Even a Baby Affects the Environment

Faced with frightening studies about the toxicity of their babies' environment, a growing number of parents are going green to protect their children and Earth.

"We are seeing a growing prevalence of parents making these choices," said Peggy O'Mara, publisher and editor of Mothering magazine. "When my son was a baby, trying to find cloth diapers, wooden toys, even natural foods was difficult. All we could get were bags of grain. Now we're seeing lots of marketing materials and products launched for green parenting."

According to the 2005 sales figures from the Organic Trade Association, organic baby food was a $206 million industry. Sales rose 21.5 percent in 2006. O'Mara says a third of new parents are now going green.

"If parents didn't care about getting organic yogurt for toddlers, stores would not stock it. It's really exciting," she said.

Natural Family Living

Some parents across the country are reducing their carbon footprint by adapting a natural family living lifestyle.

"In the late '60s, early '70s, parents returning to these choices were seen as hippies and on the fringe," said O'Mara. "We've seen lots of research and evidence to back up more traditional choices. It's really encouraging when the World Health Organization and the U.S. government recommend that mothers only breast-feed."

"Of course formula companies don't want that, but it's improving the health of babies and mothers," O'Mara said.

Other components of natural family living include sleeping with one's child, eating natural foods, making natural purchases ranging from household cleaning products to organic cotton products and eliminating the use of plastics toys and baby bottles.

Toxic Environment

The Environmental Working Group, a watchdog organization that frequently releases alarming studies about the level of toxins in toys, encourages parents to go green for environmental reasons, but more importantly for the health of their infants.

"Companies are allowed to test their own products without testing by EPA [federal Environmental Protection Agency] or other agencies," said Bill Walker, the group's vice president.

"Ten to 15 years down the line, we find out [toxic] products are in our bodies and the blood of our unborn children. Then we do backtracking of banned substances. We're pushing for a change in approach, so you put the burden of proof on the manufacturer that the product is safe. Moves to cut down on toxic toys is a good trend," Walker said.

"This is not a fad. People are now realizing that chemicals are ubiquitous in our environment."

Walker also said he found the increase in sales of organic baby food very encouraging. "Selecting organic food has subtle health effects, but they are nonetheless long-lasting," he said.

Diapers to Combat Global Warming

When ecominded parents Kim and Jason Graham-Nye had a son five years ago, they sought an alternative to disposable diapers. It led to something much bigger: a new company, selling biodegradable diapers that could be flushed down the toilet.

"We were green-leaning. We recycled, but when we discovered [flushable diapers] as customers, we loved them so much, we bought the rights to market it in every market outside of Australia and New Zealand," said Jason Graham-Nye.

They now run a company called gDiapers. He says it's been wildly successful, having sold 2 million diapers in 2006.

"This year has been a real shift. Sustainability is at the top of the minds of many Americans. It's clearly a problem; now we need a solution. The global craving is huge. GDiapers give people a tangible sense of what they're doing for the environment. Fifty million diapers go into landfills every day in the U.S, where they take up to 500 years to biodegrade. GDiapers break down in 50 to 150 days. Also, landfills produce methane, the second largest contributor to climate change," he said.

Customers have created an online Yahoo group and a MySpace page for the company. Some also volunteer to make gDiaper demonstrations at grocery stores.

"We seem to have tapped into American moms who want to do something for their baby. It's empowering, really making a difference," said Kim Graham-Nye.

"There's all different types of things parents can't do. What's the point of turning off the lights if everyone leaves them on. [Because] diapers are so bad environmentally, every time you flush a diaper, you go, 'You know what, I just saved the Earth 500 years.' With diapers, you make a positive, homogeneous change, and you save five diapers a day. That's why we have insanely passionate customers. It feels great. It's infectious," she said.

Natural Rhythm

There are some parents who eliminate the use of diapers entirely in order to protect the environment and build a closer rapport to their children through "attachment parenting."

Elizabeth Parise, a mother of five in Concord, Mass., says choosing to go green helps parents protect Earth by realigning their lives with nature. Her youngest child stopped wearing diapers after six months. She prevented messes by sometimes placing a waterproof cover under her baby.

"Our environment is our health," she said. "As a culture, we've become very distanced from nature with a climate-controlled house, then a climate-controlled car, then a climate-controlled office. If we suddenly lost all climate control in an emergency, would our bodies be less adapted to our environment?

"I get constant exercise from walking everywhere. It's not just health, there's also a psychological benefit. You notice things better. You hit a certain rhythm, a certain rightness to your life."

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