June 28, 2007

another sunscreen update

As many of you may have seen, Environmental Working Group updated their site with a comprehensive sunscreen evaluation. The data is interesting because it not only looks at the danger of the ingredients, but balances the effectiveness of them in keeping you safe from the sun. The group did an 18-month investigation of more than 700 sunscreens, revealing which are best at preventing sunburn, skin aging, wrinkling, and potentially cancer. This should be a great resource to help find good products - because we all have seen how crazy one tired mom can get trying to figure it all out on her own (see my previous postings the scoop on sunscreen and more sunscreen).

I'll spare you my ranting about sunscreen yet again. Instead, I encourage you to read my friend Carla's blog entry regarding the new EWG database. She summarizes the data far more eloquently than I could.

Ultimately it seems there are tradeoffs and balances with the choices (chemical or mineral? nano ingredient danger? toxic dangers?) Be informed and choose what is right for you.

June 27, 2007

not organic organics!

Here we all are, trying to do the right thing and support organic foods and then, BAM! things get messy. Soon it won't be enough to look for the USDA Organic seal on products. As I read on treehugger today, "The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) greenlighted a proposal late last Friday allowing 38 new non-organic ingredients in products bearing the "USDA Organic" seal, despite more than 10,000 e-mails and letters from concerned consumers and farmers, according to the Organic Consumer's Association."

So, this means that Anheuser Busch will be allowed to sell its "Organic Wild Hops Beer" without using any organic hops at all. And, sausages, brats, and breakfast links labeled as "USDA Organic" are now allowed to contain intestines from factory farmed animals raised on chemically grown feed, synthetic hormones, and antibiotics.

It really infuriates me that this has to be so complicated. From my humble perspective it looks like big businesses are the only ones to gain from this. As a consumer, I want to be able to buy pure organic products knowing they are held to high ingredient standards. What is the point of having separate organics and an indentifying label if they are not what they claim to be?

If you are as outraged as I am, please sign a petition on the Organic Consumers Association website. I really do try to keep the petition requests to a minimum, but this one seems important and urgent. In an unusual twist on standard policy, they have given the public only 7 days to comment on this proposal. They make it very easy for busy people to sign it quickly.

June 26, 2007

plum overload

Talk about local and organic: our tree in the backyard has just produced the most amazing crop of plums. I am blown away because it has never grown this many before, and we don't do a thing to help the tree. We are not what you would call gardeners. We have brown thumbs. It's true. But like my husband said, they must be organic because we sure didn't put anything on them! And they are absolutely delicious - so sweet.

The first day we picked 3 bowls. We have picked at least 4 more bowls since then (and the tree still has tons!)

I made a yummy plum cake, but am thinking I need to try my hand at plum jam. I've never tried canning anything before. If you have any advice or links about making jam, please share them. Of course other plum ideas are welcome, too!

June 25, 2007

trains with lead

You may have already heard about the Thomas train recall, but I thought it worth mentioning here since I often post about toxic kids products.

Seems some of the pieces from the Thomas & Friends™ Wooden Railway Toys have lead paint on them, which is very dangerous to children.

You can read about the specific parts affected and how to identify them on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's website.

If you have any of these pieces they ask you to take the recalled toys away from young children immediately and contact RC2 Corp for a replacement toy. For additional information, contact RC2 Corp toll-free at (866) 725-4407 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT Monday through Thursday and between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. CT Friday, or visit the firm’s website at recalls.rc2.com

Since originally posting this entry, I have found a wonderful, relevant article about the recall by Michael Watkins of Harvard Business Online. He is a parent who owns some of the recalled products and writes about the consumer outrage regarding the recall as well as how the companies failed to keep the product safe.

June 24, 2007

back from vacation

I'm back from a wonderful trip to visit family. As always, traveling brings new perspective to my efforts to go green. I definitely appreciate how living in such an environmentally progressive area really helps. For instance, I am always blown away to see how limited recycling programs are in some areas. It is so easy for me tout the importance of recycling and composting when our city picks up both curbside.

Not to mention produce selection. The groceries near our vacation home didn't have a huge selection of organics. It took us a few days to find some good markets. I did find it pretty surprising when we stopped by a local farm stand and found most of their products were shipped in from California (we were on the east coast). I guess it isn't easy to buy local if the local growing season hasn't had a bumper crop yet!

We rented a interesting car, though. It wasn't a hybrid, but it did seat 7 and got much better mileage than my crossover-SUV. The Ford Freestyle is like a station wagon but with a 3rd row of seats which can fold flat into the floor, making loads of storage space. I know there are many models of crossover SUVs which seat 7 people, and I love that feature, but have an issue with the poor milage most of them get.

The bug spray without deet, which I had found before we left, worked well (Cutter Advanced with Picardin) and the new sunscreens I brought were great also. I was excited that when I stopped at a Whole Foods en route to the vacation house I found an Aubrey sunscreen I had wanted to try. I was so glad I wouldn't need to order it online! By the way, I will have a sunscreen update shortly with some great new info.

One of the nicest parts of the trip though was having a chance to visit with friends and family and talk about our efforts, frustration and confusion about going green. None of us expects to be perfect, but it sure would help if information about choices was more straightforward. It seems that one minute you believe claim A only to learn the next day that claim B is true. Packaging and companies seem so duplicitous.

And doesn't it all seem like such a bourgeois problem? I mean, people around the world are struggling to feed and provide shelter for their families every day and I'm wondering if buying an organic apple from Chile is a bad thing.

But then again, maybe it is up to the people who can buy organic and do environmentally healthy things to do it, and tell people about it. Maybe the demand for "green" products will send a message to businesses. Sure, businesses can see that the "green" market is a great financial opportunity. I for one see more possibility in making change by sending a message though my purchasing trends than by waiting for government to intervene with higher standards and protocols for a healthy planet.

June 13, 2007

put to good use

After all my research on sunscreen and bug spray, I'm ready to pack up the family and go on vacation! We'll be visiting relatives for a week. I'll have a new post for you on June 25th.

A few topics I hope to cover when I return: green diaper choices (my kids are out of diapers now, but we used the very-not-green kind). If anyone has tried some of the new alternatives send me an email and let me know about your experiences.

Will also to look into eco clothing (for some reason I don't think my Old Navy clothes count) and green cleaning products. Goodness knows I have enough messy surfaces to test them on!

See you on the 25th!

June 12, 2007

more sunscreen

I have been caught up in research on these sunscreens! I'm making myself completely crazy in the process. In between all my daily tasks as a work-at-home-mom, I've been struggling with the differences between cetyl alcohol and benzyl alcohol. Not to mention the intricacies of old formulations vs. new formulations. Hopefully all this information will prove useful to someone.

After my original post on sunscreens, I was excited to receive several product suggestions. There may be other good options out there, but I focused on these since they seemed like good options. I want to find something I can use on the whole family, that is very safe but also not going to force us to apply for a second mortgage.

I feel like I'm reduced to choosing the lesser of the evils.

California Baby sunscreen
looks wonderful, but is a little pricey (almost $18.00 for 2.9 ounces). I don't mind buying it for use on faces throughout the year, but for the whole family to use on full bodies at the beach it might be a bit much.

I thought the Alba Botanica and the Aubrey's were the next best options. Both retail at about $8.50 for 4 ounces, but you can often find it cheaper. Aubrey's contains Padimate O and Alba contains benezyl alcohol. To figure out which is worse I typed the ingredients into the Skin Deep website. Padimate O rates a 6 and benzyl alcohol rates a 9! Overall, the Aubrey product was rated a 2 (very good). I couldn't find the specific Alba mineral based-product in the database, though they have many of the other ones from that company.

I also checked out Blue Lizard, Super Goop and Melaleuca. They all claim to be safe and good for kids. Some say they are made by dermatologists and recommended by pediatricians. Some say they are all natural. Regardless, they all had ingredients I wasn't comfortable with. Maybe after all this research I'm getting a little too neurotic. Seriously though, I think research is well worth it. If anything I've learned how deceptive packaging and marketing can be, even at a natural products store.

See my findings below. Of course I'd like to know if you find another great product. For now I think I'll order some of the Aubrey's online.

California Baby sunscreen
active ingredient: titanium dioxide
considerations: NO parabens, sodium benzonate, benzoic acid, benzyl alcohol, or phenoxyethanol
Aubrey's Natural Sun SPF 25 Green Tea Protective Sunscreen
Skin Deep website rates a 2
active ingredient: titanium dioxide
concerns: Padimate O
Alba Botanica Kids Mineral Sunscreen spf 18
active ingredient: titanium dioxide
concerns: benezyl alcohol
Melaleuca mineral based sunscreen.
active ingredients: zinc
concerns: PEG-100 stearate, phenoxyethanol, disodium EDTA
Super Goop
active ingredients: octinoxate, padimate O, octisilate, avobenzone, octocrylene
concerns: also contains plenty of undesirable inactive ingredients!
Blue Lizard
active ingredients: octinoxate, oxybenzone, octocrylene
concerns: propylene glycol, methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben

June 10, 2007

the scoop on sunscreen

I did a bit of research on sunscreens this weekend so that I will be prepared for our next summer outing. Thanks to Suzanne who sent me a great resource to kick start my search: BeautyTruth.net This site is a fantastic overview of beauty/body products, including what to be concerned about and aware of. The author, Rose-Marie Swift, summarizes the dangers of various products and the importance of reading the ingredient lists. It is very compelling information and worth a read.

For sunscreen she advises to avoid the following:
diethylphthaltate (which may cause liver and kidney damage and reduce fertility)
Cotyl-Methoxy-Cinnamates (OMC)
Octyl-Dimethyl-Para-Amino-Benzoic Acid (OD-PABA)
Homosalate (HMS)
Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)

The first thing I checked was the labels on all the tubes of sunscreen we have in the house. I suspected the standard drugstore variety would be prone to cheaper chemicals, but I was surprised to see some of the products which I had bought at a natural foods store contained these "no-no" ingredients as well.

One of my former favorites (as of yesterday) had been Alba Sun Kids sunscreen. I see now that it contains Oxybenzone, Homosalate, and parabens. Oops!

I was getting a little overwhelmed and wondered if perhaps the list of "bad" ingredients was too vigilant. I wondered it I was just making myself crazy for nothing.

I looked up a popular baby sunscreen on the Skin Deep website just for the sake of comparison. Coppertone Water Babies got a pretty bad rating (8 out of 10, with 0 being the safest). The rating was due to ingredients linked to cancer, developmental/reproductive toxicity, allergens, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), enhanced skin absorption, contamination concerns, occupational hazards, and biochemical or cellular level changes. Yikes! Maybe there is something to what the Beauty Truth message.

I decided to look online for some products that might be safer. I figured I could research online and go to my local Whole Foods to see them in person.

There were two products I was interested in, but the store did not carry them. I would still like to learn more about Aubrey's Natural Sun SPF 25 Green Tea Protective Sunscreen. It has a good rating on the Skin Deep website (a 2), despite containing Padimate O.

I also would like to see an ingredient list for Super Goop, which sounds interesting. It is not in the Skin Deep database, so I have no idea what is in the product exactly.When I learn more about these products I will be sure to post the info.

While at the store I ended up buying two others to try. One is the California Baby SPF 30 (non-chemical sunscreen) Even the label says: contains no parabens, sodium benzonate, benzoic acid, benzyl alcohol, or phenoxyethanol. This product gets an excellent rating at the Skin Deep website, a 1 out of 10 (zero being best).

I also bought Alba Botanica Kids Mineral Sunscreen SPF 18. (This is a mineral based formulation from the brand I liked previously). The main ingredient is titanium dioxide, like the California Baby product. However, I see it contains benezyl alcohol, so I wonder about that. But, it is almost $10 cheaper!

I used to use the California Baby on my first child when he was an infant. I think I stopped because it goes on kind of white and thick. After trying the Alba mineral sunscreen it seems to me that perhaps all the titanium products do have kind of a white, ghostly cast to them. Not the end of the world, but kind of unfortunate.

Now that I am convinced it is important to find a safe sunscreen product I am still unsure which one to use. I am not a chemist so it is hard for me to know if I had to pick between 2 ingredients that were questionable (such as padimate O and benzyl alcohol), which would be worse.

These little tubes are expensive, too! I don't think I can keep everyone inside all summer so I guess I'll have to use something. Do you have a favorite? Let me know!

June 8, 2007

summer has begun

I'm celebrating the start of summer with a brand new header! Many thanks to the fabulously talented Jill Bliss for the gorgeous illustrations.

Today was our last day of school for the year. It's been so busy! But my mind has been full of all kinds of summer-theme questions. I just need some time to answer them.

For starters, we went to the beach for "kindergarten beach day" this week. I have been using Neat Sheet ground covers for the beach and picnics for years. Only recently did I start to question what it was really made out of. I mean, I knew it was synthetic, but I never thought it through to realize it was likely plastic materials that possibly are difficult to dispose of. Ironic for a product being marketed as disposable! So while I continue to get more answers on that, I will also look for some great all natural beach blankets to use. Ideally it will be something I already own.

I need to find a good sunscreen for me and the kids. I've been using several brands from the natural food stores and I still get a bit red.

Also have birthdays on my mind. Thinking about kid's parties and ways to be environmentally responsible with them (for tableware, favors, activities, etc.)

I sure don't expect to be perfect 100% of the time with all these lifestyle adjustments. I'm just looking for information so that when I do slack it will be a conscious decision. I won't be doing something dangerous or irresponsible out of ignorance or naiveté. It's kind of like being on a diet: you know when you're cheating and get back on track asap. It is summer, after all!

June 6, 2007

fuel efficient petition

The Sierra Club has many great initiatives to take action for improving the environment. Apparently congress will be voting soon on some legislation regarding fuel economy standards (called the Markey and Platts fuel-economy bill).

As the Sierra Club says, "The technology exists today to make any vehicle -- from cars to SUVs to pickups -- get better fuel economy. But instead of putting this technology to work, fuel-economy standards have stagnated since they were first adopted in 1975. It is time for Congress to once again set higher fuel-economy standards to jumpstart the auto industry to build safer and more fuel-efficient vehicles."

"The Markey (D-MA) and Platts (R-PA) fuel-economy legislation would increase fuel-economy standards four percent each year for the next ten years. If passed, this legislation would save more oil than we currently import from the entire Persian Gulf."

If you'd like to see congress help lead us in the direction towards better fuel efficient options, please sign the petition. The Sierra Club website also has some great Q&A on fuel efficiency and cars. I was excited to finally see an answer to the question: Why does my car get lower fuel economy than the EPA says it is supposed to get?" Aw, you have to click to find out!

June 5, 2007

line dry

Drying my clothes outside on a line has been on my to-do list for some time. I've never done it before. I never had a place to do it, nor the incentive. Now that I understand what a good thing it might be, I'm willing to give it a try. I hope it will save energy, reduce my carbon footprint and save money. I do already have an energy efficient dryer, but have heard that the clothes dryer is the 2nd highest energy user in a typical home (refrigerator is 1st). And aside from all the wonderful things drying outside might do for the earth, I've heard it does nice things for your clothes, too.

I must confess that one reason I haven't just hung up a line yet is that we get some pretty big, scary spiders in our backyard. I really don't want them on my clothes! So I will be sure to hang the line somewhere they cannot get to easily. I also have thought of an indoor drying rack, but space is pretty limited for laundry and I'm not sure where I could place a contraption that might hold a load or two.

I know people around the world hand their clothes to dry all the time. Many would consider it crazy to use a machine to do something which will inevitably happen naturally.

My blogging buddy at Gift of Green has inspired me to give line drying a go. Her recent post listed it as "something I could do this week" for the environment (see #5 on her list). I also like my friend Laura's idea of setting the delay timer on the washing machine so a load is washed while you sleep. When you wake up in the morning you can hang it to dry.

I did some searching online to find clothesline gear. There are all kinds of options depending on your situation (indoors, outdoors, freestanding, attached cable, etc.) Some good choices can be found at the Clothesline Shop or at Stacks and Stacks.

While searching I came across an article in the New York Times by Kathleen Hughes, in which she chronicles her efforts to hang her family's laundry. I hope to learn from her experiences and avoid some of her early pitfalls. It hadn't occurred to me how many people live in communities where clothes lines are not permitted! In fact, there is a non-profit called the laundry list dedicated to fighting for the right to dry clothes outside. The site also has lots of information on the why's and how's of drying clothes on the line.

My first step will be to get a line set up. Then I will be able to figure out how much and how often and just plain HOW to make it work. Stay tuned!

June 4, 2007

patagonia fleece

I wear a lot of fleece. I am not a fashionista these days, and fleece is comfortable and functional in my life as a mom. Recently it occurred to me that fleece is not a natural material. Of course I started wondering, is this a good thing? Add it to the list for research!

I contacted Patagonia, one of the companies which makes a fleece jacket I wear often. I was very excited to hear about their fleece. I cannot speak for other fleece companies at this time, but think Patagonia is doing some stellar things as an example.

For one, they have one line of fleece, called Synchilla, which uses recycled bottles to make the fleece. Patagonia says, "For one Men's Medium Patagonia Synchilla Marsupial, switching from 100% virgin polyester to 85% recycled from polyester garments saves 19MJ (mega-joules) of energy consumption and 2.3 pounds of CO2 pollution into the air. That's for only one fleece pullover! If Patagonia sell 1,000 Marsupials, we could save 19,000MJ of energy and 2,300 pounds - over a ton - of CO2 pollution. If we sell 10,000 then we could save 190,000MJ and 23,000 pounds. That's enough energy to supply six households for one year."

In addition, they are collaborating with Polartec to develop products containing partially recycled polyester. They have one product in this line now and more to come in the fall.

They also have an innovative garment recycling program. They accept Capilene (polyester base layers,) all of their fleece, and all of their cotton t-shirts are 100% recyclable. The used products can be brought or mailed back at the end of the garment's lifespan. Not only does Patagonia accept their own brand of Polartec fleece for recycling, they will take any make of Polartec fleece for recycling!

Now, I know everyone is still thinking that fleece is made from petroleum products, and that just can't be good. Patagonia did an environmental study of the 4 fibers that they were using most in their line back in the early 90's. They say, "At the conclusion of he study, we found that conventionally grown cotton was the most damaging to the environment than polyester, nylon, and wool. This is due mainly to the energy/pesticide/herbicide/and insecticide use. This is when we decided to switch all of our cotton products to 100% organically grown cotton. We have been using 100% organic cotton in our cotton garments for 11 years now. Statistically, a virgin polyester fleece sweatshirt is better choice for the environment than a conventionally grown cotton sweatshirt. And when you add the recycled/recyclable components, there no comparison."

Like many issues, things get complex when you consider the complete lifecycle of an item. Of course it seems strange that a natural item wouldn't be safer or better, but I guess if it is full of synthetic pesticides, perhaps it isn't.

Whether or not fleece is the best option for clothing, I think it is great when companies invest in research and programs which do the green thing.

June 3, 2007

sustainable table

Check out this link from reader Debbie (thanks!)

Sustainable Table is a resource for the sustainable food movement. It has lots of good information and tools to help you shop sustainably where you live. The site has so much info it can be overwhelming. I found the issues page a great way to start, since it explains why we should care about how our food is farmed.

June 1, 2007

bugs and kids

Nobody likes mosquitos, or ticks for that matter. With all the barbecues, camping and outdoor fun ahead this summer it makes me wonder what bug repellant products to use on the whole family. With threats of Lyme Disease and West Nile Virus in many places, repelling bugs seems like an especially good idea.

What it comes down to is the use of DEET (diethyl toluamide), which is a common ingredient in insect repellants. It is effective, but it is a pesticide. Some people have also disliked its smell and feel. Wikipedia states, "DEET was developed by the United States Army, following its experience of jungle warfare during World War II. It entered military use in 1946 and civilian use in 1957." Wikipedia also says that "Studies into the health effects of using DEET in the approved way (as a topical application) have not shown any significant harm to human health". Using DEET in the approved way means not using it under clothing, on damaged skin, and washing it off when no longer needed.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding DEET in children under 2 months of age. For all other children, it advises using DEET with a concentration between 10% and 30%.

Research at Duke University has shown that prolonged exposure to DEET can impair functioning in parts of the brain. They say children are especially at risk.

There are many natural alternatives to DEET, including catnip oil, soybean oil, citronella oil, eucalyptus oil, lavender, and pure vanilla as well as other alternatives like Avon Skin So Soft bath oil or fabric softener. However, none of these have been scientifically proven. In some unscientific tests, they don't quite match the effectiveness of DEET extreme situations.

I did see one review on Treehugger that mentions a product called All Terrain Herbal Armor Spray, but the review says, "it smelled so bad that it repelled people as well."

I have also found some interesting herbal remedies for kids, including:
Bug Stopper Spray from the Natural Newborn
Kids Herbal Armor Spray from All Terrain
Burt's Bees Herbal Insect Repellent
Bug Ban makes bug repellant bracelets which use citronella oil instead of DEET.

There are other options, which may be more effective than the hebals. In 2005 the CDC approved 2 alternatives for DEET: Picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus. Consumer Reports evaluated the new options and found they were very effective.

Picaridin is found in Cutter Advanced.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus is found in Repel Lemon Eucalyptus.

While DEET might very well be safe if used correctly, the potential risks make me want to avoid it unless absolutely necessary. I think I'll try herbals for light-bug areas and perhaps the Cutter Advanced or Repel for stronger situations.