5 Eco-Friendly Ways to Spend Your Summer Days
Summer is in full swing, and nature’s beauty is in full bloom. Encourage your family to reconnect with nature and learn about our planet’s resources with these five eco-friendly ideas:
- Visit a local farm. Search for sustainable and family-friendly farms at localharvest.org. Kids will love taking a farm tour and learning about the journey their food takes to their plates.
- Grow a garden. Set the kids loose in the garden and let them choose bulbs or packs of seeds to plant. They’ll love getting their hands dirty, and you’ll love the extra help.
- Plan a “recycled” Olympic Games. Don’t throw out those recyclables just yet; give them new life in events for your own family’s “Games.” Milk-jug catch and toss? Scrap-paper collage flags for opening ceremonies? Paper-tube javelins? Put those little creative minds to work!
- Camp in the backyard. Nothing makes it feel more like summer than toasted marshmallows and a clear night sky. Gather your fort-building materials for a fun stargazing campout. Print off constellation maps (like those featured at kidsastronomy.net) for a great learning opportunity.
- Go on a nature walk. Take a stroll around the neighborhood with the family to enjoy the green surroundings and have the kids collect pieces of nature to use for their next crafting session: flower wreaths, pressed petals, twig insects and more!
Hit the beach for fun summer learning
Each year, Seattle Aquarium partners with more than 100 Beach Naturalists to help local families learn about and enjoy Puget Sound beaches in Seattle and surrounding areas. The naturalists are local citizens who love their beaches and are excited to share their passion with the community about how to enjoy time at the beach without harming the marine plants and animals. To learn more about the specific dates, times and locations for finding Beach Naturalists throughout the summer, visit seattleaquarium.org and look for “Beach Naturalists” under the “Education & Conservation” tab. This is a free drop-in program, and no reservations are needed; the program is available in various locations, typically each week, and runs until the end of July.
Pink slime, anyone?
In March, The Daily online news publication reported that the USDA was planning on making 7 million pounds of “pink slime” (lean, finely textured beef — LFTB) available for school districts throughout the country to serve in school lunches. This unsavory filler refers to ammonia-injected beef by-products, tissue and cuts that are being added in with ground beef to provide cheaper, leaner products for consumers.
Needless to say, consumers were outraged, especially when ABC News revealed that 70 percent of ground beef sold in U.S. supermarkets also contains the harmful filler. In the U.S., beef can be labeled as “100 percent ground beef” even if it contains as much as 15 percent pink slime. To avoid unknown additives, buy organic meats that contain the USDA Organic sticker.
Since March, a change.org petition has garnered more than 200,000 signatures, and the USDA has announced that beginning in the fall, schools would have the choice of using beef with or without the slime. To learn more about how your family can help create awareness and voice concern over this food safety issue, visit stoppinkslime.org.
Celebrating Earth Day
With Earth Day celebrating its 42nd anniversary on April 22, many families have “giving back” on the brain. If you’re looking for an easy way to volunteer with your little ones, consider checking out United Way of King County for a variety of green volunteering options.
Besides reminding us to get outside and give back to our communities, Earth Day is also an excellent opportunity to have a conversation with our children about the importance behind this annual green celebration — and the value that can come from living an eco-friendly lifestyle. Whether you’re planting trees with your family in a community space, teaching your toddler how to recycle or working in your own family garden, remember that even the smallest task can make a tidal wave of difference for the environment. Is there a better gift we could give Mother Nature on her special day?
Starting to plan for this year’s veggie garden? Don’t miss out on Seattle Tilth’s March 17 edible-plant sale. Held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Hangar 30 in Magnuson Park, the sale is a great opportunity for families to stock up on their organically and sustainably grown local starts, which are ideal for spring planting — and for the Pacific Northwest climate.
The sale includes gardening talks and demonstrations for all ages, along with veggies, flowers and strawberries for $3 per start; a variety of herbs for $4 each; and bags of organic compost and potting soil for $6. Proceeds go to benefit Seattle Tilth’s garden and farm education programs, and volunteer positions are available. Visit seattletilth.org/special_events for more event details and to view the complete list of available plants.
Eco-friendly Valentine's Day gifts
Who says Valentine’s Day has to be a “Hallmark holiday”? Instead of heading out for the usual store-bought valentines and treats, consider helping your child make homemade, heartfelt gifts for classmates.
1. Homemade play dough. Easy to make from scratch with common items found in the pantry and all-natural dyes, including raspberries, blueberries and turmeric. Add each helping to a Mason jar with a nice note and you’ve got a valentine that can be reused throughout the spring.
2. Repurposed crayons. Bring old crayon bits back to life by melting them into new and improved, multicolored crayons. All you need is a handy muffin tin and a little time in the oven.
3. Homemade “I Spy” bottles. For the younger tots who love sensory tables, simply fill a leftover baby food or Mason jar with a handful of trinkets and colorful rice for a fun “I Spy” game. Glue the lid shut and top it off with a sweet Valentine’s Day note, including a list of the items that can be found.
8 Eco-Friendly Resolutions
1. Turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth.
2. Bring old books back into circulation by hosting a neighborhood book swap.
3. Wash out Ziploc bags and save them for future use.
4. Teach your kids how to compost food waste. (Your garden will thank you later!)
5. Stock up on cute totes and reusable shopping bags— discounts and personal style all wrapped into one!
6. Wash out empty plastic food containers and reuse them for lunches or leftovers.
7. Buy local and seasonal produce and products.
8. Trade in that daily paper cup for a reusable mug. It’ll last for years and bring in discounts at your favorite corner café.
Christmas tree recycling
To find out more about Christmas tree recycling once the holidays have ended, check out your city’s public website for pickup options, transfer station referrals and instructions. “Clean” trees and greens that do not contain tinsel, ornaments or flock can be swooped up curbside on your regular pickup day, for no additional charge, after Dec. 26 and through the beginning of January. King County families can learn more at kingcounty.gov.
Giving back as a family this holiday season
This month, it’s all about giving thanks, and many families are hoping to pay that feeling forward. Northwest Harvest’s mission is a simple one: to provide nutritious food to hungry people statewide in a manner that respects their dignity, while fighting to eliminate hunger. There are plenty of opportunities for families to get involved. Visit northwestharvest.org for volunteering details, tips on holding a community food drive, where to find a local drop-off site and ways to donate food items. By giving just a bit of your time, your family will be passing on plenty of holiday cheer and happiness to others in need, all while creating lifelong memories of your own.
Halloween science fun
Each Halloween, your kids look forward to raking in their bag o’ sweets, and you can’t help but worry about future trips to the dentist. It’s a fine line when it comes to handling Halloween candy overload, but Candy Experiments provides a way to keep it fun (and interesting!) without cavities or upset, candy-deprived kiddos. Visit the site for neat scientific experiments, such as floating the letters off of M&Ms and Skittles, or how to make an acidic explosion with leftover Nerds and baking soda. Your candy will be dissolving into thin air in no time, and your little ones will be more than satisfied with their scientific findings.
Send your child back to school in style this year with a supercute, eco-friendly reusable lunch bag. Seattle-based Dabbawalla Bags (dabbawallabags.com) offers both functional and fashionable lunch totes that parents and tots will be sure to love. Made with all-natural, limestone-based “eco-sponge,” the bags are water- and stain-resistant, insulated, machine washable and free of lead, PVC and phthalates. Giveaway alert! Go to parentmap.com/giveaways and enter to win one of two lunch sacks on us!
Garden fun for little green thumbs
Looking to get down and dirty with the kiddos before the end of summer? Put their little green thumbs to work in one of Seattle Tilth’s various parent-child classes or day camps for kids. With themes such as “Giants in the Garden,” “Insectus Amongus” and “Flower Power,” there’s plenty of natural fun waiting for gardeners of all ages. Pricing varies by age group; visit seattletilth.org to view class availability at both the Wallingford and Rainier Beach locations.
The 2011 ‘Dirty Dozen’ Pesticides Guide
The Environmental Working Group has just released its 2011 “Dirty Dozen” list for veggies and fruits that contain the most pesticides and its “Clean 15” list of those that contain the least. The top offenders? Apples, celery, strawberries, peaches and spinach. The cleanest? Onions, sweet corn, pineapple, avocado and asparagus. To see the full report before making your organic shopping list, visit ewg.org.
Raising eco-conscious kids
Teaching your child how to live green? Jill Ammond Vanderwood’s new book, What’s It Like Living Green? Kids Teaching Kids, by the Way They Live is an excellent read to consider. From composting to biodiesel and beyond, this book highlights simple, everyday ways that kids can help the environment, give back to others and practice reducing, reusing and recycling at home. Recommended for ages 9 and up; check out jillvanderwood.com for more information.
The FDA recently relaunched its website, changing its method for listing recalls and safety alerts, under the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act. Fortunately for consumers, the new table format is completely transparent and up to date with full information listed for the past 60 days — including recalls on food, drugs, animal health products, biologics and medical devices. And beyond learning about current recalls nationwide, users can even view the original recall press release, product images and more. To learn more about the latest recalls and to view the new layout, visit fda.gov.
Planet huggers are gearing up for this year’s Earth Day, on April 22, with the largest enviro-service campaign in the world, “A Billion Acts of Green.” The goal is to record 1 billion acts — by individuals, corporations and governments — that better the environment. Right now, there are 45 million actions registered; you can add your efforts to the list by visiting earthday.org.
If you’ve got a girl with a golden heart, encourage her to shine with some of the great ideas for giving back in the newest book from American Girl. Lend a Hand: Girl-sized Ways of Helping Others is pitch perfect and packed with cool projects to help the environment and other people. Recommended for ages 8–12.
Startling research from the University of California–San Francisco this winter has confirmed what scientists have suspected for years: Pregnant women carry multiple chemicals in their bodies that can be passed on to their fetuses. In all, 43 chemicals — including banned and those in current use — were detected in more than 99 percent of pregnant women studied. Chemicals found include PCBs, which have been banned for more than 30 years, flame retardants and phthalates. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says you can reduce your exposure to these chemicals by leaving your shoes at the door, avoiding “antibacterial” products and washing your hands frequently. More tips are at parentmap.com/more.
The nwf’s new bff
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) is teaming up with American Girl to raise awareness of endangered animals like the Hawaiian monk seal, which is featured with the newest American Girl doll, Kanani. For every $18 plush monk seal American Girl sells, the company is donating $1 — with a maximum of $100,000 — to the NWF. The doll, by the way, sells for $100; more info is at nwf.org/americangirl.
The question being asked among eco thinkers these days: Are e-readers really green? Once you factor in manufacturing and shipping costs, the answer is maybe. Several studies have found that if you read about three books a month on your e-reader, you’ll be cutting back on carbon emissions. The very greenest way to read? Stop by your library (when you’re already in the neighborhood) and borrow books. They will be shared by dozens of people before they are worn out and recycled.
Hit the roof
A tip o’ the topper to Seattle’s Chief Sealth International High School and Denny International Middle School, which will soon sport a state-of-the-art green roof; at 30,000 square feet, it will be one of the largest in our area. The roof, along with a rain garden, will absorb rainwater and reduce polluted water runoff into Puget Sound. Link to more about this project at parentmap.com/more.
Green your yoga
Can 18 million yogis make a difference? That’s the question posted by Recycle Your Mat, a new website that offers options for recycling and/or reusing old yoga mats. Visit the site to find out how to drop off or mail in your old sticky. It will either be recycled into new material or donated to others to use — and kept out of the landfill! Namaste.
Power it down
About 40 percent of all battery sales occur during the holiday season, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. You can beat back the rising tide of billions of batteries by considering battery-free gifts this year. You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating: Experiences make wonderful, eco-friendly gifts. Or give potted plants, flowers or trees. And make your own wrapping paper by reusing maps, posters, or newspaper or magazine pages.
Scale it back
Another eco-friendly holiday move: cutting consumption. Keep it sweet and simple, and you’ll save money and reduce waste and pollution at the same time. For tips on how to talk to kids about pared-down holidays, visit parentmap.com/more. And for great eco-friendly gift ideas, check out the annual holiday gift guide at treehugger.com.
Seattle University is the first university in our state — and the sixth in the nation — to ban the sale of plastic water bottles on campus. The move is designed to eliminate waste and plastic consumption. Instead, students are being encouraged to buy a special reusable water bottle; proceeds go to Engineers Without Borders.
Here’s a cool idea for eco-conscious families: a massive online kids’ clothing swap! Boxes full of gently used clothes are listed on ThredUP.com, sorted by size and type of clothing. Simply choose a box you want and pay $5 for shipping. At the same time, you also fill a (provided) box with good used clothing, wait until someone chooses it, then ship COD. The upshot? You pay just $5 to swap one full box for another! Easy . . . elegant . . . eco-cool! thredup.com
I’m loving the new eco-themed toys and games from eeBoo. The gorgeous, plastic-free games are made from recycled materials and soy ink. The Respect the Earth flashcards provide lovely talking points for little ones, with gentle admonitions to recycle, unplug and speak up for the earth. Ages 5 and older. eeboo.com
Sitting in the school pickup line every day? If you’re not moving — and won’t be for 10 seconds or longer — turn off the engine! According to the California Energy Commission, 10 seconds of idling can use more fuel than turning off the engine and restarting it. And for every two minutes you idle, you use enough gas to drive a mile. More details are at parentmap.com/more.
Consider the source
Can you really change the world with your wallet? Here’s a new book that serves up the answer to tweens and teens, who spend more than $100 billion every year buying . . . stuff! Get Real: What Kind of World Are You Buying? challenges kids to consider the impact their spending habits have on our planet and its people. It presents a frank and passionate discussion that could come off a tad strong for little kids. $10.95; Running Press.
Our schools rule!
The Sierra Club has just released its annual list of the top 100 greenest colleges in the country — and two of the top 10 are in our state! The Evergreen State College in Olympia rocked no. 3 honors for buying renewable energy credits for 100 percent of its energy, and right behind it, the University of Washington, coming in at no. 4 for “interdisciplinary eco-thinking at its best.” Western Washington University came in at no. 48; Seattle University is no. 60. Way to go! Link to the full report at parentmap.com/more.
Green vs. screen
The nature of childhood has changed: There’s not much nature in it! That’s according to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), which has just released its “Whole Child Health Report.” According to the NWF, the average American child only spends four to seven minutes a day playing outside! Find ideas for fixing this — and read the entire report — at parentmap.com/more.
Here are two sweet ways to sip green: Life Factory’s new shock-resistant glass bottles come with colorful silicone sleeves and nipples, so you can use ’em for baby, then swap up to the screwtop. BPA-free and machine washable; Life Factory. And check out SIGG’s reusable aluminum bottles for kids — cute!
Out of patience with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a major enviro group is now suing the FDA for its failure to regulate bisphenol A (BPA). The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says the FDA is taking way too long to respond to demands to prohibit the use of BPA in food packaging, despite concerns about the chemical’s effect on brain development in fetuses and children. BPA is found in all kinds of food packaging products, including the lining of many cans, pizza boxes and in products made from polycarbonate plastics, including some baby bottles. Read much more at NRDC.
If you’ve ever ponied up extra bucks to buy “green” cleaning supplies, here’s a heads-up. Some companies are making claims about their eco cred that simply aren’t true. The Sierra Club’s excellent blog, The Green Life, suggests switching to organic cleaners to be sure, because synthetic cleaners often include harmful chemicals that rough up your skin and wind up in our waterways. Get tips for spotting “greenwashing” — the practice of faking environmental friendliness.
Here’s a great resource for talking to eco-conscious kids who are worried about the Gulf of Mexico oil-spill disaster: a special website by the National Wildlife Federation. There, you’ll find a kid-friendly explanation of the crisis, along with a look at clean-up efforts and even ideas for what kids can do to help.
Slither me this
The Earth may be shedding its snakes in record numbers, according to a new international research project. Scientists examined records for 17 snake populations over the past several decades and found that many took a major dive — some by more than 90 percent — around 1998. Researchers aren’t sure why, but say climate may have been a factor; 1998 was a very strong El Niño year — one of the hottest on record.
Oh, sure, you’ve got oodles of reusable grocery bags, you planet lover, you. Problem is you keep forgetting to bring them into the grocery store. Call it “bagnesia” — and cure it with this line of cute reminders: a doorknob hanger ($1.99), steering-wheel wrap ($2.99), key chain ($2.99) and more are available at Bagnesia.
Want to learn new ways to live a greener life? Or just listen to some cool music while your kids play wilderness games? Be sure to hit Seattle’s Green Festival, June 5-6 at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center. There’s a special Green Kids Zone, live music, lots of speakers and exhibitors. More info at greenfestivals.org.
Oil be seeing you
What’s the latest on that hideous spill in the Gulf of Mexico? Look at amazing (and depressing) images — and get links to loads of info, videos and ways you can help — on this cool new site by Google.
Got a paper-waster underfoot? Remind your little critters where paper comes from with these cool stickers, which you can slap on napkin dispensers, over toilet-paper rolls and other places. The stickers’ makers estimate that one sticker can change behavior enough to save one tree per year! thesecomefromtrees.blogspot.com
A tip o’ the SPF 30 sun hat to the cool Seattle moms who started the aptly named website Cool Mom. Visit the site to find out about local groups and events for moms who want to take action to cool the planet.