May 30, 2007

organic brand chart


We know organic is good, but we should also know that it is big business. I came across this organizational chart of organic companies and who owns them. You may be surprised!

Did you know Boca is owned by Kraft? Cascadian Farm by General Mills? Stonyfield Farm by Danone?

Of course, being owned by a big company doesn't make a product bad per se. Personally, I try to read each product label to be sure the ingredients are what I want and then I also try to support local brands. I also try to avoid as much processing as possible (but that is another conversation). Faced with the choice of organic or not, I'd go organic.

The amazing chart detailing the organic brand "family tree" is credited to Phil Howard of Michigan State University. Nice work!

May 29, 2007

used shoes


Every now and then I get stumped with how to dispose of something. I've been doing well with separating our waste into recycling, composting and waste. But sometimes I need to get rid of something and I wonder if I can help it avoid the landfill (reduce, reuse, recycle). This time the issue is shoes.

I have shoes that are perfectly good but I no longer wear. My feet really did change a size after having kids! Plus, I no longer work in an office setting and my shoes have gone from cute to clogs. I have searched for local charities that accept shoes, but it seems that shoes are a tricky thing to give. I can't resell them at a used clothing store because they are worn a bit more than those shops would permit (they like them with no marks on the bottoms).

I did find a charity online called Soles 4 Souls that will take the shoes and distribute them to people who need them. The organization started after the Asian Tsunami in December 2004. When Hurricane Katrina struck, the group started a website called katrinashoes.org and collected almost a million pairs of shoes for people in need. The responce was so cuccessful they incorporated as a 501(c)(3) charity and have continued to provide free footwear to people in need around the world. They are also partnering with Dress for Success to provide provide career footwear.

Soles 4 Souls asks donors to pay for ground shipping to one of their distribution centers, either in Nevada or Alabama.

It would be great if my used shoes could find a home locally. Maybe before I send them off I'll make another search for a local charity that will take them, or post them on freecycle. One way or another I'm determined to find them a happy home.

May 28, 2007

big green purse


I was excited to see a mention of mom go green on a cool site called Big Green Purse (thanks, Diane!) The site is full of resources and information for green living. They "believe that the fastest, easiest, most direct route to a clean and healthy environment is to shift our spending to environmentally-safe, socially responsible products and services." Essentially, consumers can influence business and industry to go green faster than government regulations will.

Big Green Purse focuses on women because "women spend $.85 of every dollar in the marketplace...That's why Big Green Purse is encouraging A MILLION WOMEN to shift at least $1,000 of money they already spend for an initial $1 billion Big Green Purse impact." You can learn more about the million-women plan on their website.

I think it is exciting to see some validation that individuals (i.e. moms!) can make such an impact and hopefully a difference. I know I am looking forward to reading more at Big Green Purse about topics that I am currently researching, like coffee sources and and beauty products.

May 24, 2007

my underarm adventures


I have been experimenting with natural deodorant. Could you tell? Seriously, it is a little different but worth getting used to. As usual, I started wondering about alternatives when I saw the labels of the natural brands claiming to be free of certain ingredients (like aluminum and parabens). I decided to do some research. As I often find, the studies are inconclusive and there are lots of opinions about it.

Some are concerned that ingredients in anti-perspirant can cause alzhiemers (from the aluminum) or breast cancer (from the parabens). While studies have shown anti-perspirants do not cause breast cancer, there is an interesting article on WebMD about some new research showing parabens being found in tumors.

I don't really think using traditional deodorant products will give you diseases. I do think that for me, it is worth looking to see if I can find a product that achieves a similar result with more natural ingredients. I don't believe any one product can cause these diseases, but I do wonder about the cumulative exposure to common toxins. Better to minimize the risk and be safe. The skin absorbs things pretty easy in the armpit, especially if you shave. Over time, exposure must add up - especially from multiple sources (parabens in all body products, shampoos, make up, etc.)

Some people would even go so far as to say that it is unnatural to stop the body from sweating, since the process releases toxins. I for one tend to sweat a lot. Even if everything they say is true about anti-persperant being harmful, I couldn't imagine not using it.

I decided it would be fun to experiment, though. I ended up trying a few brands from Whole Foods. The first one I tried was terribly irritating. I have sensitive skin, I guess! Thankfully the woman at the shop told me that the one I had selected (with Tea Tree Oil) can be harsh on sensitive skin. She steered me to some other ones to try. My favorite right now is by Nature's Gate with aloe and lavender.

I must say it took a little getting used to. I was warned that it takes some time for the body to adjust. I had some stinky days, but they did stop! I ended up using my Secret anti-perspirant on really important days, alternating as needed. Now I don't seem to need the Secret at all.

Of course the most natural thing you could try is pure baking soda. Apparently you can apply some with your fingers while your skin is still damp after you bathe. Haven't tried this myself.

I checked the Skin Deep website (which has been updated, by the way) to see if my selections were on track. My old product scored a 4 out of 10, which doesn't sound bad, but 69% of deoderants had lower concerns. Skin Deep says it give the rating due to "developmental/reproductive toxicity, violations, restrictions & warnings, allergies/immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity, persistence and bioaccumulation, enhanced skin absorption, and contamination concerns."

The new product I'm using scored a 1 out of 10. Only 7% had lower concerns. It was given this rating due to "Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Multiple, additive exposure sources."

Interestingly, when I checked to see which products ranked highest, one of them is made by Proctor and Gamble (Sure Invisible Solid, Unscented). However, this product does contain aluminum and does conduct animal testing.

Since there is no crystal ball, I guess it pays to research for yourself and decide which products you feel comfortable using day to day.

May 23, 2007

green flor


I saw this story from Tuesday in the New York Times and was excited to share it. Flor is a carpet tile product which you may be familiar with. It is very stylish and easy to use. I used it in my kids' play area. (Picture above is from the catalog, not my kids' play area!)

The mom in me loves that it is so modular and creative. In fact, I didn't even stick the carpet down (it comes with sticky tape to do that if you desire). If your kid has a permanent unfixable spill, you can replace just the square affected instead of an entire large carpet. Of course, I only say that as a last-resort option.

I'm sure you're wondering what this has to do with green. I know carpet isn't such a "green" thing, but for areas where you need something soft underfoot, this is a nice option.

The green part of Flor is the company. For starters, they have "Return Recycle" program. When you are ready to get rid of the Flor tiles (if ever) the company will arrange for your used carpet tiles to be picked up and shipped back to their mill, where the old tiles will be recycled into new product.

And finally, the NY Times reported Tuesday in the Science section about Flor's mission to reduce its impact on the environment. Quite a feat for an industrial company! They have been able to reduce their contributions to landfills by 80% and reduced use of fossil fuels by 45%. You can read the article or even watch a short video by the NYT.

I think it is inspiring for individuals like me (trying to go green) to see large companies trying, too.

In case the above links don't work and you want to search the NYT yourself: the article is called "Executive on a Mission: Saving the Planet" and the video is titled, "Planet Us: Born Again Green"

May 21, 2007

glass container update

I've found glass containers that I am really enjoying using. I even freeze chicken stock in them!


this one from Anchor Hocking holds 2 cups.

I actually bought 2 kinds. One is from Anchor Hocking - a 2 cup glass container. The size is just right for many leftovers (and small kids sure have lots of leftovers). They are sturdy and can be used even to serve in. I originally bought just one from cooking.com to try it out and was later happy to find them at my local Container Store at a lower price (believe it or not) and no shipping!

this one from Ikea holds over 6 cups

The other glass containers which are working well for me are from Ikea. The price is similar to the Anchor Hocking ones. However, the Ikea containers have a silicone seal. The silicone does not come in contact with the food, yet the top should not be placed in the microwave for this reason. I like having the seal for use in the freezer. These are the containers I have used to freeze homemade chicken stock. They come in a variety of handy sizes and are stackable as well.

The sizes between the 2 brands are actually complimentary, so I do appreciate using both of them. They are both quite sturdy and easy to use. And for those who are wondering, I gave my plastic containers to someone who still wants to use plastic and knows that I am switching to glass.

May 20, 2007

wet is the new dry

My wardrobe has changed a bit since the days I had to work in an office. Thankfully my t-shirts and jeans can be cleaned easily at home. But every now and then I need to get something dry cleaned. Like my husband's suit (which he wears to every wedding and funeral). Since we just attended my friend's wedding, we need to clean our party clothes. I know there are probably nifty tricks expert homemakers might suggest, but for now I need a drop-off solution.

I assumed dry cleaning was full of bad chemicals and decided to find local alternative options. I found a great summary on the Green Guide. It explains why drycleaning is dangerous to your health and the environment:

"85% still use the toxic solvent perchloroethylene (perc) known to cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, and which has been linked to reproductive problems, including miscarriage and infertility in men, as well as disorders of the central nervous system. If these health risks aren't enough, the International Agency for Research in Cancer has labeled perc a probable human carcinogen, as has the EPA in a recent Cleaner Technology Substitutes Assessment. Due to this extensive laundry-list of health concerns, and many other environmental concerns such as air and water pollution, dry-cleaning consumers can make a significant contribution by choosing healthier, greener alternatives to perc."

It seems there are a few options which are greener alternatives. The San Francisco Chronicle did a fine summary of all the methods:

"Perchloroethylene: The traditional dry cleaning solvent used by more than 80 percent of cleaners, it has been found to cause cancer as well as kidney and liver damage in animal studies. It can also cause dizziness, headaches and unconsciousness if inhaled for a short period of time. Perchloroethylene is nonflammable but is classified as a hazardous air pollutant under the Clean Air Act. Los Angeles air quality officials have ordered dry cleaners in their region to stop using it by 2020.

Petroleum-based solvents: This category includes a longtime dry cleaning solvent known as Stoddard, as well as newer solvents such as DF-2000, introduced in 1994 by ExxonMobil. The newer petroleum products are less flammable than the older ones. But they continue to present a fire hazard and emit volatile organic chemicals that contribute to smog.

Silicone-based solvents:
GreenEarth is the brand name for siloxane D5, a silicone-based chemical that has been used for a long time in products such as deodorants, body lotions and shampoos. GreenEarth says its product is completely safe and degrades into sand, water and carbon dioxide. However, a 2003 study showed an increase in uterine tumors among female rats that were exposed to very high levels of siloxane. The Environmental Protection Agency is still assessing whether siloxane presents a cancer risk.

Carbon dioxide: Carbon dioxide cleaning uses a liquid form of the nontoxic, nonflammable gas that creates the carbonation in soft drinks. The form used in dry cleaning is a byproduct of other industrial operations such as fertilizer production, so there is no net increase of the chemical and no added contribution to global warming. In a 2003 test, Consumer Reports ranked carbon dioxide as the most effective form of dry cleaning, followed by siloxane. However, carbon dioxide machines are significantly more expensive than other kinds of dry cleaning equipment.

Professional wet cleaning: Like a regular washing machine, wet cleaning relies on water and biodegradable detergents. But it uses equipment that washes clothes more gently and sets a specific humidity level for the drying process. Then wet cleaners use pressing and tensioning equipment to prevent shrinkage and maintain garment shape. Wet cleaning can be used on some garments labeled 'dry clean only.'"

And don't worry about trying to sort out where to go with all that info. Consumer Reports evaluated the methods and found that CO2 cleaned the best, then Green Earth (silicone) - both better than the nasty PERC. They suggest wet cleaning only for things you would consider hand washing.

Unfortunately I couldn't find a CO2 based cleaner very close to my home. I did find a Green Earth cleaner and a few wet cleaners in my area. I think I may go with the wet cleaning since it is supposed to be the best environmental choice (if you have to pick one).

Of course, ultimately it would be great to have clothes that don't require professional cleaning. If you do use traditional dry cleaning, try to find out what chemicals your cleaner uses. When you take the clothes home you can take them out of the bag and let them air out.

To find a cleaner in your area, try earth 911 (type 'dry cleaning' into the search along with your zip code). Nodryclean.com might be helpful, too, but their list seems a little outdated.

May 17, 2007

water report


I finally got my water report back. I had sent in all my samples and was excited to finally learn what has been in our pipes.

Overall it seemed like pretty good news. The testing was very extensive and the report a little complicated. Some of the metals which were high seemed like metals I would take as a supplement (calcium, iron, magnesium). They found no pesticides, herbicides or PCBs. No lead at all.

However, the thing I am concerned about is trihalomethane. Public water supplies need to be disinfected to be safe. When the disinfectant interacts with organic matter (leaves, etc.) in the water, trihalomethanes are formed.

Wikipedia defines:
"Trihalomethanes are formed as a byproduct when chlorine or bromine are used to disinfect water for drinking. They result from the reaction of chlorine and/or bromine with organic matter in the water being treated. The THMs produced may have adverse health effects at high concentrations, and many governments set limits on the amount permissible in drinking water. In the United States, the EPA limits the total concentration of chloroform, bromoform, bromodichloromethane, and dibromochloromethane to 80 parts per billion in treated water. This number is called "total trihalomethanes" (TTHM)."

Trihalomethanes (THMs) are considered carcinogenic. My level detected is thankfully below the EPA acceptable limit, but it still seems too high for my comfort. The information I recieved from the testing lab suggests to treat a trihalomethane problem with a granular activated carbon filter. I ended up selecting a water filter system that uses this type of filter plus many others.

And for the record, I beleive my city does not use chlorine (as many cities have switched thinking it wasn't safe) but uses chloramine. Many cities switched in an effort to reduce THMs. My water utility claims the THM level has decreased 50% since the switch. I have also heard that chloramines are not as safe as originally thought. I am no scientist though. More reasearch needed, as always.

If you're interested, this is the lab I used for the water test. National Testing Laboratories

May 16, 2007

i do my very best


Whew! I'm back from a great trip visiting friends and family. This was my first trip since starting the blog, and it was interesting to see how the blog has influenced me. Writing has kept these issues at the forefront of my mind. It also keeps me accountable.

A funny thing happened when we arrived at our destination airport (yes, we flew). I had reserved a car with a navigation system because of our propensity to get lost. Apparently some large conference was in town and the only car they had left was a Lincoln Navigator! Don't worry, mom go green did not take the car. Can you imagine!? We opted to take a smaller car with no map system. While there may have been a few wrong turns, we managed just fine.

It was interesting to see how some of my habits may or may not work in other places. For instance, one home where we stayed was a city apartment where building only recycles paper. If the family wants to recycle glass or plastics they have to drive it to a center themselves. That surely adds another level of challenge! However, I also stumbled upon community compost centers in two other towns. I wonder if I could be as vigilant at recycling and composting if my hometown did not have such a progressive program.

I loved and appreciated some of the wonderful local products available where we visited, while I also missed some of the ones we have at home.

Most significantly I had some great conversations with people about things I've learned and still hope to learn. We talked about how it really opens up a huge can of worms (no pun intended to you composting people) when you start to really try to live "greener". Where do you stop? How far are you willing to go? It is such a personal question which we each have to answer for ourselves. The more I learn the more I push myself to challenge my comfort level. Can I give up antiperspirant? I don't think I'm ready to stop flying places. I am still not sure about air drying all of our clothes.

Maybe one of the keys is not to feel it is a sacrifice. That the green changes don't have to be things we "give up." So far the changes I've made have been ones I actually am enjoying (I love my reusable grocery bags and will love not getting junk mail thanks to greendimes).

Little by little, step by step I will find the place where I feel I have done as much as I could for the environment and for my family. I have a long way to go. I don't expect to go so far as No Impact Man, though I do admire his efforts. As Laurie Berkner says (and my son loves to sing) in her song, "I'm not perfect, no I'm not. . . but I do my very best each day": the mantra of mothers everywhere.

May 7, 2007

offset sticker


Since my car is not getting great mileage and I have yet to find an option that can fit all the kids (carpooling), I decided to offset my carbon.

I chose to buy offsets from terrapass. Their website calculated what my exact car, mileage and type of driving would require. The purchase will offset my emissions for a year. Perhaps by then I can find a better vehicle (hybrid 7 seaters, anyone?) And yes, I know about the Highlander.

But my question to you is this:
Terrapass sends a decal with their logo for your car window as well as a bumper sticker declaring, "This car's CO2 is offset by terrapass." Should I put the stickers on my car? Terrapass suggests, "be loud and proud!" on their website.

On the one hand, it seems like it might be nice to let people know that I am making an effort (maybe offset my guilt a little?) On the other hand it seems like I AM just offsetting my guilt by putting the sticker on my big car.

What do you think? Should I put the sticker on? I've seen some on other cars driving around and I didn't think poorly of it. I thought, "oh, good for them!" But I can see that people might wonder why I don't just buy a Prius.

I am off this week for a little family adventure. I'll be back with a new post next Wednesday. Please share your comments on the sticker dilemma below. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

May 6, 2007

containers from daiso


I had been trying to find some little containers to pack in my kids' lunch bags. I wanted to find something that wasn't plastic, but not as heavy as glass.

I asked a friend where she bought some neat metal containers for packing her daughter's lunch. She told me about a new store sweeping the country (or continent) called Daiso. People have described Daiso as the Japanese version of Ikea. They are self described as "Japan's #1 livingware supplier."

Daiso is new to our area. It sells loads and loads of things (almost too many things). Because of the abundance of cute and inexpensive items, the store makes you want to buy things you don't really need. I didn't like that aspect of it. But I did like that they had many handy and attractive items (ah, if I was interested in plastic I would have scooped up some of the most adorable bento box accessories!) Almost everything in the store is $1.50.

I found the little stainless steel containers which my friend had. They do have plastic lids, but I'm willing to settle for that since not much food will come in contact with the lid and they will never be heated. I also got some bamboo spoons for the lunches.

I don't think Daiso is a "green" store, but I am glad to have found some metal containers in a variety of sizes. I had tried a Sigg lunch container previously, but the size is a little big. The new ones should do the trick.

May 3, 2007

pvc, the poison plastic!?!


Not too long ago my sister asked me if I knew where to get raincoats that don't contain PVC. I played it cool, stalled for time and googled up some answers. All the while I was kicking myself for being the last to know about something AGAIN. I have written about plastics, toxins, and all kinds of chemical surprises. Somehow I missed this. In between my ranting about "don't drink out of plastic #7" I should have noted, "run from anything with plastic #3!"

Here is what the Center for Health, Environment and Justice says about PVC on their website:
"PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic, commonly referred to as vinyl, is one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created. PVC is dangerous to human health and the environment throughout its entire life cycle, at the factory, in our homes, and in the trash. Our bodies are contaminated with poisonous chemicals released during the PVC lifecycle, such as mercury, dioxins, and phthalates, which may pose irreversible life-long health threats. When produced or burned, PVC plastic releases dioxins, a group of the most potent synthetic chemicals ever tested, which can cause cancer and harm the immune and reproductive systems."

They also say, "One way to be sure if the packaging of a product is made from PVC is to look for the number "3" or for the letter "V" inside or underneath the universal recycling symbol. This means that the product is made of PVC. Soft flexible plastic products that are made with PVC often have a distinct odor."

PVC can be found in those cute raincoats and rainboots (although not all rain gear has PVC; there are many without). I was reading about all the places PVC can be found and was surprised to find it on my kids' baby bibs, raincoat, bath toys, shower curtains, etc. Fortunately there really are many alternatives. I have found lots of cute raincoats that say they are PVC free. My son's rainboots and sneakers both say "PVC free" on a little label inside—but of course I didn't even know to look for that label. I just got lucky.

And here is something that moms everywhere will want to know: Target has lots of PVC. Many retailers (including Walmart, Nike, Microsoft, Ikea, H&M, Toyota, Victoria's Secret, Johnson & Johnson, Bath and Body Works, Honda, Ikea and Apple) have made plans to eliminate use of PVC. But don't worry, you don't have to stop shopping at Target. Just be aware of what you buy and sign a petition to let Target know you'd like them to move away from PVC usage.

I also found a few pdf documents from the CHEJ for those of you who want more data. One is a 2 page fact sheet and the other is a complete brochure, which is full of interesting info.

And in case any of you are wondering if I ever answered my sister, I did indeed suggest a sweet little raincoat for my sweet little neice.

May 2, 2007

my new lightbulbs


lightbulbs left to right: LED, halogen, halogen, CFL
(you can click on image to see it larger)

My new lightbulb arrived today. After my recent lighbulb moment, I was excited to see how it fared.

I ordered a par 20 LED for the kitchen. I use the kitchen lights more than any in the house, so I thought that would be a good place to switch to "greener" bulbs (plus, the rest of the house is on dimmer switches in a size not available as dimmable CFL).

I have 4 recessed spots in the kitchen ceiling. I have been using halogen spots up until now. The other day I bought a CFL, which didn't seem to project enough light down to the counter. However, the CFL lit the wall above the cabinets very well (it is very dusty up there!)

I was hoping the LED would do a better job of casting the light to the countertop, and it is better at that than the CFL, but the light itself is very dim. The LED is also very blue, more daylight colored.

If you look at the above photo you can see the 4 lights with no other light sources on in the room. LED is on the left, 2 halogens in the middle spots, and CFL on the right above the sink. See the color difference? Notice the light on the cabinet fronts and the countertop. In some places they are well lit and in others they are in the dark. You can also see a difference in how much light is hitting the wall above the cabinets.

I hate to say the halogens really look the best in color, brightness and projection. I am not sure if I prefer the CFL or the LED. I don't expect to keep using halogen, so I guess I'll have to make a decision. I do have under counter lights in addition, so that could help light up that space with task lighting if needed.

Any preferences or other ideas?

May 1, 2007

brushing up


I came to the toothpaste dilemma in a roundabout way. Instead of worrying about the contents of the toothpaste, I was noticed the bulky plastic container was not recyclable. I had bought a monstrous pump-style in an effort to entice my kids to brush with enthusiasm (and that part worked). However, I thought the packaging was huge and the fact it wasn't recyclable disturbed me. I started to hunt for tubes of toothpaste that could be recycled.

Once I found recyclable tubes I started wondering about the contents of the paste. I've been researching ingredients in body products the past few weeks and was surprised to see some of the stuff that is in a tube of toothpaste! I'm not even going to cover fluoride now, since that is an issue worthy of it's own post. There are plenty of healthy toothpastes available both with and without fluoride.

Debra Lynn Dadd says in her book, Home Safe Home, "fluoride toothpastes may contain ammonia, ethanol, artificial colors and flavors, formaldehyde, mineral oil, sugar, and carcinogenic polyvinylpyrrolidone plastic (PVP), the same plastic resin used in hairspray"
Yuck!

I was surprised to see these ingredients in my traditional (Colgate Total) toothpaste:

triclosan (an antibacterial ingredient not found in all toothpastes) Skin Deep says, "potentially contaminated with or breaking down into chemicals linked to cancer or other significant health problems."

sodium saccharin (FDA requires a warning on food products and chewing gum about causing cancer in animals, but not on toothpaste)

carrageenan (thought to possibly cause cancer in humans)

sodium lauryl sulfate (industry is recommending concentration limits when used in certain leave-on applications, like shampoo)

titanium dioxide (classified as an occupational carcinogen)

Since I started looking at the various toothpastes at health food stores, I have found a few I like. One is Jason Natural Cosmetics Sea Fresh Plus Coq-10 Toothpaste.

I also found many I liked from Toms of Maine, which seems like a great company since they are socially and environmentally responsible (should be noted that Toms is owned by Colgate Palmolive). Their toothpastes seem to rate very well on the Skin Deep website, although they do have sodium lauryl sulfate in them.

The toothpaste that rated highest on the Skin Deep website is called, Fresh Umbrian Clay Toothpaste. I have not tried it. It is $20/tube at Sephora! Sure hope it is good (and I cannot vouch for the packaging).

I saw another recomendation on the Sustainable Scoop for Uncle Harry's Clay toothpaste, which is completely non-toxic and comes in a glass jar.

Of course, you could always brush with just plain baking soda. Somehow I don't think my kids would go for that. Meanwhile I'll keep looking for alternatives by reading the labels at the natural market.