop there: They wash down the drain, into the water system and up the food chain. (That fish you’re eating could, in essence, contain the same chemicals you or your neighbor sudsed up with. Ick.) As much as possible, buy USDA Certified Organic personal care products for your family—unlike other beauty products, which can be misleadingly labeled with words like “organic” or “natural,” these are governmentally regulated to ensure that they contain no dangerous chemicals.
14. If you can, make your layette organic: Most clothing and bedding is made of cotton, which is one of the most heavily sprayed crops in the world, accounting for 25% of the world’s insecticides and 10% of its pesticides. According to the EPA, five of the top nine pesticides used in conventional cotton production in the United States—like cyanide, propargite and trifluralin—are known cancer-causing chemicals; traces of these chemicals can end up on your baby’s bedding and clothes. Plus, with organic options everywhere from Barney’s to Wal-Mart, it’s easy to stock up on these essentials.
15. Preparing for a baby can be overwhelming, with so many must-haves to buy. Stow a rolled-up reusable bag in your purse, and another few in your car, to use everywhere from the supermarket to the mall. There’s a floating mess of plastic the size of two Texases in the Pacific Ocean because of all the plastic bags we toss each year. Who wants to add to that legacy for our children?
Finally, don’t be discouraged by all the doom and gloom of global warming: You can make a difference! Women make 85% of the household buying decisions: Buy an eco-friendly product and not only do you ban chemicals from your body, your baby and your home, you also take a dollar from a conventional company and give it to a green company, thus tilting the economic balance in favor of sustainable production. Your purchases may seem small, but stack them up with the hundreds that you make each year and the thousands made by the friends whom you talk to—get the picture? It’s like that old Faberge commercial: “She’ll tell two friends, and she’ll tell two friends”—it all adds up.
*Rachel originally wrote these tips for BabyZone.