By Melissa Carter
The latest supermom wears Stella McCartney Vegan, not Lululemon, and can be seen walking her kid to school, clutching organic homemade soup and a “wooden toy only, please” party invite (and she probably appears to be frowning on your purse filled with plastic rattles, dinky cars and Goldfish). But with the frenzy over baby bottles, lead toys and more, a lot more of us are taking baby steps in that direction. The good news: It’s easy being green. The bad news: We haven’t found a replacement for the illicit goodness of massive amounts of paper towels. But we have discovered a trove of intelligent, affordable and doable tips that can improve your life with very little upheaval. And though converting your family to the green side may seem like herding a band of stray cats, you’ll soon find that it’s your own superhero kid who ends up taking the lead.
The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization calculates that 30 percent of the world’s ice-free land is involved with livestock production — consuming enormous amounts of energy, polluting water supplies and spewing more than a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases. The consumption of non-organic grain-fed animals is also linked to diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers in humans. And there has never been a reported case of mad cow
disease traced to organic beef.
Encourage your child to calculate your family’s carbon footprint at zerofootprintkids.com and have her chart the improvements as your family greens its lifestyle. The games at mysusthouse.org will teach her how to create more sustainable environments and build eco homes.
Energy-efficient houses tend to be sealed up tight, trapping pollutants in and keeping fresh air out, resulting in indoor pollution levels that are as much as five times higher than outdoors. Clear the air by leaving doors open between rooms, opening windows daily and maintaining humidity below 50 percent to control dust mites and mould. Clean humidifiers and dehumidifiers biannually and vacuum regularly with a HEPA-filter model.
Keep kids at a minimum two-metre distance while microwaving to avoid low-level radiation and never heat food in plastic. Unregulated “microwave-safe” type labels mean only that the container won’t melt and burn you when you heat it — zero indication that plastic won’t leach into your food. Hard or soft plastic containers can release bisphenol-A and phthalates respectively.
A NASA study found that the houseplants most effective in removing formaldehyde, benzene and carbon monoxide from the air inside your home include philodendron, golden pothos, Boston fern, English ivy, bamboo palm, pot mum and gerbera daisy. About 15 to 18 good-sized plants will absorb the airborne pollutants in an average 1,800 square foot house, but even a dozen will make a difference.
The Environmental Working Group concluded that the biggest factor in your risk of cancer from pesticide residues occurs in childhood. It’s recommended you eat organic versions of the following high-residue produce: potatoes, apples, sweet bell peppers, salad greens, strawberries and tomatoes. Look at what you and your picky eater eat the most of and shop accordingly: that may mean organic hot dogs, rice, bread, chicken nuggets and peanut butter. If you’re on a tight budget, do prioritize organic meats, cheeses and milk.
A 2004 Greenpeace study found hazardous chemicals in children’s undies, pjs and tees. Hardly surprising, considering that cotton crops account for at least 10 percent of all pesticide use. Stores such as Joe Fresh Style and H&M offer competitively priced organic lines, while independent children’s shops carry labour-friendly eco brands. Consignment shops may not always have organic, but the clothes will likely have been washed many times, and therefore be lower in pesticides and non-wrinkle formaldehyde finishes. Avoid garments with plastic prints if you can’t be sure they’re PVC-free.
Sustainably farmed produce carries a far smaller footprint than factory-farmed goods flown in from afar. Visit your farmers’ market and encourage them to go organic, if they haven’t yet. Eating in-season also reduces chemical consumption — cultivating strawberries in winter usually requires more fungicides.
This radioactive, cancer-causing gas arises from decayed uranium in soil. Current Canadian building standards do not include radon-mitigation measures. The number of radon-induced lung cancer deaths in Canada in 2006 ranged from 1,700 to 2,900. Have a radon detection company test your home every two years. If high concentrations are found, it will cost about $1,000 to increase ventilation and seal floors and walls.
Ask cleaners at home, at work or at your child’s school to join you in using less toxic, widely available alternatives. Kids can safely get in on the cleaning, if you let them loose with baking soda (it deodorizes well, and cleans sinks, tubs and cookware brilliantly) and white vinegar or lemon juice (diluted, it dissolves dirt and grease easily).