February 26, 2009

home green home


The most thorough cleaning my cabinets have ever seen.

Green cleaning companies may be all the rage, but they are not all alike. I know, because I’ve tried a few. Last week I was lucky enough to experience the impressive skills of San Francisco’s newest environmentally friendly home cleaning service, Home Green Home.

Home Green Home is a worker-owned cooperative in partnership with WAGES and Seventh Generation. The worker/owners of Home Green Home have completed intensive training, not just about the health benefits of green cleaning and the best techniques, but also about the intricacies of running a business. They’ve completed workshops in finances and customer satisfaction. The superior training is provided by WAGES, whose mission is to build worker-owned green businesses that create healthy, dignified jobs for low-income women. In their network of eco-friendly housecleaning cooperatives, women develop personal and professional skills, become leaders, and gain economic security. WAGES uses a cooperative business model that allows women to pool their skills and work together to succeed. The workers make decisions democratically, and they distribute business profits equitably to all workers. As co-owners of successful businesses, women increase their incomes substantially and help their families move out of poverty. After joining green cleaning cooperatives founded by WAGES, members’ household incomes increase by an average of 45% and their income can nearly double from the standard industry rate.

Using non-toxic and biodegradable cleaning products is especially important to people who work with the products over 8 hours per day. The women from Home Green Home told me they were excited about using such safe cleaning products because their health is much better since they switched to natural methods.

The crew uses these same products, but they put theirs in smaller bottles.

Home Green Home is also partnering with Seventh Generation and using their Free and Clear glass, all purpose, and tub and tile products. I was amazed with the tools and techniques they employed for various tasks. They had various micro fibers, scouring pads of various coarseness, little pointy tools and brushes for all kinds of nooks and crannies. Their intensive training was evident—I have never seen my kitchen and appliances so spotless and shiny.
Everything was so shiny.


You don't need special products for stainless steel.

They scrubbed crevices on the screw around the microwave door handle and removed batter remnants form my mixer so that it looks new. They even used a toothbrush around the handles on the stove. I have tile counter tops in my kitchen and I have never seen the grout look so clean. And this is just one room of my home! The crew is magic, I tell you.

No spot was left untouched.

The level of detail and service was so high. They bring absolutely every tool they might need, including vacuums (with hepa filter) and brooms. They even keep a separate set of equipment for bathrooms and kitchens, so that the tools don’t mix. I love that.

Separate buckets for kitchen and bath. They use Bon Ami and castille soap, also.

Hopefully Home Green Home will be a model for other groups around the country. Because while it is great that the products are healthy and non-toxic, more importantly, choosing this co-op is making a meaningful social difference. I’m sold!

The goodness doesn’t stop there. For all Mom Go Green readers in San Francisco, Home Green Home has generously offered 50% off your first “deep cleaning.” The offer will expire 2 weeks from today, so hurry. Just mention “mom go green” when you call.

February 25, 2009

value hunting

From what I hear, the President has many big green plans. I am very glad to hear this! I am relieved to hear that not only is the administration looking to clean energy, they are also addressing farm subsidies. I am hopeful this could be an opportunity to improve the food system.

Another exciting announcement today was the nomination of Kathleen Merrigan to be the USDA Deputy Secretary (#2 spot). Roots of Change describes her as an excellent choice because she is "a seasoned champion of organics, she is also clearly committed to social justice and economic viability. Dr. Merrigan embodies sustainability principles and has a track record of embedding these principals into government policy."

While these announcements are full of promise, I am still feeling a squeeze on my wallet. I want to be able to continue to eat organics as much as possible (and as much of it local as possible).

I have decided to do a pricing survey of the stores in my area. It is no secret that Whole Foods has a reputation for being expensive. I wonder if their prices are being compared to comparable products. We all know an organic apple costs more than a conventional.

I am going to do my own survey of a selection of items that I frequently buy and see what they cost at 4 local stores (including Whole Foods). I set up a chart and will visit all 4 stores on the same day to gather the price information. Whatever the outcome, I will know where I can stretch my dollar for the foods that I am committed to. Of course I'll share the results with you!

I also have aspirations to start a bigger garden this year and grow our own vegetables, but that is a whole other post.

February 24, 2009

natural mints


Sometimes I don't really think about how something is made until I see a natural version of a product. Then I stop and wonder what ingredients or processes are so different. I might do a little research or just try the natural version to see how it compares.

Such is the case with mints. I like carrying mints for after a coffee or for a dry throat in a meeting. I stumbled upon a cute tin of Vermints and was attracted to their cute brand. Their mints are all natural. Vermints is proud ot tell you their products has/is:

• No artificial flavoring or coloring
• No chalky aftertaste
• No high fructose corn syrup
• No artificial sweeteners
• Totally Nut-Free
• Absolutely no animal products (Vegans take note)
• Gluten-Free

They taste great as I consume them, but they don't leave a strong minty flavor in my mouth after wards (like other curiously strong mints might).

I've also tried the Newman's Own mints, which seem very similar to the Vermints. I like them both fine, but I wish there was a stronger, burst of mint. Maybe I need to try some of the other flavors they make—there are 6!

February 23, 2009

a batty idea


We have a little, urban backyard here at my house. We love being able to play and cook outside almost year round. The weather is so mild though, that the mosquitoes never quite go away, even in winter. In fact, it seems to me they've been busy multiplying their population these past few years.

I don't want to have to spray my family every time we play outside. Also, our home doesn't have screens on the doors or windows (this is common in our area) because usually there aren't many mosquitoes.

Am I crazy for considering a bat house?

"Because one bat can devour 600 mosquitoes or other insects in just one hour, installing a Bat Conservatory nearby can protect you and your family from insect bites and greatly reduce the need for environmentally hazardous mosquito repellents."

Food for thought, indeed.

February 22, 2009

nail polish woes on my toes


I treated myself to a pedicure today as part of my oscar preparation some long overdue maintenance. At the salon they had many brands of polishes, two of which had a sign distinguishing them as toulene and formaldyhyde free (Zoya and Sparitual brands). I chose one of those and was pleased.

When I got home I did some further sleuthing and found there may be other ingredients to avoid in polishes. In addition to the toule (which is toxic) and formaldehyde (a carcinogen), dibutyl phthalate (DBP) should be avoided because it is a hormone disruptor. Thankfully both Zoya and Sparitual do not contain DBP, either.

Even with the dangerous ingredients removed, all polishes are petroleum based. It might be good to know that as I learned from the SafeNailPolish.com site, no brand of polish is actually organic or vegan, despite how they are marketed.

Another article I read on care2.com gives a good overview of polish dangers and also describes a way to give yourself an all natural manicure, using buffing instead of polish. I actually had this done to my hands today (buffing, no polish) and it looks amazing! The nails are clear, shiny and smooth.

The Skin Deep database has a section on nail care which is helpful to find out which brands are safe (though it didn't yet have the brands I saw at the salon today). Skin Deep also helps explain the dangers of various ingredients.

I hope I can find a way to keep my pedicure safe and non-toxic, or else sandal season just won't be the same!

February 20, 2009

another reason to stay away from high fructose corn syrup

Informed consumers know that it is wise to avoid high fructose corn syrup—for many reasons. I just read about a startling new reason to stay away from that ingredient. This is especially important for young children.

Studies are being released posing a question about mercury appearing in HFCS. Shockingly, the FDA is dodging looking into it further. Please read the full story published today on Grist.

It seems worthy of an investigation, further testing, or some safety regulations, if you ask me.

February 19, 2009

atm greenness


Have you noticed little eco-changes at your ATM?

At first I was excited to see a small recycling bin for the receipts (I know I'm silly to find that exciting). An even better option is to say no to the receipts altogether.

Next, the ATM started offering the option to make deposits without extra deposit slips. And now, some machines allow you to make deposits without envelopes.

The best part is that at these ATMs check deposits are scanned, with an immediate photo record of the deposit. This is incredibly helpful when reviewing your statement (online or paper) and you cannot recall what certain deposits were. These check-scanning ATMs may not be exactly new, but they are a new to me as my other bank had nothing of the sort.

I would imagine eventually that most things will be done with bank transfers and wires, electronic payment systems. I imagine paper will be used less and less.

February 18, 2009

rock, paper, phone!

These days there are all kinds of new ways to use technology. Often that isn't considered a "green" thing, but it occurs to me that smart phones (and in some cases, standard cellphones) might have an angle.

My theory supposes that people are buying the phones, regardless. I know the products themselves are not great for the environment. But if people already have these phones, it is kind of cool that they can use them in ways which will save paper.

Rather than printing things form the computer, many sites are adding the option of sending the information straight to your phone. I've seen Epicurious recipes, the Courage Campaign, and Google Maps all offer a phone option. Even the safe seafood cheat-sheet from the Monterey Bay Aquarium can be sent to your phone rather than printing out the little card! No doubt there are many more similar resources taking advantage of the technology.

Additionally, the phones are offering different applications and tools which might make the need for notepaper a thing of the past. One such application that I've been playing with is reQall.

I haven't done any calculations, but I'm guessing the amount of paper saved isn't going to balance out the environmental damage from the phone and battery parts. But like I said, if people are going to own these phones anyway, it is kind of cool that they can help streamline information and maybe conserve other resources in the process.

February 16, 2009

favorite eco-baby gifts


Over time I have been compiling a list of my favorite eco-friendly baby gifts. The list is always evolving as I learn of new things. I'm sure every parent has a different idea of what items are most indispensable, so please add your favorites to the comments below.

February 15, 2009

valentine update


Now that the holiday has passed, I have some fresh perspective.

The cards my kids collected at school were so simple and sweet. My boys loved receiving them and regarded each one as a valuable treasure.

One of my favorites was a heart cut from discarded/used laser paper and colored on the backside. Another is a slice of construction paper with a smear of glitter. Yet another great one was a painted heart cut from a brown grocery bag with a string tied on to make it a necklace.

The materials were simple, the effect was grand. Next year I will not fret about supplies and just grab some recycled papers and let the kids paint and glue on them.

February 12, 2009

cleansing

I often write about avoiding toxins in foods and products, but I had never ventured to explore how one can get rid of accumulated toxins.

Many people can benefit from doing a detox cleanse. In fact, I find alternative heath practitioners often recommend occasional cleansing regimes. There are many products on the market for cleansing, and some may be fine while others may be dangerous. I would work with a trusted practitioner to find a recommended method. You can cleanse with or without special products.

I am trying my first cleanse now. The caffeine withdrawal has been brutal! But I am really looking forward to feeling healthier. The plan I am doing lets me eat food—it is not a fast. It focuses on organic foods that will provide nutrients and eliminates wheat, dairy, sugar, alcohol and caffeine. This particular program is a 14-day process.

I have read that a detox cleanse program can offer improvement with: digestive problems, irritability, headaches, joint pain, fatigue, weight loss resistance, poor concentration, and skin rashes and breakouts.

I'll be sure to let you know if it really makes a difference, physically or mentally.

February 11, 2009

making valentines


Valentine's Day may be the same date every year, but that doesn't stop it from sneaking up on me. I had visions of me gathering nifty crafting supplies in advance and setting up the kids with everything they needed to make beautiful valentines for their classmates. But then, suddenly it is 2 days before the exchange at school—and we haven't even started! I panic.

This morning I received an email from Forest Ethics with ideas for making valentines out of junk mail paper. I think with the right selection of pieces, it could actually look good. I saw a little friend passing out some homemade cards the the teachers at preschool this morning, and while I am not sure if junk mail was the paper, it was a collage from scraps and looked really gorgeous.

But back to my panic—this afternoon I figured I had about 2 hours total for my son to make 30 valentines for his classmates (he goes to a very 'homemade-preferred' style school). Collages from reused material fell to the wayside and instead I bought a cute valentine kit at Paper Source. Feeling quite relieved, I then learned that the teacher has another plan. She asked each child to make only 2 valentines for some kind of exchange.

What a relief! 2 is so much more manageable than 30. I scrapped the kit idea (I'll return that tomorrow). Instead we decided to sew felt hearts together and fill them with lambswool and lavender.

I'm glad that in the end we have some nice, homemade valentines made from natural materials, but it was a close call. I'd love to hear what other people are doing for valentine projects. Maybe I'll be more prepared for next year. Leave a comment or email a photo.

February 10, 2009

we've got Earthlust


We recently added some new reusable water bottles to our collection. The kids were ready for something a little larger, and I was glad to find a stainless steel bottle that didn't require a plastic "sip" top.

The Earthlust bottles have appealing graphics that my kids were excited about. They are designed by a California family which produces them in China under strict observation. EarthLust bottles are made from high-quality #304 food grade stainless steel, which is naturally safe unlined. They also use non-toxic paints and BPA-free safe polypropelene #5 caps. Earthlust also is a member of 1% for the Planet.

There are many good reusable bottles on the market, and to be fair, that is a great thing. I think it is great to have choices between brands and styles to find the one that best suits your needs.

February 8, 2009

sourcing shrimp

For the past few weeks I've been working on a project deadline, and therefore my dinner preparation has been really lame. I saw one of those "20-minute recipes" in a magazine and thought I might as well try it. It was a shrimp and couscous dish, which I hoped would appeal to my family.

I bought the shrimp at Whole Foods, made the meal, cleaned the kitchen, put the kids in bed, and only then decided I should find out if shrimp are actually a good thing to be eating.

First, I read an enlightening article about shrimp (prawn) farming in Asia. Shrimp are a huge crop in that region. While it seems governments try to regulate safety standards, it is a pretty gnarly industry. In the article, an author of a book about the fishing industry is quoted as saying, "he thinks farmed prawn is the most disgusting of all the industrial farmed products - worse than salmon, worse than battery chicken. And he won't eat them." The article continues, "Bad prawn farming is caused by the same things as bad chicken farming - the relentless downward pressure on prices forced on producers by supermarkets. So, there's a good reason to buy organic."

Which makes me wonder, what sources are there for safer prawns? Do they even sell organic prawns somewhere? After more sleuthing I found an article from The Environmental Defense Fund which had a nice overview:

"Shrimp is the most popular seafood in the U.S., yet despite its popularity, it has a very poor environment record. Shrimp farming is often criticized for contaminating local habitats and converting wetlands to shrimp farms, among other concerns. U.S shrimp farms are held to stricter regulations than many farms around the world and have made notable progress in recent years. But in Asia and Latin America, where much of our shrimp comes from, environmental regulations are sometimes lax and often not enforced.

Shrimp farming is often criticized for:
• diseases outbreaks which may threaten wild shrimp,
• releasing of waste water laden with shrimp wastes,
• contamination of shrimp with farm chemicals such as antibiotics, and
• the use of large quantities of wild caught fish to feed shrimp."


After all this research I was sure that I needed to be careful about where shrimp comes from, but I wasn't sure how to know if it was from a good place or not. When I shop at Whole Foods they often have the Marine Stewardship certification on their seafood, so I looked at that website for shrimp sourcing advice. I found there are a few shrimp sources that are MSC certified, but I am not sure I will be able to find them in local stores.

The whole thing is kind of overwhelming at this point. Maybe it is better to just not eat it? Or eat it only occasionally? Maybe eating shrimp will be for rare occasions—unless I find a local, reputable shrimp source.

February 3, 2009

clean(ing) bottles



Since I was so inspired to make the set of homemade cleaners (with labels!) from The Toby Show and never got to make them for holiday gifts, I decided they would be the perfect thing to package up as an item for our preschool fund raising auction. Wouldn't you buy a set if someone had done all the hard work for you?

In her post Jonah Lisa reused old bottles, which is the greenest way. However, I wanted new bottles that were clean and pretty to entice people to bid a good price for them. I'll add some cute labels, include the necessary ingredients, and put it all in a basket.

To find my empty spray bottles I went to a Container Store. I found some simple ones made by Casabella. They weren't as cheap as some others I saw online, but it saved me some time to buy them locally.

I was excited to see another Casabella bottle at the store that was really cool—it had homemade cleaning recipes printed on it! Similar idea to what I am making, but I love that it is available for the mass market.

February 2, 2009

boxcycle

When in need of moving boxes. or in need or getting rid of them, I have always relied on Craigslist and Freecycle. Now there is another cool option called BoxCycle.

BoxCycle has really though about all aspects of the box use:

"Retailers receive daily shipments in boxes that they then spend time and money getting rid of. While many retailers are happy to provide used boxes to others, they don't have time to look for interested people and do not want to be distracted from their core business. Recyclers, moving companies, and box manufacturers accept pennies for recycling perfectly good boxes instead of much higher prices people are willing to pay because these sellers are not setup to deal directly with consumers. BoxCycle shields sellers from frequent communication, broken appointments, payment collection, and other issues that makes dealing with individual consumers difficult. At the same time, BoxCycle makes it easy for sellers to list their boxes and find buyers."

There are probably many retailers who have loads of boxes available. You simply type in your zip code and it shows you all the potential boxes in your area. Sellers pay a commission to BoxCycle.

(Personally, I hope I will not have to move anytime soon).