1) Don't buy anything that requires a throwaway battery. Batteries leak cadmium, lead and other heavy metals when they're thrown away. They usually come wrapped in plastic and cardboard, creating more trash as soon as you buy them. Plus, you have to keep replacing them; in some cases, the cost of batteries over the life of a product ends up amounting to more than the product itself. Solution? Avoid toys, gadgets and appliances that require short-lived, throwaway batteries. If you must give a battery-powered gift, include rechargeable batteries and the recharger to go with it. One of my favorites is a reuseable AAA battery you can recharge in the USB port of your computer.
2) Buy solar- or hand-powered. Among your options: hand-cranked flashlights, coffee grinders, blenders and juicers. Vintage-style razors with replaceable razor blades. A French-press coffee pot. More interested in solar? Try solar-powered chargers for cell phones, flash drives, and radios.
3) Don't buy synthetic fragrances and air fresheners. Ironically, even though these products are supposed to make things smell better, they actually make it more difficult for many people to breathe, especially those who suffer from asthma or other respiratory problems. Want your home to waft Christmas? Simmer a small pot of water, cloves and cinnamon sticks over the stove. Need to smell better yourself? Dab a drop of essential oil from your favorite flower (mine is lavender) behind each ear and on the inside of each wrist.
4) Buy phthalate-free. Phthalates are often the building blocks for synthetic fragrances. They're also found in nail polish and many other personal care products. The downside? They're nasty chemicals considered a reproductive hazard in Europe and the state of California. Luckily, you can find a wonderful variety of phthalate-free nail polishes, perfumes, make-up and other personal care products in stores like Whole Foods and the Body Shop or online here.
5) Don't buy BPA specifically and plastic generally. Bisphenol A, or BPA, is like phthalates - an "endocrine disruptor" that could be toxic to your reproductive system. It's usually found in plastic, especially plastic water bottles, some baby bottles and nipples, and rubber and plastic toys. If what you want to buy is plastic or rubber, check the label for the words "BPA Free."
6) Buy stainless steel, aluminum, glass, or wood. Instead of plastic water bottles, choose stainless steel, aluminum, or glass bottles that come with a protective sleeve to reduce the chances of breaking. Choose glass or stainless steel food serving and storage containers, too. You can find wonderful toys made from wood and decorated with lead-free paint from many American companies.
7) Don't buy wrapping paper, even if it's recycled. Why does it matter? Because Americans throw away 25% more trash during the Thanksgiving to New Year's holiday period than at any other time of year, reports the Stanford Recycling Center. The extra waste amounts to 25 million tons of garbage, or about 1 million extra tons per week! Instead, if every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet. Plus, if every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.
8) Buy reusables. Can you wrap it in cloth? Try decorative towels, large napkins, festive scarves and bandanas, tied up with shoelaces or ribbons. Use reusable shopping bags, lunch boxes, and cookie tins, too.
9) Don't buy "natural." Everybody likes the idea of "natural" - which is why marketers slap the words on products that couldn't be farther from their natural state. Don't get sucked into buying something just because the packaging claims it's "natural."
10) Buy certified. While "natural" doesn't mean much, products whose environmental attributes have been certified to meet rigorous standards by organizations independent of the manufacturer can more readily be trusted. Look for companies whose claims that their goods are organic, Fair Trade, humane, non-toxic, or designed to help protect forests and wildlife have been independently certified. You can find a list of labels you can trust here.
Buy: Don't Buy:
Solar- or Hand Powered Battery Powered
Phthalate-Free Synthetic Fragrances & Air Fresheners
Stainless Steel, Aluminum, Glass BPA specifically, Plastic generally
Reusable towels, scarves, bags Throwaway wrapping
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