Preparing the nursery for your new baby is a rite of passage, but before you get too bogged down with colour schemes, take some time to consider what you’re putting into the room from a health and environmental point of view. Some of the greener options may work out slightly more expensive, but they’re better for your baby – and the planet.
If you’re buying new, solid wood from a sustainable source is the best choice, as furniture made with laminated wood, MDF and chipboard tends to use glues that contain formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen. This isn’t necessarily a problem for your baby, more for the manufacturers, but it’s good to spare them a thought too. If you’re at all worried about the effects of formaldehyde, put a spider plant in the nursery – they (along with peace lilies, bamboo and dwarf banana) can purify and revitalise the air. Second-hand is a good option, but do make sure it’s in good working order and if it needs repainting, use non-toxic paints and make sure the work’s finished well before your baby arrives.
When it comes to the mattress, natural ones tend to be more expensive, but are generally very good quality and can be handed down to any subsequent babies. They tend to be made using coir (coconut fibre), latex (particularly good at resisting dust mites) and wool, a natural flame retardant and excellent for regulating body temperature. They are available from Green Baby and Natural Mat. Traditional mattresses are made using polyurethane, which can break down and release potentially harmful chemicals, then sprayed with chemical flame retardants – sounds yucky when put like that.
Conventional cotton is notorious for its use of pesticides: it consumes 12% of the world’s pesticides and 26% of insecticides, and 40% of the cotton grown in the USA is genetically modified. After harvesting, it is treated with chemical dyes and bleaches and finished with formaldehyde. If that thought scares you, look out for the many alternatives that are coming onto the market. Unbleached organic cotton is fabulously soft and seems to get softer with use. Designs are improving all the time, and with ranges available at Babies ‘R’ Us and John Lewis, it’s easy to find.
Bear in mind that as your baby becomes more mobile, he’ll be spending a lot of time in contact with the floor, so what you put on it is vitally important. Carpets harbour dust (and therefore mites) and absorb toxins from the environment, and if it’s pretty new and not completely natural, then it could give off unpleasant chemicals, such as phthalates and VOCs (see below). Solid wooden flooring, cork and untreated linoleum are good alternatives. You can always cover these with a washable rug for a softer floor.
Pink? Blue? The choice is yours, but do give it a hint of green. Modern paint may not contain lead any more, but it gives off chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which produce ground-level ozone and will never fully degrade. Fortunately some manufacturers are going back to the past and recreating old-fashioned paints based on casein and chalk, which give a lower VOC rating. Better still, go organic and VOC-free. These paints are made using natural ingredients such as citrus fruit, plants, chalk and linseed oil. Best of all, they are safe for allergy and asthma sufferers. Whatever paint you choose, decorate with the window open and make sure the work’s finished well before baby moves in – and get someone else to do it if you’re pregnant.
And if you think wallpaper’s a good alternative, consider that it’s actually vinyl and may contain phthalates – and the glues tend to be chemical-based. Low VOC glues and papers made of cotton and wood are available, but these tend to be expensive. If you don’t want plain walls, suggests Jill Barker in Baby Green, “The most economic and environmental alternative to decorating the walls may be to use stencils and natural paints.”
No, not your children, but those tiny creatures that lurk within your home. To avoid them building up in your nursery, keep the room well ventilated, dust-free and not too warm. Washing bedding at 60°C may not be the greenest thing to do, but it will kill them off.
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Furniture and bedding