Archive for the ‘Food & Health’ Category
I recently had the pleasure of appearing on tbd.com’s talk show Let’s Talk Live on October 4 to discuss green living tips for the Fall. This is a good time of year to target a variety of green projects, especially with winter just around the corner for those of us who have to endure change of seasons. Here are the tips I offered on the show to transition into Fall and prepare for changes in season that lie ahead.
1. Weatherize Your Home for Winter
When it comes to energy efficiency, one of the easiest and least expensive green practices you can do is to plug and seal leaks air leaks – called weatherization. Fall is a great time to prepare your home for the winter months before it gets too cold. According to the Department of Energy, heating accounts for the biggest chunk of our utility bill, accounting for more than 40% if you include heating the space in our home as well as our water. Weatherization can save you 25 to 40 percent on your heating and cooling bills. The average unweatherized house in the United States leaks air at a rate equivalent to a four-foot-square hole in the wall.
- Identify areas in your home where you may have leaks. Looks for gaps in your doorways where you can see visible light filtering in. Hold a match or incense near windows or areas where you have large cracks (possibly from foundation settling) – if the fire flickers or the incense is drawn to the outdoors, you have a leak!
- Buy weather stripping for your doors and windows at your local hardware store.
- Use caulking to seal up areas where you have cracks.
2. Manage Your Indoor Air Quality
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates indoor air to be 2-5 times more polluted than outdoors. Now I know I just told you to seal up your home to avoid loss of heating and cooling and reduce your energy bills, but you also have to be careful you don’t trap in pollution that could harm your health. Most of us don’t think about the toxins in our home from our furniture, carpets and rugs, and cleaning products. Wood often is treated with formaldehyde, paints used to decorate your walls may contain phenols; carpets, paints, and upholstery can contain VOCs – all of these are toxins which can adversely affect our respiratory systems and cause other health problems.
Here are a few ways to manage your indoor air quality:
- Make sure you have changed your air filters and continue to do that every 3 months or as directed by your HVAC or furnace system recommendations;
- When weather permits, open your windows to allow fresh air in your home;
- If you have ceiling fans, turn them on and keep air circulating. You can use floor fans and place them in front of windows to move air flow through your home and flush out stagnant air or use the “fan” on your thermostat that keeps air flowing through your ducts, even if the heat or cooling is not being used;
- Consider adding air filters to rooms you sleep in or spend a lot of time, and/or add air purifying plants to naturally clean your air. The best air-purifying plants include the peace lily, bamboo palm, English ivy, mums, and gerbera daisies, all of which are both easy to find and easy to care for – so even if you don’t have a green thumb, you can still have a green home or office.
- Buying household products that don’t have harmful chemicals is another important practice. Start with your cleaning products. Look for products that are 100% natural and chemical free, have no dyes, no detergents, no surfactants, no preservatives, no SLS, SLES, ALS, no synthetic fragrances, and no preservatives.
3. Make Healthy and Sustainable Water Choices
We’ve all been lectured about the environmental impact of purchasing bottled water – estimates still show that over 2 million plastic bottles are thrown away in the U.S. every HOUR! Well, it’s not just about reducing our consumption of plastic water bottles to reduce the number going to landfills every day, there are health reasons to having the proper reusable bottle and ensuring your water comes from a trusted source. Many people get allergies in the Fall and cold and flu season begins with the changing temperatures. Clean, sustainable water helps keep you healthy and reduces your environmental impact.
- Get a good reusable water bottle. Look for Stainless Steel bottles like Kleen Kanteen, although there are many to choose from these days. If you prefer a lighter weight bottle made of plastic, be sure it is BPA-free. Check out Time magazine’s Top 5 Eco-Friendly Water Bottles (rated in 2008).
- Get your water from a trusted source – preferably water you have filtered at home through our faucet or from your fridge. Since you may drink your one bottle sooner than you can return home to refill, especially since the point is to NOT buy water bottles when you are on-the-go, you can also get water bottles with built-in filters. Check out the BOBBLE.
4. Enjoy the Final Fall Harvest with Eco-eating
Fall is a great time to take advantage of the end of year harvests by visiting local farmers markets. While some farmers markets are year round, many end for the season in October or November until starting up again in April or May. It’s important to choose the right fruits and vegetables by season as well as those that are lower in pesticides.
- Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides for a very useful guide of the Dirty Dozen (fruits and vegetables found to have higher pesticide use/content, making it worth the extra buck or two for organic) vs. the Clean Fifteen (those with lower pesticide use/content so you run less risk if you don’t buy organic);
- Fruits and vegetables in season in October and November include apples, spinach, and broccoli. Grapes, pumpkins, squash, raspberries, and tomatoes may also be in season and available at your local farmer’s market.
By Theresa Meehan (guest writer)
Since starting my internship with Green Living Consulting, I have learned a lot about how to be more environmentally friendly, but also how to be healthier by educating myself about what I put in and on my body. I had heard about the issue of toxins in common products before I started researching toxins in cosmetics specifically, but I didn’t know much about them. I was definitely not aware of the fact that toxins are in almost EVERYTHING we use, including ones that are proven carcinogens. It is surprising that this issue is not common knowledge, especially since it isn’t very difficult to find out about if you know where to look. Of course, you have to be aware of the problem in order to search for more information on it.
There are many organizations dedicated to identifying and doing something about toxic substances in our daily-use products, such as the Environmental Working Group, The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition. However, aside from the work done by these dedicated groups, very little action has been taken to evaluate the toxicity of cosmetics ingredients, not even by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is in charge of their regulation. While the FDA has banned or restricted only a few color additives and other chemicals, the European Union recently banned 1,000 ingredients from use in cosmetics. This is partially due to the fact that the FDA doesn’t have the same regulatory power over cosmetics as it does over other products. However, it is also due to the tendency of Americans and others to judge an ingredient innocent until proven guilty, important in a court of law, but not when it comes to our health. We should instead be invoking the precautionary principle, which states that even if there is not yet enough scientific evidence to prove that something is harmful, actions should be taken to prevent any possible injury.
Some people may not think that this is an important concern because they trust in the decisions of government and industry, or because they have never experienced adverse effects from using cosmetics. Nonetheless, it is important to be aware of the potential dangers you are exposing yourself to every day. The average person uses nine cosmetic products a day, exposing him or herself to at least 120 chemicals that can be absorbed into the skin and bloodstream. These products can also be harmful to wildlife and the environment when they are thrown away or washed down the drain. There are many chemicals in cosmetics whose toxicity is unknown, but there are also many that pose a clear health risk. Among them are coal tar, lead, triclosan, hydroquinone, formaldehyde and parabens, which are also very toxic to the environment. These chemicals are found in toothpaste, deodorant, nail polish, sunscreen, lotion, antibacterial products and many others. Fragrance is another potentially dangerous ingredient because it often contains endocrine disruptors called phthalates. Moreover, companies don’t have to differentiate between the harmful and non-harmful substances contained in the fragrance. They also don’t have to list byproducts or contaminants, since they were not intentionally produced or included.
Fortunately, Congress is aware of this issue and is currently working on revising the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976, which does not currently regulate cosmetics, food, drugs or pesticides. The TSCA has many problems, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) lack of power to enforce its regulations. The act puts a heavy burden on the EPA to be 100% sure that something is dangerous before being allowed to take any action. The TSCA also grandfathered in a lot of chemicals, making it “unnecessary” to test their toxicity levels. Since 1976, the EPA has only tested 200 out of 62,000 chemicals. That is absolutely ridiculous!
Currently there are two bills being discussed, the Toxic Chemical Safety Act in the House and the Safer Chemicals Act in the Senate. These bills would make chemical companies prove that their chemicals are safe instead of putting the burden on the EPA to prove they are harmful. This is a very effective way to make producing healthier products a priority for industry, because they would bear the burden of research. Basic information about all chemicals would be required so that consumers would know what they are buying and could thus make informed decisions about their health and that of their families. The bills also suggests a program for the EPA to identify and improve hotspots around the country where chemical exposures are particularly high.
That Congress is aware of the problem of toxins in cosmetics is a great step in the right direction, but it is critically important that average consumers, like you, learn about this issue as well so that they can make informed decisions about what they purchase and use. Some good places to start, especially since you are already online, are the following websites: Skin Deep (cosmeticsdatabase.com) by the Environmental Working Group rates many cosmetics based on the toxicity of their ingredients, their website (ewg.org) and blog (enviroblog.org) have great information about toxins and other environmental/health problems; the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (safecosmetics.org) has information on developments in cosmetics laws and issues, as well as how to make your own, safe cosmetics; and the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition (saferchemicals.org) is working on reforming the TSCA so that it better protects us and the environment—their website includes an opportunity to send a letter to your representatives in favor of reform.