March 30, 2007

who is polluting in your community?

Check out this website:
www.scorecard.org
Enter your zip code on this Environmental Defense Fund site and find out what pollutants are being released into your community, who is responsible, and what you can do about it.

March 29, 2007

easter grass


With all this green thinking I've been trying to figure out good solutions for easter baskets. Surely there is something better than cellophane? Even paper grass would be better, but I have yet to see it made from recycled paper (if you see that, let me know).

Reader Helena submitted a very clever idea. She is planning on putting used paper in the paper shredder to make her own paper grass.

My son came home from school today with real grass in his basket. Now that's authentic!

natural body products

I never really gave much thought to organic/natural body products. I figured they were just pricier, fancier versions. Once I had kids though I started rethinking things like bubble bath, soaps and shampoos. I would alternate between a nice organic brand and then a bulk buy of some cheap brand from Target (so hard to pass up!)

Now I'm thinking natural really might be better, for our health and for the planet. I am looking into it more of course (I have a huge list of things to "look into").

One place I have started is this list from Aubrey Organics web site about 10 synthetic cosmetic ingredients to avoid.

March 27, 2007

banning plastic bags

The San Francisco Chronicle reported today that the Board of Supervisors has voted to ban petroleum-based plastic checkout bags in large markets and pharmacies. Large markets will need to comply within about 6 months and large drugstore chains in about 12 months.

The city focused on plastic bags because they are made from petroleum, they clog up recycling machines, last so long in landfills and endanger natural habitats.

I guess the previous effort to start a bag tax never panned out. This is another attempt by the city to reduce the approximately 180 million bags given out in the city each year.

Hopefully other cities and regions will follow the lead and encourage retailers to provide alternate, biodegradable versions.

See my previous post, "paper or plastic" for sources of excellent reusable bags.

March 26, 2007

walking the walk

Have you read the article from the New York Times, "The Year Without Toilet Paper?" Pretty incredible experiment of a family in New York City attempting to live one year with no impact (they are at 4 months along). Granted, it is an experiment by a writer and his family (material for a new book), but it is good sometimes to see people really pushing things to spark ideas.

I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable going as far as they do, but applaud them for trying. Makes you wonder just how far you can go yourself, reducing your impact on the planet.

Another group who has drawn attention for a similar charge is the Compactors. The original group was made of some friends in San Francisco who decided not to buy anything for one year (exceptions were food, drink and medicines). They have inspired many people to try the same. The Compacters have many clever solutions to find and trade for things they need. Their resourcefulness is impressive.

I try to think how any of these adjustments could be applied to my family's lifestyle. I don't think we could get by without a car. I do think I could compost more and purchase less. I can continue to try and purchase local organic foods from local stores.

I suppose the things that I could try to do are things that I am discovering and writing about currently on the blog. I don't think I am a fringe, all-or-nothing kind of environmentalist. Who knows. We'll have to see where this goes. I might be able to switch to recycled toilet paper, but I don't think I can give it up!

March 23, 2007

water at home

I'm skeptical about the water quality in our home. Sometimes it smells and sometimes looks brownish (not ideal, right?) I looked into a few different water filters, and need to do more research on them. But it has raised the question of, is my water really bad and what exactly is in it? Obviously there could be contaminants from the water supply as well from our home's pipes.

Fortunately there are do-it-yourself test kits available. I plan to try one and see what the results are. The deluxe test kit includes a 75 item check for: Bacteria (presence/absence for coliform and E.coli), heavy metals and minerals, other inorganic chemicals, physical characteristics, trihalomethanes and volatile organic chemicals. There is also an option to test for additional pesticides, herbicides and PCB’s. You take samples and send them to their lab. Results are typically completed and mailed within 10-15 business days from the date samples are received at the laboratory.

In the meantime I will try to educate myself about what levels are safe, and continue to research the plethora of purification options. There seems to be everything from the easy brita filter to a 14-step mega filter system. Until then, bottled.

March 22, 2007

biodegradable vs. compostable

I missed a few days posting because many of the topics that are on my mind need a bunch of research (so I'm working on that).

Here is a tangent of one of the things I'm looking into:
What really is the difference between biodegradable and compostable? Often there are various products on the shelf in a store and they all sound like a good idea for the environment, but what does it mean exactly? Worldcentric.org has a handy overview of these bioplastics and some of the products available. Soon I will post in more detail about what good options are for your summer BBQ.

March 19, 2007

cloned food alert

This seems a little spooky. Looks like the FDA is preparing to allow the sale of cloned foods later this year. In addition, they will not require labeling on cloned food, so consumers will have no way to avoid these experimental foods. Cloned foods seem like a bad idea for lots of reasons, but I'll leave it to the many scientists who are saying there are still many unknown risks and that the studies done so far are inadequate. There are also many animal cruelty and ethical issues as well.

Many sites are asking the public to let the FDA know they oppose cloned foods. You can try to contact the FDA directly, or draft a letter of opposition to cloning at either The Center for Food Safety or The Union of Concerned Scientists and they will deliver it to the FDA for you.

Yum?

March 18, 2007

who likes packing peanuts?


Seriously? I just received a package from a well-known gourmet cooking catalog and it was full of packing peanuts! I thought those pesky styrofoam peanuts were long gone. Not only are they a nuisance as they spill all over your home, they are bad for the environment. I thought shippers had moved on to other things. To add insult to injury, the box was imprinted with a notice to call an 800 number in order to find a place to recycle the peanuts! I'm sure customers love that extra step and that all of them take the time to do so (ha).

A few days later I got another box from a furniture company full of yet another kind of packaging peanut. Neither appears to be the biodegradable kind, which I think looks like a white corn puff.

I took all the packaging material to my local "mail it" shop and gave them the peanuts for their use. The woman who owns the shop conceded they are not ideal material, but said she purchases them for use for her business also because the biodegradable ones are too pricey. Apparently if the boxes are not padded well enough the shipping companies won't pay insurance on any claims.

I think I will write to the catalog companies and let them know I wish they'd use something else. Surely there is something better?

March 17, 2007

bedding choices 101 - did I fail?


I made a trip to the bedding store today to stock up on some things we needed, namely sheets and pillows. I was not expecting this errand to inspire a blog entry, but this errand is exactly why I started the blog. I keep running into these decisions and don't always know which is the best choice: for me, my family or the environment.

So, back to the bedding. First I was pillow shopping. They had the usual suspects, down, foam, and special allergy pillows. I thought that choosing something natural would probably be best, but I don't really like down feathers. As I roamed around the selections I saw a pillow from Ingeo, which says it is made with a fiber from corn. They claim to be "good for you and good for the environment." I'm not sure they are 100% natural—the package sure makes you think it though (could be sneaky marketing). I bought it.

It claims:
- starts with natural and renewable raw materials
- does not use harsh chemicals or solvents
- requires less energy to make
- even reduces green house gas emissions
(see my concern about sneaky marketing??) But I wasn't sure what else to choose. Do you have any ideas?

After that baffling decision I headed over to the sheets. The things on my mind were: twin size, good color, nice quality but good price. These are sheets for middle-of-the-night-wet-bed changes, mind you. Wouldn't you know it - they had CHOICES. And this is just at a standard bed and bath store, not a "eco-home" boutique.

I saw bamboo sheets (made form 100% cellulose bamboo fiber yarns), 100% organic cotton, and something called Pure Beech (made from Modol, a cellulose fiber from the beachwood tree of Middle Europe).

I would have gone for the organic cotton, but they only had white and I needed a color. So, I got the regular Wamsutta sheets. Was this a bad choice? Or did I just not fall for the marketing hype on this one? I guess I need to research this more. If you have advice send it along!

March 16, 2007

hope for better mileage

My car had to go in for scheduled service today. I am hoping that some of the things the dealer adjusted will improve the mileage situation. I didn't ask them to do these things for that reason. Rather, as I was describing some little issues to the service technician, he told me that it could effect my mileage. Let's hope he's right! They adjusted my alignment, filled my tires with air, and cleaned an engine filter. I'm not expecting 30 mpg, mind you.

The guy told me that alignment being off just by a sliver (1/4" or so) could produce poor mileage. He also said I should be checking my tire pressure every 30 days to keep them optimumly inflated. Who knew?

I decided to look online and see what other nifty tips there might be to improve mpg. Unfortunately, it seems that a calmer driving style might help also.

Popular suggestions are: remove excess weight (even 50-100 lbs can make a difference), schedule trips to avoid traffic delays, use a good engine oil (can improve up to 12%), use cruise control when possible, keep highway speed to 55, avoid quick starts, avoid increasing speeds when already climbing a hill, and remove accesories that reduce the aerodynamics of your vehicle (like luggage racks).

At least we can still turn on the radio!
Wish me luck.

March 15, 2007

more bad plastic news: baby bottles



I was going to talk about something other than plastics today, but Environment California asked me to get the word out on some alarming new baby bottle research. For the record, I used one of these brands of bottles for my first baby (second baby would not take a bottle). Please read the information they have shared, and pass it on to any new parents you know (or point them to momgogreen.com!)

***
“A child’s first few years are an exciting time for parents who hope that their child starts his or her life happy and healthy,” said Lara Tabor, Environment California’s State Field Organizer. “Unfortunately, parents do not have the information they need to adequately protect their children from toxic chemicals. California should require manufacturers to remove toxic chemicals from children’s products and, in the meantime, give parents the information they need to make informed purchasing decisions—right away.”

Environment California Research and Policy Center worked with an independent laboratory to analyze five of the most popular brands of baby bottles on the market to determine whether bisphenol A—a chemical linked to developmental, neural, and reproductive problems—leached from the bottles into liquids contained inside them.

• The five bottle brands tested include: Avent, Dr. Brown’s, Evenflo, Gerber, and Playtex.
• All five bottle brands leached bisphenol A at levels found to cause harm in numerous laboratory animal studies.

Bisphenol A is most commonly used to make clear polycarbonate plastic for consumer products, such as baby bottles. Through use, this plastic breaks down and leaches bisphenol A into liquids and food to which it comes into contact.

Scientists have linked very low doses of bisphenol A exposure to cancers, impaired immune function, early onset of puberty, obesity, diabetes, and hyperactivity, among other problems.

In the absence of both state and federal government action and adequate information about the presence of toxic chemicals in consumer products, Environment California Research and Policy Center recommends that parents and others caring for children do the following:

• Choose glass or safer-plastic baby bottles;
• Never heat food or beverages in plastic containers or bottles, which can speed up the leaching process;
• In washing plastic products, avoid harsh dishwashing soap and hot water, both of which speed up the leaching process; and
• For additional helpful tips and other information, visit www.EnvironmentCalifornia.org.
***

Okay - don't you love the part where they say don't put the plastics in the dishwasher or use hot water to clean them? Um, how else should we sterilize the bottles between use? Obviously finding a better bottle must be the answer. So I googled and found Born Free bottles.

Haven't used them myself. Have you? Let me know what you think! I know how hard it can be when your baby is fussy about what kind of bottle to take.

I think one of the most important messages from this is that we need manufacturers to disclose more information, and our government could help by requiring safer standards. Keep in mind that many of these plastics would not be allowed in Europe or Australia.

March 13, 2007

paper or plastic?



How about neither? San Francisco has been proposing a tax on grocery bags. It is meant to help encourage the use of reusable bags and also help to clean up the litter that plastic bags create.

I figured if the tax might happen, I may as well give reusable bags a try. (Even Ikea is starting to charge 5 cents for each disposable plastic bag). I found reusablebags.com and bought a starter set of the Acme Workhorse bags. I love them! I always get compliments from the grocery checkers because they are compact, easy to use, and hold so much. They also sell a starter kit that comes with canvas produce bags (quite handy).

Since 2003 ReusableBags.com has been a major force providing facts and news on the global push to reduce plastic and paper bag consumption. Plus, simple actions you can take to help the cause. I don't know about you, but seems like I spend lots of time at the grocery these days. Carrying my own set of bags is very easy, and one way that I can make a difference.

glass storage resource


After yesterday's overwhelming post I decided to find something positive and manageable to share.

Reader Laura sent a tip for a great place to purchase glass food containers. I've purchased some and will try freezing in them and let you know how it goes. The online shop has lots of eco-friendly products for the home.

March 12, 2007

the largest dump on earth


A juvenile albatross amid plastic debris that has washed up at Midway Atoll. East of midway and the Hawaiian Islands is what is perhaps the world's largest garbage dump: a floating, rotating patch of trash-laden water about twice the size of Texas. photo by rick loomis for la times

While researching about the use of plastics (I was thinking more about tupperware at the time) I came across information about an enormous area in the Pacific Ocean full of floating debris and waste. At first I didn't believe it could be true, so I googled "eastern garbage patch" and found incredible amounts of information about this phenomenon. I know plastics are pervasive, but I really didn't know there was a flotsam the size of Texas full of waste in the Pacific Ocean - the world's largest dump, halfway between Hawaii and San Francisco.

Greenpeace explains it as follows, "The North Pacific sub-tropical gyre covers a large area of the Pacific in which the water circulates clockwise in a slow spiral. Winds are light. The currents tend to force any floating material into the low energy central area of the gyre. There are few islands on which the floating material can beach. So it stays there in the gyre, in astounding quantities estimated at six kilos of plastic for every kilo of naturally occurring plankton. The equivalent of an area the size of Texas swirling slowly around like a clock. This gyre has also been dubbed “the Asian Trash Trail” the “Trash Vortex” or the “Eastern Garbage Patch”.

The LA Times reported on the situation in August 2006. They say, "Nearly 90% of floating marine litter is plastic — supple, durable materials such as polyethylene and polypropylene, Styrofoam, nylon and saran. About four-fifths of marine trash comes from land, swept by wind or washed by rain off highways and city streets, down streams and rivers, and out to sea."

I had no idea this mass was out there. It might be that I'm the last to know (wouldn't be the first time). It is a much bigger issue than I had visions of conquering on this blog. I mean, what is a mom like me to do about THAT?

Interestingly, it was also written up in a parenting newsletter in the Washington Post. The author suggests, "Why do I write about an environmental atrocity in a newsletter about parenting? Because here's what researchers recover from those albatross chicks and garbage gyres: Lego pieces, toy soldiers, bottle caps, beach balls, sandals, plastic dinosaurs, checkers. Sure, the junk that pervades the oceans and pollutes beach sand with plastic pellets comes from sources other than family consumption. About a fifth comes from ships dumping illegally at sea to avoid high port costs, the Times reports. But much of the debris is the stuff of our children's closets and junk drawers.

So here's what, parents: Think twice before you plop down your quarters for dime-store junk. Stuff party goody bags with one toy worth keeping, not five that will get tossed the next day. Teach your children to keep track of Lego blocks and toy soldiers. The average American used 223 pounds of plastic in 2001--plastic that will persist in the environment for perhaps a century. Unless we change, the very sand between your kids' toes on your next beach vacation could be at stake."

Sailor Charles Moore, who has sailed through the patch and works to research it in hopes of finding a solution says, "Transported and concentrated by plastic pellets, some of the most toxic pollutants known are being released into the food web. Farmers can grow pesticide-free organic produce, but can nature still produce a pollutant-free organic fish? After what I have seen firsthand in the Pacific, I have my doubts"

If you don't believe me, watch this video from the LA Times. It is far more convincing than I am here. Select the "Trashing Our Oceans" video from the nav bar on the left. Seeing the actual plastic washing up on Hawaii is pretty incredible.

March 11, 2007

kid plastics



I'm have been looking into the use of plastics and kids toys because San Francisco recetnly passed a law regarding it. On June 16, Mayor Gavin Newsom signed into law (effective December 1, 2006) the Stop Toxic Toys bill, which would ban two toxic chemicals—phthalates and bisphenol-A—from children’s toys and feeding products. Apparently much of Europe has already banned the use of these plastics, but the US has not.

I thought it sounded like a good idea, but I had no idea which plastics contained the dangerous chemicals. How do I know if our sippy cups are okay?

Environment California has some great information on their website, including a list of what phthalates and bisphenol-A can do to you.

I also learned that it is a good idea to avoid plastics with the numbers:
#3 PVC - phthalates (hormone disruptor)
#7 polycarbonate - bisphenol-A (hormone disruptor)
#6 polystyrene - styrene - possible human carcinogen

The better plastics are:
polypropylene (#5)
polyethylene (#1,#2,#4).
The containers need to be discarded if they get worn down, degraded, overused etc.

It seems to be a good idea to avoid heating plastics, and possibly even freezing in them as the temperature changes can cause leeching.

Many of our sippy cups and items didn't have numbers on them. I ended up tossing anything that was worn or that I wasn't sure about (especially plastic bath toys that get chewed on. most rubber duckies are pvc!)

I was very glad to learn that our favorite sippy cups are safe. My kids love tomee tippy cups.I called the company to see about the plastic safety and they assured me that since they are made in England they are held to a higher standard and none of those toxins are permitted in the plastics.

Environment california also has a shopping guide pdf document to keep your kids toxic-free.


------
update 7/07:
We did finally get rid of the tomee tippy cups as well. I was concerned they may contain Bisphenol A since they are made form plastic #7. When I called the company I had been specifically asking about phalates only. We now use Sigg bottles when we need a spill-proof option.

March 10, 2007

green car resource



I found a cool car resource at Yahoo Auto called Green Center. Looks like it has lots of cool tools and information about the car issue. I am going to jump in and see what I learn.

March 8, 2007

let's talk cars

One big thing on my mind these days is the car issue. I would love to have a low emission vehicle. However, I also need lots of space for multiple car seats and carpooling. One of my first projects here will be to research this in depth. Hybrid 7 passenger options? Maybe a smaller car with better mileage? What about bio diesel? I know many families that would welcome the option of a low mileage, low emission, family vehicle.

It seems ironic that one key reason I need space is for carpooling. Is it better to carpool in my lame gas mileage car or to have 2 better mileage cars schlepping across the city? Hmm. So many questions.

March 7, 2007

hello green!

Welcome to mom go green.
I have questions.

If one person can make a difference to improve the environment, what should I do exactly? Sure, I know the basics. But after that it can get complicated. I'm a mom. I make lots of decisions for our home and family. I also work and make decisions for my small business.

I don't have all the answers. I am not an expert. This blog is about my journey to improve what I do for the environment. I am not a crunchy, tree hugging, typical earth mother activist. Just a typical mom hoping to make some better, conscious choices.

Do you have the answers? Tell me! I hope this can be a forum where new or better information can be shared.

Whew. Let's get started.