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THE CONSCIENTIOUS CONSUMER

Fair-trade goods. Eco-friendly gifts. Recycled or reusable products. If every one of us made some easy adjustments to our shopping lists this holiday season, we could keep the planet greener and the landfills less full.

The way we shop truly does make a difference. When we buy sustainably manufactured goods, those that are recyclable, made from renewable resources and produced in an eco-friendly fashion, we keep our planet intact, and pollutants out of the air and water. Environmentally friendly (chemical and toxin-free) gifts are healthier for the recipient as well. Sure this goes without saying, but many of the products we buy each day are full of ingredients that are anything but healthy!

During the holiday season especially, we’re bombarded with messages telling us to buy, buy, buy. Yet there are few tell us to research behind the scenes to learn whether the products we’re buying are safe for the environment, the workers making them, and even for the person getting the gift. The recent toxic toy recall was a glaring reminder of the importance of learning where your purchases are coming from and what ingredients are used and whether safety standards are being applied in production.

There are so many great ways to shop conscientiously without compromising quality and style. A few alternatives to consider this holiday season:

Organic Cotton, Hemp and Bamboo Apparel and Accessories: Many people consider cotton an environmentally friendly product. In truth, conventional cotton is one of the most toxic crops on earth, and some of the chemicals used on cotton are actually fatal to birds, fish and other wildlife. Fortunately there is a rapidly growing awareness of the importance of clean alternative fibers, such as organic cotton, hemp and bamboo. Designers are embracing this trend and more great new products are becoming available all the time.

Clean Jewelry: Gold may look pure, but its aesthetic appeal belies a devastating cost to the environment. When gold is mined, basically the earth is blasted and massive craters are dug. Cyanide is poured over the ore to extract the gold and some companies dump the contaminated waste rock into rivers and oceans. There are great alternatives in vintage or recycled gold products, or some of the less environmentally damaging metals like silver or platinum.

Eco Friendly Toys: Toys manufactured with PVC plastic should definitely be avoided. Vinyl chloride, the chemical the puts the VC in PVC, is a known human carcinogen. Even more dangerous are the phthalates added to PVC to keep it soft. It’s hard to believe that toys this questionable are even allowed on the market, but that makes it our responsibility to make careful buying decisions. Wooden toys are a better alternative, but still need to be researched for toxin-free construction. Many conventional wooden toys are made from plywood or particle board held together with toxic glues. The finishes – petrochemical sealers, paints, preservatives and pesticides can be toxic as well. To ensure toy safety, select items made with Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood from sustainable sources. Make sure the paint is non-toxic. Unpainted toys, or those finished with vegetable or soy-based or beeswax colorants are the healthiest choice.

Reusable Bottles and Bags: The gift that keeps giving, or more accurately saving, keeping landfills, water and air free of the toxic by products that are inherent to plastic and paper bag, and of course plastic bottle production. And saving the time and money used to purchase all those plastic bottles. Reusable bottles such as SIGG or Kleen Kanteen are also healthier to drink from than plastic, since they don’t leach toxic by-products. With all the hip new designs available in reusable bottles and bags, you get to look good while doing good – a great combination.

Eco-friendly doesn’t have to mean expensive. Local is always optimum, but if you can’t find the selections you need, there are lots of resources available online in all price ranges, and you won’t have to brave the holiday stimulus overload of the mall. Wrap your gift with recycled paper and you’re doing your part toward keeping our planet clean and green this holiday season!


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