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How to be Greener

With the care and tending of children, parents realize, come huge new responsibilities—and a mountain of stuff. Be greener with these ten tips, some for your kids and their health and some for the good of the earth


Don't Fume
When it's time to paint the nursery, look for paints low in volatile organic compounds—or VOCs—chemical gases that the Environmental Protection Agency has found cause organ damage and possibly cancer. Pittsburgh Paints Pure Performance and Benjamin Moore Aura are two low—VOC lines of paint. A local source for low—VOC paints, stains, and sealers is Greenmaker Building Supply (2500 N. Pulaski Rd.; 773-384-7500).

Play Safely
The recent recalls of toys containing lead paint gave parents a new source of anxiety. These local stores have close relationships with their suppliers and a deep knowledge of their inventories: Tink-Tinks (1104 Davis St., Evanston; 847-869-6405), Timeless Toys (4749 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-334-4445), Building Blocks (3306 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-525-6200), Toys Et Cetera (several locations; toysetcetera.com), Four Seasons Shop (1315 W. Loyola Ave.; 773-828-8451), and Geppetto's Toy Box (730 Lake St., Oak Park; 708-445-9906).

Dress Well
Secondhand clothing saves resources by giving clothes a second life. Consignment and resale stores that specialize in gently used children's clothing include First Seconds Resale (4266 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-777-2200), My Sister's Closet (5413 W. Devon Ave.; 773-774-5050), Once Upon a Child (7246 W. Foster Ave.; 773-594-1705), and The Second Child (954 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-883-0880). In the suburbs, shop at Bearly Used (401 Linden Ave., Wilmette; 847-256-8700), From My Room (1283 S. Naper Blvd., Naperville; 630-355-8442), and Good Cents Children (220 W. State St., Geneva; 630-208-1115).

Hoof It
Riding in cars accounts for 90 percent of children's travel—despite the fact that almost half of all driving trips are jaunts of less than two miles, according to statistics collected by Transit for Livable Communities, a St. Paul/Minneapolis-based nonprofit that promotes sustainable transportation. Instead, walk or bike on trips less than a mile—to school, the grocery store, or church. Once that feels easy, double the distance.

Eat Organic
Going all organic is expensive, so focus on a few key foods: Meat and dairy products account for more than 90 percent of Americans' pesticide consumption, while peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, imported grapes, and pears are the most contaminated fruits and vegetables. For babies, try Maddy's Organic Meals (maddysorganicmeals.com), a line of frozen baby food founded by a Chicago mom. It's available for home delivery from Hyde Park to Northbrook or at Southport Grocery & Café (3552 N. Southport Ave.; 773-665-0100).

Sleep Naturally
The VOCs found in the padding and flame retardants of conventional mattresses can give off chemical gases for up to seven years. Healthy Green Goods (702 Main St., Evanston; 847-864-9098), an eco-friendly home goods store, sells nontoxic organic cotton, organic wool, and natural rubber mattresses in all sizes, including crib. The shop also carries a crib that converts to a toddler bed, twin- to adult-size bed frames, dressers, and nightstands, all made from sustainably grown maple or bamboo with no-VOC adhesives or finishes.

Regift with Love
In 2006, when Sadhu Johnston, Mayor Daley's chief environmental officer, and his wife, Manda Gillespie, were expecting their first child, they threw a hand-me-down shower and asked their guests to recycle objects that had been meaningful to them as children or parents. "Our crib is a hand-me-down; we got a great winter coat and things like blankets and books people had been given when they were kids," Gillespie recalls. "They were thoughtful gifts that became really important to us."

Say No to Brown Bags
Packing your child's lunch in disposable containers and wrappings every day creates as much as 90 pounds of garbage per child in a school year. Soft-sided lunch boxes cut down on waste, but in 2005 they were the subject of a product recall because certain ones contained lead in the plastic vinyl. Instead, try a nontoxic hard-plastic lunch box, such as the Laptop Lunch (laptoplunches.com), a sturdy example with four reusable containers and silverware.

Ditch Disposables-Almost
Get a handle on the basics of cloth diapering at one of the free workshops at Be By Baby (1654 W. Roscoe St.; 773-404-2229); the Lake View boutique offers the seminar a couple of times a month. Or try a compromise: gDiapers consist of a washable cotton pant and biodegradable, plastic-free liners that you can flush down the toilet—or even compost if they're just wet.

Banish Plastic
Sippy cups and bottles made from polycarbonate plastic can contain the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol-A, or BPA. After only 20 washings, BPA begins to break down and leach into your child's beverage. Number 7 plastic is most likely to contain BPAs, but avoid plastic by using glass baby bottles with a silicone nipple. Toddlers can use the Klean Kanteen stainless steel sippy cup, available at Healthy Green Goods.


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