Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Eco-friendly furniture that's safe for the environment AND your family!

Searching for furniture I'm comfortable with is always a struggle. Even though buying used and 're-using" is green, you don't always know what types of paints or finishes were used on the piece. Lead paint actually disintegrates over time and turns to dust, so mouthing the paint is no longer the only concern. If you're on a budget, there's MDF furniture, but that has a host of problems related to the chemicals used in it's making (click here to read about the dangers of MDF). Real wood furniture can be expensive and there's still no assurance that low VOC products have been used in it's making. So up to this point I've been biting the bullet and buying furniture from IKEA which makes the safest version of MDF that I've found and letting it off-gas in the garage for a bit. Not ideal, but not many better options. So you can imagine my delight when I opened an email one day and there was an advertisement for Way Basics -furniture made out of their exclusive eco-friendly ZBoards.

zBoards are made almost entirely (99%) from post-consumer recycled paper, and do not consume additional natural resources like trees and the enormous amounts of water needed to make virgin paper. While very strong, paper zBoards are made from the lightest form of wood byproduct.  Their patented, environmentally sound manufacturing process turns this post-consumer recycled paper into superbly strong boards that weigh 62% less than particle board with unmatched quality and durability. There also is no formaldehyde in their products.  They also use a water-based glue that is completely environmentally friendly, and recyclable too! No VOCs and eco-friendly material and manufacturing process - bonus! And Way Basics furniture is held together by cardboard dowels and 3M brand adhesive so it's super easy to put together.

Was this too good to be true?

I decided to find out!

Way Basics provided a sample Cube for me to review. I was surprised at how much the zBoards look like standard MDF furniture pieces but it is much lighter and without the nasty odor. Another plus was that the corners weren't super sharp like standard DIY furniture - that's important for me since I've got 2 preschoolers who could find ways of getting injured even if they lived in a bubble. It took me less than five minutes to put my cube together following the directions provided. Using the dowels and adhesive strips was so much easier than breaking out the screwdriver or allen wrench.

The finished product is very attractive and would fool most people into thinking it was either wood or mdf. It's a sleek, modern design that's also safe for the environment and your family.

The zBoards seem like they could take a beating and since a 200lb man stood on one on the video on their website, I decided to try to replicate the "strength test" myself. After letting the adhesive "bond" for a few days and making sure I had it on placed on the correct side (all in the directions), I stood one one to see what would happen. Nothing - it's really strong! Just make sure that you have your pieces sitting in the right direction, per the instructions, so the vertical strength is not compromised.

Way Basics makes Storage Cubes, Cube Storage, a large selection of Bookcases, Storage Benches, and the coolest Children's Tables and Chairs! Some pieces can even be put together and customized to meet your individual needs. The products are available in classic veneer finishes -white, black, natural and espresso wood - along with some fun, ultra modern colors!

The verdict? Way Basics provides a GREAT product. The cost is slightly more than standard MDF DIY furniture but that extra premium is worth it for no toxins like formaldehyde or VOCs, plus Way Basics products are eco-friendly from manufacture through disposal (zBoards be completely recyclable).

The best part - they are running a special today on Check out all the great styles and snatch a bargain!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Muir Glen Moves to BPA-free cans

I called Muir Glen today and got more information on their cans. As of October 2011 they have switched to BPA-free cans for all their tomato products. The bad news is, because canned foods have a long shelf-life, you could still get a can that contains BPA. I called and spoke with a CSR and they do not have a list of manufacture dates for when the change went into effect. You can tell once a can is open by the lining you'll see... if it's white, it is the older-style can that contains BPA. If it is copper in color, it is BPA-free. For your best chance of getting a BPA-free can, choose a can with a far-off best-by date. I bought a can with a 2/14 date... I'm planning to use them for some organic chili this weekend (BPA-free Eden Foods beans and some Simply Organic chili mix). I'll report what I find when I open it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Top Toy Picks for 2011

It's time for the annual Top Toy Picks! I've done tons of research and below are my favorites!

Qualifications for making it into my list are
1) No BPA, PVC, or Phthalates
2) No history of lead recalls
3) All wood (no MDF) for wooden toys
4) Educational value
5) Longevity (won't be a toy they play with for only a month or two).

These are my humble opinions based on my research (for safety) and using my children as product testers! I have not been compensated by any company for this review. Some toys are suggested for different ages than the category I've placed them in. Please use common sense and remove any small objects that could be choking hazards before giving any toy that's labeled "3+" to a younger child.

Birth-12 Months+

Green Sprouts Teether Keys
My son was an avid chewer when he was teething and these keys were his favorite! Green Sprouts uses BPA, PVC, Nitrosamine, and Phthalate-free Polypropylene and Polyethylene plastics for a safe teething experience.

Green Toys My First Stacker
My First Green Toys are manufactured and assembled in California from 100% post-consumer milk jugs, and contains no BPA, phthalates or PVC. This stacker is safe for babies as young as 6 months, but is also fun for older children (especially in the bath or water table). There's no center post so no worries about getting an eye poked out!

MiYim Simply Organic Monkey Lovie Blankie
Made from all natural materials including organic cotton and plant and mineral dyes, this is a gift you can feel good about giving your little loved one. This little lovie blanket is great for cuddling and chewing (the knots on the ends are great for when little ones are teething). It's machine washable, too! And it even comes in a recycled paper gift box! Also available are MiYim Simply Organic Frog Lovie and Miyim Simply Organic Bunny Lovie .

Green Toys My First Blocks
Like the Haba Sticky Bricks, these blocks have "male' and "female" ends to assist with early stacking skills. This set comes with 18 oversized but lightweight blocks, making it super easy for tiny hands to stack and unstack while creating towers, castles and other architectural wonders! Most importantly, Green Toys Blocks are safe - they contain no BPA, PVC, phthalates or external coatings! These blocks are made in the USA from 100% recycled plastic milk containers that save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They are even packaged using only recycled and recyclable materials and printed with soy inks.

Crocodile Creek 7 inch Playball - Wild Animals
What child doesn't need a ball? Colorful and fun, this uniquely textured ball is great for indoor and outdoor play. Available in both 5"(great size for a first ball) and 7" sizes and PVC and Phthalate-Free!!!

Boon Odd Ducks
You can't have a fun bath without some fun toys! For a while it was hard to find a "rubber ducky" that was safe. Most contain PVC and Phthalates but Boon has come out with four different adorable "odd ducks" that are BPA, PVC, and Phthalate-free. They have no holes in them, so don't have to worry about mildew either! Check out all the adorable ducky designs!

12 Months+

MiYim Baby Andi Organic Plush Hippo
When my daughter was two years old, we asked her what she wanted for Christmas and she said "a hippo". So she got this cute little organic hippo for Christmas that year and still adores it. Made from organic cotton and plant-based dyes, this hippo is not only safe but totally lovable! Also check out MiYim Victoria Organic Plush Bunny, MiYim Baby Fred Organic Plush Monkey, and MiYim Organic Plush Ballerina.

Haba Sticky Bricks
Made of solid beech wood and non-toxic solvent-free dye, these blocks have a "male" and "female" end so that stacking is easy. A great first stacking toys since it will help build confidence along with fine motor skills.

LEGO Duplo Building Set-71 pieces (5506)
Legos were a favorite of mine and I cringed at the thought of researching what they are made of. To my delight, Lego phased out PVC in their products and packaging in 1986. The only place trace amounts of PVC can be found is in the wires for electrical components but since Duplos have no electrical parts, we're PVC-free! Duplo Legos come in all kinds of fun themes and help develop fine motor skills and imagination! Just be sure to check your sets for small parts that could be choking hazards for little ones. Some of our favorite sets: Winnie the Pooh's House, My First Zoo Set, Baby Zoo Set, and the CARS Flo's Café Set.

Educo My First Kitchen
We purchased this kitchen for my daughter when she was a year old (we removed the small pieces of food that were choking hazards as this is rated "3+"). She is now four years old and my son just turned two and this is still played with on a daily basis. The pieces all fit together like a jig-saw puzzle - no hardware at all - and assembles in 2 minutes. It's made of solid wood that's sanded as smooth as a baby's bottom and all corners are rounded. The paints are food-safe so completely non-toxic if the child should somehow chip some paint off (has not happened in 3 years of play but good to know!). The model pictured is the one we have but it seems like it's getting harder to find. The Educo My Creative Cookery Club seems to be the more current model with the same features and quality as the original.

Green Toys Tea Set
Every child loves to host a tea party and with Green Toys, you can rest assured that the tea party is eco-friendly! Green Toys are made of recycled milk jugs, helping to reduce fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions. This product meets FDA specs for food contact and is dishwasher safe, so should the tea party become a real party, you don't have to worry about lead and other toxins leaching into the food and drink! They are also made in the USA! These pair wonderfully with the Green Toys Dish Set, Cookware and Dining Set, and Chef Set. And for some fun play food that's also made to Green Toy's safe standards, check out their Pizza Parlor Set and the Sandwich Shop Set.

Green Toys Dump Truck
What child doesn't love a dump truck? Made from 100% recycled plastic milk containers this really is the most energy efficient vehicle on this or any planet. The super cool eco-design has a workable dumper and no metal axles so it's perfect for indoor and outdoor play. Choose the version pictured above or a super cool Pink & Purple Dump Truck. Our other favorites are the Green Toys Fire Truck and the Green Toys Recycling Truck

Discovery Toys Giant Pegboard
My sister got this for my daughter's first birthday. It's a great educational toy that can be used in so many ways! My son started shaking some of the "shaker pegs" when he was first able to grasp objects. At about 8 months he started honing his fine motor skills and placing the pieces in the board and stacking them. Autumn has done shape sorting, color sorting, sequencing, lacing and some day we'll work on symmetry, angles, and parallelograms. I love toys that last for YEARS. Lifetime guarantee and you can buy replacement parts should your child loose them or dog eat them! I loved this toy so much that I started exploring Discovery Toys as a way to make some extra money (and get my children all their toys which are safe and layered with educational value!).

Discovery Toys Story Stacker - Dr. Toy 10 BEST TOYS WINNER
This 9-piece wooden stacking set offers so many Layers of Learning! As your child develops hand-eye coordination, she also learns about colors, numbers, geometric shapes and size relativity. Toddlers enjoy many "ta-da" moments with 3 animal heads, and the ability to stack and restack the pieces in a variety of combinations

3 years and Up

Clementine Art Natural Paint
Expressing creativity through art is an essential part of childhood but did you ever wonder what's in those art supplies? Yes, they may be non-toxic but I'm not sure I want my little man eating them when he decides that the red paint looks like ketchup! Clementine Arts paints and art supplies are all natural and free from chemical dyes and petrochemicals so at least I feel better about his red tongue! Check out their Natural Modeling Dough, Natural Crayon Rocks, Natural Crayons, Natural Markers, and Natural Glue.

Legos were a favorite of mine and I cringed at the thought of researching what they are made of. To my delight, Lego phased out PVC in their products and packaging in 1986. The only place trace amounts of PVC can be found is in the wires for electrical components. Legos come in all kinds of fun themes and help develop fine motor skills and imagination! Just be sure to check your sets for small parts that could be choking hazards for little ones.

Plan Toys Kitchen Center
I have not found any other ALL-WOOD play kitchen sets (Keep in mind that MDF can be marketed as wood!). Plan Toys is committed to toy safety. All PlanToys are made using chemical free, kiln-dried recycled rubberwood and designed with water based non-toxic paints and zero-formaldehyde glues. They also sell fun and modern play stoves, refrigerators, sinks, and microwaves (even washing machines)... and don't forget about the toy food to go with it!

Plan Toy Chalet Doll House with Furniture
In my search for a safe doll house for my daughter, I found very few ALL WOOD options and this is the only one that was made with formaldehyde-free glue. So the safety aspect is there, but so is the fun! The house is made up of 2 units and can be rearranged in various ways according to your children’s imagination. It's the perfect size for her and a play mate to have hours of fun! And if you have any behavior issues you are trying to work though with your child, using dolls to model the appropriate behavior is a wonderful idea!

PlanToys Plan City Road System, Standard
My two year old son cannot get enough of this road system! While it is labeled for ages 3+, we took away any small parts and supervise his play just to make sure he doesn't bit off any connectors (though I'm not sure that's even possible). While these roads and rail systems fit with other brands, we have not found another brand that measures up to the quality of Plan Toy. I also like knowing that all Plan Toys are made using chemical free, kiln-dried recycled rubberwood, E-zero glue, and designed with water based non-toxic colors. Their commitment to minimal waste and eco-friendly business is commendable. This set is fun to expand and build on with the Deluxe Road & Rail System, the Deluxe Road System, an Eco Charging Station, (to charge those Eco-Friendly Cars, or even some cool Construction Vehicles.

Hickory Dickory Dock Wooden Clock by Holgate
Made in the USA of solid hardwoods and non-toxic finishes, this clock has earned numerous awards. If you live in the Lehigh Valley, Wegmans carries a few Holgate Toys in their organic section. My little guy enjoys their wooden "Wegmans" truck and at $6.99 for a solid wood truck that's made locally...

Speed Wiz
This is one of my favorite games and a best seller! It's a fast-paced game that helps build vocabulary, organizational, sorting and categorizing skills. The ards are printed with categories that encourage players to quickly make mental associations. Keep the categories going or you’re knocked out. There are multiple game variations and levels of difficulty so you can modify the game play for different ages. A great family and travel game! And it's only $12.50.