Friday, March 28, 2008

Going Green: Product Review of the Week - Paper Towels, Bath Tissues, Facial Towels

Paper Towels
If you are trying to go green and change your paper towels this should be good news for your wallet. The green paper towels cost less than the conventional ones. After heavy using of Kleenex Viva which I used to like a lot, in my effort of becoming green I started to use 7th Generation 2-ply paper towels. They are not so great as Viva but I got used to them.

Natural/Green $/sheet Conventional paper towels $/sheet
7th Generation 2-ply 0.02 Scott 0.04
Green Forest 0.02 Bounty 0.03
Earth Friendly 0.02 Kleenex Viva 0.03

Bathroom Tissue

The green bathroom tissues can cost less too. I have tried Natural Value and 7th Generation and I liked more the first one. It seems to be more durable.

Natural/Green $/sheet Conventional bath tissues $/sheet
Natural Value 2-ply 0.001 Charmin ultra 2-ply 0.004
7th Generation 2-ply 0.002 Kleenex Cottonelle 0.003

Scott 0.001

Facial Towels

The prices for facial towels are comparable as well. I have tried MARCAL and 7th Generation. I did not like either of them much; if you have a runny nose that lasts longer than a day it is quite easy to get a rash from these. I think I will stick with Kleenex (with lotion) or use some cotton towels until I will find something better. I am still looking for better ones.

Natural/Green $/tissue Conventional facial towels $/tissue
MARCAL (great value now) 0.002 Kleenex with lotion 3-ply 0.02
7th Generation 2-ply 0.01 Puffs 2-Ply 0.01

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Organic/Natural - The Misleading Label

A new study released this month by the Organic Consumer Association (OCA) shows that there are toxic chemicals in the organic and natural products. The study found that products certified under the USDA National Organic Program DID NOT contain 1,4 dioxane - a cancer-causing ingredient, but most of the best selling personal care products claiming to be "organic" (but not USDA certified) contained the cancer-causing ingredient.

Some Brands Found to Contain 1,4-Dioxane:

  • JASON Pure Natural & Organic
  • Giovanni Organic Cosmetics
  • Kiss My Face
  • Nature’s Gate Organics

Brands Found NOT to Contain 1,4-Dioxane:

All USDA Certified brands tested in the study were 1,4-Dioxane free, including:

  • Dr. Bronner’s
  • Sensibility Soaps (Nourish brand)
  • Terressentials

German Natural “BDIH” Certified brands tested and found to be 1,4-Dioxane free:

  • Aubrey Organics
  • Dr. Hauschka

For a full list of brands tested go here.

1, 4 dioxane get into our bodies from breathing contaminated air, ingestion of contaminated food and drinking water, and dermal contact with products such as cosmetics, detergents, bubble baths and shampoos that contain 1,4-dioxane. Exposure to high levels of 1,4-dioxane can result in liver and kidney damage and death. Eye and nose irritation was reported by people inhaling low levels of 1,4-dioxane vapors for short periods (minutes to hours). Studies in animals have shown that breathing, ingesting, or skin contact with 1,4-dioxane can result in liver and kidney damage. Animals that breathed high amounts of 1,4-dioxane also became drowsy. Laboratory rats and mice that drank water containing 1,4-dioxane during most of their lives developed liver cancer; the rats also developed cancer inside the nose. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers 1,4-dioxane as reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen. EPA recommends that the levels of 1,4-dioxane in drinking water that children drink for 1 day not exceed 4 milligrams per liter (4 mg/L) or 0.4 mg/L if they drink the water for 10 days. However, a federal drinking water standard is not available. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set a limit for of 100 parts 1,4-dioxane per 1 million parts of air (100 ppm) in the workplace.

How to reduce the risk?

Families that drink water that could be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane can reduce the risk for exposure to 1,4-dioxane by drinking uncontaminated bottled water.

“To avoid 1,4-Dioxane, the OCA urges consumers to search ingredient lists for indications of ethoxylation including: "myreth," "oleth," "laureth," "ceteareth," any other "eth," "PEG," "polyethylene," "polyethylene glycol," "polyoxyethylene," or "oxynol," in ingredient names. In general, the OCA urges consumers to avoid products with unpronounceable ingredients. "When it comes to misbranding organic personal care products in the U.S., it's almost complete anarchy and buyer beware unless the product is certified under the USDA National Organic Program," says Cummins.”

Well, it is always safe to look for certification of the products claiming to be organic/natural.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Where Do You Buy Safe Toys?

From Wall Street Journal today: In the state of Washington, the lawmakers have passed a bill that would set the toughest restrictions in the nation on the lead content of children's products. The bill would reduce the level of lead from 600 parts per million (the current federal standard) to 90 parts per million and possibly 40 parts per million (the limit recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics). Other chemicals that would have reduced levels and are part of the ban are cadmium (used in paint) and phthalates (banned in Europe for a while). (And let's hope it sticks in this lawyer's country ). The reason for this? WSJ is quite blunt:

"Congress is considering new federal lead limits and other toy-safety standards but isn't moving fast enough for sponsors of bills in 29 state legislatures. Illinois and Michigan have already enacted new lead laws, which aren't as tough as the Washington bill. A ban on phthalates is due to take effect in California next year. The TIA says it has hired lobbyists to battle legislative proposals in 10 states, including Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Vermont and Wisconsin."

The most aggressive right now is the state of New York, as the WSJ Table (above) shows. So, for the rest of us concerned about safety, I guess the message is: "Buy NY and WA toys!" (one example: Buy Buy Baby )

Friday, March 21, 2008

Going Green: Product Review of the Week - Dish Washing Detergent

Dishwasher detergent

With dishwasher detergent I was not very successful at first. I have always used Cascade and was very effective, but it contains phosphates and other chemicals. I tried seventh generation (the gel) because I like their products a lot but I had to double the quantity of the detergent poured in the dishwasher. Sometimes it has left powdery residue after a load. I tried Ecover and I still got residue on my plates, especially on pots. Now I am using Seventh Generation the powder detergent; it seems it washes the pots a little better, but I guess I will continue my search for a better one.

Conventional detergent
7th Generation Powder
Cascade Complete Gel
Ecover Tablets
7th Generation Gel

Dish detergent

I used to like Palmolive but in my effort of becoming green I have tried safer solutions like Seventh Generation Free and Clear and the one with the Lemongrass and Clementine zest. I liked both but I tried also Ecover and got in love with it; it very soft on hands and it cleans well. It is way cheaper than the Palmolive I used to buy.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How to Choose Safe Toys

It can be quite hard to get safe toys for your children these days.
There are the concerns of
- lead in the toy's paint,
- phthalates in the plastic rubber toys (banned in European toys),
- PVC from the hard plastic toys
and so on. The scare with the toys made in China awakened many parents who started to look for safer alternatives. One should be pretty concerned when buying toys for his/her kids whether made of wood or plastic. Some think that if the toys are made from wood they are safe and this is probably because they are free of phthalates. But they may not be free of lead and other chemicals used to glue the pieces; so not all wooden toys are safe. I have created a list of things to look for when byuing toys for your kids.

  • Avoid toys made of plastic that uses PVC (identified as number 3 or vinyl).

  • Avoid any plastic rubber toys like those fishes or ducks for bath.

  • Look for fleece dolls and stuffed animals made from post-consumer recycled materials.

  • Look for toys made from unfinished wood but pay attention at the glue that may contain formaldehyde. Any solid wood toy is preferable to one made with pressed woods such as plywood and particleboard, which are formed with glues that give off toxic fumes. You can often see the layers of pressed wood when looking at the edges of toys and puzzle pieces. However, to ensure that solid wood came from responsibly managed forests, look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, which prohibits clear-cutting and the use of old-growth and endangered tree species.

  • Look for wooden toys finished with natural oils such as linseed, walnut,and beeswax which are safest.

  • Look for solar-powered electronic toys or those that run off of rechargeable batteries, juiced up with a solar charger. Because rechargeables contain heavy metals--such as nickel, cadmium, lithium and lead--be sure to treat them as hazardous waste at the end of their lifespan.

  • Choose very carefully the toys that are for mouthing/sucking period of your child. Better get some 3-4 more expensive safe toys than 10 unsafe toys. They do not need that many.

  • Choose European toys - they ban phtahlates in toys, formaldehyde, polybrominated flame retardants and many other chemicals.

  • Look for information on toy recalls. The website for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has information on infant toy recall.

  • Avoid toxic items and materials that could cause poisoning. Look for paint sets, crayons and markers that are labeled nontoxic.

  • Use the database. The Consumer Action Guide to Toxic Chemicals in Toys, is a database with results of 1,200 toys and children products and data from over 3,000 individual samples of different product components. The toys are rated for 5 elements that represent the chemicals of concern: lead, mercury, cadmium, chlorine (PVC), and arsenic. There are lists with worse and best toys and children products.
    The database does not have all the toys tested but if you do not find what you are looking for you can request new toys and products to be tested.

  • Opt for organic cotton (grown without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers), unbleached cotton (free of dioxin-producing chlorine), hemp and wool colored with low-impact, colorfast dyes. Wool is naturally fire-resistant--yet another reason to choose it.

  • If you're ever in doubt about a toy's safety, discard it.

Some examples of safe toys:

Plan toys - mostly wooden; they comply to E.U. standards.
Haba - comply to E.U. standards.
Nuno Organics - has stacking boxes from birch wood, treated with non-toxic water based stains.
Nova Natural Toys and Craft - sells playthings made from local white pine, finished with polemerized linseed oil.
Melissa and Doug - mostly wooden; uses water-based paint.
Sassy - majority are made from plastic but they claim that their products are free of phthalates, PVC and Bisphenol A
Lego - PVC & phthalate-free ABS plastic.
Chicco - the majority is made from plastic, PVC free.
TinyLove - PVC free.
Lamaze baby toys - PVC free.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Going Green: Product Review of the Week - Laundry Detergents and Softeners

Fabric Softener

I have tried both Ecover and Seventh Generation and I liked them both. I used Downy and Snuggle in the past and what I did not like much was the strong smell of the perfume. Ecover and Seventh Generation smell nice and the fabric feels soft and fresh. At Amazon they are cheaper than the conventional products. Once you like something you can try finding it on Amazon because they have good deals but they sell them in batches. That is why is important you like the product first. The price comparisons are made per load used. For the softeners the prices of the green ones are lower so, why not trying them out?

High-Efficiency Laundry Detergents

If you are trying to go green and change your detergents this can be expensive. I have tried Seventh Generation Free and Clear and Baby Seven Generation and I liked them a lot. I did not try other green detergents since I liked these ones. Particularly, I found no difference between the Seventh Generation and Baby Seven Generation in terms of ingredients. This can be quite expensive, but if you are looking for sales you can get good prices. I used Tide, Cheers and, respectively Dreft in the past but now I switched to Seventh Generation Free and Clear and Baby Seventh Generation. It is more expensive that the others but after looking at the ingredients list, I decided that my family is worth the price difference.

Conventional detergent
7th Generation 2X Free & Clear
Tide Free HE 2x
Ecover Powder
Cheer HE 2x
7th Generation Baby
Dreft powder

How to Go Green: Product Review of The Week

Going green seems to be very easy at first and the idea, of course, is very appealing for each of us. Who does not want to be part of a free-chemical world with less pollution and live his/her life in a healthy way! Well, I am trying hardly to become green and as much as I want, I discovered that this is not an easy process. I read all these websites and stories of people who are having so many solutions and, at first, I say it is easy. But then I discovered how expensive is to get an organic cotton sofa or mattress, to remodel rooms, to install solar panels, and so on. I cannot afford being green this way, so I needed to start with little things little by little and changing everyday something, without breaking my bank account. And it worked until now. I have changed many things in my house and in my way of living and, of course, I still have many things to change ahead. I am starting the series “Product Review of the Week” trying to make a review and a comparison of prices of green products and conventional products I tried and used. I hope this list would be useful to many people who are considering going green but the price of the products scares them. You will find out, that there are green products that cost less if you know where to look for them; sometimes the price difference between a green product and a conventional one is so small that it does not make sense not to chose the green one; and sometimes the differences are larger, but considering the savings you get from other products and the impact of the green products on our lives and on our environment it may be worth to try.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Perchlorate in Our Food

On January 2, 2008, FDA published a study entitled "U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Total Diet Study: Dietary Intake of Perchlorate and Iodine" in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology. The study was designed to provide perchlorate and iodine intake averages from food for the entire U.S based on analytical results for perchlorate from FDA's TDS samples collected in FY 05/06 and for iodine from TDS samples collected in FY03/04.

Perchlorate - a major component in rocket fuel also forms naturally. In certain amounts it disrupts the thyroid by inhibiting the uptake of iodine which is an essential component of thyroid hormones. The thyroid hormones direct brain development and therefore, health concerns have focused on fetuses and young infants. Iodine deficiency during pregnancy can affect fetal and newborn development. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 2005 recommended as a safe dose - 0.7 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day, and EPA adopted this as its reference dose.

In the FDA study, the perchlorate levels were measured in 285 foods obtained from grocery stores and fast-food outlets in different parts of the U.S. between 2003 and 2006. To estimate exposure, they combined the analytical results with food consumption estimates. Drinking water was excluded from the survey. Numerous studies have found perchlorate in food, but this is the first to estimate exposure for the U.S. population. However, the survey does not provide information about the distribution of perchlorate exposures.

The results showed that:

for perchlorate:

The estimated lower bound to upper bound average perchlorate intakes by the 14 age-sex groups range from 0.08 to 0.39 micrograms per kilogram body weight per day (µg/kg bw/day), compared with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Reference Dose (RfD) of 0.7 µg/kg bw/day. Children 2 years of age, with estimated average intakes ranging from 0.35 to 0.39 µg/kg bw/day, have the highest total perchlorate intake per kilogram body weight per day, but are below the RfD of 0.7 µg/kg bw/day recommended by the National Academy of Sciences and adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Total average intake ranges for infants 6-11 months, children 6, and children 10 years of age are estimated to be 0.26 to 0.29 µg/kg bw/day, 0.25 to 0.28 µg/kg bw/day, and 0.17 to 0.20 µg/kg bw/day, respectively. The estimated total average intakes by the other age-gender subgroups ranged from 0.08 to 0.14 µg/kg bw/day.

for iodine:

The estimated average iodine intakes by the 14 age-gender subgroups show a range from 138 to 353 µg/person/day. The estimated average iodine intakes for infants, 6-11 months exceeded their adequate intake (AI) of 135 µg/person/day. The estimated average iodine intakes by all other 13 children and adult age-gender subgroups exceeded their relevant estimated average requirements (EARs) of 65 µg/person/day for children 2 and 6 years, 73 µg/person/day for children 10 years, and 95 µg/person/day for the remaining 10 age-gender subgroups.

FDA does not recommend any changes to infants' and children's diets and eating habits based on current perchlorate data. FDA continues to recommend a healthy eating plan, consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The adequate intake of iodine has previously been recognized as important for healthy thyroid function.

Perchlorate is found in water as well. FDA has not established a standard for perchlorate in bottled water, and the current bottled water regulations do not require bottled water manufacturers to test for perchlorate. EPA, the institution that regulates the tap water, has not yet determined whether a drinking water standard (i.e., a maximum contaminant level or MCL) is warranted for perchlorate. I wonder what the added exposure to perchlorate from food and water is and what the health effects of this are.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Good Plastic - Bad Plastic

There is certainly good plastic and bad plastic. Plastic is widely used for food containers, water bottles, baby bottles, plastic wraps, etc. it is convenient to use but is associated with health risks and environmental harms.
Its association with health risks is because most plastics contain chemicals that are known as hormone-disruptor and they can leach into food and beverages. Plastics are made from petroleum – a non-renewable material and it takes large volume of landfill space. I will make a short review of each plastic label after which I will try to put together some recommendations. However, please consider that no plastic may be safe; some plastics are considered "good" or safe because there is no sufficient research to prove otherwise.

GOOD Plastics

BAD Plastics

#1 PETE: Polyethylene terephthalate ethylene used for soft drink, juice, water, detergent, cleaner and peanut butter containers. It was considered the safest and is the most common plastic and easy to recycle. However, a recent study found traces of DEHP in bottled water stored in a PET bottle for more than 9 months.

#2 HDPE: High density polyethylene, used in opaque plastic milk and water jugs, bleach, detergent and shampoo bottles and some plastic bags. It is considered safe and easy to recycle.

#3 PVC or V or DEHA : Polyvinyl chloride or di(2-ethylhexyl)adipate used for cling wrap, some plastic squeeze bottles, cooking oil and peanut butter jars, detergent and window cleaner bottles. PVC is well known to be associated with liver cancer. DEHA is linked to negative effects on the liver, kidney, spleen, bone formation and body weight. It is the least recyclable.

#4 LDPE: Low density polyethylene, used in gro­cery store bags, most plastic wraps and some bottles. It is considered safe but hard to recycle.

#5 PP: Polypropylene, used in most Rubbermaid, deli soup, syrup and yogurt containers, straws and other clouded plastic containers, including baby bottles. It is considered safe but hard to recycle. (See Update as of Nov 14 2008)

#6 PS: Polystyrene, used in Styrofoam food trays, egg cartons, disposable cups and bowls, carry-out containers and opaque plastic cutlery. Styrene can leach from polystyrene and is toxic to the brain and nervous system. It also has been found to affect red blood cells, liver, kid­neys and stomach in animal studies. It is hard to recycle.

#7 Other: Usually polycarbonate, used in most plastic baby bottles, 5-gallon water bottles, “sport” water bottles, metal food can liners, clear plastic “sippy” cups and some clear plastic cutlery. New bio-based plastics may also be labeled #7. Polycarbonate can leach Bisphenol A, a chemical that mimics the action of the human hormone estrogen. It was found to stimulate prostate cancer, produce ovarian dysfunction, genetic damage, etc. (see Baby Bottles free of BPA).


• Avoid using plastic in microwave. Any plastic can leach harmful chemicals when heated. Avoid to warm food even in plastic labeled as “microwave safe”. “Microwave safe” does not mean that there is no leaching of chemicals.
• Use alternatives to plastics whenever possible. Bring a glass container with you at the restaurants. Use stainless steel or glass to store your food.
• Buy food in glass containers. However, pay attention that phtalates were found in lids of glass jars.
• Use alternatives for baby bottles and bottles made from polycarbonate. Use instead glass bottles or other made from safer plastic.
• Drink the water from bottled water quickly and keep it away from heat to avoid leaching of chemicals.
• Do not reuse bottles or food containers made for single using.
• Avoid plastic cutlery and dinnerware.
• Avoid plastics that are not recyclable (3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
• Buy bio-based plastic alternatives if available and if you really need it.
• Get rid of all plastic from your kitchen - like me.

For some shopping suggestions look here.


As two of the readers suggested there is no plastic that is truly safe or good for us. The idea of the list is to help you chose between plastics in case you have no current alternative. My 1st impulse it to go for effortless changes instead of radical ones; there's always a risk of falling off the wagon when you try cold-turkey plastic free life. However, the best solution is to avoid them as much as you can.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Ikea- Green and Safe?

As I was saying in previous articles (More Chemicals in Your Baby and Mattresses Free of Polybrominated Flame Retardants), all sorts of nasty chemicals are found where you expect them the least (furniture and chairs) and it is not that easy to get rid of them (this article is rather old, but the facts are the same). You'd expect that you'll have to pay a lot to fancy stores, but there's always a more budged friendly alternative.

Who would say that Ikea - the popular Swedish-based home furnishing retailer - is one of the safest place to buy furniture, mattresses, toys, kitchen furniture, eco-lights etc. Their mattresses, sofas and padded chairs are free of polybrominated flame retardants from a long time ago, lots of their furniture is made from natural, untreated wood, the children's toys are free of phtahaltes and lead; their kitchen furniture is free of formaldehyde and the list can continue. Why? Because they are very well respecting the Swedish environmental rules which are probably the strictest in the world . (Here's an example where globalization works for us in the US, because IKEA has the same products everywhere, as opposed to other brands that create products for each geography).

IKEA supports the use of environmentally friendly, sustainable and recycled materials as well. They received many awards in the past for being committed to the conservation of the land, water and air resources and its products are recommended by the EWG.

Here is IKEA policy:

"IKEA works to ensure that products and materials are adapted to minimize any negative impact on the environment, and are safe for customers from a health

I like Ikea - nice style and nice prices. I was reticent for a while buying to much stuff from them fearing that my house will look exactly like the ones of my friends and like the houses of so many
people. I like to have a more particular style, but given the safety they are guaranteeing and the low prices, I do not care any more about similarity. I think it is a good alternative to those organic/natural expensive shops that are blooming so fast.

Monday, March 3, 2008

11 Easy Ways to Reduce Noxious Chemicals

Trying to make sense of all the scare-mongering news about the dangers of chemicals, I came up with a short list that is easy to follow and will avoid the most dangerous of them. It's not complete, but you won't break the bank while reducing the ones that are quite common. I wish there was a way to quantify by how much these simple steps reduce the toxic chemicals, but I have no way to tell. I hope it's a lot.



mercury in your body

eat low-mercury fish like tilapia & pollock, rather than eat high-mercury choices like tuna & swordfish.

perchlorate from your tap water (and other chemicals)

filter your water for drinking and cooking.

dust and other bacteria in your house

leave your shoes at the door. Clean up the indoor air which is more polluted than the outdoor air.

toxic gases by cooking in the nonstick pans

chose cast iron pans instead of nonstick.

bisphenol A and other chemicals in your food

do not use processed, canned, or fast foods and never use plastic to warm your food in a microwave. Do not use plastic bottles for feeding your baby, use instead the ones made from glass. Avoid using bottles made from polycarbonate.


eat organic vegetables and fruits.

phthalates, parabens, and so many other chemicals found the personal care products

avoid perfumes, cologne, nail polish, and any products with fragrance on the ingredient list. Chose products that are water-based, parabens free, and 100% vegetarian.

phthalates in your home (since they are found everywhere in the environment)

avoid the plastics in the kitchen, avoid vinyl toys and any product made from vinyl (e.g., shower curtain), avoid air fresheners.

flame retardants coming in contact with your body

chose products made from natural fibers, like cotton and wool - those are naturally fire resistant.

toxic chemicals in cleaning products

chose green products like those with no fragrance, bio-degradable, non-toxic.

chemicals in your environment

avoid the use of pesticide and insecticides on your plants.