Sunday, April 18, 2010

Earth Day: Ten Small Changes

Earth Day is April 22nd.  This is a perfect time to talk to our kids about our connection to the earth and to tune up our daily living habits.  While crafts and games are fun expressions of our commitment to honoring the planet, it's real-life practices that actually make a difference... and even the smallest changes matter.  More than anything else, modeling eco-compassionate behavior teaches our kids to live consciously.  What follows are ten small, easy to accomplish practices that will continue to make a difference long after the Earth Day excitement has settled.

1.) Line Dry and Cold Wash.  Washing in cold water preserves your clothes, saves energy, and saves money.  Electric dryers emit approximately one ton of carbon dioxide per household per year and they are the second biggest energy suckers in American homes.  ( Want to jazz up your laundry?  Try these Set of Eight Music Note Clothespins from Etsy.

2.) Say no to dyes.  What goes on your body is as important as what goes into it.  Recent studies have linked artificial food dyes to cognitive impairments and behavior problems.  According to Helen Coronato, author of Eco-Friendly Families, the four most popular dyes are Red 3, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Blue 2.  Coronato suggests having a dangerous dye scavenger hunt.  Even if your kids are just learning to read, this is a fun way to enlist their help.  Make a list of these dyes and send your kids into the bathrooms and kitchen to gather lotions, toothpaste, shaving cream, breakfast cereal, mac and cheese, chips, and other packaged foods.  You'll be surprised at what is lurking in your home.

3.) Discover DEA.  While your kids are reading labels for dyes, you might want to check your personal-care product labels for Diethanolamine (DEA).  In his book, Green Made Easy: The Everyday Guide for Transitioning to a Green Lifestyle, Chris Prelitz explains that DEA is widely used in shampoos, creams, and lotions to thicken the consistency and can react with other ingredients to form a toxic carcinogen.  DEA cannot be purged from the body and builds up over time.

4.) Go herbal.  Forget what you've seen in television commercials, put down that can, and make your own bath and beauty products.  Common ingredients in store-bought hairsprays include carcinogenic PVP and formaldehyde.  Here's how to make your own: gently boil a few cups of rosemary sprigs and steep for 2-3 hours.  Strain and pour liquid into a spray bottle. Spritz for a light, eco-friendly hold. But don't stop there... Rather than supporting corporations selling dangerous products, make your own bath salts using this simple recipe: 3 cups Epsom salt, 1 cup baking soda, 1/2 cup sea salt.  Add fresh rosemary, lavender, or even olive oil.  For a body exfoliator that leaves your skin smooth and silky, mix olive oil with coarse raw sugar and smooth in a circular motion over skin.  Want to go really green?  Try growing your own herbs.   

5.) Join a CSA.  Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) means membership with a local, organic farm where you receive a weekly box of seasonal, organic, local produce.  The best organic food is what's grown closest to you because fewer fossil fuels are used to get it to your home.  The added treat we've discovered since making the switch is the connection to earth that comes from eating what's in season.  Seasonal cooking really does make every meal feel like a holiday.  Use Local Harvest ( to find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.  If you're in our neck of the woods, try Riverdog Farm.

6.)  Meat your meat.  The meat industry accounts for 70 percent of water pollution in the USA and studies show that going completely vegetarian has a more positive eco-effect than driving a hybrid car.  What's more, the use of antibiotics in livestock contributes to antibiotic resistance and the rise in "super-bugs." One of the best-known super-bugs, MRSA -- a kind of staph infection -- kills about 18,000 Americans annually.  That’s more than die of AIDS.  This doesn't mean that you have to go totally vegan.  Rather, we simply need to make smart choices.  Look for antibiotic-free eggs and meat at your local market or use Local Harvest to find a family farm that sells hormone-free and antibiotic-free grass-fed beef and free-range chicken.  If you're in our area, contact Gayle Pullman at Loconomi Farm.

7.) Choose Nature.  One more way to honor and celebrate Earth is by encouraging creative, nature-based play.  Instead of buying noisy toys that need batteries or electricity, let your kids hunt for supplies outside and build their own forts and playhouses.  One mama we know and love recently built a life-size tepee for her daughter in their garden using tree branches, ribbons, and beadsNot creatively inclined?  Fairy houses like the one pictured here, Fairy House Retreat for a Weary Fairy, are always available on Etsy.  Another easy way to stimulate imaginative play and encourage innovation is with Play Silks ... and if there is one thing this planet needs now, it's innovative ideas to bring us into a greener tomorrow. Willow Tree Toys,, and Bella Luna Toys are wonderful online resources for natural toys and books that encourage kids to love Mother Earth.  

8.) Become PVC free.  Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC or vinyl), is used widespread in schools across the nation, threatening children’s health. The Center for Health, Environment & Justice is kicking off a brand new PVC-free schools campaign to encourage schools to ditch the poison plastic in favor of safer alternatives.  You can read more on their website and don't forget to do a complete sweep at home and make sure you are PVC free.  One way to be sure if the packaging of a product is made from PVC is to look for the number "3" or for the letter "V" inside or underneath the universal recycling symbol (the symbol used to designate recyclable materials. It is composed of three chasing arrows that form a Möbius strip or unending loop ( This means that the product is made of PVC. Soft flexible plastic products that are made with PVC often have a distinct odor.

9.) Don't forget Mr. Whiskers.  Most of us love our pets just like members of our family.  Yet, most canned pet food available at supermarkets contains the lowest grade of meat possible, called "4-D," made from meat from animals which are dead, diseased, dying or have been destroyed.  Make a humane and healthy choice for your pets by purchasing organic food for them too.  Check out the All Natural Pet Food Directory for more information. 

10.) Green your consciousness.  The Benefits of Meditation are finally being recognized by the medical community.  This Earth Day, consider clearing out a corner of a room, transforming a nook in your yard, or converting your patio into a place of peace.  Avoid the temptation to use quiet time for making lists or checking email and for a few designated minutes each day, try sitting with nothing but your breath.  When your mind turns back to usual worries, plans, or concerns, just say, "not breath," and go back to a place of quiet focus.  For audio instructions on both sitting and walking meditation, check out the Insight Meditation Center's Meditation Instructions.

Going green shouldn't cost anything, it shouldn't make us worry, and it shouldn't end when the buzz of Earth Day subsides.  Rather, making eco-compassionate choices should feel good because at our deepest level, we are all connected.  What's more, when we live consciously, we demonstrate to our kids our commitment to honor one another and to honor and preserve our planet.

At the deepest level of ecological awareness you are talking about
spiritual awareness. Spiritual awareness is an understanding
of being imbedded in a larger whole, a cosmic whole,
of belonging to the universe.

Fritjof Capra
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