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There are two very different environmental categories of concern when it comes to children. One is their safety from the many toxic chemicals lacing their environment and food—for instance, phthalates in toys, BPA in sippy cups and mercury in tuna fish. While these chemicals might pose problems for grown-up people too, children are more vulnerable because of their smaller size and developing organs. See Raising Healthy Children for a column that covers this angle.

The other category is waste. Having a child in the family means more purchasing and discarding than would otherwise take place. The fact that a child is always growing—and therefore outgrowing clothes and books and playthings—compounds the problem. And let's not forget that as the child grows older, he or she becomes a consumer in his or her own right—potentially with different values than yours. My own experience with that situation led me to write What's a Parent to Do.

So the questions I try to address here are how to protect children, on the one hand, and minimize their footprint, on the other. The Smart Lunchbox is a twofer, dealing with both.

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