Archive for April, 2009

Clean Doesn’t Have An Odour

What is it with our society that makes us believe that, for a place to seem clean, it has to smell like chemicals?  Or some kind of synthetic fragrance?  I used to be one of those people and felt like my house truly wasn’t CLEAN unless it smelled like Pine Sol or bleach.  Yech.

I’ve come to realize lately that true clean doesn’t have an odour.  Unless you add it yourself using 100% natural essential oils.

Have you ever wondered what makes your cleaners/air fresheners smell?  That’s chemicals.  Synthetic fragrances are the leading cause of irritation and allergic reactions to most cleaners and cosmetics.  The term “fragrance” on labels is used because most fragrance blends are proprietary and manufacturers are not required to name the ingredients.  The unfortunate part is that “fragrance” can be made from thousands of different chemicals.  And of the 85,000 + chemicals used these days, very few have been safety tested.

Here’s a scary quote:

In 1986, the National Academy of Sciences targeted synthetic fragrances as one of the six categories of chemicals that should be given high priority for neurotoxicity testing.  The report states that 95 percent of chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum.  SOURCE: Neurotoxins: At Home and the Workplace (Report by the Committee on Science and Technology. US House of Representatives, Sept. 16, 1986) [Report 99-827]

Another group of  worrisome ingredients used in a lot of synthetic fragrances are called pthalates.  Pthalates are proven to interfere with sexual organ development in test animals and it is strongly suspected through several studies involving human infants that this danger applies to humans.  Exposure to pthalates is also linked to several types of cancer and birth defects.   The scary thing is that pthalates are used in a LOT of different products, and not just as a scent stabilizer.  They are added to plastics to enhance their flexibility – so anything that is rubber-like (poly-vinyl chloride – PVC, for example) have pthalates unless labelled to the contrary.   But I digress.

One way to reduce your exposure to synthetic fragrances is to ensure that the cleaning products, cosmetics, and other personal care items do not list fragrance as an ingredient.  Look for companies who use 100% natural essential oils for scents or are 100% fragrance free.  Do not be tricked by misleading wording such as “unscented” – this just means that they cover up any unpleasant odours with scented chemicals.  There are no regulations dictating the wording that must be used, so shop carefully.

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The “Dirt” on Phosphates

Many people are unaware of the hazards of using phosphate-containing detergents and dishwashing detergent.  Phosphates are used in detergents (chemically-based soaps) as “builders” to make them clean better.   Builders are especially helpful for use in hard water.  Phosphates are used to help minimize soap scum and aid in removing dirt from clothes.  Sound good so far, right?

Wrong.  The downside to phosphates is that they end up in our streams, lakes and oceans and contribute to the eutrophication of the water.  One pound of phosphates can grow 700 pounds of algae!  From Wikipedia:

Eutrophication is an increase in chemical nutrients — compounds containing nitrogen or phosphorus — in an ecosystem, and may occur on land or in water. However, the term is often used to mean the resultant increase in the ecosystem’s primary productivity (excessive plant growth and decay), and further effects including lack of oxygen and severe reductions in water quality, fish, and other animal populations.

Basically,  the phosphates allow algae to grow better and faster than normal, because phosphorous (from which they derive phosphates) is an important plant nutrient.  In large quantities though, it’s too much of a good thing.  When the algae grow too much, it disrupts normal ecosystem function.  The algae uses up all the oxygen in the water, which the fish, shellfish and other plants need to survive.  The water then becomes cloudy and useless for swimming and even makes filtering for consumption difficult.  Some species of algae produce neurotoxins that may harm wildlife.

Another name for this problem is called Algal Bloom.  This is when the algae multiplies at a massive rate and takes over the body of water.  There are several algal bloom areas-one example is at Lake Taihu in China.  Greenpeace China took 25 samples of water from the lake.  Of the 25 samples, 20 were too polluted with toxins to be used to water plants or for use in factories.  Here is a photo* of Lake Taihu:

lake-taihu

Ew.

Now that I’ve explained why phosphates are bad, let’s discuss what we can do to prevent algal bloom.  Canadian law has dictated that laundry detergents and other cleaning supplies, by 2010, must contain no more than 0.5% phosphorus.  Right now, detergents are permitted to contain up to 2.2% phosphates.  This is a good move, but I think it can be better-why not stop using phosphates completely?  There are many brands of cleaners that are free of phosphates.

Be aware, if you’re trying to cut phosphates out of your cleaning regimen, that “phosphate free” and “100% phosphate free” are two different things.  Any item that is labelled “phosphate free” can still contain phosphate.  So go for products that are labelled “100% phosphate free”, if possible.  Another tip is that liquid detergents NEVER contained phosphates, because phosphates aren’t soluble or stable enough to be used in liquid detergents.  Also, be aware that if you are buying a powdered detergent for your washing machine or dishwasher, it will contain phosphates unless it is indicated on the packaging that it is free of phosphates.

Some people feel that detergents that that contain no phosphates won’t work as well as their old products.  I know that President’s Choice makes a phosphate-free dishwashing detergent that supposedly works great.  I know that adding Washing Soda to your laundry detergent does the same “builder” job as phosphates, without the harm to the environment.  You can purchase washing soda from WalMart (in the laundry aisle), or the Great Canadian Superstore.  I’m sure you can find it elsewhere, but that’s where I’ve seen it.   It is really inexpensive, under $6 for a big box that will last a long time.  I also use washing soda in my all-natural all purpose spray cleaner.  You can find details in the page “Cleaning Products We Use”.

*photo from here

**note: phosphates from cleaning products are a small part of algal bloom problems.  Agricultural run-off from fertilizer is the largest contributor (mostly for corn crops) but I feel that every little bit helps.  Let’s do our part!

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Wednesday, April 22 Is EARTH DAY

earthHi everyone,
Just a reminder that Wednesday, April 22 is Earth Day. Get outside and get some fresh air while doing some good. Pick up trash and recyclable items from a neighbourhood park or greenspace, plant some trees, make some changes at your own house to change your carbon footprint, or do all of the above!

Ways you can make a difference in your own home:

1. Buy 100% recycled paper products, whether for toilet paper, paper towels, or printer paper. The quality difference is negligible but the amount of trees saved when buying 100% recycled vs 30% is HUGE! Even better, use both sides of paper or the blank side of junk mail as scribble paper. Some companies (this one included) print all of their invoices, letters, and other paperwork on paper that has other printing on the other side. Never buy printer paper again! Everyone knows someone who works in an office, simply ask that person to bring home the stacks of paper that is set aside for recycling by the printer at work! Flip it over and voila, you have paper!

2. Switch from disposable products to cloth: paper towels to cloth napkins is easy, affordable, and earth-friendly. Carry some with you so when you dine out you’ll have soft, clean cloth napkins! How many paper napkins or paper towels would you save a day?

3. Do you cloth diaper and cloth wipe your infant? Consider switching to “family cloth”, use cloth wipes for your own toileting needs…or at least for #1, if you’re squeamish. Trust me, once you try it you won’t go back to paper! (I know someone who makes cloth wipes, if you ask her nicely)

4. Recycle all paper, cardboard, metal, glass, and plastic (according to your recycling depot capabilities). How many bags of waste are you putting to the curb each week? Try to cut that in half by recycling everything you can. Did you know you can recycle used tin foil? You can also re-use it!

5. Reduce the amount of waste you have: when you buy something, consider the packaging. Try to buy products that have little or no packaging that will end up in the landfill. Don’t buy items that have packaging that you can’t recycle.

6. Reduce your heating/cooling use: in the winter, keep your house a little cooler and put on a sweater instead. Wrap your hot water tank in a blanket to conserve heat. Seal your windows and around pipes, electrical outlets, and around doors to protect against drafts and heat loss. Shut that door! Come in and out of the house quickly. Shut the door to any rooms you don’t use and close the heating vent: don’t heat a room you don’t use.

7. Use cloth grocery/shopping bags! Some stores offer incentives for shoppers who use cloth bags. The bags are inexpensive and reusable, buy a few or 5 and keep them in your car or by the door so you remember them. Plastic bags take a million years (or so) to break down. Please don’t use plastic bags! If you get plastic bags, use them a few times before getting rid of them, or re-purpose them. Many stores collect plastic bags for recycling, there is no reason you should throw them out.

8. Fix your broken items instead of buying new ones! Get rid of wasteful consumerist attitudes and fix that broken tv/computer/worn out shoe! There are people out there who have NOTHING! Don’t chuck out your cell phone simply because there’s a newer one on the market that you like more!

9. Donate any unwanted items: post them on Freecycle or Kijiji, give them away, have a yard sale, put them to the curb with a “Free” sign stuck to them, take them to Valu Village, a shelter, Salvation Army, or consignment shop. Someone will take your “junk” and make it his treasure!

10. Turn off the lights! Use CFL bulbs, and turn the lights off when you’re not in the room.

11. Unplug any electronic item when it’s not in use. Don’t just turn it off, unplug it!

12. Use cloth diapers! 5 MILLION disposable diapers go into landfills EVERY DAY in Canada. That’s 5 million human waste-filled bundles that seep into our ground water and soil. Antibiotics, viruses, and diseases, wrapped into plastic and chemicals and tossed into the garbage. Cloth diapers are less expensive, easy to use, and safer for your baby. Be nice to the environment, your baby, and your wallet, all at the same time.

13. Did you know that vermicomposting (using worms to compost your kitchen scraps) can cut down your household waste by approximately 40%? And that red wriggler worms (the special ones you buy for v-composting) will eat 1/2 of their weight in organic waste in 24-48 hours? At the end of the process, you end up with beautiful, nutrient-rich castings (poop) you can use in your garden! And the best part? You can compost year-round!

If vermicomposting isn’t for you, go for regular composting. You don’t have to have a fancy composter in order to do this; you can make one from a simple garbage pail with lid. Check out this site to see how:
http://simplemom.net/how-to-make-a-compost-bin/

We can each make a difference. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Remember, every little bit helps.

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Why Disposable Cleaning Products Are Bad

Think of the myriad of television commercials aimed at our busy lifestyle.  What everyone needs is more time, right?  So the cleaning products industry (aka toxic chemicals pushers) have developed a whole set of products that are based around the consumer’s “convenience”.  No one wants to have to do laundry, wash a dusting cloth out, or keep a broom and mop or toilet bowl brush.  We’ve been told we NEED to have disposable cleaning products, that they are fun and exciting and will make our life easier.

You know the ones-Swiffer, Scrubbing Bubbles, Magic Eraser…and don’t forget all the disposable cleaning wipes like Lysol and Clorox.  These things are great, right?  You pull one out of the box, use it, and then throw it out (or flush it-don’t get me started on that).  And then there are paper towels-a whole separate blog topic!  But…what happens to all of this garbage?  Just because it leaves your sight, or your home, doesn’t mean it’s GONE.  It just gets moved to somewhere else, where all the residual chemicals from it leach into the ground and then our ground water, contaminating our soil and water supply.  The products themselves, if they do break down at all, product greenhouse gases.  And let’s not forget the impact of having to supply land for garbage dumps, thereby losing precious land to our junk. The mountains of trash our society produces DAILY is frightening.

I have some numbers that, although compiled in 2002, are still somewhat shocking.  Add to these numbers the increase in disposable products and I’m certain these numbers are much higher: Canadian households generated 12 million tonnes of waste in 2002.  If you’re up for a truly fascinating read about Canadian Waste, read this paper titled Human Activity and the Environment“, with the featured article “Solid Waste in Canada”, compiled by Statistics Canada.

There is a great film called The Story of Stuff that illustrates what happens to our garbage, and explains that the cost of our stuff is much higher than what we pay for it.  The Story of Stuff is 20 minutes long.  Please take the time to view it!  Click on the image to go to the site.

story-of-stuff-banner


Another concern of mine is the fact that so many of these products are made with bleached paper products, plastic, and other things that, by virtue of their production, pollute the environment.  Manufacturing plastic pollutes, and so does paper production-never mind the fact that paper=dead trees, and therefore less oxygen being converted from carbon dioxide. So what can we do?  First of all, get rid of paper towels. Microfibre cloths can be used to clean your mirrors and windows (one wet, one dry).  Rags can be used to clean everything from your counter, sinks, toilets, tubs, and floors, if you’re the type to wash your floor by hand.   Second, re-introduce re-usable products into your home.  Find a good mop, one that doesn’t require disposable heads,  and a broom.  Using cloths instead of paper towels also finds another use for those clothes that are worn out and not in a condition good enough for donation.  Let’s re-institute the “rag-bag” and save those clothes from the dump!

Speaking of saving, do you ever wonder WHY these companies make disposable products?  It’s not really because they care about saving you time!  It’s because disposable products are CONSUMABLE-that is, they get used up and the consumer, that’s you, have to keep buying them.  The bottom line is, of course, the bottom line.  They  make money, you make garbage.  Stop the cycle!

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The Dangers of Commercial Cleaning Products

In 2008 Canadians spent more than $275 million on commercial cleaning products.  That fact proves that we, as a nation, are obsessed with being clean and disinfected.  Those numbers indicate that the average person believes that the commercial cleaning products they buy are safe and have been tested.

Unfortunately the truth is that Health Canada doesn’t control the safety of these products-actually, Health Canada stated in an interview with CBC: “the responsibility for assessing the hazards associated with a chemical product is that of the manufacturer.”

Shocking.

So let me get this straight: Health Canada places no rules on what chemicals can be in cleaning products.  In addition, they don’t test said products to ensure they are safe.
If you are one of those people who pooh-poohs the hazards associated with commercial cleaning products, perhaps you should reconsider your stance.  Go to your cupboard and take stock of all the cleaners.  Go ahead, we’ll wait.  Then come back here and compare your list to ours-and see what kind of chemicals you are housing.

Lysol Anti-Bacterial/Disinfectant Spray: you know the one.  On TV the commercials tell you to spray it on your counters, on your kid’s toys, in your garbage can, in the air.  But what is IN it?

Contents: ethanol (denatured alcohol), alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride, and carbon dioxide.

Do you know what those things are?  Denatured alcohol is particularly toxic if swallowed-f you drink it, you go blind or die. Alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride is a pesticide.  It is a suspected gastrointestinal and liver toxicant; immunotoxicant ; neurotoxicant; respiratory toxicant; and skin or sense organ toxicant.  In other words, it is toxic to your liver and digestive system, immune system, brain, lungs, skin and eyes.

Let’s move along…

Windex is another of those products that most people have, right?  Ingredients are: isopropanol, 2-butoxyethanol,  ethylene glycol n-hexyl ether,  water, and ammonia. 2-butoxyethanol is pretty bad stuff.  From Wikipedia:

It is recommended that one use precautions when working with glycol ethers such as 2-butoxyethanol. Employers are required by United States federal law to inform employees when they are working with these substances.[1]

Some animal studies indicate that it produces reproductive problems, such as reduced fertility, death of embryos and birth defects.[2] People exposed to high levels of 2-butoxyethanol for several hours have reported nose and eye irritation, headaches, vomiting and a metallic taste in their mouths. In addition to inhaling 2-butoxyethanol vapor, research has shown that skin can also absorb 2-butoxyethanol vapor from the air, making skin a major pathway of exposure to this chemical.

2-Butoxyethanol is frequently found in popular cleaning products. It is difficult for consumers to know whether their favorite cleaner contains the chemical because manufacturers are not required to list it on the label.

As for the other ingredients in Windex, Ethylene glycol n-hexyl ether can be fatal when swallowed.  Exposure is connected with cancer; reproductive/developmental toxicity; non-reproductive organ system toxicity; neurotoxicity; and skin, eyes and lung irritation.  Ammonia exposure is linked to cancer; developmental/reproductive toxicity; non-reproductive organ system toxicity; skin, eye and lung irritant; and it is also responsible for the death of fish, wildlife, plants, or other wild organisms.


Pledge ingredients can be found here.  They are isoparafinnic hydrocarbon solvent, silicone, butane, propane, and water. Isoparafinnic hydrocarbon solvents, at high concentrations, are used as pesticides.  From msdshazcom.com, with acute exposure they cause eye irritation, and aspiration into the lungs may cause severe health effects.  Silicone can cause eye irritation with direct contact. I’m assuming butane and propane are used as propellants.  Do you want these in your house?

These are just a few of the cleaning products found in the homes of people all across Canada.  Not discussed here are oven cleaners, deodorizers, toilet bowl cleaners, and many more.

One thing people must remember, especially if the have children and babies in the house, is that these cleaning products don’t just disappear after you’ve used them.  They linger on surfaces like tabletops and floors.  When your baby crawls across the floor, or picks items up and places it in her mouth, she is ingesting the chemicals.  When she rubs her eyes, the mucous membrane is absorbing those toxins. The long-term effects of these chemicals are unknown, and people have projected that up to 100% of our population will be diagnosed with some form of cancer due to environmental toxins.  Scary stuff.

So what can we do?  STOP BUYING COMMERCIAL CLEANING PRODUCTS!!!  Go to our page called “Cleaning Products We Use”, found in the About Us section, and check out the natural alternatives that work just as well and are non-toxic.

Edited to add: here’s a great site with lots of more info on the dangers of commercial cleaning products.

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