Finding non-toxic baby products can be a real challenge for new moms. It's hard to know what to look for or where to find it, and with all the greenwashing that goes on, no mom could be blamed if she doubted a manufacturer's claims that its product was "natural" or safe. That may be the main reason why EcoCentric Mom's Baby Boxes are so valuable. Each month, they include a selection of safe and healthy products free of artificial fragrances and dangerous chemicals you don't need to hesitate putting on your baby or yourself, either, for that matter.
Here's what came in this month's Baby Box:
Family Bedrock Siliconies Diamond Bangle - This phthalate-free silicone ring is big enough for baby to hold onto, yet narrow enough to get inside a tiny mouth. It seems perfect for teething or just playing around.
Ringley Natural Teething Toys - These toys comine untreated Maplewood and 100% organic cotton terrycloth, perfect when your tot needs to do a little gnawing to soothe the new teeth poking through her gums.
In Love with Bodycare Baby Love Soothing Salve - This salve may be for baby, but I have found it perfect for my dry winter skin. It contains yarrow, calendula, and cypress, and I can imagine it is pretty effective on minor diaper rashes as well as parched skin.
This month's EcoCentric Mom box is chock full of exactly what I need in dry winter months: soothing organic skin lotions and cremes to moisturize my hands and face, gentle soaps, and cleansers and laundry "berry drops" that put the "clean" back in cleaning.
But first, the food.
I've said before that, as much as I enjoy the new non-toxic products from EcoCentric Mom that I get to try every month, I particularly like sampling the different taste treats that come in each box. This month, those treats included:
Simply 7 Snacks Lentil Chips - These flavorful snacks are made with gluten-free, non-GMO ingredients, have no preservatives, and contain nothing artificial.
PROBAR Meal Bar - A lot of energy bars disappoint - they seem too sweet, too airy, and way too full of processed ingredients. The PROBAR Meal Bar was surprisingly the opposite: very dense and chewy, tasty without being cloying, and so "natural" you could see some of the raw ingredients with every bite. I've got to say, I really liked it.
What kind of car do you need? Coupe? Sedan? Sports car? Mini van? Something you can zip the kids to school in before you head to work? A small truck to help you cart around your merchandise when you make a sales call or delivery? Whatever your needs, you can probably find what you're looking for not just in style, but in gas-sipping substance, too.
That's the good news at the North American International Auto Show, currently under way in Detroit and soon to be visiting a city perhaps near you. Almost every car manufacturer seems to have gotten energy-saving religion. Big or small, snazzy or sedate, if you're buying a new car, you will have lots of gas-sippers to choose from.
I went to the show as a guest of the Ford Motor Company, but I spent as much time looking at everyone else's cars as I did at Ford's. Overall, I came away encouraged. If people are going to drive (and they are, an average of 14,000 miles per year), they may as well get as many miles to a gallon of gasoline as they can. I've written here, here and here about the impact burning gas has on the environment and human health. The less fuel we use to get where we're going, the better.
Plus, increasing your miles-per-gallon average can save you a ton of money. In the ten years I've owned my Prius, a car that on a bad day averages 37 or 38 mpg and more frequently gets in the mid to high 40s, I calculated recently that I've saved over $6,000 on gasoline. Even after replacing the car's tires and batteries, I came out several thousand dollars ahead.
Here are a few gas-sippers I saw at NAIAS that I particularly liked:
Ford C-MAX Hybrids - There are actually three models of the new C-Max to choose from. The standard C-MAX Hybrid, pictured above, is projected to operate electrically up to 62 mph, with the gasoline engine kicking in when extra power is needed. At maximum fuel efficiency, the car could attain an average of 47 mpg in the city or the highway, or over 570 miles per tank. The C-MAX Energi is a plug-in
hybrid, or what Ford calls a "hybrid plus." The plug-in capability allows drivers to charge fully in less than three hours using a 240-volt charging station, or overnight using a standard 120-volt oulet. The driver can choose to drive electric only, gasoline only, or a combination of gas and electric. Both the Hybrid and the Energi come with a "Smart Gauge with EcoGuide" (pictured at right) to help drivers maximize fuel efficiency. Third C-MAX, the SE, is also for sale. You can compare features of all three here. Note that prices range from $25,200 for the SE to $32,950 for the Energi, though that doesn't include the $7,500 federal tax credit available when you purchase a hybrid or any related state tax credits.
Prius Hatchback -The Prius Hatchback, left, is a roomy hybrid option that is comparably priced to the Fusion or C-MAX. Like the Ford hybrid models it seats five; the hatchback gives it some nice storage space that could accommodate a family vacation, camping trip, or even the dog. Toyota claims the car will get as much as 53 mpg in the city and 46 mpg on the highway, for a combined average fuel efficiency rating of 50 mpg. Toyota also offers a Prius Plug-in with an estimated 95 miles on a charge, plus hybrids in its other popular models, including Camrys, Avalons, the RAV4, and the Highlander SUV.
Tesla Electric Vehicle - I have to say, I suffered a bit of car envy over the beautiful Tesla S (right), an all electric vehicle that is this year's MotorTrend Car of the Year. The car can travel anywhere from 160 miles to 300 miles on electricity only, depending on the size of the battery that's been installed in the car.
I loved the big, clear computer screen sitting right next to the steering wheel on the front dashboard, which would be great for looking at a map. And it seems particularly clean, given that the battery pack is under the floor and there's absolutely no engine front or back.
At $50k+, the car is waaaayyy out of my price range. But a girl can dream, right?
BOTTOM LINE: Almost any type of vehicle you'd need is now available in a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or electric option. Have fun the next time you go car shopping!
Why do I love reusable holiday gift bags? Let me count the ways:
One, they save me a lot of time. It could take five minutes to wrap a gift the "normal" way: cutting paper to fit, folding and taping it, then swirling some ribbon around it to make it look extra pretty. With a gift bag, I just open the bag, put a little tisue paper in, plop in the present, and put a little more tissue paper on top. Ta-da!! It's wrapped.
Two, they save me money. How? Because I re-use bags I've gotten in the past. I have always been one of those annoying people who tries to save and re-use wrapping paper. But let's be honest - reused wrapping paper tends to be wrinkled and a bit torn. While it CAN be re-used, it's not the prettiest way to wrap. On the other hand, most gift bags are pretty durable, whether they're made of cloth, thicker paper or cardboard, or recycled plastic. I never throw away a good bag. Plus, most places where I shop credit me a nickel for every reusable bag I use in place of one of the store's plastic bags. It's not a lot of money, but still, it makes me feel good!
Three, reusable bags save trees, in the form of paper.Sandra Ann Harris of EcoLunchBox reports that, "When it comes to paper waste over the holidays, keep in mind that a whopping half of the paper consumed in the U.S. annually is used to wrap and decorate consumer products." Whew! When you think of all the natural resources that went in to growing the trees, turning them into pulp, printing the paper, and shipping it all over the country, doesn't it seem a little ridiculous to waste all that on wrapping that will be ripped up and thrown away?
Fourth, because they can be used over and over again, reusable bags can take the place of lots of plastic bags. I have a tendency to wrap gifts in bags that can actually be used for shopping regardless of the season. And that's a great gift in and of itself. Take a look at this graphic, produced by reusable bag manufacturer Factory Direct. It shows just how many states have banned plastic bags. Even if you live in a community that hasn't yet banned plastic bags, it's probably only a matter of time before they do. Here's more info on why plastic bags are a big environmental non-no.
Why are we still exposed to so many toxic chemicals?
We know they threaten our health and wreck the environment. Fifty years ago, in her revolutionary book Silent Spring, scientist Rachel Carson drew a bright red line between the use of pesticides like DDT and threats to our environment. As Leigh at Green4U writes, "She was the canary in the coal mine..." who sounded the alarm about chemicals in our environment and, sadly, died before DDT, the chemical she most studied, could be banned.
The Environmental Protection Agency was founded a few years later, in part to protect people and the planet from dangerous chemicals like those Rachel Carson identified. Since then, dozens, if not hundreds of non-profit organizations and scientific institutes have documented the impact chemicals have on our ability to reproduce, bear healthy babies, raise thriving children, and live healthy lives. And yet, we're still exposed to dangerous chemicals that wreak havoc on our hormones, our brains, and our bodies.
In honor of Silent Spring, in observance of today's Blog Action Day, and to recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month, many concerned women have weighed in, expressing their ongoing belief that we must be protected from exposure to toxic chemicals at all costs. Shane at Environmental Booty captured the hopeful sentiment we all share when she wrote, "There is no other choice than to stand in spirit with Rachel Carson to create a sustainable future. We must work together to create a future full of the most uproarious Springs. Springs filled with the beautiful sounds of children playing, birds singing and mothers and fathers breathing huge sighs of relief because they fought for our future that will be healthy and sustainable for our planet as well as their families."
Eating fruits and vegetables that are grown without pesticides reduces the amount of toxic chemicals you eat. And if you choose organically farmed beef, you'll minimize your exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
These conclusions seem obvious, but Stanford University put them to the test. In a recent analysis of 230 field studies and 17 human studies conducted in the U.S. and Europe, Stanford compared pesticide residues, antibiotic resistance and vitamin and nutrient levels in organic and conventionally produced foods.
In the study, organic foods were deemed to be just as nutritious as those grown with pesticides. Moreover, “The study confirms ... that consumers who eat organic fruits and vegetables can significantly reduce pesticide concentrations in their bodies,” Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at Environmental Working Group, said. “This is a particularly important finding for expectant mothers and kids, because the risks of dietary exposures to synthetic pesticides, especially organophosphate and pyrethroid insecticides, are greatest during pregnancy and childhood, when the brain and nervous system are most vulnerable. These are two groups that should really avoid eating foods with high levels of pesticide residues.”
Based on its review of the research, the Stanford research team also concluded that conventionally raised meat (cows raised in crammed feed lots that are routinely given antibiotics to fight outbreaks of disease) harbors more antibiotic resistant bacteria. In fact, the study found that people who eat non-organic chicken or pork are 33 percent more likely to ingest three or more strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria than those who eat organic meat.
Whether you're a new mom or your kids are a little older, you're probably always on the look-out for non-toxic and healthy products that will help keep your child happy and safe. EcoCentric Mom makes your job a lot easier every month by sending out sample boxes of new products you should at least know about when you go shopping.
I have the enviable job of reviewing EcoCentric Mom's samples each month. My August "baby box" arrived recently, full of products I wish had been around when my own two children were younger. Thanks to EcoCentric Mom, I now know about some terrific options that are worth switching to if you use more conventional brands:
Ecover Natural Dishwashing Liquid - I've used Ecover clothes washing detergent and dish washer powder for a while now, but I hadn't given their dishwashing liquid a try until now. It foams nicely, does a great job cutting grease, and given my sensitivity to synthetic fragrances, I appreciate that the scent is naturally derived from grapefruit and green tea. This month's box came with a nice sized sample, plus a coupon for $1.00 off any Ecover dishwashing products.
Lunch Skins - Just in time for day care, pre-school, or full-day school lunch boxes, these reusable sandwich bags can be used a thousand times. They're BPA, lead, and phthalate free, and handsewn in the USA by a local family business. If they get dirty, just toss them in the dishwasher.
Molly's Suds - This laundry powder does the job minus fragrances, dyes, formaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane and phosphate. It has not been tested on animals, and is ultra concentrated so a little goes a long way. Though formulated for kids, you can wash your laundry in it, too.
Research commissioned by the Center for Environmental Health in Oakland, California showed that the lining in some kids' lunch boxes contained high levels of lead. Lead can harm children even in minute amounts because it hinders brain development and can cause a variety of behavior and other developmental disorders. Children may be exposed to the lead in lunch boxes if they eat food that's touched the box directly or if they handle the boxes and then put their hands in their mouths.
Other lunch boxes may be made from PVC plastic. Says the National Institutes of Health, "Because of PVC’s heavy chlorine content, dioxins are released during the manufacturing, burning, or landfilling of PVC. Exposure to dioxins can cause reproductive, developmental, and other health problems, and at least one dioxin is classified as a carcinogen. Dioxins, phthalates, and BPA are suspected to be endocrine disruptors, which are chemicals that may interfere with the production or activity of hormones in the human endocrine system. Exposure to PVC dust may cause asthma and affect the lungs." In other words, avoid PVC!
Because you can't tell by appearance whether a vinyl lunch box may contain lead, CEH advises parents to avoid buying vinyl lunch boxes altogether. You can test any vinyl lunch boxes you already own using a hand-held lead testing kit. If your hardware store doesn't carry one, you can find one from LeadCheck. There is no independent way you can determine whether the plastic lunch box you buy also contains PVC. My recommendation is that if you have a vinyl lunch box - one that seems to be made from soft, flexible plastic - you should probably throw it away.
SAFER LUNCH BOX OPTIONS
Pack your kids' lunch in a stainless steel box, cloth bag, or bag that has been independently tested to prove that it is lead- and PVC-free. Many hardware stores now carry cloth and stainless steel options. Here's what we've found (and that we sell for your convenience in our Amazon store):
Kids Konserve Insulated Lunch Sack - This reusable lunch sack (left) is made with no BPA, lead-free insulation. An inside pocket holds an ice pack. When kids are finished with it, they can roll it down and tuck it away in their backpack.
Blue Avocado Insulated Lunch Tote - This tote features a PVC insulated liner, an exterior holster for housing a water bottle, and an over-the-shoulder messenger style adjustable strap. The bag can be folded into an attached pouch when kids are done with it. The exterior fabric is constructed from 50% recycled polyester made from plastic bottles and recycled yarn.
Mimi the Sardine Organic Cotton Lunch Bag -This organic cotton bag is coated on both sides with a PVC-free, water-based acrylic that is water- and stain-resistant. It can be wiped clean, or throw it in the machine (wash in cool or warm water, not hot), and tumble dry on low or air dry.
Back-to-school shopping can put a real dent in a family’s budget and create a carbon footprint a mile wide. Why not set up a school supplies swap with your neighbors before you go shopping? You'll green the shopping beast and save money, too. Another bonus? you'll reduce clutter and teach the kids to share.
* Check the kids' supplies list. Most kids will bring home a list from school, or you'll be able to download one from the school's web site. Ask your child to cross off what you already have or don't want to buy, then circle what's left. When you go swapping (or shopping), work from the list.
• Make an inventory of what you already have. Most families have enough pencils, crayons, glue, tape and markers left over from the previous year to start the new year just fine. In fact, many of us have way too much of this stuff. Figure out what your kids need now, and put aside a few extras for later in the year when your own supplies run up. Then box up your extras so they're easy to exchange.
* Set up a swap in your front yard or garage. Invite neighbors who have their own items to swap.Designate different tables for pens and pencils, crayons and markers, paper and folders, lunch boxes, backpacks, and sporting gear. Ask that everything that's brought be clean and usable. When it comes to lunch boxes, ask that they be metal, plastic free of phthalates and PVC, or cloth. People should bring their own reusable bags to cart their swapped items home in.
* Donate leftovers to a day-care center, or to a charity that provides school supplies to kids in need.