Tuesday, April 22, 2014

5 Green Alternatives for Commonly Used Children’s Products-Guest Blog by John Rose of New Leaf Energy

            When you hear the amazing song “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, you envision what it means to have a heart for the environment. You cherish streams and rivers, enjoy the beauty of a forest, and embrace the warmth of the Sun under a clear blue sky. We want to preserve the world for ourselves, and more importantly, we want to ensure that our children can also enjoy that beautiful world.
            Giving a better world to our children begins with what we do when they are too young to make their own contributions.  We recycle, we volunteer, we learn, and we grow, all the while making meaningful gestures on their behalf. But it’s not only about what we do outside of the home –what we do inside the home will help to give them an Earth they can call home. Making choices about green products is essential when being environmental stewards for our children.  Let’s take a look at some products and practices that bring “green” into our children’s lives.

Cloth Diapers
Every year around the world, billions of disposable diapers are used and then thrown away. When we think of the word “Away,” we use it in place of “somewhere else,” as a way to put our garbage out of sight and out of mind. The truth is that disposable diapers will be “away” for up to 500 years before they decompose. Disposable diapers are a legacy we will leave many generations, one which our children and grandchildren will have to live with. 

Long before the advent of disposable diapers, we used cloth. Cloth diapers come in many forms, sizes and styles. Each diaper can be used MANY times and despite what you many think, the process of washing them isn’t at all difficult. In addition to solving the problem of single-use disposal, the process of making and washing cloth diapers uses far fewer resources compared to the multitudes of disposable diapers used daily.

Take some advice from a parent who has used cloth diapers for his children: buy 1 or 2 from each brand you are interested in and figure out which ones you like best before committing to a full set. You can even rent selection packs to try before you buy.

Greener Toys
As parents, we tend to romance about the toys and cartoons of our youth, and with good reason. We had some great things back then! Unfortunately, our children don’t have the same experiences as we did. Beyond being a bit tacky, today’s plastic toys are petroleum-sourced and not all that rugged. Furthermore, some plastics contain chemicals, like BPA, that are otherwise not so desirable. 

As an alternative, many companies like Melissa & Doug make wooden toys, while others hearken back to a simpler time with metal toys that are built to last. Not only are wooden toys nostalgic, but if they are sustainably sourced, they are an environmental boon as they rely on renewable resources and help us to make our way into a less petroleum-reliant world. And when treated or painted with plant-based materials, we can feel more comfortable about our little ones putting them in their mouths. 

As for metal toys, it’s true that they might not be as “green” as some options. But look at it this way: if you choose recycled metal toys, you aren’t contributing to a mining operation, and since the toys are more durable, they are less likely to enter a landfill than their flimsy plastic counterparts.

For instance, I love watching my son play with my old yellow metal Tonka bulldozer – yes, the one that is over 30 years old and in fantastic condition. And not all plastic toys are ripe for disparaging comments. Green Toys makes plastic toys that are made from 100% recycled plastic and prominently promote recycling to our children.

Sure, it can be hard to get away from those noisy plastic monstrosities that keep our toddlers distracted while we are dealing with hot ovens and boiling water in the kitchen, but it’s actually easy and very rewarding to buck the current toy trends in favor of greener and more thoughtful options.

Organic Fabrics
Carpet, bed sheets, clothing, and curtains are things we don’t readily think about when we go green, but they are commonly contain formaldehyde, Teflon, and other chemicals that can have damaging effects on our body over time. While not all brands use these chemical baddies, they can be hard to avoid. When shopping for carpets, sheets, clothing, and other fabric products, do your homework. The Internet has many lists of brands that are not so conscientious about the chemicals they use. If you’re the more direct type of consumer, feel free to contact customer service. Better yet, seek out manufactures that use organic materials from the start. 

Second-Hand Clothing
Reduce, Reuse, & Recycle. It’s hard to find a better way to hit the Three R’s than to purchase second-hand children’s clothing. Any parent will tell you that it seems that children outgrow clothing almost as soon as you buy them. While it’s hard to pass up that little set of blue-green plaid dungarees with the matching newsboy cap, most of your child’s cloths are as utilitarian as they are cute.

To help reduce your impact on not only the environment, but also on possibly questionable overseas labor practices, consider buying your kids clothing second-hand.  From personal experience, we have saved boatloads of cash on kid’s clothes by hitting second hand stores, Craigslist, parent boards, and big resale events.  Best of all, what you don’t sell you can give to friends, charity, or sell to help pay for the next round of clothing (something that comes all too soon)!

Household Chemicals and Personal Care Products
By now, the market is over-saturated by products claiming to be all-natural and/or organic, but at the end of the day, there is truth behind the hype – if you know where to look. It’s no secret that what you put on your body will end up absorbed by your body. Just take a moment to read the list of ingredients in any major consumer personal care product and Google some of them. You’ll be surprised by what you find. 

Remember the mention of formaldehyde and Teflon we mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago? Yeah, they are also found in many personal care products. Scary, right?

Now for the good news, there are MANY companies that produce natural and organic products that you can feel good about. It’s also good to think local when shopping for personal care products as there are many locally owned small businesses, like Green Rift, that specialize in producing amazing products with ingredients that you can read and identify. 

Want to go one better? Make them yourself! My wife makes many of the personal care products that we use everyday, including toothpaste and deodorant.

Let’s consider household chemicals. Think of everything your little one touches and puts into their mouth, and then think of what you are using to clean those surfaces. The next time your son or daughter decides to lick your stainless steel fridge, consider what you used to polish it. And what sort of chemicals are in the detergent you use to wash those clothes? Instead of using the old standby for your everyday household needs, look to natural and eco-friendly products.

If you are the DIY type, you can find recipes for making your own homemade cleaning products on the internet that use baking soda, vinegar, borax, or other products that you can find at most grocery stores. By making conscientious decisions about what you use in and around your home, you can help to protect your family from unnecessary and harmful chemicals while helping to make a greener world for your children.

            Going green not only helps to promote a better planet for generations to come, by starting early with your children, you set an amazing example for them to follow.  By making some simple and worthwhile choices about the products you use in your home, you can make a meaningful impact not only for the Earth, but also for your family as well.


  1. It's so scary to think about the chemicals in our products today. It makes me sad that we don't have stricter rules in place to prevent this like the European Union.

  2. Viva cloth diapers! I'm an admitted cloth diaper nut, and it's my favorite way on your list to go greener.

  3. I know cloth diapers is the best way to go but it's hard for me! I wish I could have actually followed through but thanks for sharing this post.

  4. Cloth diapers were great! I loved mine and would do it over again, and I had twins :)