Thursday, June 24, 2010

What's that Smell? Time to raise a stink on fragrance chemicals

You know you love it. Pulling that laundry fresh out of the dryer, so white and fluffy! You take a slow, deep whiff. Mmmmm, the intoxicating scent of fresh laundry!

Sounds like a commercial you've seen before, huh? According to the commercials put out by cleaning product companies, you'd think women are addicted to doing laundry. Fortunately, I'm not. I'm lucky if I even get the pleasure of clean clothes out of a load, as the machine's contents are often dominated by my bike commuting husband's clothes and those of my drooling, messy-faced toddler.

I, like so many American women, value cleanliness and the health of my family. That's why I've been using fragrance-free laundry detergent ever since I gave birth to my son. A nasty outbreak of eczema has converted my once-cavalier buying habits to being a bit of an eco-freak.

Now, a new report by Women's Voices for the Earth has drawn together many more convincing pieces of evidence that unregulated fragrance chemicals are not only ending up in our bodies, but they could be causing a host of serious health problems, including asthma and allergies among kids, increased risk of breast cancer and even some birth defects. It's all here in their report "What's that Smell."

Some tips from the report:
  • Don't always trust 'unscented.' Some companies add fragrances just so a product won't smell like chemicals. Look for 'fragrance free' instead.
  • Fabric softeners, air fresheners and laundry detergents have the highest levels of synthetic musks, which may be harmful to your health. If you're looking to phase out fragrances, start there.
  • Fresh air can do wonders! Open up a window in your car, home and office more often to get the smell out, rather than just cover it up.
  • Avoid fragranced products if you are pregnant, looking to get pregnant, or breastfeeding.
Do you use fragranced cleaning products? If not, why not? Do you have trouble walking down the cleaning product aisle in the store? If so, let me know!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Paper or Plastic?

Which is better: paper or plastic? We all know that the best choice is BYOB--bring your own bag. But let's face it. Sometimes we forget our bags. Or sometimes you go out to get groceries and come back with more than expected--and you had to supplement with disposable bags. Or sometimes your husband goes out to get groceries and rather than nagging him on one more thing--"Don't forget the bags!!" you'd rather just sit on the floor and play with your toddler in the sun. Not speaking from experience or anything. With California contemplating a plastic bag ban, the alternative becomes paper. Is this the wisest choice? Well, it's a complicated issue. I've listed the cons for each below because well, both are cons but the question is which con is worse.

Plastic Cons
  • Plastic bags threaten wildlife along the coasts, so if that's where you live, this is a major con.
  • It takes 12 million barrels of oil per year to produce plastic bags
  • Plastic bags don't hold as much stuff as paper so you inevitably end up with more of them.
  • Plastic bag manufacturers have the chemical industry behind them, and these guys are just evil.

Paper Cons
  • Paper bags come from lots and lots of trees--when logging is done unsustainably it can have a huge impact on the whole ecosystem
  • It takes about 14 million trees per year to produce paper bags
  • The production of paper bags creates 70 percent more air pollution than plastic
  • According to a life cycle analysis by Franklin Associates, Ltd., for 10,000 uses, plastic creates 9.1 cubic pounds of solid waste vs. 45.8 cubic pounds for paper.

So what's my verdict? Paper is no better than plastic, even though paper seems to be the choice of greener outfits like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. Any city or state ordinance seeking to limit the use of disposable bags should do the right thing and ban or tax both. If you do accumulate bags, reuse and recycle. Here are some inventive ways to do just that:

Trash can liners! My favorite.
Lunch bags
Cooking "gloves" to protect your hands when slicing peppers and stuff
Make a reusable bag out of plastic!

Bacon grease mat(compost afterwards)
Cooling rack for cookies--it absorbs some of the grease, making them slightly healthier for you
Broken glass protector--if you break a glass, put it in a paper bag before throwing away to protect everything else in your trash can
Cat fort--cut a hole at one end and let the hilarity ensue
Textbook covers
Covering up illegal drinks in public places (didn't hear it from me!)

And, here's one of my favorite patterns for a reusable tote--the handles are long enough to fit over your shoulder. I also recommend sewing a cute broadcloth cotton to the plain canvas base, to give it a bit more personality. These make great gifts!

And check out this video from Newsy--a good synopsis of the issue:


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