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8 Steps to an Eco-Friendly Nursery
My husband and I used to work for Greenpeace, and we track our electricity use down to the kilowatt hour. But eco-perfect? Ha! Most of the food and clothes we buy aren’t organic. And we take at least one transatlantic flight each year.
Still, the newest member of our family inspired us to dig deep when it came to creating a better environment for her at home … and for her future. As the mom of a four-month-old, I’ve done a lot of legwork to outfit our baby room in green. And, I’m here to tell you, it’s easier than you think. Here are some of the top things you can do to help make your nursery, or child’s room, greener.
1) Cloth diapers? Do, do!
Eight thousand diaper changes. That’s what HealthyChild.org says a new parent is in for until Baby is potty-trained. And disposing of those diapers generates 3.3 million tons of waste in landfills each year, according to the EPA (not to mention all the chemicals that go into making them absorbent and leak-proof).
Cloth diapers use resources as well – particularly cotton, water and energy – but still come out as the more eco-friendly option in a, uh, bottom line analysis. I pooh-poohed the idea of cloth diapers at first, then decided to try it for three months. Now I’m sold on my unbleached cotton prefold diapers. Cloth diapering is not nearly as hard as I thought it would be.
But, granted, cloth diapers are not for everyone, or for every single occasion. Eco-friendly disposables, such as Seventh Generation diapers, are still the diaper of choice at night for baby’s comfort and away from home. Or there is the gDiaper, which combines the best of both worlds with no waste – using a washable diaper and flushable liner.
2) Keep Baby’s skin pure
Skin is a baby’s largest organ, “a highly porous vulnerable organ that absorbs everything into their systems as they are developing,” says Dr. Natalie Geary, a New York City pediatrician. In fact, a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics showed that infants who used certain powders, lotions and shampoos had a higher concentration of hormone-disrupting phthalates in their urine. Check the toxicity of the products you use in the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetic database, Skin Deep, and find safe alternatives.
3) Add fun, not toxins
The story of thousands of children’s toys being recalled for potential toxicity stole the headlines this year, and made us relieved that our baby’s nursery is filled with nontoxic, wooden toys. Jennifer Lance, founder of Eco Child’s Play, highlights other benefits of wooden toys as well. “Wooden toys are passed on to the next generation and are easy to repair,” she says. “I also think that less is more. Kids today have too much junk that is actually detrimental to their development. It is hard to develop sophisticated play with toys that do not inspire imagination. A wooden block can be a telephone, car, balance beam for a doll, etc., whereas a plastic toy car is just that.” Make sure the wooden toys you buy are coated with lead-free, nontoxic paint.
4) Paint it green
A fresh coat of standard paint releases cancer-causing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air long after the paint is dry – an EPA study found measurable emissions of VOCs 11 months later. So even though taupe would not be our color of choice for a baby’s room, we decided to keep the neutral-yet-healthier hue rather than repaint. If a more childlike color is calling out to you, look for paint that’s free of VOCs, such as American Pride or Freshaire Choice.
5) Get a good night’s sleep
Getting baby to sleep through the night helps everyone rest easy. But not if you know she is sucking in flame retardants and other toxic chemicals with every breath. Choosing a mattress made from natural latex, organic cotton batting or organic wool is a good way to avoid the pesticides and VOCs, including the human carcinogen formaldehyde, found in conventional mattresses.
Avoiding chemical flame retardants is more difficult since they are required by law in the United States, however wool is a natural flame retardant and has been used to meet the requirement. The Washington Toxics Coalition says if using a foam crib mattress, look for one from a company that does not use PBDEs as flame retardants.
Covering baby’s mattress with an organic cotton fitted sheet also eliminates pesticides, and a wool mattress pad is naturally water-resistant for nighttime diaper leaks.
6) Furnish with care
They may be little, but new babies need some big furnishings of their own. To step a little lighter, look for furniture made from sustainable materials, such as FSC-certified wood, or buy used. You can also repurpose a dresser as a changing table. Our wooden glider is a hand-me-down from a friend, and we went with the IKEA Sniglar changing table and crib made of wood from responsibly managed forests.
Dark at night, bright during the day – that’s how Baby figures out bedtime from playtime in the first few weeks. Flicking on a bright light at 2 a.m. would not, then, be such a bright idea. We mounted a wall lamp by the changing table fitted with an energy-efficient, low-light, low-wattage CFL bulb. The “delay” is perfect for a gentle brightening.
8) Breathe easy, Baby
Baby’s itty-bitty lungs need all the help they can get. That means cleaning the air of the itty-bittiest of particles – dust, pollen, mold spores, pet dander and VOCs can irritate a baby’s developing lungs. A HEPA air purifier filters out 99.97% of airborne particles down to 0.3 microns. We bought one before Baby came into the picture because the EPA says indoor air is far more polluted than outdoor air. The UV Air Purifier has internal UV light to kill bacteria and viruses and boost new-mom peace of mind.