Instead of DEET, Try OLE to Quell Mosquitoes and Ticks
While DEET is the gold standard of insect repellents, it is also a strong synthetic chemical with a tarnished reputation. Although a 2014 EPA review was unable to identify any health or environmental risk, other reports found a potential link to brain damage, and such ill effects as rashes, skin irritation, numb or burning lips, nausea, headaches, dizziness and difficulty concentrating. So it's a bit of a mixed bag.
There is a plant-based alternative. Oil of lemon eucalyptus derived from eucalyptus leaves and approved by the Center for Disease Control. It’s listed on insect repellant labels with the letters OLE. Its synthetic component is listed as PMD. Products containing OLE and PMD include Repel and Off! Botanicals.
So how effective is it? Consumer Reports found that one insect repellent containing 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) did well in tests, warding off mosquitoes and ticks for at least 7 hours. Other products with plant-based oils – including cedar, cinnamon, citronella, clove, geranium, lemongrass, rosemary, and peppermint – provided little protection, often failing within a half-hour.
“Pure” oil of lemon eucalyptus (essential oil not formulated as a repellent) is not recommended as it has not undergone validated testing for safety and is not registered with EPA as an insect repellent.
Warning: The stuff has a strong odor. That’s why it works. It even comes with a flammable warning.
So don’t reach for DEET. Look for products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE on the label) instead.
Source: “CDC lists oil of lemon eucalyptus as comparable to DEET for mosquitoes,” by Melissa Breyer, June 29, 2018.
Stop Microplastic Pollution
I’ve been on my high horse lately about microplastics, tiny microscopic plastic fibers embedded in synthetic fabrics, like fleece, Spandex, and polyester. When laundered, these fabrics release tiny microfibers into our oceans and waterways, finding their way into the food chain. One study found that, on average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers in each wash. It’s a big problem. To make matters worse, when plastic gets into the human body it’s stored in fat and attracts carcinogens, leading to all kinds of undesirable outcomes.
Until washing machine manufacturers find a filter to keep these beads out of the wastewater, it’s up to us, the consumer, to find a solution.
Now there is one. It’s called Guppyfriend, a washing bag that protects synthetic garments and reduces the number of microfibers that get flushed through washing machines. The single compartment bag is made from 100% polyamide and can be fully recycled. Clothes in the bag undergo less mechanical stress and less friction with other clothes, leading to decreased fiber loss and significantly increasing the lifetime of your garments —-saving the environment and prolonging your wardrobe.
It’s available for $29.75 from the Buy Me Once website, buymeonce.com. Try it.
Reduce Cancer Risk
Lifestyle factors can play a large role in warding off health problems. Here are three little-known tips:
#1. Talk to your hair stylist
Many studies suggest that regular exposure to chemicals found in semi-permanent and permanent dyes may increase cancer risk. Some studies have particularly focused on the potential link between hair dyes and blood cancers — such as leukemia and lymphoma — and bladder cancer. To be safe, let your hair go natural or talk to your hairdresser about safer alternatives.
#2. Consider contraception alternatives
Evidence does not conclude that using birth control pills causes breast cancer, but research has found that women who use them may have a 10 to 30 percent higher risk of breast cancer than women who have never used them. Studies also show that women who stop taking the pill can reduce their risk of cancer over time.
#3. Avoid styrofoam cups and take-out containers
Styrene, a chemical found in foam coffee cups and take-out containers, is a possible human carcinogen. Long-term exposure has been linked to cancers of the esophagus and pancreas, according to some studies.
Source: Health Central magazine,
Sustainable Clothing. It Matters.
I try hard to walk the talk and wear natural fabrics (all the time), dyed with natural dyes (when possible). It limits what I buy, and I like it that way. These clothes are well-made, good quality, easy to care for (requiring soap, not detergent, to wash), and feel great next to my skin. I'm hoping this is the next big trend America embarks upon, because sustainability in all aspects of daily life is important.
America’s quest for the latest fashion leads to a lot of waste. I call it fast clothes—poorly made, flimsy fabric in a trendy look. But it doesn’t last. Washing takes it’s toll on the poorly made fabric. Seams don’t hold up. It’s expensive. It’s wasteful. We need a return to what I call slow clothes, a term adopted from the Slow Food movement.
Here’s a quick look at the fabrics you’ll likely to encounter next time you’re out shopping for clothes:
LINEN is a plant-based fabric made from flax which can be cultivated and processed without chemicals, although some methods of processing do release pollutants into waterways. Linen can be grown on non-arable land unfit for other crops, and is thus a sustainable fabric for clothing.
COTTON is a natural plant-based fiber that makes up a quarter of all fabric used in clothing, furniture, and other textile blends. It is durable, breathable, and highly versatile. It is also biodegradable, which is a huge plus, considering the damage caused by synthetic fabrics. Cotton, however, is a resource hog. It uses a tremendous amount of water (3% of global water use, according to the UN), a tremendous amount of pesticides (7% of all chemicals used for agriculture in the U.S.), and a lot of arable land (2% globally). Organic cotton can improve the chemical effect, but it tends to require more land because crop yields decrease.
WOOL, an animal product, is a good eco-option. It’s tough, wrinkle-resistant, is good at retaining its original shape, and it can absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture before feeling damp. Wool holds colorful dyes easily, without the use of chemicals.
Wool can replace many of the water-resistant synthetics and polyester fleeces that feature prominently in outdoor gear without fear of microfiber shedding – which wreaks havoc for wildlife down the food chain.
RAYON, MODAL, and BAMBOO are made from cellulose that comes from softwood trees. While the raw crop is biodegradable, the chemicals required to transform it into fabric can cause serious health problems for factory workers, including Parkinson’s disease, premature heart attack and stroke. It’s been reported that some workers cannot even make it home after a day’s work due to effects of toxic chemicals used in the manufacturing process. Carbon disulfide, for example, is known to cause blindness. By the time the fabric gets to the store, it poses no danger to consumers.
TENCEL, on the other hand, while made of cellulose, is produced using recyclable, earth-friendly solvents. When blended with cotton, Tencel adds wrinkle-resistance and the lustrous feel of a silk.
When evaluating sustainability, we must also look at the source of cellulose used to make these fabrics. Rayon made in China likely comes from Indonesia, where old-growth rainforests are being destroyed to make way for bamboo, planted specifically for textile manufacturing. Bamboo grows quickly and is thus more profitable.
BAMBOO is a cellulosic fabric using the same chemical process as rayon and modal, but if the fabric is processed mechanically, rather than chemically, it has a much smaller impact. This is called ‘bamboo linen’ and is harder to find and more expensive.
A few factories in Europe and Canada use healthier chemicals in manufacturing bamboo fabric. It’s a good idea to check before you buy. Ask the store clerk. If you can’t get an answer, the retailer probably doesn’t care much about sustainability.
POLYESTER currently dominates the clothing industry, found in 60% of clothing. People like it for its stretchiness, durability, and comfort, but it’s important to remember that it’s a plastic manufactured from crude oil (an energy-intensive process). Even though some manufacturers are adding recycled polyester (often sourced from plastic bottles) these have the same environmental repercussions as new polyester, which can be huge.
We now know when polyester (including fleece and spandex) is washed it releases plastic microfibers into waterways. These persist indefinitely, contaminating lakes and oceans and getting ingested by animals and, indirectly, by humans. It’s a big problem.
HEMP is, perhaps, the most environmentally-friendly option of all when it comes to clothing. It rates top of the line in all factors when it comes to economic and environmental sustainability of our planet.
Consider these facts from Sympatico, an online clothing company:
• Hemp clothing absorbs and releases perspiration quickly and breathes well
• Hemp clothing absorbs dye easily and retains color well
• Hemp clothing holds up to repeated washings and never needs dry cleaning
• Hemp clothing is naturally anti-microbial
• Hemp clothing is resistant to mold and mildew
• Hemp fabric gets softer the more it's washed and worn, and doesn’t need dry cleaning.
Hemp grows rapidly and requires little water and no pesticides or herbicides. Its deep roots anchor and aerate the soil in which it’s grown. Hemp produces more fiber per acre than trees, cotton or flax (for linen).
Hemp clothing is easy to care for and tolerates hot water temperatures. If the garment has been pre-shrunk, a hot dryer will not harm it. Hemp clothing air dries quickly.
I have several hemp items in my wardrobe and love how easy they are to wear and care for. Their fit is casual and relaxed. Garments may feel a bit stiff in the beginning, but hemp grows softer with laundering and wear. If I spill food or get dirt on these clothes, simply putting a little laundry soap on the spot and letting it sit for a few minutes before washing is sufficient to remove the spot.
SPANDEX, FLEECE, AND OUTDOOR FABRICS. Plastic microfibers in synthetic clothing are rapidly poisoning oceans and waterways, finding their way into the food chain. In an alarming study released in 2017, researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara found that, on average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers each wash. It also found that older jackets shed almost twice as many fibers as new jackets. What is astounding is how many fibers are released with every wash. One study revealed that every city of 100,000 residents releases a wash-related volume of microfibers that’s equivalent to 15,000 plastic bags. That means that a city the size of Los Angeles is releasing enough microfibers to make more than half a million plastic bags daily.
CHOOSE ORGANIC, BIODEGRADABLE FABRICS. Every piece of clothing has an impact on the environment, but the big question is how much of an impact? Is it hard on the planet in its manufacture? In it’s disposal? Some are harder on the planet than others. What’s the concerned consumer to do?
Best advice is to choose organic, biodegradable fabrics. These are more expensive, which means you’ll likely buy less – but that’s a good thing. We need to break free from the trendy fashion mentality that encourages a disposable attitude toward clothes. Instead, buy clothing you plan to get a lot of use out of, clothing that won’t end up in the trash or donation pile a few months down the road.
Next time you’re clothes shopping, choose fabrics you’ll enjoy wearing – that feel good next to your skin – and that will last. Search for vintage and locally made, handcrafted garments made of breathable cotton-linen or cotton-polyester blend; hemp or organic-cotton blend. Look for relaxed garments you’d want to wear everyday, but aren’t just basics. Have fun with it.
Maiwa, in Vancouver, BC, is where I buy most of my clothes. They ship. Check it out--https:maiwa.com.
Check out "What's Needed to Clean Up the Fashion Industry", https://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-fashion/whats-needed-clean-fashion-industry.html
Don't Be Fooled By Sunscreens
Summer is right around the corner, and with it glorious days spent in the sun--which means trying to figure out how to prevent sunburn, a major risk factor for skin cancer.
I've never been a fan of cosmetic sunscreens, probably because I know so much about synthetic chemicals and what they can do to the human body. With confusing ingredients like avobenzone and oxybenzone, it can be tough to tell the good from the bad. Turns out, not all sunscreens are created equal. Some actually do more harm than good, while others do the job only if used correctly.
For example, did you know.....
* There's no proof that sunscreens prevent most skin cancer?
* SPF is not a reliable guide?
* The common sunscreen additive vitamin A may speed development of skin cancer?
* Sunscreens don't protect skin from all types of skin damage?
* Some sunscreen ingredients disrupt hormones and cause skin allergies.
What's the wise consumer to do? Check out what scientists at the Environmental Working Group have to say about sunscreens. EWG is my go-to place to research ingredients and viability of all manner of consumer goods. This year EWG scientists analyzed nearly 1,500 sun safety products and found that almost 75% of them provide inferior sun protection or contain hormone-disrupting chemicals. Find out what's best for you and your family by downloading EWG's 2017 Guide to Safer Sunscreens: http://action.ewg.org/p/salsa/web/common/public/signup?signup_page_KEY=5968&track=2016SunscreenPDFSignUpHP&_ga=2.26795518.25156532.1495560531-1795715529.1495559310.
Make Your Own Shampoo?
Most shampoos are composed of chemicals made in a laboratory, not found in nature. I'm fairly careful about what I buy, what I put in and on my body, so I was stunned to discover the shampoo I'd been using for several years--from a company that touted its environmental awareness--was filled with synthetic junk. So I switched. I now use So Pure Natural Balance by Keune. The label says it's sulfite and paraben-free.
I'm experimenting, though, and tempted to try making my own shampoos. If I get really adventurous I'm going to try this recipe from treehugger.com. There are just two ingredients: baking soda and apple cider vinegar.
Measure 2 tbsp baking soda into a 1 pint glass jar. Wet hair. Fill jar with water and stir to dissolve baking soda. Pour over head and scrub into hair. Rinse. Measure 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar into same jar. Add water, pour over head, and rinse almost immediately.
These amounts are for long hair. If yours is short to medium length, use 1 tbsp of baking soda and vinegar in 1 cup of water. If your hair doesn’t seem clean enough once it’s dried, use a bit more soda next time.
Anyone adventurous out there who wants to try it? Let me know how it works. I'll post the results.
Five Sunscreen Ingredients to Avoid
It’s good to remember that, while we do need protection to prevent sunburn, blocking out the sun entirely is not ideal. Rich in vitamin D, it offers a number of other health benefits, including (oddly enough) cancer prevention. We’ve been conditioned to fear the sun and, as a result, adults and children are choosing to drench themselves in a bath of toxic hormone-disrupting chemicals. As it turns out, these same chemicals are destroying our coral reefs and harming fish and wildlife, as well.
While no sunscreen has been proven to be completely ‘reef-friendly,’ those with titanium oxide or zinc oxide, which are natural mineral ingredients, have not been found to be harmful. Sunscreens sold for children or for those with sensitive skin may contain these gentler compounds as the active ingredients.
The Environmental Working Group recommends you use sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, and avoid sunscreens that contain oxybenzone, octocrylene, 4MBC, butylparaben and octinoxate.
But the best ways to protect yourself from the sun is to do so with clothes, hats, sunglasses, parasols, and good old shade.
For more information, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Guide at ewg.org.
Source: “Five Sunscreen Ingredients to Avoid,” by Melissa Breyer, Treehugger, May 22, 2018. file:///2018%20GZ/5%20sunscreen%20ingredients%20to%20avoid%20%7C%20TreeHugger.webarchive
For more information on harmful chemicals in sunscreen, see
How To Wash Your Hands
Washing your hands helps you avoid becoming infected with bacteria and viruses. Here is the method recommended by the Center for Disease Control:
1. Wet your hands with warm or cold running water and apply plain soap. Skip antibacterial soap.
2. Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well. Be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Bacteria can hide out here too.
3. Continue rubbing hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum “Happy Birthday” from beginning to end twice.
4. Rinse your hands well under running water.
5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.
There’s no need to get obsessive about it, just make it a habit, especially after going to the bathroom, before brushing your teeth, before and during food preparation, and after handling babies and animals.
Clean Up Your Cosmetics
Cosmetics and grooming supplies contain loads of synthetic chemicals that harm, not help, your skin. Some touted to moisturize actually dry out your skin—the opposite effect of what you want—to keep you going back for more.
What to do? The Environmental Working Group website (ewg.org) has a guide to help you choose the most plant-based cosmetics. It contains tests of 73,000 products, and rates them according to how green they are. EWG also has an app for your Smart Phone. Scan your favorite products to see how they score. Use the app when shopping to make a better choice.
EWG also has a guide of quick tips for choosing safer personal care products. It’s chock-full of tips on how to read product labels, how to shop smart, and other valuable information. Simply download the guide to your computer from the website.
That’s ewg.org, your handy guide to everyday products for greener living.
Make Your Own Cosmetics
Making your own cosmetics is a great way to ensure the ingredients are pure and natural, and to minimize wasteful, non-recyclable packaging. Most of the ingredients use familiar ingredients you can find at the supermarket or health food store, such as arrowroot powder, cornstarch, cocoa powder, activated charcoal, and coconut oi.
Here are two easy recipes for eyeliner from treehugger.com.
Charcoal eyeliner is made from activated charcoal, a black powder perfect for makeup. If you can apply it dry, it may feel a bit gritty but it will stay put. Add oil for a smoother feel, but watch out for smudging. One word of caution. Be sure to source coal-free charcoal, such as Nature’s Way that makes its charcoal from burned coconut shells. If you can’t source coal-free charcoal, try the following recipe for almond eyeliner.
Almond eyeliner is made from burned almonds, which is a traditional way of making “kohl” or “kajal” in the Middle East and India. this recipe calls for the addition of ghee (clarified butter), but you can also use coconut oil.
Both of these recipes are found on the website treehugger.com, along with make-your-own recipes for powder blush, mascara, eye shadow, powder and liquid foundation, and zero-waste tanner.
Choose Personal Care Products Carefully
Some categories of personal care products have major safety concerns. Avoid them, especially for kids. Here are five products that can be harmful.
Hair Straighteners: Can cause cancer, allergy, skin and scalp irritation, hair damage, hair loss.
Dark Permanent Hair Dyes: Can cause allergy and cancer.
Loose Powder: An inhalation risk.
Perfumes and Fragrances: Can contain hundreds of chemicals and may trigger allergic reactions.
Skin Lighteners: May cause skin irritation and damage
Cosmetics are poorly regulated and commonly made from untested chemicals. Makers can use almost any ingredient they choose. How can you pick safer products?
* Opt for fewer products.
* Read ingredient lists and choose wisely.
* Understand that claims like “gentle” and “natural” could be ad hype.
* Be especially careful with kids. Kids are sensitive.
Four Traits of Ethical Brands
How can you tell if a brand truly lives up to its green promise—or if it’s all greenwashing? Whether you’re shopping for clothing or cosmetics, there are a few common traits that indicate if a brand is serious about sustainable, ethical production. They are:
#1. A short, clear ingredient list.
#2. Minimal packaging.
#3. Fair trade or direct trade.
#4. Philanthropic heart.
Stay Away from Spandex
There’s a new environmental danger that is poisoning our waterways at an alarming rate—laundry water containing plastic microfibers from synthetic clothing, like Spandex and fleece. Synthetic microfibers are particularly dangerous because their size allows them to be readily consumed by fish and other wildlife. These plastic fibers have the potential to bioaccumulate and enter the food chain, ending up on our plates in the food we eat.
It’s not a small problem. Microfibers – tiny threads shed from fabric – have been found in abundance on shorelines where waste water is released. When one researcher cut open a Great Lakes fish she found synthetic fibers everywhere, weaving themselves into the gastrointestinal tract. She had never seen anything like it.
While Patagonia and other outdoor companies, like Polartec, use recycled plastic bottles as a way to conserve and reduce waste, this latest research indicates that is even more likely to cause problems. Breaking a plastic bottle into millions of fibrous bits of plastic might prove to be worse than doing nothing at all.
So please think twice before buying those yoga pants or fleece jackets, or anything containing Spandex. Try to find an organic, biodegradable alternative fabric.
Manifesto for Green Living
A new company called Guppyfriend is working on a laundry bag to catch plastic microfibers when they’re being washed, so they don’t end up in our lakes and oceans. Guppyfriend is also lobbying washing machine manufacturers to install a special filter to catch microfibers before they enter the waste stream.
That’s all good news. But there are actions YOU can take, now, to cut down on microfiber waste. Guppyfriend has included these actions in the following STOP! MICRO WASTE manifesto. Here it is:
* I’ll fight convenience and avoid single-use plastic
* I won’t wash synthetic garments without filtering the wastewater
* I’ll reuse all valuable materials
* I’ll separate waste
* I’ll repair before I buy new stuff
* I’ll use my critical skills to avoid misleading advertising
* I know I don´t need much and will focus on the essentials
* I acknowledge that my contribution to protecting nature matters
If we continue as we have been, the pollution of our oceans will be irreversible. Please reflect and change your habits. And convince others to do so, too. Spread the word. We need to act. Now.
For more info: http://guppyfriend.com
What Is Your Shampoo
Many commercial soaps and shampoos are filled with toxic synthetic ingredients, including potential carcinogens. One such chemical is cocamide die-tha-no-la-mine, listed on labels as cocamide DEA. California listed cocamide DEA as a known carcinogen in 2012 under its Prop 65 law, which requires warning labels on consumer products. Unfortunately, Iowa has no such law. Most people believe products sold in stores are tested for safety, but that’s not true. It’s consumer beware in the marketplace today,
Included on California’s Center for Environmental Health’s list of carcinogenic shampoos are brand name products from Kohl’s, Pharmaca, Walmart, and Trader Joe’s. The Center found that even some children’s shampoos contain DEA.
To find out what’s in your shampoo, check out the brand online at the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website—EWG.org. The Environmental Working Group maintains a database of 3,900 shampoos which they’ve tested and rated according to safety. The site has a database for cleaning products, pesticides, and water filters, too, and much more—a handy, useful reference for all things green and nontoxic.
The Truth: Rayon & Bamboo
I’ve been living green for approximately 25 years now. I’m not perfect, but I do my best. At one point I realized I had to walk my talk and green my wardrobe. Consequently, I try my best to wear all natural fabrics and, when possible, fabrics dyed with plant-based, not synthetic dyes. It’s a hard line to walk, but worth it. I find I buy fewer clothes than I used to because my options are limited, which pleases me. I mean, really, how many sweaters does one person need? Or pairs of pants? Or jackets? Plus, I avoid the mall, a soul-destroying environment if there ever was one.
When possible, I buy linen, silk, and wool fabrics for dress-up and all-cotton (hopefully organic) for everyday. I stay way away from polyester because it contains petroleum. But what about rayon? Advertisers say it’s eco-friendly because it’s made from wood pulp. But is it really? So I went digging to find the answers, and hit gold.
Rayon is made from cellulose in the form of wood pulp, but when you apply the three-part eco-rule—is it dangerous in its (1) manufacture, (2) use, (3) and/or disposal?—rayon looks bad. Very bad. The fabric is extremely dangerous in its manufacture for factory workers, not the “miracle of modern chemistry” it’s touted to be. It is safe for those who wear the clothing or use rayon in other applications, such as for sausage casings, cellophane, sponges, and tires prior to 1950.
Developed in the early 20th century under the name “viscose,” the product cannot be made without toxic chemistry. To make rayon, wood pulp is mixed with caustic carbon disulfide, then bathed in sulfuric acid. Carbon disulfide, a potent solvent which offgases into the air during manufacture, is a known nerve poison which interferes with brain function, reportedly making “workers insane.” Sulfuric acid causes serious eye damage. In one report, workers had to be walked home at the end of the day because they could no longer see. In addition to causing air pollution, it’s known to cause impotence in males, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease.
What about textiles made with bamboo, the new “green” fabric? Like rayon, bamboo textiles are made using carbon disulfide. If you’re enamored of bamboo fabrics, best to find out where the fabric is manufactured. Adequate factory ventilation may solve the problem. Factories in Europe have better controls than those in Indonesia and India. Nevertheless, if you’re buying from a store that touts itself as eco-friendly, clerks should be able to tell you where the fabric is made, and assure you that workers were not harmed during its manufacture. If they can't do that, or don't know what you're talking about, you can rest assured the bamboo isn't manufactured in an environmentally-friendly manner.
Bottom line: Read labels. Avoid rayon. Avoid bamboo unless you're certain workers aren't harmed during its manufacture.
Sources: “The Current,” CBC radio, Feb. 9, 2017; http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-february-9-2017-1.3972476/why-rayon-is-killing-industry-workers-author-paul-blanc-1.3972480. Treehugger;
Fake Silk: The Lethal History of Viscose Rayon, by Paul Blanc, Yale University Press, 2016.