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April is Earth Month!

Green Goes Simple: Conservation at Home

Go Green for Earth Month

By Elizabeth Dwoskin for Green Goes Simple

There’s nothing more precious to parents than their kids -- nothing more important than making sure they are as healthy and as safe as possible. Earth Month is the perfect time for parents to put their kids first by making small, easy changes that protect the health of both their little ones and the earth.

While parents can’t control every aspect of their kid’s lives -- though most wish they could -- there is one place where they can take full charge: the home. And these days, lots of parents are looking for green solutions to make their homes more sustainable. Don’t you wish that you had someone to just whisper in your ear, giving you quick and easy green tips every time you needed them?

Enter Janelle Sorensen, chief communications officer for Healthy Child Healthy World. For 20 years, this nonprofit group has been all about giving families the tools they need to create cleaner, greener and safer homes. Sorensen gave us some easy suggestions that you can use to start greening your home -- and saving money -- right away.

1. Add some cool, clean air to your home.
Because children have sensitive lungs, the quality of indoor air is a big factor in creating a sustainable home. Indoor air can actually be more polluted and contaminated than the air outside. That’s because asthma triggers, including chemicals, dust and particles from outdoors, can settle into furniture. And inside there’s no sunlight to break down contaminants, or wind to blow them away.

To improve your indoor air quality, there are some easy things you can do, like having a no-shoe house (this cuts down on the grime that gets tracked indoors) and opening your windows once a day. Sorensen also recommends vacuuming with a HEPA (high efficiency particle) filter. “Your carpet can really become a sink for whatever is in your air -- dust, pollen and the dirt you track inside with you.”

Another super-simple remedy for improving indoor air quality is keeping lots of plants around your house. Sorensen recommends placing one medium- to large-size plant every 100 feet. NASA -- which for years has been studying what plants will help purify the air inside a spaceship -- has discovered three common houseplants that do wonders for cleaning up the air: areca palm, mother-in-law’s tongue, and money plants. These are all like oxygen factories in that they remove volatile organic chemicals from the air.

2. Cut down on pesticides.
Pesticides may get rid of bugs, but they’ve been linked to asthma, hormone imbalances, and even learning disabilities in children. Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid exposing your kids to these toxins.

With spring and summer on the way, kids are going to start playing outside again -- and that means bites from the buzzing critters that live in our backyards. If you have red ant piles around your house, one green solution is to sprinkle chili pepper flakes around them. Ants despise chili pepper; they won’t go near it. And for fruit flies, and even mosquitoes, potted basil just might do the trick. When your kids go out to play, try rubbing basil leaves on them as a toxin-free substitute for bug spray.

“These are all tricks that our grandparents probably knew, but we’ve become so used to just reaching for the first thing on the shelf that we forgot them,” says Sorensen.

If those pesky summertime mosquitoes still won’t stop devouring your kids, make your own bug repellent by combining eucalyptus, lavender, citronella and geranium oil -- all of which naturally repel bugs.

3. Teach your kids to stay green even when they’re not at home.
While making easy green changes at home is a great start, kids are ambassadors of eco-friendliness who will take these lessons and more on the road with them. Teach your kids that little changes can make a big difference.

An easy ways to do this? Encourage them to bring a reusable lunch box and water bottle to school, instead of paper bags and plastic bottles. Let kids pick their own out so they’ll be more likely to never leave home without them.

One of the biggest away-from-home trash producers is parties, both in the classroom and at friends’ homes. Encourage your child’s teachers and the parents of his friends to switch from plastic party favors to DIY crafts or food items like cookies. Kids will like them just as much as the non-green alternatives and they’ll go a lot easier on the earth.

The most important thing is to just start somewhere. It feels good to begin making small changes toward a healthier lifestyle. And after a while, they really start to add up.


Elizabeth Dwoskin is a staff writer at The Village Voice as well as a frequent writer for The New York Times. She's also written for The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast. This is her first article on Green Goes Simple.