How To Pick Safer Products
Look for the EWG VERIFIED mark
Use EWG’s database to find better options
Read ingredients and choose wisely
Claims like “gentle” and “natural” could be hype.
EWG.org, website of the Environmental Working Group, is my go-to source for information on personal and household products. EWG scientists have studied over 80,000+ products and rated them 1 through 10, with information on ingredients and risks. It’s the best source I’ve found.
Five Things to Prioritize in Life
In an article for The Mission, writer Srinivas Rao outlines what he considers to be 5 essential investments every person should make in themselves. When these five things are prioritized, it affects every aspect of your life for the better, resulting in greater happiness, health, and work performance.
1. Physical Health—Getting enough quality sleep and eating well are just as important as going to the gym. If you hate working out, develop an athletic hobby, like surfing, yoga, or gardening. Make exercise less of a chore and you'll grow to like it more.
2. Mental Health—Surround yourself with positive influences. Foster a habit of gratitude, get a therapist, practice meditation, establish a productive routine. Spend more time outdoors.
3. Education—Education is an ongoing, lifelong process. Use the Internet—books, courses, and podcasts are all valuable investments, as long as you actually absorb them.
4. Professional Development—Know when to hire a trainer, a coach, or a mentor. This may require a significant financial outlay, but you may learn more in a 2-day workshop than you'd teach yourself in a year.
5. Your Environment—The state of your surroundings affects your mental health and productivity. Staying tidy, organized, and well-dressed goes a long way toward fuelling inspiration.
Source: “Five Things to Prioritize in Life,” by Katherine Martinko; May 8, 2018. https://www.treehugger.com/culture/5-things-you-should-always-prioritize-life.html
Buy quality. Buy once.
Forget the cheap disposables; they're never worth it. Invest instead in high quality items that will last forever.
Gone are the days when you could walk into a local store and buy the single available version of whatever you need, and expect it to last a lifetime. Sadly, we live in disposable times, when everything from appliances to clothes to cars seems to fall apart prematurely. Nowadays, buying quality, long-lasting items means hours of research, usually in the internet, reading reviews and researching brands. It can be an agonizing process.
But now there’s a website that will save you a lot of time. It’s called Buy Me Once, and as its name suggests, it exists to connect shoppers to the best products they'd ever want to buy. Buy Me Once subjects every item on its site to a rigorous review that includes the following questions:
1. Do the materials and craftsmanship make this product more durable that its competitors?
2. Do customer and independent reviews confirm its durability?
3. Is it made ethically, and, if possible, made of sustainable materials?
4. Is the aftercare offered exceptional?
5. Is the design timeless?
Keep in mind, these items are not cheap, but they are built to last. When you factor the price over years and number of uses, you realize it’s logical to shop this way.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to trust everything you bought not to let you down and end up as landfill? Think of the environmental benefits! Check out the Buy Me Once website, www.buymeonce.com. Make Buying for Life your new mantra.
Source: "Buy Me Once Wants You to Buy One Good Thing," by Katherine Martinko, March 28, 2018. https://www.treehugger.com/green-home/buy-me-once-shows-you-items-are-built-last.html
Research Before You Buy
By Linda Mason Hunter
My massage therapist recently had an unfortunate experience with toxic chemicals, through no fault of her own other than she did not do her research before purchasing a service to clean her carpet.
“They said the product they used was natural,” she complained when I told her the acrid smell permeating every corner of her massage room—making me woozy and giving me a whopper of a headache—was coming from the rug beneath her massage table. The otherwise healthy room where she encouraged five patients a day to breath deeply and relax, was contaminated with toxic chemicals outgassing from her recently cleaned rug.
These days industrial chemicals are used in everything from mattresses to building materials to cleaning products and cosmetics. With a heavy enough dose they can make you very very sick. Worst case scenario, you end up with extreme chemical sensitivity or a nerve disease. Your life is never the same.
Lesson learned: Don’t compromise your health due to chemical outgassing caused by something you brought into the house or office. Tune into your nose. Sniff the air like a mouse. What’s that smell? Learn to identify any “off” synthetic odor associated more with a chemist’s laboratory than with planet earth.
Research before you buy. If you aren’t satisfied with the answers you find, ask the company for a Materials Safety Data Sheet, commonly called an MSDS, which lists every ingredient in the product they make. All manufacturers are required by law to have them.
When I saw the MSDS from the company my therapist hired to clean her rug, I was appalled. It was one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Instructions called for wearing a mask, goggles, and rubber gloves during application. The main ingredient was a solvent, meaning it evaporates into the air. “Use with ventilation,” the label screamed in capital letters. My friend’s massage room was small with no ventilation coming from windows or doors.
In the end she got rid of her rug. The company refused to compensate her for it and she got tired of arguing with them. Fortunately, she caught the problem in time. No one got chronically sick. Lesson learned.
Take 15 minutes to Tidy Your Digs
By Linda Mason Hunter
I recently completed a compact study guide on green cleaning your house inside and out. Published by BarCharts (available for the low low price of $6.95), this guide is filled with all the information you need packed into six laminated pages—everything from hints and tips to basic home remedies and what to pack in your tool kit. Even though I’ve been writing about green cleaning off and on for 25 years, I still learn a lot with each new publication I write.
The main takeaway from this project, a tip that stays with me every day, is to take at least 15 minutes every morning to tidy up your digs, whether it’s a house, an apartment, a studio, or an office. Make beds, empty the dishwasher, take empty used glasses to the kitchen, wipe off countertops, replace any light bulbs that need changing, vacuum a dirty rug, sweep the floor, wipe down the toilet—whatever you find that needs some TLC.
I’ve found that just 15 minutes first thing in the morning clears this chore from my calendar for the day. Just 15 minutes a day saves time later when the build-up of chores takes longer. Just 15 minutes every morning—it’s a little effort with a big effect, a blessing, really. Try it.
Inspiration for Healthier Living
If you’re like me you’re always on the lookout for inspiration for living sustainably. Toward that end the staff at the Environmental Working Group (my favorite website at ewg.org) has published a list of their favorite books to help you live smarter and eat healthier. Their top picks include:
• Dr. Philip Landrigan and Mary Landrigan’s new book, “Children and Environmental Toxins: What Everyone Needs to Know,” an essential guide to understanding how the chemicals in our environment affect children’s health and what you can do to protect kids.
• New York Times best-selling author Dr. Mark Hyman’s new book, “Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?” is chock-full of easy-to-follow advice for healthy eating.
• You don’t want to miss Laila Ali’s debut cookbook, “Food for Life: Delicious & Healthy Comfort Food from My Table to Yours!” featuring over 100 recipes!
• Get more than 100 actionable tips for healthy living from “The New Health Rules: Simple Changes to Achieve Whole-Body Wellness,” by Dr. Frank Lipman and Danielle Claro.
• Pre-order your copy of the revolutionary new book “Anticancer Living: Transform Your Life with the Mix of Six,” from Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., and Alison Jefferies.
• Check out “The Obesogen Effect: Why We Eat Less and Exercise More but Still Struggle to Lose Weight,” by Bruce Blumberg and Kristen Loberg.
For more info on sustainable living, check out the Environmental Working Group’s website, ewg.org, my go-to for reputable, scientifically-tested Green Zone tips.
Fight Plastic Pollution
Governments around the world are waking up to the fact that the planet is drowning in plastic. China has banned plastic imports, and the UK prime minister has released a plastic plan that, despite lacking teeth, indicates increased awareness of an enormous problem.
In January, a European Union commission met to put together a plastic strategy that aims to clamp down on single-use plastics that take five seconds to produce, you use it for five minutes, and it takes 500 years to break down again. The main targets are items such as single-use straws, colored plastic bottles, coffee cups, lids, disposable cutlery, stirrers, and takeout packaging.
But the plan focuses on recycling as the solution, rather than focusing on reusables. Even if plastic is recycled, it can only be down-cycled, always reformed into a lesser version of itself, until eventually it goes to the landfill.
What we need is a focus on instituting reusables and banning single-use plastics--not just telling people to recycle. We need a full-on elimination of unnecessary, superfluous plastics from our lives, together with investment in innovative, safely biodegradable packaging alternatives.
The United States needs to take the lead in this endeavor. What are the odds of that happening? We are going to choke on plastic if we don't do anything about it.
Things You Should Never Skimp On
Saving money is a good thing, but there are things you should never skimp on. Here are a few:
Sunscreen. Buy a natural, plant-based sunscreen without preservatives or artificial ingredients. Find good brands at the Environmental Working Group’s website, EWG.org. Don’t try to save money by using a small amount. To properly cover your body, you need to use a shot-glassful every two hours you’re in the sun.
Vaccines. If you choose to get a flu shot, ask for one that doesn’t contain mercury and thimerosal. Usually your doctor or pharmacist has both types available, they just don’t advertise it. Don’t skimp on boosters recommended for adults during outbreaks—the protection from some vaccines wears off over time. Also, adults should get a tetanus booster every ten years.
Interior and exterior paint. Studies show that economy grades of interior paint don’t perform well overall, and you may need to apply three or four coats to cover dark colors. You also don’t have to buy ultra-premium paints—just avoid the bottom of the barrel. Economy exterior paints don’t weather as well as top-of-the-line products from the same brand, so you’ll be back on that ladder sooner than you imagined.
Charging cords. It’s worth protecting your expensive phone by using a decent power cord. Cheap cords may not have undergone stringent testing by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a leading safety testing organization whose logo you see on many electronic devices. Those cheap cords could damage your device (while voiding the warranty) and even, on rare occasions, cause a fire.
These and other money-saving tips can be found in the February, 2018 issue of Consumer Reports. Check it out.
Source: Consumer Reports, February, 2018, page. 33.
Check the Web for Eco Tips
People ask where I find my Green Zone tips. That question usually comes right after they ask why I’m so committed to sustainable living, anyway. I confess, living in harmony with the earth is like a religion with me. Once I know something, it’s hard to forget it and go on living mindlessly—wasting resources, fouling the planet, and ingesting synthetic chemicals that lead to chronic ill health.
Living green is not all that hard once you make the commitment. Knowledge, of course, is key. You have to educate yourself on the dangers out there in the industrial marketplace.
Several websites guide my choices, chief among them is the Environmental Working Group at ewg.org, which has huge databases on food, cleaning products, cosmetics, and water and water filters, among a host of other consumer goods. EWG rates the products and tells you the reasoning behind their choices. It’s a great learning resource.
Another go-to website is treehugger.com. I get treehugger’s newsletter delivered to my email daily. This up-to-date resource is a journal for green living, including the latest news on everything from e-bikes and electric cars, to how to start composting, which crib mattress is best for baby, what to do with old cooking oil, how small an apartment can be and still be habitable. That’s treehugger.com, where several of my Green Zone tips come from.
So check the web for information on how to walk softly upon the planet, leaving as small a footprint as possible.
EWG’s Guide to a Healthy Home
The Environmental Working Group (or EWG) is my top resource for Green Zone tips. It’s a magnificent portal into green living, including up-to-date information on everything from cosmetics to pesticides to water filters to food additives and farm subsidies.
Now EWG has come out with another guide—EWG’s Healthy Living Home Guide, to help you avoid health-harming chemicals at home. It is remarkable that the air inside our houses is two to five times more polluted than the air outside, pollution caused by the things we bring into our houses. Chemical pollutants build up inside our homes when they’re released from things like carpet and paint. EWG’s guide helps you avoid these health-harming chemicals by providing tips in more than 20 different categories.
There’s a healthy home checklist to find out where your problems are. A Start Small guide provides information on easy changes like air and water filters and cleaning supplies. There’s a list of healthiest dusting tips to reduce exposure to pollutants; a guide to reducing or eliminating toxic chemicals in the nursery; the do’s and don’ts of mattress shopping, and a cleaning guide with recipes for making your own non-toxic cleaners.
You can find it all online at ewg.org. Check it out and learn how to get started creating a greener and healthier home.
3 Beginning Steps to Plastic-Free
Going plastic-free is a huge step toward living sustainably. But it can be overwhelming. With plastic literally invading every corner of our lives, where do you start?
Katherine Martinko at treehuggger.com came up with six steps that go a long way toward plastic-free living. The first three she considers low-hanging fruit—they aren’t difficult, yet make a big difference in your life.
1. Start with Grocery Shopping
If you shop for groceries the way our society assumes you will, you're guaranteed to come home with loads of plastic. We’re accustomed to walking into a store empty-handed, assuming the store will provide the necessary packaging to transport food home. That’s how we got into the plastic bag habit in the first place.
The number rule is to bring your own reusable bags, containers, and boxes. Solid cotton and drawstring mesh bags, glass jars in various sizes, round metal canisters are all good tools to take to the store. You’d be surprised how supportive many stores are, especially if you avoid supermarket “industrial food” and shop locally.
* To begin, focus on the main dietary staples and leave items like condiments, oils, freezer foods, cheese, and snack foods for later, after you’ve conquered the basics. Here are some tips:
* Buy in bulk when possible, everything from pasta, dried beans, nuts, seeds, baking supplies, dried fruit, and spices to cereal, nut butters, coconut oil, and rice. Staying away from big box stores helps in this regard.
* When buying produce, don’t use one of the store’s plastic bags. Bag them a separate bag you bring with you.
* Put unpackaged loaves of bread in a drawstring bag or pillowcase.
* Shop locally for meat wrapped in butcher paper instead of supermarket meat packaged in plastic wrap and Styrofoam.
2. In the Bathroom
The next biggest source of plastic waste comes from the bathroom. Many products commonly found in bathrooms contain unsafe chemicals linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and respiratory issues. You're better off without them. Here are a few tips:
* Don’t buy shower gels and liquid soap in a plastic dispenser. Instead, buy unpackaged natural bar soap and use it exclusively.
* Keep a big container of Dr. Bronner's liquid castile soap in the shower; it, unfortunately, comes in plastic, but it lasts forever. You can also use as shampoo.
* Look for alternatives to commercial shampoos, and try to get refillable containers. Sources for good “green” shampoos can be found at ewg.com, website of the Environmental Working Group.
* Use olive oil soap to remove makeup.
* Moisturizers: Fair-trade coconut oil sold is great for moisturizing skin post-shaving, dry chapped hands, and removing makeup. I like Dr. Bronner’s fair-trade coconut oil sold in a glass jar with metal lid.
* Dental care, cosmetics, shaving tools, toilet paper packaging are all other things that can be tackled in an attempt to reduce plastic in the bathroom.
How many times have you found yourself far from home and ravenously hungry? Those are the moments when one's commitment to plastic avoidance tends to fall apart. It's almost impossible to find packaged food on the go that does not come in plastic. Here are a few solutions to the problem.
* Pack the food you'll need when you leave the house. It may just be a protein bar, a hard-boiled egg, or an apple. Take your stainless steel water bottle along. Then eat when you get home.
* If you’re gone for a longer time, pack a little picnic including a ceramic coffee cup, a cloth napkin, a metal spoon and fork, perhaps a metal container with a tight-fitting lid——good for soup or a sandwich.
* Invest in high-quality reusable containers made of metal or glass and washable cloth bags. Having these on hand will eliminate the urge to use disposable sandwich bags, plastic wrap, and plastic containers that age poorly and leach toxic chemicals into the food.
* If you're hungry and find yourself without reusable cups or dishes, take some time out of your day to sit down and relax. Go to a coffee shop or restaurant and avoid plastic takeout altogether.
Grocery shopping, in the bathroom, and food on the go are three relatively easy places to go plastic-free in your life. Establish these new habits, then it will be easier to tackle the next level of changes (such as cleaning and clothing).
Good Source of Info: lifewithoutplastic.com.
Source: “A Beginner’s Guide to Plastic-Free Living,” by Katherine Martinko, May 25, 2018. https://www.treehugger.com/green-home/beginners-guide-plastic-free-living.html
Lately, several people have asked me how can they tell if an item is green or not. For the answer, I fall back on what I wrote in my first book, The Healthy Home, in 1989. Still true today. Will always be true. Simply follow these two basic rules:
Rule # 1: Follow the cradle to grave philosophy. Is the product harmful in any of it’s life cycles—manufacture, use, disposal? Ask yourself these questions: Does the product use a renewable resource? Does the product pose a hazard to those who work with it? Does the product pose a hazard to those who use it? Can it be disposed of in a safe ecological manner, without polluting the environment?
Rule #2: In all you do, use appropriate technology. Such technologies tend to be inexpensive, readily available to all members of a community, and capable of being produced locally. They are labor intensive rather than energy intensive, are minimally harmful to the environment, and do not violate the humanity of those who use them. For example, solar energy is appropriate technology. Fracking for oil is not.
It’s as simple as that.
Lifestyle Hacks to Save Money
Little things add up over time. Here are a few lifestyle hacks that can amount to respectable savings as years go by.
#1. Buy neutral, versatile clothing.
Clothes in neutral colors can be easily mixed and matched so you won’t need so many—almost everything goes with everything else.
#2. Drink tapwater.
Bottled water is expensive. Fill your water bottle at home and at airport water fountains. Be extra safe and get a filter on your tap water at home.
#3. Plant trees around your house.
Trees provide shade, thereby reducing air-conditioning costs and protecting your house from the elements.
#4. Use a clothesline.
This tip is basically free money. In cold months, set up an indoor drying rack.
#5. Do your own food shredding.
It’s far cheaper to buy a block of cheese and shred it yourself than to buy it pre-shredded.
#6. Carry around $100.
By carrying a large chunk of cash instead of a debit or credit card, you’ll be inclined to think twice about making purchases, especially small impulse buys that tempt you to break the bill.
Resist Easy Disposal
Easy disposal has gotten us into quite a mess. Within 50 years we have moved from everyday reusable products to single-use disposable items that are a blight on our wallets and the environment. Countries spend billions of dollars every year to build and manage landfills that just compress and bury this stuff.
Manufacturers need a new design ethic. Instead of Design for Disposability, we need Design for Longevity, Design for Reusability.
TreeHugger.com, one of my favorite sources of green tips, has articulated a solution to the design for disposability problem. They call it the 7Rs:
Reduce: Just use less.
Return: Producers should take back what they sell.
Reuse: Almost boring, but we throw too much stuff out too soon.
Repair: Fix and mend things rather than replacing them.
Refill: In Ontario Canada, 88% of beer bottles are returned to the beer store, washed and refilled. We need to institute a similar policy here.
Rot: Compost what is left over, turning it into valuable nutrients.
Refuse: Simply refuse to accept this crap from the manufacturers any more.
Recycling isn't on the list, because we aren't going to reinforce a culture of disposability.
Learn How to Read Labels
The savvy consumer learns how to read labels to discern whether a product is green or not. It’s trickier to read what’s printed on the packaging of household and personal care products-- than the labels on food--because the law does not require that all ingredients be listed. Trade secrets are exempt, as are inert ingredients, so consumers have little to go on beyond such mandated signal words as danger, warning, and caution, which in any case warn only of acute exposure, not long-term chronic exposure, which is exactly how we use these products.
When investigating whether a company has green credentials, look for these words and phrases:
* Biodegradable in three to five days
* Does not contain phosphates
* Does not contain chlorine
* Does not contain petroleum products
* Contains no ammonia, acids, alkalis, solvents, nitrates, or borates
* Formulated without dye or synthetic fragrance
Because the words “nontoxic” and “natural” have no legal definitions, they mean nothing on a label. And the word “organic” means one thing when applied to food (where it means grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers), and another thing when applied to chemistry (where it means carbon-based).
When in doubt, obtain a Materials Safety Data Sheet (or MSDS) which manufacturers are required by law to provide. Some manufacturers make them available on their websites. While not a complete source of information, an MSDS can be a useful tool because it lists chemical substances, precautions for safe handling and use, and known health effects.
A good rule of thumb: The more plant-based a product the greener it is and the healthier it will be for humans and other living things. If a product has ingredients with long chemical names, chances are those ingredients are manufactured in laboratories by humans, not found in nature.
Six Plastics to Live Without
I’m getting really concerned about plastic disposal, especially microfibers showing up in our water, in the fish we eat, even in salt. You see plastic litter everywhere. The only solution is to use less plastic.
The 5 Gyres Institute has published a report called “The Plastics BAN List.” Its purpose is to assess which plastics are most damaging to human health and the environment. The list includes “Better Alternatives Now”– ways in which consumers, industry, and government can take voluntary action withoutwaiting for technological fixes. Voluntary action is key because nearly all of these products have no economic value in today’s recycling systems.
The six plastic products the 5 Gyres Institute says should be banned are:
#1. Food wrappers and containers
#2. Bottle & container caps
#3. Plastic bags
#4. Straws and stirrers
#5. Plastic bottles
#6. Takeout containers
What's Wrong With Bioplastics?
The adverse environmental repercussions of fossil-fuel based plastics has given rise of a new industry—bioplastics made of renewable material such corn, wheat, potato, coconut, wood, shrimp shells. Bioplastics break down, the thinking goes, so that’s good, right? Not so fast. There are several things wrong with bioplastics.
#1. Only a small portion of the plastic may be renewable. To be called a bioplastic, a material only needs 20% renewable material; the other 80% could be fossil fuel-based plastic resins and synthetic additives.
#2. Bioplastics aren’t necessarily biodegradable in a single season. A lot depends on where the item ends up. If it's the ocean, biodegradation may not even occur.
#3. The word “degradable” means the plastic is capable of breaking down into smaller pieces that will disseminate into the surrounding environment. This is meaningless, as all plastics break down eventually, and are easily mistaken as food by wildlife.
#4. The word “compostable” means the material will break down at a rate consistent with other known, compostable materials and leaves no toxic residue. But for the vast majority of bioplastics, this requires an industrial composting facility, not a backyard composter.
#5. Advocates say the carbon footprint of bioplastics is better than fossil fuel-derived alternatives, which is true, but there's the added issue of supporting genetically modified corn production, which provides most material for bioplastics.
#6. Shoppers cannot blindly trust labels like "natural," "bio-based," "plant-based," "biodegradable," or "compostable," since manufacturers can put pretty much anything they please on a product. However, the more conscientious ones will get a third-party certifier, resulting in labels such as the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI in North America), "Compostable" certification in Canada, and the European Bioplastics "Seedling" logo, just to name a few.
#7. Most people would toss bioplastics in recycling, which causes additional problems by contaminating the regular recycling stream, thus ruining a batch of recycled plastic and causing it all to go into the landfill.
Plastics pose one big hot mess, as you can see, and there are no clear-cut solutions except to reject single-use plastics and embrace reusables, like glass or metal. Do not blindly accept the notion that a single-use plastic cup inscribed "made with corn" is somehow going to save our planet. It won't. It's simply a distraction from the lifestyle changes that need to occur.
Sources: https://www.treehugger.com/clean-technology/problem-bioplastics.html, "Life Without Plastic: Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Avoiding Plastic to Keep Your Family and the Planet Healthy," a new book written by Jay Sinha and Chantal Plamondon.