I do not want to be writing this column! It's only mid-August! I'm holding on tight to the summer I have left. But for (organized) moms and dads everywhere, these are the days to get the back to school gear in order. I'm not big on stuff, but since a little shopping is inevitable, make sure to vote with your dollars for the greenest gear possible. Thankfully, eco-versions of everything from knee-highs to lunchboxes to art supplies exist and even abound. Some of the items on my radar:
I'm a monumental fan of hand-me-downs, but second hand shoes can be a little tricky when it comes to kids. Nothing could be greener or cuter than Simple Shoes. Their newest toddler shoes are very flexible, beyond comfortable, and will feature frequently in my 3.5-year-old's fall footwear rotation. I like the gray, she prefers pink. That they're washable suede from an eco-certified tannery, lined with certified organic cotton fleece, and have recycled soda bottle laces and soles made of natural rubber? Icing. Why stop at getting them for the offspring, they're just what mom or dad need to be wearing to drop off, pick up, and class outings.
Hand-me-downs should rule the roost in the wardrobe department, especially for the littlest, fastest growing back-to-schoolers. Before trendy duds matter to the young'uns, I can't imagine why any parent would look beyond natural fabric second hand goodies from friends with older kids and/or thrift store finds. There's nothing more eco than reusing gently worn clothes. If they're "dying for" new, or there are no jeans in the hand-me-down pile that actually fit the kids, opt for organic cotton when you can find it and when it won't break the bank. Make sure the dyes are as safe as the fabrics. For a wide selection of designers that don't only make organic cotton onesies, check out Green Edge Kids. It's kind of like an organic/hemp/bamboo online mall for children. And avoid PVC/vinyl for rain gear, belts and more. Rubber boots should actually be rubber. And check out these great Finnish long johns and wool hoods to go under all of this gear come winter.
Tired of reading about BPA and phthalates? Unclear where the chemicals are residing? Banish all plastic from near your kids' food and don't give those nasty hormone disruptors another thought. Send the tots off with reusable utensils (cocktail spoons and forks work for smaller mouths), cloth napkins, stainless steel water bottles. And pack all of their local, organic goods in PVC-free lunch boxes or sacks. Mimi The Sardine makes bags, and others can be found at HeroBags.com and ReuseableBags.com, which also sells stainless steel lunch boxes. So do PlanetBox.com and Lunchbots.com.
To make sure you're choosing the greenest gear, you can spend hours searching the internet (these pencil cases made from recycled rice bags are pretty cute), but it's always hard to know if what you're getting is truly green. That's where The Center for Health, Environment and Justice's excellent PVC-free back to school guide comes in. Go to their site to download it and a handy wallet-sized card to help you as you shop. You want to avoid what CHEJ refers to as "an unnecessary toxic plastic" because it's "dangerous to our health and the environment across its lifecycle: from production, to use, to disposal. Cancer causing chemicals that contaminate the air and water of surrounding communities are used to produce PVC. When PVC is manufactured or burned, numerous dioxins are formed and released. Dioxins are a highly toxic group of chemicals that can cause cancer, and harm the immune and reproductive systems. These and other toxic chemicals released during the PVC lifecycle contaminate our bodies and may pose irreversible life-long health threats." In addition, PVC contains additives like phthalates, lead, cadmium, and/or organotins, all of which can be toxic, especially to developing children. PVC lurks in lunchboxes, backpacks, and binders, but also in modeling clay, school supply packaging, shiny coated notebooks, electronics and more.
Some teachers, administrators or even PTAs send out class lists requesting items for individual classrooms. This bothers me to no end. In New York City, for example, public schools are required by law to clean with industrial green cleaners, but if a teacher requests and decides to use canisters of decidedly un-green bleach wipes, they can. Do what you can as a class parent to make sure everything from the cleaning products to the whiteboard markers is the safest versions possible. Clorox makes those ubiquitous wipes under their GreenWorks brand, too, and markers can be found in refillable, no-VOC versions. Choose wisely and turn to HealthySchools.org for help and advice.
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