Zem Joaquin is the founder of EcoFabulous, a popular green website geared towards stylish individuals who want to affect environmental change while staying true to their most authentic (and fashionable) selves. In this interview, Zem shares some helpful tips to guide parents in making more ecologically conscientious decisions while gaining much coveted “cool mom” status.
Metro Hippie: So, I know my memories of school lunches include a plastic lunchboxes, plastic sandwich bags, and a super sugary juice box. Do you think things have changed? How can parents pack lunches for their kids that are healthy and environmentally sound?
Zem Joaquin: I absolutely think that things have changed in many districts. The school my children attend have a zero waste policy. Through a partnership with Cool the Earth kids get trading cards and rewards for being conscious of their choices, like biking to school, choosing less toxic products and packing their lunches in a smarter way. They don’t even allow for yogurt tubes.
My children bring an insulated, re-usable lunch bag packed with durable, easy to clean stainless steel containers, a washable napkin, a to-go ware cutlery kit and a stainless steel water bottle. Nothing needs to get thrown away; Eco Mom has tons of back to school options and make sure to check out the EcoFabulous back-to-school guide.
MH: Okay, now that we’ve gotten some awesome lunch tips, it’s time to get to my favorite topic: FASHION! I know that kids grow really quickly. How do you keep them clothed without being so wasteful of money, energy, and other resources?
ZJ: The easiest, least expensive way to keep kids clothed is to buy previously loved attire on eBay. No energy in manufacturing or multiple shipping destinations and you can even search for local sellers. My daughter rides horses and it is definitely the best way to buy and sell equestrian gear. If you want new pieces, look for organic or recycled, but not combined materials. Mixing technical nutrients (polyester) with biological nutrients (cotton, hemp) means that they cannot be recycled nor can they biodegrade.
MH: While we’re on the topic of waste, what recommendations do you have for toys? I’ve read about toy lending/swapping services. Do you think that’s a good idea to keep children entertained without sending so many good toys to the trash bin?
ZJ: Sure it is a fine idea, but I would want to make sure that I’m not swapping for PVC or phthalates. Those are very unhealthy and are banned in Europe and California. If you buy new toys, make sure you need them. Kids really don’t need that much! I keep birthdays and holidays to a present minimum (1 gift each). Also for birthdays, I ask that their friends bring them one book from their own collection that they loved instead of plastic toys. It encourages reading, thoughtfulness and keeps crap out of landfills.
MH: What are your recommendations for getting kids involved in living as “eco-fabulously” as the women your site targets?
ZJ: I discuss everything with my children. They know what phthalates are and how to identify them by smell (not always possible, but often detectable). I encourage them to share with their friends. They watch educational movies like Home and Food Inc. They discuss with their friends and are rewarded for making better choices. Lastly, they participate in Cool the Earth and Teens Turning Green so that they feel empowered. They end up being the best spokespeople that I have!
MH: Considering there are so many allergies that parents have to be aware of when entertaining, what kid friendly menu items would you recommend for birthday parties? Sustainable activities?
ZJ: I love cut up veggies (you can even make shapes) with organic dips. We often have make-your-own pizza activities and have a gluten-free crust available, soy cheese and toppings to customize. You can do the same thing with cupcakes, which are also fun activities. Recycled crafts and treasure hunts are favorite fun options for us. Keep in mind that I started ecofabulous after successfully freeing my children from the asthma that had been plaguing both of them, through a commitment to creating a VOC- free environment. I was so thrilled with the results; I absolutely had to share them with others. I want everyone to feel like they have rewarding options that will make their lives richer, not more challenging. Smells good to me!