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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Here are some alternatives to plastics. I will share more tips as I find them, as it can be pretty overwhelming to try to quit plastic cold turkey.

Garbage bag alternatives:
Bio Bags, decomposable and compostable. I buy mine at the local hardware store. They are a little thinner than normal garbage bags so I make sure not to load them up too much.

Laundry detergent: I have switched to powdered detergent that is packaged in cardboard. You can also buy some discs that you stick in you washer that work by changing the particles in the water. I had some at one point, but lost them in a move.

Cleaning supplies: I have stopped buying any supplies that come in plastic bottles. Meyer's has a nice powder scrubber, and the oxygen bleach is a natural alternative to bleach and is not harmful to the environment. You can also buy Bon Ami, which also is a good cleaner and it is much cheaper (the oxygen bleach is apparently what raises the price). Also, I have been experimenting with some homemade cleaners.

Kitchen Soap: The natural living store near my house has dish washing soap you can buy in bulk. They also sell reusable plastic or glass bottles to fill up. I have also switched to bar soap in the shower and at the sinks for hand washing.

Lotion: Like my kitchen soap, I was able to find body lotion that I can buy in bulk and I bought a reusable glass jar. Unfortunately I have not been able to find an alternative for my face lotion.

More on Plastic

Once again Nancy and I are struggling with the same issue...

I am just finished reading the book Garbageland by Elizabeth Roythe, and no, it is not a bleak as it sounds. It is a fascinating look at what happens to our garbage after it is put in the truck. The book has changed my perspective and has given me an understanding of what happens to garbage and recyclables. It has also answered some lingering questions that I have, for example, is it okay to leave the plastic windows on envelopes when you recycle them? Yes.

One of the biggest takeaways of the book so far is about plastics. How could I not when the chapter about plastics is titled "Satan's Resin"? I already know that plastics are bad, I don't heat my food in plastic containers, I bring my own bags to the store and I am still trying to figure out an alternative to my Nalgene bottle. What I didn't know was how bad plastic actually are and how they are not really recyclable, they can only be down-cycled. After learning about this Nathan and I decided to cut down on our plastic consumption, how hard could it be, right? We already brought our bags to the store, we don't drink bottled water, and most drinks you can buy in a can. Right.

Once you start focusing on it plastic is used in almost all packaging, and my first trip to the grocery store after the decision was eye opening. My intention was not to go completely plastic free, but just to cut down, so one Monday night a few weeks ago I meet Nathan at Trader Joe's conscious of plastic. A few things I knew I would not be able to avoid buying in plastic, for example bread and cheese, but for the other items I didn't always want to choose the plastic free alternative. The fresh pico de gallo salsa looked way better than the stuff in the jar, but what about the plastic container? The mochi ice cream balls have the plastic tray on the inside. I left feeling fairly discouraged, for it to be so hard for someone who is committed to reducing plastic usage there was no way this was ever going to take hold in mainstream America. Moreover, would I be able to stick it out?

It had only been 4 days and I already had plastic avoidance fatigue. That Friday, however, I had a glimmer of hope at the Mexican restaurant by my work. I went into the restaurant really wanting a toastada, but I was getting my meal to go, so I settled on a burrito that would be wrapped in foil instead of the plastic clam shell container. While I was waiting in line to pay I noticed all of these people holding what looked like a cardboard to go container. I was intrigued. I normally don't like to look like the crazed green fanatic, but I ended up asking the guy at the counter about the containers. Under a new San Francisco law restaurants must reduce the amount of plastic they use, hence the biodegradable soy based take out containers. While I ate a burrito that day, next time I am getting what I want.

Plastic: Satan's child?

The more I read about plastics the more concerned I am about them, from the environmental perspective, our health, and the energy and fossil fuels it takes to create them.

A couple of helpful things we've stumbled about plastic. John found a great site:, rich with information about the true evil nature of those little clear bags and drinking bottles, as well as lots of resources about how to avoid them. We've started to use reusable bags for both produce, as well as shopping bags. They work for most things...I still go for plastic for drippy meat packages. We also just bought all-stainless drinking containers for the kids for water for school. I've been really upset by a lot of the disposible drinking water bottle coverage lately...terrific that the issue is being talked about in the popular press, but disturbing that often the suggestion for a work-around is a plastic reusable bottle, such as Nalgene, as those release toxins into our bodies, particularly as they are washed repeatedly. Go metal! And it lasts forever. Now I need to search out metal containers for lunches.

Also, I wanted to remind everybody about the little story that appear in the news a year or so ago about the prevalence of lunch boxes with lead in the plastic sold widely in the U.S. This story was never widely covered but prompted us to test our lunch boxes. Probably a good thing to do this year as well as so many kids head back to school.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

More on the search for the perfect suncreen

I wanted to post an update after I finally tracked down and ordered the UV Natural suncreen so highly recommended by the Environmental Working Group's site. Loads on controvery about it on the net...whether it works well, is too greasy, etc. I bought a large tube (and might have known I was doomed by choosing that size...) and was able to use it for two days before I started to have odd burning, itching sensations all over my face. So much for my skin's appreciation of low-impact ingredients! I want to pass it along to friends to see how they like it. UV Natural's site claims that you need to use VERY LITTLE for it to be highly effective, which is the only way to go unless you want to appear in public as a victim of a hit and run facial lube job.

Just bought JASON's Sunbrella Family 36, and so far so good. A bit on the beach-y side with the smell, but doesn't seem overly greasy, and no allergic reaction so far. It is not as well-rated on the site, but was easy to find! I also like the Obagi Nu-Derm Physical UV Block SPF 32, although it is expensive, fussy to find, and does contains nano-particles. (Interesting discussion of the pros and cons of this at

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Insulation decisions

Joel and I are preparing to put insulation in our attic for the first time. After some initial research, I know more but am no closer to being able to make a decision, as there's no clear winner.

The good news is that there are some useful resources and a number of "greener" options. The bad news is that at least some of that information seems tainted by bias and that makes it really hard to get a real sense of what the true pros and cons of each insulation type are. The GreenHomeGuide is the most useful site about insulation I've found. It has a handy insulation comparison chart, an article that delves into the health and environmental issues with insulation and how each type fares, and a product directory.

And yet, even with all this information, I'm still not sure which will be the best for us and the house. Here's a distilled version of what I've learned so far:

  • Fiberglass: Most fiberglass has formaldehyde in it, which is bad; but there are formaldehyde-free versions as well. I don't know what else is in fiberglass that might be bad though. Is produced through an energy-intensive and somewhat polluting process. May, and this is where the confusion starts because there's a lot of back-and-forth on this one, stand up to moisture and pests better than other options. And it won't burn.
  • Cotton: This is by far the most novel option, since one brand (and maybe more than one?) uses recycled blue jeans. Treated with chemicals to make it fire-resistant and to discourage pests and moisture, but it sounds like moisture may still be a problem.
  • Cellulose: Recycled newspaper is treated with chemicals to make it fire-resistant and to discourage pests and moisture. But there seem to be at least a loud minority that say it's not as fire resistant as it should be.