The holiday season is officially upon us, with shoppers heading out en masse to buy presents over the next few weeks. Eco-conscious consumers are no doubt factoring their concerns about health and sustainability into their purchases, as avoiding toxic chemicals can at times be an all-encompassing goal. By following these five tips, you can mitigate your exposure this holiday season, making sure that the gifts you give don't come with an unintended set of consequences.

1. When Buying Toys, Try To Avoid Plastic

When it comes to contamination from chemicals like phthalates and other estrogenic compounds, certain types of plastics are the main culprit. This is incredibly distressing, as plastics are literally everywhere, and there is often little that you can do to completely avoid them, as we've covered before on the Green Conscience blog. In fact, many (if not most) individuals have been exposed to some form of phthalates or similar compounds in utero. These chemicals have been linked to a host of harmful diseases, as Small Footprint Family notes, an assertion made all the more chilling by the ubiquitous nature of plastics.

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to avoid toxins present in plastics.  Public awareness of this issue is growing, and as such you can find toys for children and infants that are specifically labeled as free of lead, phthalates, and PVCs. Resources that were unavailable just a few years ago now exist for concerned parents, including healthystuff.org, which maintains databases of widely available chemical-free items. The Center for Health, Environment and Justice also publishes a list of products that are free from PVCs.

2. Ditch The Fake Trees

Fake trees may be more convenient in many ways, but they are undoubtedly a potential source of chemical exposure.  Most artificial trees are made from PVCs, and a surprising number contain some form of lead contamination as well. While these trees may be easier to set up and cost effective (since they can be reused year-after-year), an eco-conscious consumer should consider buying a natural tree from a local farm, which can be sustainably grown and harvested. Lest anyone point out any ideological iniquity between a sustainable mindset and tree harvesting, consumers can also opt to purchase a potted tree, which can then be planted in the spring.
3. Reconsider Your Electronics

We all have a new tech toy on our list for Santa, but you may want to reconsider (or at least research) your purchase of an electronic device this year. This is because consumer electronics can serve as one of the primary sources of household chemical contamination, as Greenpeace notes. The throwaway nature of many electronics also contributes to the problem of e-waste, which is largely avoidable through the manufacture of upgradeable, recyclable, or greener electronics.  Certain electronic devices (particularly those which use illuminated screens) are responsible for generating positive ions, which (counter-intuitively) can have a dramatically negative impact on interior air quality as well as human biology and moods.



4. Consider The Packaging

While you may undertake your own due diligence in examining the toy you're intending to buy for a family member, don't neglect to examine the way in which it is packaged.  Cardboard and paper are infinitely safer than plastic bubble packs, which have the capacity to leech phthalates and other estrogenic compounds when exposed to certain environmental conditions. Many manufacturers who are conscious of chemical issues take great pains with their packaging, so odds are if you find a safe product, it will also be safely packaged.  All the same, it's always a good idea to avoid anything packaged in PVC or with the three-arrow recycling symbol encircling the number 3 (which also indicated the presence of PVCs).





5. Seek Out Sustainable Brands

In recent years we've seen no end to issues in the cosmetics industry, including the astonishing influx of plastic microbeads into our waterways. In response to this, more than a few eco-sustainable brands have arisen, with the direct intention of producing products which eschew known or potentially harmful compounds. While completely avoiding phthalates and other contaminants is almost impossible, reducing your exposure is relatively easy, and can be done by investing in health and beauty products directly intended to do so. The Environmental Working Group has a guide that can serve as an excellent starting point, but buyer beware: the deeper you dig into this issue, the more you will be confronted by the realization that labeling standards are lax at best, and often circumvented in the most onerous of ways.  Just because a manufacturer claims its products are organic (or labels them as such), don't immediately assume that they're safe.  There is little substitute for doing your own research and making certain that what you're buying is what it claims to be.



The holiday season is a time of joy and giving for families worldwide.  With these five tips, we can also make a sustainable mindset an intrinsic part of the gifts we choose to pass on.

[ Images: Digidreamgraphics - Own Work via Wikimedia Commons | Resized | CC BY-SA 3.0

               Michellerations - Own Work via Flickr | Resized | CC BY 2.0 ]
 


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