Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Concrete, Green or Not?

Concrete countertops are being plugged as an eco-friendly option, many even contain recycled glass and are quite beautiful but are they as green as they seem? Concrete is made from cement, most cement is a type called Portland cement.

The manufacturing of cement requires a lot of energy, cement plants use several forms of energy, like coal, some use natural gas, and some also burn things like hazardous waste and tires. Cement plants are the 3rd largest emitter of mercury emissions. Mercury isn't the only thing coming out of the stacks at cement plants, they also give off things like sulfur dioxide, dioxins, and more.

I live just over two miles away from a cement plant that burns tires and other toxic things. They are classified as a high priority violator of the Clean Air Act by the EPA. Yet with many things made of concrete being marketed as green and the plant itself telling everyone it's green, it's an issue that is being overlooked. This cement plant even says it's recycling tires when it burns them for fuel and they say they are committed to environmental issues, they chair the local green committee and are sponsoring a green expo. All while polluting our air at an alarming rate.

Many people think I want to shut down the cement plant near me but that's not the case. If the one by me shut down they would have to make more cement somewhere else to meet demand and would just end up polluting another town. Cement can be made in a greener way but many of the cement companies don't want to invest in newer technology or even follow current laws as it cuts into profits. The way the law is now the fines often are smaller than what the company makes from breaking the law.

This issue is why when deciding if a product is eco-friendly or not, we must look at the manufacturing as well as the finished product. No product is perfect but we have to try and make informed choices. If you want to see how close you are to a cement plant check out Earthjustice's interactive cement kiln map.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Tempests, Teapots, and School Lunches

a suburban greenmom gets sucked in by media hype…

Sorry, guys, I don’t have much of great interest to post.  I’m overextended, I’m getting over virus number 2, it’s too early to do any gardening around here (I live near Chicago), and I have even run out of cool soup recipes to post.
So, just a news story that caught my attention a few days ago: Did you see this?
Huge tempest, fairly small teapot, as it turns out; Eat Drink Better presents a fairly even-headed look at the whole thing:
I mention this because, until I found this last article, I was all ready to go into a giant indignant uproar. But once I did read it…well, it looks like maybe it’s not as big a deal as it sounds like.  Or a big deal for entirely different reasons. (Take a look at CrunchyThriftyCool’s take on it…very thoughtful…)
So…what do you guys think?
--Jenn the Greenmom

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Catching Up

The Conscious Shopper pops in for a chat.

Hello, friends! It's good to see you again. I feel like we have so much catching up to do. Shall we pretend we're sitting down for a cup of tea and a chat? I've got some fresh homemade bread I'd be happy to share.

So what's been going on with me? Well...

Last fall, wheat bugs discovered my year supply of organic pasta. When I opened the pantry door, it sounded like rice krispies - munch, munch, munch, snap, crackle, pop. This was a tragedy! $80 worth of pasta, now inedible. I may have cried a little.

I needed a better way to store my pasta. Bug-proof, tightly-sealed, preferably not plastic, and doesn't cost an arm and a leg. A gigantic glass pickle jar might work...if I could get rid of the vinegar smell.

Have you ever tried to get the vinegar smell out of a pickle jar? At first, it seemed to be an impossible task. No matter how many times I washed it or how long I soaked it, the smell would remain. And then I discovered the solution: newspaper. Fill your glass jar with crumpled balls of newspaper, screw on the lid, let it sit for a long time (at least a few days), remove the newspaper, and there you go. A gigantic glass pickle jar ready for all of your food storage needs (or whatever other needs you may have).

Speaking of smelly things, last year I read somewhere that if you use 100% cotton dishrags, they will not get that icky dishrag stink. This is not true - do not believe it. After I read that, I crocheted myself all new dishrags with 100% cotton yarn, and it was true for several months - maybe even a year - and then...Winter came, cold house, dishrags not drying out, and the stink returned.

If you have the stinky dishrag problem, here's what I do now: Put some water in a bucket (you only need enough to cover your dishrags). Add a slosh of vinegar. Toss your dirty dishrags into the bucket when you're done using them. On laundry day, put the wet dishrags in the wash. Empty bucket and refill with fresh water and a slosh of vinegar. No more stink.

Last fall, when I canned applesauce, I experimented with making apple cider vinegar out of the fruit scraps. Here are the basic instructions if you're interested. Sadly, however, I did not successfully make apple cider vinegar. Apparently, I made hard apple cider. It was very fizzy and stunk like alcohol. Have any of you ever tried making apple cider vinegar? Tips?

Although my attempt to use up my apple scraps was a fail, I have found a great way to get a second life out of orange peels: I fill a jar with vinegar, and then as we work our way through a box of oranges, I add the peels to the vinegar in the jar. When the jar is full, I let it sit for a month and then strain out the peels. The orange-infused vinegar makes a great-smelling all-purpose cleaner.

Kind of funny that all of these things I wanted to tell you about had to do with vinegar...

What have you been up to lately?

Friday, February 24, 2012


From the bean, and dirty hands, of Green Bean.

It is that time of year again.  Whether it is three feet deep in snow or bustling with cover crop and fava beans, your garden is calling you.  Seed packets have arrived or are en route.  The sun is slanting, peeking out more from behind the crowds and the soil is waking up.

But that is just the thing, if you want to have a truly successful vegetable garden, the soil is the place to start.  You need to get, in a word, grounded.


My favorite way, to date, to rejuvenate my garden soil is with lasagna gardening, also known as sheet mulching.  I first discovered this in Gaia's Garden, the permaculture bible, and have employed one form or another of sheet mulching in six different locations at two different homes.  Despite clay and buried toys (hey, I live in suburbia), I've always had miraculous results.  The most basic method is this (water in between each step):

- aerate the soil with a pitch fork, lawn butler, what have you
- cover prepared soil with layered newspaper or cardboard (I prefer cardboard because it doesn't blow away as easily and because I don't read the newspaper but do order more than I should online)
- cover cardboard with manure, chicken poop, manure from a horse boarding facility, goat farm, what have you
- cover manure with straw or dried leaves or similar
- cover straw or leaves with a thick layer of compost

Sources differ on how much to layer or may add additional steps or layers.  That's fine but it doesn't have to be complicated.  I followed these steps as half-heartedly as possible last year and still moved from thick clay to loose, rich soil teeming with worms and other bugs.


"Cover crop" is a term used for plants grown in a particular area to fix large amounts of nitrogen in the soil, provide a habitat for beneficial insects and choke out the weeds.

I plant a cover crop ever fall, like clockwork, for the last 5 or 6 years.  Sometimes, I couple the cover crop with sheet mulch.  Sometimes, I just throw it on a vacant area in the garden.  Cover crop can also be planted in the spring but as I have a smallish garden in a temperate climate, I stick with fall.

My fava beans where next summer's pumpkin patch will be.

I always do a cover crop bed of favas (usually where the pumpkins will grow because the timing works out) and a bed of mixed seeds from Peaceful Valley Farm supply.  I am sure you can get cover crop seeds through most seed or farm supply outlets or at your local nursery.  The mix usually includes vetch, peas, bell beans, clover, barley and so on.

My mixed cover crop in late February.

I cannot vouch for the amount of nitrogen the cover crop is allegedly "fixing" in my soil and I don't notice improvements in the soil or fertility as with the sheet mulch.  I do, however, notice an increase in beneficial insects - mostly lady bugs - and other critters - a toad once!  There are also fewer weeds and plenty of greens to feed the chickens over-winter.  Bonus?  I don't cut down the fava beans until we've eaten most of them (timing works with my pumpkin patch).  I also harvest a number of the peas as snap peas before mowing down the cover crop (and adding it to the compost pile).   Final plus to the cover crop?  It's pretty.


I first came across this idea on Pinterest.  Basically, you dig a trench, put down some cardboard, then a pile of wood or sticks, cover with sod, then straw or leaves (if desired) and the top it all with soil.  It sounds like the sheet mulching method but apparently the decaying wood creates (1) a warmer microclimate in the garden and (2) the bed requires little to no irrigation.

My mini Hugelkultur bed - before the sod, straw and soil.  See!  I told you it was small.

The latter interests me given the little rain our region has had this winter.  So that, and the fact that we removed a tree this year, lead me to try out this "hill culture bed" on a very small scale.  Supposedly, the bed needs to have wood stacked to a minimum height of 2'.  I'm going to be very generous with my mound, call it 2' and assume that it is the thought that counts.  Because new wood gives off a fair amount of nitrogen as it decays, I'm planting something that is not as affected by higher nitrogen levels - beans.  I'll report back on my little Hugelkultur later this year.

* Here's another link to Hugelkultur.


My three wooden raised beds.

Finally, if your garden is a temporary one, one that you'd like to get growing in mighty quick or if you just feel like it, raised bed gardening is a quick way to have have high quality soil in which to plant.  I am a fan of raised beds for certain plants - like tomatoes (though I've grown these well in sheet mulched gardens as well) and non-potato root vegetables.  My current garden hosts three wooden beds.  I am adding one made of sticks and one in a large galvanized trough this season.  I've also seen loads of ideas for using rocks, broken concrete, straw bales, and more to form raised beds.

I am working on a raised beds bordered with sticks and branches.  This one is in progress.  I need to add soil and plants.

Galvanized stock tanks with holes punched in the bottom make handy raised beds.

So start planning summer's garden.  Let your dreams take you wherever they may, as long as you start out grounded.

** I am linking to Homestead Barn Hop and FarmGirl Friday for this post.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Monthly Theme and Wordless Wednesday Linky!

All of the super heroes here at the Green Phone Booth have decided to make a couple of small changes in the way we blog, in hopes of reinvigorating our own writing and encouraging more conversations within our community of green bloggers.

We have decided to select a theme for each month, and many of our posts during that time will be related to the theme in some way. Our theme will often be seasonal, and it will always be related to sustainability and something that allows us to write about our passions. We're flexible, though, and won't be writing on theme every single day (how boring would that be?). We want to be able to follow whatever topic happens to inspire us to write.

Our first theme will be Spring Cleaning, so expect to read a lot about avoiding toxic cleaning products, making your own cleaners, ideas to organize your home, and anything else related to spring cleaning. Each post about Spring Cleaning will include this cute button. If you are posting about Spring Cleaning, please feel free to use our button, link back to the Green Phone Booth, and share a link to your post with us!

But that's not all! After an experimental Wordless Wednesday Linky post a few weeks ago that was pretty popular, we've decided to make it a monthly event! The first Wednesday of each month will be a Wordless Wednesday Linky post. We will try to include a photo that correlates with the theme, and we invite you to do the same on your own blog. But please feel free to link up your Wordless Wednesday post on any topic!

Do you have any ideas for future themes? What would you like to read about here at the Green Phone Booth? Please share in the comments!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Because sometimes, I forget the laundry in the washer

From the laundry basket of the Homegrown Mama

I do a lot of laundry in this house.  I have 2 kids in diapers, we play outside and we don't use paper towels.  You do the math.  I use either soap nuts or homemade detergent for my laundry, so there aren't chemicals swirling around in the basin erasing  masking any random odors.  And after 2 years of diaper laundry, forgotten loads in the washer and a few falls in the muck while hiking, I felt like our washer had a little case of stink.

After some lengthy research online, I discovered that you actually need to clean the washer from time to time.  I imagine that as my kids get older and our adventures lead us to muddier pastures, I may need to use this clean up again.  Until then, maintaining a washer can help lengthen the life of the machine and keep you from ruined clothes as a result of soap scum building up in your washer drum (trust me, when I say this, there was a horrible disaster involving a sweater that I had only gotten to wear once and I'm still sad over it).

Instead of using bleach, I scrub down the washer drum with a paste made from half a cup of baking soda, 5 drops of tea tree oil and 1 teaspoon of Dr. Bronner's liquid castile soap.  I add enough water to the paste so that it has a slushy consistency and then hang over the side of the washer into the drum, scrubbing away.  Then, I run a quick rinse cycle with a cup of Borax (and the rag from scrubbing) with warm water.  After that, the only lingering scent in your washer is well... nothing.  And as far as I'm concerned the smell of nothing when I toss my dirty laundry into the washer beats the smell of stink or bleach any day!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Even More Eco-Laundry

Well after reading EcoYogini and Kelly's posts on laundry I had to throw in my two cents. See I'm a bit OCD when it comes to laundry, OKAY OKAY, I'm  REALLY OCD when it comes to laundry. I like to blame my mom.

Most of my laundry habits are very green. I will say the heavy loads with things like towels, bedding and underwear are normally washed on hot, this is only two loads a week and it's better for allergies and germs. I do make sure I wash full loads, I don't over dry the clothes (we have a lot of allergies so line drying doesn't really work), and I use eco-friendly products, this is the main reason I wanted to write this post.
EcoYogini said she soapnuts didn't work for her, well that's what I use so I wanted to talk about them.

So first off, what are soapnuts? As confusing as this is, they aren't nuts, they are berries. This is good news for those with nut allergies. The berries contain saponins, which is what makes the soap. They are great for HE and front loading washers because they don't create suds. They are also about as natural as it gets and you can get them plastic free. Oh and did I say, they are super cheap per load?

A common mistake that is made, when using soapnuts, is they must have hot water to release the saponin. So you can throw them straight in a load if you are using hot water but if you are using cold water they won't work. To use them in cold water you must make a liquid soap out of them.

This is quite simple, you boil 4 cups of water, turn off heat, throw in 6-8 soapnuts, cover and leave overnight. In the morning strain out the soapnuts (and compost them) and store in some container with a lid. If you aren't going to use it in a day or two be sure to store in the fridge as it doesn't have a preservative and can grow mold. Some people freeze theirs in ice cube trays and just throw in an ice cube with each load.

You can even add essential oils to the liquid if your want a scented soap. The soap can be used for other things as well. I haven't tried it yet but some people use it as shampoo. You can use it to soak laundry as well.

Soapnuts may not be for everyone but they are worth a try. You can get a small sample size package from LaundryTree so there is little risk.

So for people that have used soapnuts, what are your thoughts?

Photo Credit: gadl

Monday, February 20, 2012

Root Canals? Dangerous?

I subscribe to Dr. Mercola’s email lists.  Most of the time what I get from him is of limited use, and I do get a little tired of his hyped headlines and articles which end with  some form of “but I can sell you a product that will make this all better.” And it goes without saying that Quackwatch doesn’t like him very much. (On the other hand, Quackwatch also dislikes chiropractic, herbalism, aromatherapy, and pretty much every other “alternative” type of health treatment one can think of.) (And Dr. Mercola’s response to the accusations of quackery are fairly even-handed and intelligent.)
On the other hand, hype aside, through his site I’ve become aware of a number of fairly intelligent-sounding warnings about issues with conventional medical practices I hadn’t been aware of. One of them came to my attention the other day.
Anyone else ever heard of the “Root Canal Coverup”?
The basic overview as I understand it: Root canal is the procedure where the dead nerve of a dead tooth is scraped out and then the canal filled with Solid Hard Stuff to keep the dead tissue from infecting the body. A Dr. Weston Price, almost a century ago, advanced this theory whereby there are little “tubules” in the dentin which the root canal procedure does not address, which cannot be sterilized in any lasting way, and which then can become the source of all kinds of chronic or catastrophic illness from MS to kidney disease to heart attack to lupus to who-knows-what-all-else. Price is said to have removed teeth from diseased people, implanted the tooth into rabbits, and the rabbits rapidly developed not only sickness but the same sickness that the person who had had the tooth were afflicted with, while the person who had the tooth extracted saw immediate improvement in their condition.
Quackwatch doesn’t think much of Dr. Price either.
Like most alternative medicine movements out there, surfing the web is a fast way to find a whole mess of conflicting views, some intelligent-sounding, and some poorly-written enough to make one want to just forget the whole thing. This is no exception. Below are some of the more readable articles I’ve come across with info about this whole idea:
This isn’t me trying to push or be a proponent of crazy medical ideas; I just prefer to hear different sides of things, keep my mind open to other versions of the truth than the popular mainstream ones. Just because it's mainstream don't make it right.  Look at BPA, GMO's, and climate change, for example.
So I’m just curious—have any of you run into this set of theories before? What’re your thoughts?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Peer Pressure at the Booth

As Sustainamom pops in for a visit at the booths, she ponders the eternal perception: "Everyone else is doing it..."

I can almost hear my dad asking, "Will you jump off a bridge if all your friends jump?"

Maybe.... If they all live to tell about it!

I find inspiration in reading posts by green bloggers. I'm inspired to try everything from gardening to composting. If fellow green bloggers put an idea in my head, it may take a while for me to act on the thought, but I'm grateful for the motivation when I finally do act upon it.

And today I want to thank a few bloggers who've inspired me to make my shower more sustainable!

Thanks to Beth of My Plastic Free Life and Rebecca of Midnight Maniac, I finally bought a safety razor — and I love it! The word "safety" really bothered me. Somehow it made the razor sound dangerous. So I'd been using my last plastic razor head for the Venus razor I bought several years ago for waaaay too long. It got to the point that it was actually painful to shave with such a dull blade and I knew I had to do something and I really didn't want to spend a fortune on more plastic razor heads. So I finally jumped... and chose a Merkur long handle razor with good reviews and I am so pleased. The shape of the razor makes the blade slide across your skin at the right angle so you don't cut yourself. Even my knobby knees have remained nick-free. The one single blade gives a close shave, and it is so comfortable.

Now I just need to decide which type of replacement blades to buy. I like the blades that came with the razor, but they have mixed reviews so I'm wondering if there are even better options out there. Any recommendations?

Thanks to our own Conscious Shopper, who wrote, "No Poo Convert," I'm a part-time no-pooer. I can't seem to go without washing my curly hair every day. The baking soda is a little too much for everyday use — my hair gets dry. So I switch between the healthy, all natural shampoos and baking soda with an apple cider vinegar rinse and it all balances out. (Except the plastic. Now that my hair is more used to the natural methods and not always greasy, I need to give the shampoo bar another try. Right, Beth?)

Next up, I really want to make soap like Soule Mama — or maybe shampoo bars like the Crunchy Chicken...

Off what bridges have green bloggers inspired you to jump? What plunge would you like to take next? Link to some inspiring posts to share the motivation!

Photo by Nicholas•B on Flickr

Standard notice: I have no connection to any company mentioned in this post
and received no compensation for writing this post. All opinions are my own.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Eco-Laundry Detergent Favourites!

EcoYogini continues the theme of being a 'clean' eco yogini...

Pre-yoga class on Monday, my friends C, H, and I were discussing how often we wash our yoga clothes. I use the 'wear+sweat twice' or 'wear+nosweat thrice' rule (I also use a similar rule of "wear pants/jeans twice if not dirty" rule- shh don't tell anyone!).

- We don't have our own laundry (since we live in an apartment) and it piles up during our weekly wash.
- Lazyness
- It saves on water, energy and detergent use (woot environment!)

Laundry was one of those easy eco-changes that can have a nice impact with minimal effort. Since 90% of your washer's energy usage is to heat the water- cold water washes it is! It's been five years of cold water washing and I haven't even noticed the difference. Also we FILL the washer to the max- mostly because it costs money to wash our laundry, but wouldn't ya know that washer's MORE efficient with full loads! Bonus (Ecoholic Home 2009 p.38).

What we have experimented a bit with has been laundry detergent. We've tried soap nuts (terrible fail let me tell you) and a few other brands, until I gifted myself with the Ecoholic Home book: it has a handy dandy laundry detergent eco-awesome-effective guide.

(Lorax approved Seventh Generation vs Bio-Vert the Hockey Lover's choice)

Our two all-time favourites (and Adria Vasil's):
1. Bio-Vert (liquid). This rocks as it's a Canadian company, the products are made in Canada (Laval Qu├ębec)! The container, although plastic, is made from 33% recycled plastic content, the paper labels are made with 30% post-consumer fibres and are FSC certified... the list goes on. It has worked the best compared to all other 'chemical laden' brands... and it claims to biodegrade in 28 days (where do you think all the soap goes once it drains out of your washer?) with the EcoLogo certifying that it doesn't just biodegrade it smaller toxic components.

2. Seventh Generation Natural 4X (Liquid): Ok, although not Canadian, even before the new fab packaging, this stuff was amazing. The container is made with 66% LESS plastic than a regular container with the outside cardboard uber tree-hugger look from 100% postconsumer recycled fibre. Of course the actual ingredients are extremely environmentally friendly and will do up to 66 loads! (which is double the Bio-vert counterpart). Sadly it was twice the cost (although you could argue it would save money re: double the loads) and it's not made in Canada. Kinda a sticking point for me. However, because the packaging looked so cool I totally bought it and gave it a go. It works amazingly. Of course.

Wash your yoga clothes in cold water, avoid fabric softener, hang to dry and you've got yourself an eco-friendly washed yoga gear!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Making Less Laundry

When I taught school a few years ago, I felt the need to immediately get out of my work clothes when I got back home each afternoon. After being snuffled and sneezed on, wheedled and wheezed on, I just needed to shed the germs and the stress before I could move on with my day. Unless we had somewhere to go late in the day, I usually just changed into pajamas at 3 or 4 in the afternoon, to avoid dirtying another entire outfit. Still, that created a lot of laundry. Add a cloth-diapered baby to the mix, a baby that we allowed to serve himself table food when he started asking for it around 6 months old, and we had quite a pile to wash every day or two.

I like doing laundry (even though I know that it uses up energy and clean water and expensive eco-detergents). I do NOT like folding and sorting and putting away laundry. So here are a few things my family does to reduce our laundry load, at least a little –

1. Rewear pants and pajamas and sweaters and the like more than once.

2. Use a moist washcloth to spot clean obvious problems areas in clothes that don’t need an all-over clean.

3. Air out anything that has a slight smell but isn’t really dirty.

4. Potty train early.

5. Keep a set of dirty playclothes by the back door, and only wash them once a week or so.

6. Encourage your child to wear washable bibs to keep outfits clean longer. (Mine refuses.)

7. Hang towels to dry after each use.

8. Wear loungewear that can be worn as daytime attire and pajamas.

Well, I totally failed today. I am still wearing the same outfit I put on this morning, but that is not the case with my son.

-Outfit 1 – covered in frosting and paint from preschool party

-Outfit 2 and shoes – just missed the potty

-Outfit 3 and sheets– Mama forgot to put on a diaper before naptime

-Outfit 4 – had an accident at the park while having fun with a friend

-Outfit 5 and shoes and coat and towel – splashed and bathed in mud puddles at the park

-Outfit 6 – caked with spaghetti sauce

-Outfit 7 – flecked with globs of homemade play dough

All of these are important little boy experiences that I wouldn’t want to take away for the sake of doing less laundry – especially the mud puddles. But this is an entire load of laundry from today that I can hear spinning in my front-loading washer. Well, maybe tomorrow the Kelly Green Giant will at least remember the diaper at naptime!

How do you lighten your laundry load?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lead in Lipstick . . . Still

From Emerald Apron’s Cosmetics Bag

Please entertain my rant, because I am ticked off beyond belief. According to a recent press release from The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, lead is still found in many different brands of lipstick.

This is something that I first heard about a few years ago, but apparently it’s been common knowledge for at least five years. Why is lead still in lipstick? I’m sorry, have we forgotten that lead is a known neurotoxin? That there are no safe levels of lead exposure for children, and that pregnant women and women of reproductive age should be especially careful to avoid lead? This isn’t BPA in plastic bottles. There is no question, NO DEBATE. There is scientific consensus that people should not be exposed to lead. There are regulations for the amount of lead in gasoline, paint, toys… so WHY is lead in lipstick unregulated? We don’t want children to eat paint chips that may contain lead, but we can have women applying lead to their lips, multiple times a day, consuming the lead with every sip or bite they take, and letting the lead absorb into their skin. I’m seriously frustrated by this, and I don’t even own a single tube of lipstick.

Why can’t these cosmetics companies do the right thing? It seems to me that they just don’t care about our health or our children’s health. Go ahead and check out the list of lipsticks that were tested and see what specific companies really don’t care about your health. I was especially disappointed to see Burt’s Bees on the list because it is the only company that I buy from. I’m seriously considering boycotting them, even though I don’t buy their lipstick. I do use their lip balm, shampoo, conditioner and lotion. But which company can I trust? Who can I buy from?
I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t trust any company to care about my health. They only make changes when they are forced by regulations (and even then, change is slow or companies are noncompliant). So why can’t the FDA do the right thing and require that these companies keep lead out of their lipstick? According to the press release from The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, “The FDA said it is currently evaluating whether to recommend an upper limit for lead in lipstick. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is urging FDA to set a maximum limit for lead in lipstick based on the lowest lead levels cosmetic manufacturers can feasibly achieve.” As early as 2007, Senators Kerry, Boxer and Feinstein urged the FDA to begin regulating lead in lipsticks and other cosmetics. Seriously FDA? Stop evaluating and just do it. Why not do something to actually protect human health instead of listening to industry lobbyists?

Why don’t women stand up for themselves and demand better? Why don’t men stand up for women’s health while we’re at it? This isn’t about whether you choose to wear lipstick or choose not to wear lipstick. This isn’t an issue just for women, either. This is a human health issue and everyone should be concerned. I can’t help but wonder why a product like PAINT, which is used by all people, is seen as worthy of lead regulation while a product like lipstick, which is seen as only a women’s product, remains unregulated.

I choose to opt-out of most cosmetics by either just not wearing them or by making my own, but I don’t think that’s enough. It’s protecting me and my family, but it’s not protecting anyone else. So, what do you think we should do? Contact our representatives? Call for a mass boycott?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

Jenn the Greenmom gave us her rant about Valentine's Day earlier this month and touched on the issues around many popular gifts, I thought to follow up with that I would share this video, enjoy.

Hope everyone has a very happy, ethical, and eco-friendly Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Feel the Burn (Greener fireplace logs?)

A suburban greenmom lights a fire...

We have a fireplace in our "new" house (i.e. the one we've lived in for the past 3 years). Until a couple of nights ago, we had never actually lit a fire in it.

My husband went out and bought one of those "fireplace logs" to use. I winced; I figured these would have to be horribly un-green and artificial and toxic chemical laden, probably a terrible thing to use.  But then I started doing some research. Turns out a lot of these things, even from mainstream brand "Duraflame," are made of recycled sawdust (the stuff that would otherwise be disposed of) and vegetable waxes, mostly. That they burn more cleanly and with lower emissions--including carbon monoxide--than even ordinary cut wood.  And that they are generally recommended as a better choice than firewood for a fire in one's home fireplace.

This surprised me a lot! So I started looking around for what brands there are out there; please let me know if any readers have actually tried any of these, or know of any others...

Duraflame: The most well-known brand, they seem to be trying pretty hard to greenify their product...hard to tell how much is authentic and how much is greenwashing, but it's a start...

Green Heat: This is the one we used, and it's made from waxed cardboard rather than sawdust. It did a pretty good job, although I have to admit its presence was more about ambience than about actual warmth.

Energy Logs: This Canadian brand seems more geared for actual heat output than "pretty" fireplace fires...they suggest mixing "normal" wood with one of their logs if you want the higher flames.

Earthlog: made out of recycled paper. I like the idea of the zero-waste recycling process...

GreenLog: This one is apparently made out of grass.  (Talk about a renewable resource!) What I like here is that it does not require that the rest of our system continue its current mode of overconsumption so it can get its raw materials...on the other hand, the raw materials are there, so it's kind of a good thing other brands are out there to deal with it, you know?  I would love to try one of these--they saythey burn up to 6 hours, which is twice as long as most of the others out there, and they also mention that they come out with a zero balance carbon footprint--whatever carbon dioxide is created in the burning of the logs is taken in by their next crop of grass as it grows.  Food for thought!

Anyone else have any experience with artificial fire logs? What do you think about them?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cutting chemicals: A review of Non-Toxic Avenger

I always figured I lived a fairly green lifestyle given my resources. Reduce, reuse, recycle was ingrained in my practices. I ate locally and organic whenever my budget allowed. I grew my own produce. I eschewed plastic crap in my house whenever I could.

What scares me is it isn't enough.

There's that little bit inside you that tries to dismiss the worries that the things you use every day could kill you. And you try to tune it out.

The reality is chemicals are imbedded in our society, and it's going to take a heck of a lot of effort to get them out. Even if we don't know what the effects of these conveniences are.

A few years ago, I read the Body Toxic, and it scared the crap out of me. That book chronicled the history of hidden chemicals, almost as a government conspiracy. (Who knows? Perhaps it is.) There, I learned to fear PVC shower curtains and microwave popcorn. Fun stuff.

The problem is, while there's much you can do to educate yourself on chemicals imbedded in our everyday things and the possible effects, hunting down alternatives is tough business. That's why I looked forward to reading "The Non-toxic Avenger: What you don't know can hurt you" by Crunchy Chicken's Deanna Duke. If anyone could find an alternative, I figured, she could.

Duke's book focuses on her attempt to reduce chemicals and toxins in her body from everyday exposure. It's a scary thought - particularly since she too was leading a green lifestyle before this project began. The books chronicles her challenges in reconciling with her husband's cancer and son's autism, and in seeking alternatives to polluting her body - in everything from carpet to cleaning products, from mascara to margaritas. (Hey, you have to have fun.)

No, Duke doesn't find all the answers. She's still on the hunt for mold-cleaning products, for example. But I love the fact she's still looking and willing to share what's she's found as the best possible alternatives.
"It's still an uphill, daily battle trying to determine whether a product I pick up at the store will poison me," she writes.

At least we have a new, consolidated resources to help us in this battle. I came away, whether Duke intended or not, with a guide that could sit on my shelf - one that I could point to in order to help me more quickly find solutions to my quests.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Color me just black, please

In which Truffula embraces color in her life, just not in things she or her family might ingest...

In my continuing self-education about supporting our health, activated charcoal kept popping up.  I added it to my mental list of things to get for my ever-evolving "home pharmacy."  After my sister suffered through 36 hours of, um, episodes following a meal with some now-suspect coleslaw, I decided I needed to have that charcoal on hand sooner rather than later, just in case a situation hit in my own household.

On Monday, I walked to the chain-store pharmacy near my office, wallet in hand.  I went to the counter, and explained for what I was looking.  The aide remembered that she'd seen some charcoal in an over-the-counter aisle, but that it might have had its formulation changed.  She strode expertly right over to the aisle location, plucked off a box, and... confirmed the change.  She then turned me over the pharmacist for further help.

I told the pharmacist my story: I was looking for activated charcoal.  My mom had some, but it had senna in it.  I wasn't sure that a laxative ingredient would be the bees' knees if I had to use the charcoal in a case of, shall we say, already acute bowel motility.  Therefore, I was on a quest for plain old charcoal.  The pharmacist nodded, saying he knew just what I wanted.  He reminisced about simple charcoal powder..  (Ah, perfect, I thought!)

He padded back to his computer, typed away, and came back to let me know that his supplier had charcoal tablets.  He could order them and have them for me the next afternoon.  Great, I said.

Tuesday afternoon, I walked expectantly back to the pharmacy.  The pharmacist remembered me, and had a little box waiting.  He handed it to me for my inspection.  I went right to the ingredient list.  Oh!  In fact, it WAS a list.  This wasn't just charcoal... it had some homeopathic remedies mixed in.  I tried to overlook that fact, and my finger continued tracing along the back of the carton... FD&C this, and FD&C that... (Why the heck would I want fake colors in a black product whose job was to go into the gut, do its thing, and then pass back out?)  I looked up at the pharmacist, who sensed that I wasn't liking where this was going.  He quickly assured me that I didn't have to buy it.  He would have no problem sending it back to the warehouse.

Especially since he had gone through the trouble of ordering this just for me, I really wanted to like this product and to buy it from him.  That nagging gut (pardon me!) feeling told me otherwise.  Stoically, I kept reading... propylene glycol... proplylene glycol?!  Are you kidding me?  Now, we had a deal-breaker.   What part of just-activated-charcoal-please was not getting through?  Was it really that hard to find a single-ingredient item?

With the confidence from my internal nagger, I looked back at the pharmacist, who kindly reassured me that sending the product back was no problem.  Very well, I told him.  Please do return it.  I then thanked him effusively for his help, and headed back to work.

My non-internet options are not exhausted -- there are two other stores which I'm quite certain will have a product for me.  It's a drive, not a walk, to get there, but I can chain the trip there with other things.

I'm enthusiastic about the power of such a simple remedy.  I'm far less enthused about the challenge of trying to find it in its pure form.

Signing off on another installment of "Less is More"...

To our health!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Best Time to Try Cloth Diapers

My 5-day-old baby in a fitted cloth diaper.

Eco-novice urges you to consider cloth.

Even if you use disposables for the remainder of your child's diapering months, I would encourage anyone who is even remotely interested in cloth diapering to consider using cloth for the first six months of your baby's life.

Here's why:

1. If you are a bit concerned about all the toxic chemicals in your child's world, then both the known ingredients and the undisclosed ingredients (such as the components of the fragrance) of disposable diapers will give you pause. If you are going to pay attention to the ingredients in any product, it might as well be the product that comes in contact with your baby's private parts all day long. During this newborn period, your baby is extremely vulnerable to endocrine disruptors and other harmful chemicals. In addition to being more sensitive, newborn skin is also more permeable than the skin of older children and adults. Chemicals in diaper wipes, disposable diapers, and personal products can easily pass through your infant's skin into her body, so this is the time to be super-conscientious about ingredients.

2. Cloth wipes are better at getting off that yellow runny poop than disposable wipes. Also, the ingredients in disposable wipes are weird.

3. Cloth diapers prevent pooplosions! And, as many parents know, newborns are prone to poopy explosions because of their runny poops. I am now cloth diapering my third child and I have never had cloth diaper leak poop.

4. You don't have to do a darn thing about the poop. Dealing with poop is one of the big reasons that folks steer clear of cloth diapers. But if you breastfeed, newborn poop is completely water soluble and washes right out in the wash. You toss the poopy diaper in the wash and you're done. The diapers will stain, but personally I don't care about that (line drying helps with that, if you do care).

5. Young babies stay put. There is a small learning curve to using cloth diapers, especially if you are accustomed to using disposables, and it's easier to become a whiz at using cloth diapers with a newborn than with a squirmy 9-month old or toddler.

6. Newborn babies go through a lot of diapers. I change my 2-month-old baby about 8 times during the day, I'd say. If you change your baby's disposable diaper in the middle of the night, you may go through even more diapers. Let's assume 6 diapers per day for the first six months (I'm trying to estimate conservatively here -- feel free to argue with my calculations in the comments). That's almost 200 diapers per month! Let's estimate that you spend $40 a month on diapers, night time diapers, and wipes. (If you choose to buy "greener" brands of disposables, you will spend significantly more.) As long as you spend less than $240 on cloth diapers for the 0-to-6-months period (and you can spend far less than that if you choose a less expensive system, buy used, or make your own) you will come out ahead financially. Plus you've kept hundreds of diapers out of the landfill.

I'm not going to argue about the environmental impact of cloth versus disposable diapers here, but there is no doubt that cloth diapering exposes your child to fewer potentially toxic chemicals during a very susceptible period. Add to that the fact that the first six months are in many ways the easiest and most economical time to cloth diaper, and I think we have a pretty good argument for cloth diapering your newborn.

How much do you spend on diapering supplies each month?
Have you considered using cloth diapers?

This post is part of

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Do you have any coupons?

From the laundry basket of the Homegrown Mama

Remember back when the rest of the Boothers and I shared our Eco-resolutions for 2012?  It was my goal to actually get my act together and bring my reusable bags to the grocery store.  I don't go to many places when I grocery shop.  Kroger, the butcher and a local country market.  I always remember to take my insulated bags to the butcher shop.  Even now, when it's cold out, I like to have my own bag with me because I can really stuff it full and even just toss it into the fridge when I get home knowing everything is contained.  

I had realized that if I was going to make the other stores and the bags work, I might just have to do it without extensive lists for the sale flyers at Kroger and probably also not bring the kids along.  For the record, I've only been successful about half of the time.  What's been a bigger realization for me in the last month, however, is that the sale flyers and coupons aren't really working for me.  I used to watch the couponing show on TLC and even got to attend a how-to for coupons a few months ago.  I left feeling very inspired and had high hopes of saving all sorts of money.

But as I clipped the coupons faithfully every Sunday afternoon, I realized that I was throwing away 80% of them because they don't work with the Real Food guidelines.  I know how to make croissants for the weekend breakfasts, so I don't have a use for any of the Pillsbury coupons.  I make my own beef stock so the Swanson coupons are also pointless for me.  Little by little, I realized that I really don't benefit from the coupon clipping.  Sure, it's nice to save the money on things like garbage bags and toilet paper, but I'll never have a stockpile of products in my basement that weren't canned by me.

But really, it's ok.  I don't need to have a stock pile of salad dressings that have a shelf life of years waiting for me to rotate through them.  I can whip up a quick dressing in less time than it takes me change a diaper.  Switching to Real Food takes some effort, but it's not without reward.  I'm not spending hours clipping and scoping for deals.  Instead, I've found bread recipes I love.  I didn't waste the chicken bones and made stock.  It's amusing to me that a few short months ago, I was all set to save money by using brand name items until I realized that I can save money just by continuing what I've been doing for years.  Even though I have yet to find a coupon for farm-fresh lettuce or 50 pounds of flour, I do sometimes purchase naturally branded food products.  And when I'm looking for those specific products from the natural product lines, I always scope out Organic Deals.  If you are looking at a Gluten Free diet or want to buy specific organic products, this site is wonderful.  

These days, my coupon box has coupons for Traditional Medicinals teas and free day passes to take friends with me to the local children's museum.  I keep my eyes open for deals in the grocery and I'm wise about what I purchase at the grocery versus at the bulk food store, but I rarely use a manufacturer's coupon.  I guess I don't really need those 40 cents off on Rotel tomatoes... there are still 4 dozen pints of my own canned diced tomatoes waiting for me to use them before this year's tomato harvest!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

EcoRico: Arroz con Pollo

Today has been crazy and right now I'm trying to get dinner on the table so for my post today I'm going to share a video/recipe from EcoRico, an eco-friendly cooking show on YouTube. I have not made this recipe but I've made Arroz con Pollo before and it's quite good and this one looks even better.

If you enjoyed this episode be sure to check out more of EcoRico.

Monday, February 6, 2012

February 14 is approaching...again...

A suburban greenmom goes on her annual Valentine's Day rant...
With Valentine’s Day approaching, I guess it’s time for the annual questions and reminders about the scary labor conditions surrounding the production of chocolate, flowers, and jewelry…this holiday has always kind of bugged me, but pretty much any holiday that's primarily about "showing how much you care by buying a lot of stuff" bugs me.
There have been a few posts on the Booth surrounding these issues—I did one two years ago on Valentine’s Day, and I just discovered Green Bean’s wonderful post about her antique store engagement ring. And last year I crabbed about it again, this time about the crazy wasteful valentines we’re all supposed to buy for our kids, so they can take them to school, put them in everyone’s boxes, bring them home, let them sit around till March, and then slip them into recycling when the kids aren’t looking.
So I don’t need to say a lot of new stuff: just another plea to, if we can’t ignore the holiday all together (which would be my preference, honestly!), to live it as lightly as we are able to live through the rest of the year. Fair Trade chocolate, recycled gold, estate jewelry, organic flowers (or better yet, live plants), conflict-free diamonds, small personal Valentine greetings if they can’t be avoided all together. 
So--once again, I'd love to throw it out to the comments: Do any of you have any great ideas or favorite vendors for how to enjoy this holiday in a light-living way?
--Jenn the Greenmom

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Shadows and Light

The Booth welcomes guest poter Kenna Lee.

Truth is, disconnected from mainstream media as I am, Groundhog Day doesn’t usually cross my radar. Most years, I don’t notice that January is over until Groundhog Day has come and gone. But this year, my son hand-drew a calendar as a school project and so I occasionally look at it. And this week I had one of those V-8 moments: staring at the February 2 square, hand slapping my own forehead, exclaiming, “I could have had a metaphor.”

As February begins, the days are finally noticeably longer, as evidenced by the fact that if I serve supper at five, no one wants to come inside to eat. The light approaches, and I start to stick my head out of my hole of doing indoor chores (mending, mostly) and pretending that the world doesn’t much extend beyond the safe warm burrow of my house. And like the groundhog, I might decide to stay inside for a while longer, and I might decide that it’s safe to come out, as long as I don’t have to see my shadow.

Thing is, like my rodent friend, I don’t much care for my shadow. I like to go along with my suburban homestead-lite life, getting ready for the next great shift in consciousness by teaching the kids how to save seeds, hopefully humming, and occasionally turning the compost. Mostly, if I keep my face to the light, I succeed. But if I slow down, turn around, and let the bright light behind me show me that my shadow side exists, I tend to retreat. Because the shadow side of my giddy green life is fear. Dark, nasty, scary nightmare-type fear. Fear of massive famines and societal breakdown and my kids and I holed up in our house protecting our saved seeds with a shotgun. Fear that climate change will bring about an unmanageable shift, and that humanity will not rise above but sink below our current level of function. Mankind has, after all, not such a great record of dealing fairly and peacefully with limited resources. I might just take my mending and hide under the covers for a few weeks yet.

Reconciling this real fear and my more hopeful self requires an act of will, one that the groundhog lacks. He simply reacts: sunlight = shadow = hide. I, on the other hand, apply the resources of my more developed frontal lobe to see the light and shadow, feel the fear, and move beyond it. Maybe the fear is well-founded, but hiding in my hole isn’t going to help any one or anything, least of all my kids, the ones around whose future my fears tend to churn.

So I’ll look at the shadow, and decide to turn the other way, and get the kids to fill some seed flats with soil so we can pull out the seeds we saved this year, and start to plant. And we’ll set those flats out in the bright sunlight, and be glad for it.

Full-time nurse, part-time environmentalist, and all-the-time mother, Kenna Lee lives in Sebastopol, California, with her three semi-feral children and several domesticated animals. Her book: A Million Tiny Things: a mother’s urgent search for hope in a changing climate (Moles Hill Press) will be out in April; sign up for updates at www.milliontinythings.com.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Why Bar Soap is Better

 Whereas EcoYogini watches herself transform into a tree-thumping friend... over soap.

I have always prided myself in not being one of "those" tree-huggers. Ya know- the preachy kind. Oh I can pontificate all I want on my blog, but IRL I believe that my friends (and family) are intelligent people that will make decisions that work best for them.

Except. The other day a tree-thumping info-bite escaped my mouth before I could stop it. It went something like this:

EcoY & C. stepping into a Lawton's one Saturday afternoon.
C- "I need more handsoap refills- come help me choose something yummy smelling!"
Moments of us smelling and rating the scents of various pump soap refills, all synthetic and filled with chemicals. 
EcoY "They smell pretty good considering..."
C- "Ah, considering they aren't very good for the environment?" (concerned face)
EcoY: "Well... it's just there's those little plastic-y bits in the soap. They're called nurdles".
C-"Wtf? Nurdles? But I thought they were just bits of soap... they're plastic?"
EcoY: "Yep, and they go down your drain, don't get disolved by our water systems and flow into the oceans for fish to swallow. The fish swallow the plastic bits. It's really terrible actually."
Claps hand over mouth.
C- "But it's on sale...." (because she's an awesome friend, she forgave me- and bought the soap)

Nurdles are tiny bits of plastic that float around in the ocean. Sadly, our ocean is filled with these bits, from plastic that slowly breaks down into smaller parts (but does NOT decompose or disappear) or from things like the little balls present in handsoap or body wash. The "micro exfoliation beads".

These soap and body wash beads are made of plastic. Therefore, they don't dissolve in water. Instead they go down your drain, through your sceptic system (or municipal/city water treatment system) and spew forth into your rivers and ocean. To swim merrily on their plastic way until a fish eats them. According to research cited by Alan Weisman's "The World Without Us", all sea organisms able will swallow plastic nurdles (p.146). If they lodged in the intestines of the organism the result was terminal. Other times they passed through.

The point of concern was that plastic and how it bioaccumulates in living organisms hasn't been studied well enough as plastic hasn't been around long enough. One thing that was clear: soon we'll all be ingesting these plastic nurdles, from zooplankton all the way up to humans.

Surround those nurdles with synthetic chemical ingredients wrapped in more plastic and you've got bodywash and pump soap.

Sadly, I was addicted to both pump soap (because I thought men would NEVER use a bar to wash their hands... my brother and dad were always pump soap guys) and body wash (because it smelled so pretty).

(Peppermint poppyseed soap: week4 of use, poppyseeds= no plastic exfoliants)

Then I discovered Birch Bark Soap. (Actually, I just needed to discover yummy smelling, locally made soap). Sherrie at Birch Bark Soap, uses only natural essential oils, olive oil (no palm oil!) and her soap smells amazing, lathers beautifully and doesn't leave a residue. We order in bulk so that the soap is cheaper AND we place our soap in a jam jar with small ocean shore pebbles leftover from our wedding ceremony (long story). This way our soap lasts weeks per bar.

(our kitchen soap in a glass dish)

Soap ends that get tricky to lather or handle go in the kitchen and become our "kitchen soap". And wouldn't you know, Andrew's mother taught him to wash his hands with whatever soap was available. So no pump soap does not equal no washed hands. (Ok, my brother and dad aren't disgusting, but they seem to have their quirks).
(star anise soap in the jam jar- wide mouth- with pebbles. Easy to clean, keeps the soap from turning to mush! ps- this scent is delicious!)

If you're a pumpsoap/body wash kinda person, just know that making the switch to bar soap is totally doable, relatively inexpensive and can have equally yummy smelling results!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Going Green...Facebook Style!

Depending on where you live, sometimes the best green community you can find will be online. Yes, it is all too easy to waste time reading tweets and status updates. But if you live in a green desert (such as *cough, cough* Mississippi), sometimes tools like Facebook are the most effective community to be found. On Facebook I can ask for advice or read statuses and messages to discover:

1. Which vendor at the farmer's market is running a special on no-spray blueberries.

2. Who has an extra potty seat that they are giving away.

3. Where the municipal glass recycling facility has moved to. (That's right. My city won't tell me, but Facebook will!)

4. When my local used children's clothing store is having a big sale.

5. Who has a great homemade holiday gift idea.

...and much more!

The Kelly Green Giant wants to know - how does Facebook strengthen your green community?

Wordless Wednesday - No Coat Required - With Linky!

From Emerald Apron's Sandbox

It has been incredibly warm for winter in Connecticut! We've been soaking it up, so there's no time to write a post. Please link up your Wordless Wednesday if you have one on your own blog!


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