Spend vs. Save: Eco-Friendly Edition

Family, Featured Article, Natural Living
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With another Earth Day behind us, you’re probably all fired up about living your greenest, most eco-friendly life possible. The good news is that, as more people become aware of their responsibility to the environment (and their own health), food and product manufacturers have taken notice, and there is now an organic or all-natural version of nearly every item on store shelves. The problem, though, is that those choices are often two or three times the price of conventional items.

It can be frustrating, to say the least, when your efforts to be kind to your body and the environment are derailed by your very real budget. So, here, we examine the most popular eco-friendly products and determine the best places to spend your hard-earned cash, and what just isn’t worth the money.

Organic Food—SPEND
The environmental benefits of organic food are extensive—from developing healthier soil that contains more nutrients and minerals, to maintaining a cleaner water supply and slowing down climate change by reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. But there’s an even bigger reason organic food is worth the higher cost: Your kids are hungry—a lot. And since it often seems like your primary mommy duty is to cook and keep them fed, it only makes sense that you would feed your children food that is actually good for them.

Studies are conflicting regarding the nutritional difference of organic foods and their conventional counterparts, but there is no denying the fact that organic produce doesn’t contain the pesticides and other chemical toxins that have been proven to cause adverse health effects, while organic animal products are free of the growth hormones and antibiotics that ultimately have no place in our food supply.

“I make it a point to spend extra money on organic produce because I want to protect myself and my kids from pesticides and GMOs,” says Jennifer Hill, an integrative nutrition coach and mom of two in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. “I go by the general rule that if it is easily reached with spray, it should be organic, like apples, broccoli and pears. But if it is in a thick peel, or something I would peel myself, I can go non-organic, like with avocados, oranges, and sometimes cucumbers.”

Also, adds Hill, the Environmental Working Group publishes yearly “Clean 15” and “Dirty Dozen” lists, which are great guidelines to help budget-minded parents determine what is really important to buy organic and what is okay to get conventional.

Organic Clothing—SAVE
You’ve seen the cute little organic onesies that retail for $25 each, and the organic cotton pajama sets that cost twice that. It seems like a good idea—organic is best for the environment, right?—but you can’t bring yourself to break the bank for one article of clothing.

Hill says your reaction is perfectly normal and justified. She wouldn’t dream of paying that much on clothes, either, especially considering the fact that she buys most of her family’s clothes pre-owned. And if you think that means she’s given up on her commitment to a healthier earth, think again. “Actually, the most eco-friendly clothing is used clothing,” Hill says, “so I do believe I am more eco-friendly because I tend to buy second-hand. I don’t think the extra expense of eco-friendly clothing is necessary, at least not for my lifestyle.”

Paige Wolf, a green parenting blogger and author of Spit That Out: The Overly Informed Parent’s Guide to Raising Children in the Age of Environmental Guilt agrees. “By the time you purchase them, used clothes have already been out in the market for some time, so they didn’t require any additional resources to manufacture,” she says. “And most of the harmful dyes have likely been washed out, too.”

Eco-Friendly Diapers—SPEND
Moms know that when you have a baby around, it feels like there are diapers everywhere. And, apparently, homes aren’t the only spaces where they’re taking over. According to recent reports, disposable diapers are the third largest consumer item in landfills, representing around 30percent of all non-biodegradable waste. For a family with a baby in diapers, those dirty little bundles comprise about half of the household waste.

It’s a big, smelly problem, for sure, but for most parents—90-95 percent are said to wrap their babies in disposables—convenience is still all-important. That’s where companies like gDiapers come in. The gDiapers system pairs soft cotton diaper covers with disposable inserts that are flushable and, when wet only, home compostable. Additionally, the gDiapers inserts are Cradle to Cradle certified, which means, essentially, that they create no waste. “Before I had children, I wouldn’t have thought much about diapers,” says Kim Graham-Nye, co-founder of gDiapers and mom of two boys. “But once we learned that 50 million diapers enter landfills each day in the United States alone, and each one takes up to 500 years to biodegrade, this little product suddenly seemed like a massive environmental disaster. As new parents, we didn’t want any part of that.”

Aside from the convenience factor, parents are typically drawn to disposable diapers because they are also cheaper than going the reusable route—a point Graham-Nye doesn’t try to avoid. In an emailed response to a mom who questioned why gDiapers were more expensive, she responded, “Though it’s difficult to say concretely, we are about 15 percent more expensive than mainstream disposable diapers (a $52 case of disposable inserts lasts about a month). Unlike mainstream disposables, though, our price doesn’t change over the life of the baby…We all make sacrifices in order to support causes and products we believe in, and, sadly, we know all too well that cost is a big deterrent for a lot of folks. It nearly was for me, until I weighed the benefits versus the costs and ultimately decided to make my sacrifice elsewhere so that my daughter could have a healthy bottom and our planet could breathe a bit easier.”

Personal Care and Home Cleaning Products—SAVE
Our skin is our largest organ, and what we put on it ultimately ends up in our bodies and bloodstreams. So, like buying organic food to be mindful of what we’re putting inside our bodies, we have to be just as vigilant about what goes on the outside. But that doesn’t mean you have to blow all your lunch money to do it.

“There’s a lot of mainstream, eco-friendly brands that are out there, and that are super affordable and accessible, so you don’t have to cut corners,” says Wolf, as she mentions the ubiquitous Seventh Generation brand. The key, she adds, is to only purchase products from brands that you know and trust to be eco-friendly, as opposed to those that are manufactured by larger brands and have simply been “green-washed”—that is, slapped with the word “natural” or “eco-friendly” on the wrapper, even though the contents are virtually the same.

And, even better than purchasing home cleaning and personal care products is to make them yourself, Wolf says. “You can clean anything in your house with baking soda, lemon and white vinegar,” she adds. “That’s dirt cheap and there are no hidden ingredients or potential side effects. ‘Going green’ doesn’t have to be some sort of exclusive, financially prohibitive thing. And I don’t want it to be considered classist or elitist—because it’s not.”

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