April 30, 2008

chemicals in the home

Recently there was that news report about bisphenol-a. Since I had been avoiding that chemical since last year I felt like my crazy plastic purge in our home was validated.

Then just today I heard about another chemical problem: this one is regarding Perfluorochemicals (PFCs). As I learned from Environmental Working Group, these little nasties are "widely-used water, grease and stain repellents. They're found in carpets and on clothes, on fast-food wrappers, and on the inner lining of pet food bags. You might know them as Teflon, Scotchgard, Stainmaster and Gore-Tex. They pollute water, are persistent in the environment, and remain in the human body for years."

EWG has a cheat-sheet summary that is helpful. They are calling on Californians to support a bill that will ban these chemicals from food packaging by 2010.

I also found a helpful graphic that gives an overview of where in your home you may be exposed to some of these and other chemicals. I thought it was nice to see all the information detailed in one place.

And if that isn't enough scary chemical news, check out another EWG report about the amounts of chemicals that are being found in pets. The study is the first of its kind and it shows that American pets have even higher levels of industrial chemicals in their bodies that humans do. Find out what you can do to keep your little fluffy friend safe by reading their new website and blog called Pets for the Environment.

April 29, 2008

green tv

I'm sure television watchers everywhere are glad that the writers strike is over and that new episodes are finally back on.

Here in our house we watch a lot of programming from the internet (long story, but is cheaper and more convenient for us). During the hiatus I found some cool green options for viewing pleasure.

On itunes there is a whole section devoted to green shows and podcasts. I recently downloaded an episode of Big Ideas for a Small Planet (from the Sundance Channel) about Power. I hope I learn something about alternative options — I'd like to know more about solar for our home.

There is also a bunch of video on the Planet Green website from the Discovery Channel. They have all kinds of topics, including home, health, food, technology, work and travel.

Earth Day Television has many educational videos online. I plan to watch the one on biodiesel soon, since the use of that still confuses me. (Once I figure it out I'll do a post on that, too).

And finally, Darryl Hannah's website has interesting videos as well. Her most recent episode is about a very cool alternative and green school.

April 28, 2008

curbside battery recycling

Okay, I'll admit it. I am totally spoiled with our curbside waste collection. Not only do we have the fantastic 3, now they are letting us place used batteries curbside for recycling!

I received notice today that residents of San Francisco can now place used batteries in a zip top bag and place it on top of the black (trash) carts on collection day.

Of course, batteries should never be put in the trash and always disposed of in a responsible manner. If you don't have a program like this in your area, check Earth 911 for a recycling location near you.

April 27, 2008

play, don't spray

If you are in the SF Bay Area and want to speak out against the LBAM spraying plans, please head to a rally organized by some mothers from a local preschool.

The Play-In is happening today, Monday April 28th at 10am at City Hall. The organizers are hoping to rally mothers and children, since they represent some of the most vulnerable population to the spray.
  • San Francisco, East Bay, Marin, and other residential areas will be sprayed as often as every 30 days for 2-10 years.
  • the spray contains "inert" ingredients that are toxic to humans and animals.
  • the spray has not been tested on humans, which is especially of concern to children or pregnant women.
  • The CDFA is advising everyone to stay indoors during the spray, and to hose down all play and eating areas the next morning.
  • Many scientists have been speaking out about the spray and insist that it is neither necessary nor effective. There are other alternatives.

Just look at the label of the chemical product they plan to spray over the city. Below is video footage of a news report which highlights some of the discrepancies and concerns regarding the spray.

April 23, 2008

dishwasher detergent

Recently I made a comment about my horror at seeing people buy conventional dishwasher detergent, but I realize I haven't even written a post about what better options there are.

Conventional brands of dishwasher detergent contain phosphates, which can cause algae blooms in lakes and ponds that can suffocate plants and animals that live in those bodies of water.

Conventional options may also contain chlorine, which the production and use of creates toxins which are dangerous for people and the environment. Standard dishwasher detergent may also contain ingredients derived from petroleum.

I did a search online and found some information on Grist about phosphates. The article even mentions that Washington State has recently signed a new bill that will keep the phosphorus content in dishwashing detergent to 0.5 percent beginning in 2010 (a big improvement).

There are many eco-brands which offer safe dishwasher detergent. I've tried Biokleen, Seventh Generation, Ecover, and even Trader Joe's. For my machine it does seem to help if I use a rinse aid. I have found one called "Wave Jet" from Earth Friendly Products. I've also read that you can use a few teaspoons of baking soda for the same effect.

April 22, 2008

freecycle treasures

I was cleaning out my closet today since I finally realized that I wasn't going to wear those business suits from 10 years ago (my past life). I called a local woman's shelter which told me they are only accepting like-new clothes. I could have taken them to a thrift store, but I decided to post them on Freecycle.

I never expected the interest in my old clothes to be so huge! Could it be that Yahoo happens to be hosting a Freecycle promotion in honor of Earth Day? Yahoo is posting "treasures" in the reuse group listings around the world. Join your local reuse group (like Freecycle) and follow these rules:

• Watch the offered items closely until you see a message about an Earth Day treasure. Reply as instructed.
• If you're the first to respond by email according to the rules, you get the goods.

Looks like the treasures will be popping up until May 4th. Who knows, maybe you'll see some other things that you'd consider a treasure and keep it out of a landfill.

April 21, 2008

fueling motivation

Happy Earth Day! Today (April 22nd) is the official holiday, though many places have had events over the weekend. Don't worry, I had to look it up. I actually haven't done anything to mark the occasion, but you can find events in your area on the Earth Day Network website.

If you need further motivation to make some green changes, check out what I had to pay for gas yesterday:

And that isn't even the most expensive station! I passed a few at $4.19. Certainly makes me want to rethink all the driving. Can't exactly give up the car, since we carpool, but maybe I can keep other trips to a minimum.

April 20, 2008

thoughts on food and saving the world

I went to the farmer's market this Saturday. I love spring. The asparagus! The strawberries! Sugar snap peas! And, I happened to find another vendor who has pastured chickens with no heads or feet, for lame, wimpy carnivores like me. These chickens are not cheap—I'll tell you that. The issue of price for quality, sustainable food is something Michael Pollan wrote about in Omnivore's Dilemma.

To summarize, he said the price is worth it. We should not be skimping on the things we put in our mouth. Somewhere along the way our priorities became skewed. Blame it on the industrial food complex or modern society, but putting toxic junk in your mouth just because it was a good value isn't always so wise. I realize there are people who have minimal incomes and can't afford such extravagance and I'll get to that in a minute.

In addition to prioritizing what we value, Pollan adds that the pastured meats and organic foods are actually healthier (besides being better for the planet). In the case of pastured meat he says it has less fat (and more of the good fats), more omega 3's and other nutrients (CLA's) that are simply not found in industrial meat(pg. 267). He makes an impressive point that what we choose to eat may not be as important as what IT eats. For example, if asked which is healthier: beef or salmon, most people would say salmon. BUT if you compare grass-fed beef with farm-raised salmon (which is fed grain!), the beef is actually better for you.

I just am amazed that I happen to be reading these exact pages of Omnivore's Dilemma at the same time that I am asking myself these questions based on what I am encountering as I shop to feed my family. Maybe it's fate that I am reading the book years after everyone else.

Even if I decide that pastured meat is what I want to serve my family, I struggle with the articles I'm reading lately about the famines and food shortages around the world. I read in the New York Times about a father in Haiti who fed his children 2 bites of rice one day and had no food for them at all the following day. I feel ridiculous worrying about which chicken to buy! But I think there is a connection. I think that supporting local farmers can only help fix the food supply issues that the world is facing. I also saw an article on Grist about this theory which helped support my notions of saving the world, one pastured chicken at a time.

I never knew I'd write so much about food on this blog. Originally, it didn't seem to be clearly a "green" topic, but now I see it as very important to the environment as it relates to what we put in our bodies and how we treat the environment—and that goes deeper than merely choosing organic. If you want to read more in depth about nourishing, sustainable food I suggest you read Carla's Blog, Local Forage. She writes about specific food sources and information.

April 16, 2008

costco love/hate

Today I went to Costco to get some food for a crowd (for a party). As I walked in I felt kind of judgmental of all the "stuff" lined up enticing me to buy. I'm guilty of falling for it all the time when I go there. I tell myself, "I'm only going to purchase X and Y" and yet I leave with those plus five other items that I convince myself I need.

I recognize from all my eco-research that they also sell many items which are not great for the environment. I saw a woman who bought a huge container of conventional automatic dish washing detergent and I wanted to scream about how bad that product is for the environment. Of course I didn't! But the experience made me wonder why I shop there at all if my values are not aligned with it.

Thankfully, I did see a few items that were eco-friendly, and it occurred to me that there is a place for these stores in our lives. Not everyone is going to run off and join the commune to save the planet. If we can get more eco-friendly products available in stores like Costco, imagine the impact it would make.

Of course it would be better if we all bought our goods from the farmers market and never bought a packaged item again, but is that ever going to happen? Everything in life seems to come back to finding a balance. The balance is what I am searching for, between the worlds I straddle of eco-idealism and modern American reality.

Just for the record—I did buy more than I went for. And it wasn't all eco-perfect. Sigh.

April 15, 2008

party clean

So I tried cleaning glass and windows with a spray bottle full of vinegar and water . . . and it is amazing! It actually is much better than the eco-friendly window cleaner I had been buying.

I think getting the supplies and recipes together is a big hurdle for busy people (and who isn't busy?) To make it easier and fun, why not get some friends together and have a "green cleaning" party. Everyone can leave armed with the supplies and information they need to begin.

I found a handy option online for hosting such an event from a group called Women's Voices for the Earth (I've written about them before.) They have just launched a green cleaning campaign which helps people host such parties. Their package includes a book of party planning tips, a dvd to watch with your friends about green cleaning, recipe cards for various tasks, supply lists of what to buy for the party materials, labels to mark the cleansers as people make them, and fact sheets to give away.

Party on!

April 13, 2008

garbage museums

Thanks to my dad for sending me a link to the Boston Globe about the very cool Children's Garbage Museum in Stratford, Connecticut. The museum is attached to a recycling processing center and is funded by the sales of the recyclables.

The exhibits convey the importance of recycling and apparently it is also just really cool to watch the recycling processes happen. I know I'd love to see the part where aluminum and plastics are separated:

"A magnet pulls out all the steel containers, then the aluminum is popped out with an eddy current, a spinning electrical charge that makes nonferrous metals just pop off the belt. The cans just go flying, and we catch them in a collection bin. Everything that's left is plastic."

The museum is run by the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority. They also have another museum in Hartford which also gives an overview of the regional recycling center.

What a great idea! I wonder if there are more of these in other parts of the country?

April 10, 2008

rent a green box

Do you have a big move coming up? Instead of buying all those expensive cardboard boxes or schlepping all over town to pick up used ones, consider a new option: rent a green box.

The founder of Earth Friendly Moving realized that sooner or later all moving boxes end up in the trash. He had the brilliant idea of creating a reusable box from recycled plastics (hence, called the RecoPack). The boxes come in 5 sizes and can be rented for your move. They are currently serving Southern California, but plan to go nationwide.

I'm not sure how often you can recycle cardboard and if they accounted for that, but it is exciting that someone has thought of a whole new option.

April 9, 2008

human footprint

The National Geographic Channel has an interesting show scheduled for this weekend that might be worth checking out. The Human Footprint will air on Sunday, April 13, 2008, at 9 p.m.

"Using science and revelatory visual events, NGC delivers an extraordinary personal audit of how much of the world's resources each of us consumes, illustrating the average American's human footprint."

You can also look at the Human Footprint website for interesting facts and videos. I actually had a hard time navigating their video section, but came across many other cool videos as I hunted for the one which initially caught my eye. For instance, they have a video called "LA Sewers" which gives a tour of the largest waste water treatment plant on the west coast. Cool!

April 8, 2008

green thoughts

A quick post tonight since I was out at a school meeting past my bedtime . . .

My sister sent me this quote the other day and I quite liked it:

"It is our earth, not yours or mine or his. We are meant to live on it, helping each other, not destroying each other." —J. Krishnamurti

Which reminded me that I had been saving this quote to share also:

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not." —Dr. Seuss, from The Lorax

April 7, 2008

junk faxes

This morning was the first day back in my office in awhile (the kids had a very long spring break). To greet me, there was a pile of pages at my fax machine. Junk faxes. I'm wondering if anyone else actually sends faxes anymore or if I have the machine just for the junk marketers?

Never before had I bothered to cal the numbers listed for removal from the lists, but this time the pile of paper was so big it really annoyed me. So I sat there and dialed each and every opt-out number. I hope it works.

April 6, 2008

talking chicken

There was a part in Omnivore's Dilemma that I really related to. It was about the chickens (pg. 170). Rosie Chickens, to be exact. The farm that Michael Pollan visited is the same one that supplies chickens to local stores in my area. I frequently purchase the brand of birds he was talking about and was excited to be able to relate to his information on that level.

The Rosie Chickens (and related brands) are better than industrial processed chickens because they do not contain antibiotics and are not fed from animal byproducts. But the Rosie Chickens are by no means perfect. Pollan debunks the illusion of the chickens happily clucking around in cute pens or running in the fields eating bugs as nature intended. Chickens are not naturally corn and soy eaters, you know.

Anyway, I determined that the next time they had chickens at the farmers market I would buy one. The quality is supposed to be amazing. The demand is so great that people show up early on weeks when chickens are available.

But I couldn't do it. I totally wimped out because the farm that sells them leaves the head and feet on. I just couldn't do it. I thought I could manage it, but in the end I decided that the Rosie birds at the grocery would be good enough for me.

Am I a hypocritical meat eater? Seems like if I'm going to eat meat I should be able to deal with the whole animal. Besides, the head and feet are supposed to have wonderful nutrients for broths.

Maybe I'll work myself up to it again. Or maybe not.

April 3, 2008

sunscreen season

We've been breaking out the sunscreen now that the rainy season seems to be over. I had to go back and read some of my own posts as well as review some info at Skin Deep about the sunscreen choices.

The whole thing is beyond baffling to me. I've spent umpteen hours researching and still have no good answer. The products that look good on paper are not my favorite to use (too greasy!) and the ones I like to use are not good for me. I'm still looking for a good solution.

I did read some encouraging news about nanoparticles on the Skin Deep website. I encourage you to read the entire summary of nanoparticles in sunscreens. Essentially, they find that products with nanoparticles of zinc or titanium are safer than those without. Here is an excerpt:

"Our study shows that consumers who use sunscreens without zinc and titanium are likely exposed to more UV radiation and greater numbers of hazardous ingredients than consumers relying on zinc and titanium products for sun protection. We found that consumers using sunscreens without zinc and titanium would be exposed to an average of 20% more UVA radiation — with increased risks for UVA-induced skin damage, premature aging, wrinkling, and UV-induced immune system damage — than consumers using zinc — and titanium-based products. They contain four times as many high hazard ingredients known or strongly suspected to cause cancer or birth defects, to disrupt human reproduction or damage the growing brain of a child. They also contain more toxins on average in every major category of health harm considered: cancer (10% more), birth defects and reproductive harm (40% more), neurotoxins (20% more), endocrine system disruptors (70% more), and chemicals that can damage the immune system (70% more)."

For now I'll keep working my way through the list of well-rated products. The ones I'm using currently are:

Aubrey Natural Sun Green Tea SPF 25:
Skin Deep score: 3 (moderate)
Contains Titanium Dioxide and Padiamte O
Some less than ideal ingredients and less than perfect UVA shielding.

UV Naturals Baby SPF 30:
Skin Deep score: 1 (very good rating)
Contains Zinc
Some of the reviews on Skin Deep were in line with my opinion, "We bought this sunscreen for our trip to Hawaii. We used it one day then tossed it aside. After putting it on my daughter, she felt like a greased pig ..."

California Baby SPF 30+ Sunscreen Lotion Everyday/Year-Round:
Skin Deep score: 1 (very good)
Contains Titanium Dioxide
Has a white cast to it and costs a bundle.

Alba Botanica SUN kids SPF 30:
Skin Deep score: 7 (not good)
Has some undesirable ingredients (such as oxybenzone) and is a little weak on UVA protection.
Applies quite nicely, though.

It is a matter of choosing your evil: greasiness, whiteness, or bad chemicals.

April 1, 2008

michael recycle

My son received a gift card to the bookstore for his birthday (thanks, Aunt Abbie and Uncle Dave!) He thought it was so cool to have his own card to pick out whatever he wanted. We read lots of books and looked around until he finally chose Michael Recycle which has just been released by Worthwhile Books.

The story is about a caped-crusader who encourages people to recycle. It is written in rhyme and has fun illustrations. Often I am careful when selecting books on issues like this for children because I think at a young age it is better to avoid too much doom and gloom about the state of the world. Not that we have to lie, but I think young kids are just coming into themselves and need to know the world is a beautiful place full of possibilities.

I also think it is great that kids are learning recycling as second nature from seeing their parents (and schools?) do it.

All that said, the book is cute and catchy. It talks about things very positively and doesn't get too technical. It certainly makes recycling look like loads of fun! We are really enjoying it. So if you're looking for a green-themed kids book, check this one out.