Friday, October 12, 2007

Lipstick: Don’t Lead Me Down!

Talk about heavy makeup: How about lead-laced lipstick? The toxic heavy metal, which causes nervous system damage and developmental deficits in overexposed children and is also linked to reduced fertility, has been found in several lipsticks from popular brands, according to a report released today by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC). Lead levels higher than the FDA’s 0.1 part-per-million (ppm) limit for lead in candy were found in L’Oreal, Cover Girl and Dior lipsticks. One more good reason to keep cosmetics out of children’s reach!

The FDA has not established a limit for lead in lipstick. Time for the agency to stop polishing its nails.

One-third of the 33 big-brand lipsticks CSC tested contained lead above FDA’s candy limit. Sixty-one percent contained some amount of lead—which did not appear on ingredient lists. Check the names in your makeup bag, and remember, While CSC couldn’t test all lipsticks, their report gives some welcome specifics, below.

Lightest Lipsticks (less than 0.02 ppm lead)

Avon Ultra Rich Cherry Jubilee
Body Shop Lip Color Garnet
Clinique Long Last Lipstick Merlot
Dior Replenishing Lipcolor Red Premiere
Estee Lauder Maraschino
MAC Matte Lipstick Viva Glam 1
Revlon Superlustrous Love That Red, Superlustrous Bed of Roses, Colorstay Red Velvet
Tarte Inside Out Vitamin Lipstick
Wet N Wild Mega Colors Cherry Blossom

Heaviest Hitters (more than 0.1 ppm lead)

L’Oreal Colour Riche True Red, Colour Riche Classic Wine
Cover Girl Incredifull Lipcolor Maximum Red, Continuous Color Cherry Brandy
Dior Addict Positive Red
Maybelline Moisture Extreme Cocoa Plum, Moisture Extreme Midnight Red
Peacekeeper Paint Me Compassionate

One brand may have both light and heavy lipsticks because contamination may occur at various points along the sourcing and manufacture chain. CSC is calling for an industry overhaul, and asks consumers to write our representatives to seek removal of lead and other hazardous ingredients in cosmetics (see “parabens,” Word of the Week at For the full report, including lipsticks with trace amounts of lead below FDA’s candy levels, see For the scoop on lax regulation of toxins in cosmetics and other consumer products, see Mark Schapiro's incisive and informative new book, Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power

Monday, October 8, 2007

Best for the Breast

Be aware: A beauty product’s “natural” claims don’t mean it’s free of synthetic chemicals. You’ve still got to read the fine print. Ingredients can vary a lot between different products made by the same company. Earlier this year, while shopping at l’Occitane, my eyes were drawn to a bust-firming gel. What a good idea, and how very French! As always, though, I read the ingredients list.

Sadly, alongside the certified-organic essential oils of lavender and the extract of nettle, were listed those troublesome paraben preservatives that cause the proliferation of breast cancer cells in lab tests. Not exactly what you’d want in a breast cream.

Heureusement, paraben-free alternatives abound in other body lotions, including some of l’Occitane’s, as follows.

Paraben- and Fragrance (Phthalate)-Free Body Creams

L’Occitane certified Bio Organic Lait Corps with Essential Oil of Lavender, $22 for 8.4 oz., or eponymous boutiques.

Avalon Organics Peppermint, Rosemary, Lemon, Ylang Ylang, Lavender or Aloe Unscented Hand & Body Lotion, $9.95 for 12 oz., or Whole Foods (it’s $6.99 in some of their stores), drugstores.

Jurlique Rose Body Lotion, $38 for 8 oz., at better drugstores.

Terressentials Organic Flower Therapy or Fragrance-Free Silken Velvet Body Lotions, $23.75 or $22.50, respetively, for 8 oz.,

Dr. Bronner's & Sun Dog's Magic Organic Patchouli Lime, Peppermint, Orange Lavender or Lavender Coconut Lotion, $9.99 for 8 oz.,


Friday, October 5, 2007

Better Toothpastes

While no one needs triclosan in toothpaste, per our Oct. 4th “Daily Tips,” what about fluoride? Should we brush with it, or not? Quick answer: Yes, children should use fluoridated toothpaste to help prevent cavities, says the American Dental Association, except for those younger than two years, who might swallow rather than spit it out.

Why the concern? Risks of too much fluoride exposure include skeletal fluorosis, or brittle bones, and dental fluorosis, or discoloration of teeth. And 67 percent of Americans are already swallowing fluoride in their tap water. Fluoride has been added to New York City drinking water since 1965. Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and other Southern California counties, on the other hand, are scheduled to start fluoridation of public water supplies in November, despite opposition from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which argues that children get enough protection in toothpaste, the form in which fluoride is most effective against cavities, and that adding fluoride to drinking water will expose up to 64,000 children to levels that exceed safety thresholds established by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Association of Science.

Note: Most water filters, including Brita and Pur, do not remove fluoride.

Fluoride or not, unsavory and possibly unhealthy ingredients in conventional toothpastes can include triclosan, saccharine and other artificial sweeteners, phthalates, parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium hydroxide (lye).

GreenerPenny’s Better Toothpaste Picks

With Fluoride:

Tom’s Natural Anticavity Baking Soda toothpaste uses fluoride to fight cavities and peppermint oil for taste. Free of artificial sweeteners. $3.99 at, $2.99 on the shelf at Whole Foods.

Jason Power Smile All Natural Whitening CoQ10 Tooth Gel contains fluoride, but the flavors are all from plant essential oils (no phthalate-laced synthetic “fragrances”), $7.49 at

Without Fluoride:

A fresh find, Tate’s Natural Miracle Toothpaste, made in Ohio, is fluoride- and petrochemical-free, made of plant extracts such as peppermint, geranium and sage. Pricey but tasty at $14.95 for a 5-oz bottle,

More affordable, Jason Sea Fresh, Deep-Sea Spearmint and Power Smile All-Natural Whitening toothpastes are also fluoride-free, $5.69 at, $3.99 at Whole Foods; Kiss My Face AloeDyne Whitening Toothpaste, $5.99 at

Sick of Mint? Auromere Mint-free Herbal Toothpaste is flavored with cinnamon, rose apple and clove, $5.99 at

Plenty Picks:

In this month’s Plenty Magazine ( an editor seeking saccharine-free toothpastes preferred these 5 out of a test group of 12: Jason Power Smile with fluoride (above); Kiss My Face Triple Action Certified Organic Aloe Vera Toothpaste CoQ10 Tooth Gel, without, $6 (; The Natural Dentist Healthy Teeth & Gums Toothpaste, fluoride-free with Xylitol, $5.99 (; TheraNeem Herbal Neem Toothpaste, without, $7.49 (; and Weleda Salt Toothpaste,without, $4.99, or at Whole Foods.

More Info:

For the science on fluoride, and safety tips, see and

For an excellent overview of the current fluoride controversy in Southern California, see

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Toothy Toxins

Thanks to Eduardo Arias, an intrepid, label-reading shopper in Panama, toxic diethylene glycol, a.k.a. antifreeze, was found in Chinese-made toothpaste. Not only did Mr. Arias recognize this poison, which, in tainted cough syrup, killed or injured 138 Panamanians last year, but he trekked on foot to three pass-the-buck government offices to press a complaint that was soon heard around the world. The modest whistleblower remained anonymous, however, until tracked down by The New York Times, which published his story on October 1.

Meanwhile, there’s another ingredient that deserves the brush-off. The other day, happy to have bought a brand-name toothpaste for cheap, I nearly fainted upon reading the ingredients list. I had just brushed my teeth with triclosan, an antimicrobial chemical usually found (and to be avoided) in liquid soaps. I had never seen triclosan in toothpaste before. Why was it there? “Antigingivitis,” the label said somewhat cryptically.

The American Dental Association pamphlet, “Preventing Periodontal Disease,” does not mention triclosan. It says that gingivitis, or receding and infected gums, can be prevented by brushing twice a day, flossing between teeth, and getting a regular cleaning from a dentist. (see

The problem: The American Medical Association, World Health Organization and others have warned for years that triclosan-spiked soaps not only are no more effective than ordinary soap, but their use may contribute to the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. Furthermore, when exposed to chlorinated water (the kind that comes out of taps in 84% of large municipal systems, according to the America Waterworks Association), triclosan can produce chloroform, a probably human carcinogen, according to this month's The Green Guide (, which lists some more natural alternatives.

Rather than serve yourself a toxic morsel on your toothbrush, check the label and reject triclosan and diethylene glycol.

Thank you, Mr. Aria!

Remember, there's always baking soda. And a drop of Dr. Bronner's.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Air Fresheners: Look and Sniff Before You Spray

Some hostesses go mad with the air freshener sprays around holiday time. They're being sprayed to give a little toxic holiday ambiance, and in the bathrooms to cover up the shocking evidence of children home for the holidays. It’s gross, but true: Just about every college student on the planet is guilty of using air fresheners to put off laundry day or sweeten the smell of a musty college dorm room. These days the handy little spray-bottles-of-clean are used to freshen up just about anything, including underarms and that pair of jeans you’ve worn for four days in a row. But masking not-so-fresh smells with yet another smell can hurt more than your social life. Many aerosol refreshers are tainted with toxic phthalates, which have been linked to birth defects and reproductive harm. A 2007 Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) study found that the hormone-disrupting compounds in 12 out of 14 common air fresheners and none of these products listed phthalates on their labels. Many of these products were labeled “natural” or “unscented.” Febreze Air Effects Air Refresher, unlike thirteen others in NRDC's tests, was found to be free of toxic phthalates, which have been linked to birth defects and reproductive harm. In response to the tests, Walgreen’s last week pledged to remove all phthalates from its branded air fresheners. For the list of phthalate-tainted products, including Glade Air Infusions and both Febreze and Glade scented oils, go to Of course, there are many dozens more air fresheners on the market that haven’t been vetted for phthalates. What to do?
1. Look Before You Spray. Read labels. If you see the word “Fragrance,” it’s likely that the manufacturer is taking an advantage of an FDA labeling loophole that allows users of synthetic fragrance to avoid mentioning specific ingredients—including phthalates, used to disperse synthetic scents. Look instead for specific essential plant oils, preferably organic.
2. Do a Sniff Test. Before buying any fragranced product, natural or not, spray some from a tester to see whether it produces sneezes or itchy eyes. Strong fragrances, particularly citrus or pine, can provoke irritation and allergic/asthmatic reactions. And remember, when it comes to any perfume, a little goes a long way, so you needn’t overdo it.
3. For greener products, see Pass this info on to your odor-phobic college student, teen or preteen, mom, mother-in-law.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Feeling Dumpy?

U.S., Chemical Dumping Ground

I didn’t need eyeliner to widen my eyes during today’s panel on hazardous chemicals in consumer products at the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) conference. The gist: “Products banned in Europe, Japan and even China are being dumped on the U.S. market,” said L.A. Times reporter Marla Cone. The reason? Because our regulations of industrial chemicals are lax or non-existent, we’ve fallen behind the world’s largest market, the European Union, which has banned toxic substances from cosmetics and electronics.

While Procter & Gamble reluctantly removed hormone-disrupting, fat-cell-feeding phthalates from its nail polish and other personal products in both the EU and U.S., many companies apply a double standard in the two markets, said Mark Schapiro, author of Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power (Chelsea Green, 2007). In the meantime, Schapiro noted, industry continues to fight labeling that would allow us to make informed choices. For instance, we have to guess at whether “Fragrance” in a body cream or shampoo is made with phthalates or not.

What to do? Type your cosmetics into the search engine at Environmental Working Group’s If you can’t find it there-- as in the case of my Burt’s Bees Carrot Day Cream, which lists “fragrance” as an ingredient—you can search individual ingredients listed on the packaging, which EWG rates as green, yellow or red, depending on the level of risk. EWG rates “fragrance/parfum” as a “high hazard.” I was able to approximate the risk for my carrot cream by comparing it with a similar Burt’s Bees Milk n’ Honey Body Lotion, which also lists “fragrance” and gets a “moderate hazard” rating.

So, what’s “fragrance” doing in creams by Burt’s, which has signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics? I called the company and asked. They assured me that their fragrance was all-natural essential oils and that all their products are phthalate-free. But if they don’t spell it out, there’s really no way that a consumer can be sure—in the U.S., at least.

Friday, September 7, 2007

BPA/Phthalate-Free Plastics

Greener Food Serve n' Store: BPA/Phthalate-Free List, Part 2

For those not ready to surrender summer, eating out of doors extends the season’s light, carefree touch—especially with reusable or compostable picnic ware. Great for school and brown-bag lunches, too.

A Reader Asks: I want to know the best options for outside/ kids/ picnic dinnerware. Paper, bamboo still end up in landfills. Melamine lasts but is it eco-friendly? Plastic can be recycled and recycled, but who makes that? Answer: Each American produces, on average, about 4 and ½ pounds of trash a day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Recycling, reusing and choosing post-consumer-recycled (PCR) products not only helps keep waste out of landfills, but it also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions produced by manufacturing and transporting new products and trash.


Melamine is lightweight and reusable, and considered safe as dinnerware by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Its eco-friendliness, however, remains indeterminate: Melamine, as a Chinese pet food additive that also made its way into some fish and livestock feed, made headlines in the recalls of potentially toxic products earlier this year.
If you’ve got melamine ware, it’s probably safe for normal use (as a rule, Greenerpenny advises against heating food in plastics). But when it comes to buying new, we may not want to throw our consumer demand behind the manufacture of this and other synthetics.

Recycled Dining Ware 100 percent recycled, washable dishes made from Stonyfield yogurt plates, cups and cutlery, from 100 percent recycled (minimum 83 percent post-consumer), nonchlorine-bleached paper plates, Napkins Use washable cloth napkins or dishcloths, or choose processed chlorine-free (PCF), post-consumer-waste (PCW) paper napkins from Earth 1st, at 365, at Conventional Plastics Among petroleum-based plastics, some are more recyclable and least-toxic than others. When shopping for food storage containers, check recycling codes on the bottoms, as follows: Don’ts: Toxic, Not Recyclable #3 Vinyl or PVC (polyvinyl chloride), releases carcinogenic dioxins into the environment and can leach hormone-disrupting phthalate plasticizers. PVC is used in many cling and stretch food wraps and films. #6 PS (polystyrene), that white spongey stuff of takeout coffee cups and clamshells, can leach styrene, a possible human carcinogen, when heated or in contact with fatty foods. OK: Recyclable, but not so Reusable #1 PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) containers are recyclable, but studies indicate that with repeated use, PET containers may release di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, linked to hormone disruption and cancer. #7 (miscellaneous), includes polycarbonate plastic, which contains hormone-disrupting bisphenol A. Do's: Recyclable, Least-Toxic #2 HDPE (high-density polyethylene) is widely recyclable. Do's: Least-Toxic, but not so Recyclable #4 LDPE (low-density polyethylene) is used in some food wraps and sandwich bags. Reclosable Sandwich Bags, Glad Cling Wrap, Sandwich and Food Storage Bags Saran Cling Plus Best Yet Clear Plastic Wrap Ziploc Bags Hefty Baggies #5 PP (polypropylene) is popular in reusable containers, though not frequently recycled. Rubbermaid (#5) 2 qt. Pour N Saver Canister, ($8.49, and 22-piece food storage set ($9.99, Paper Sandwich Bags These are coated with “food-grade” petroleum-based wax: Unbleached waxed paper sandwich bags, Unbleached recycled waxed paper sandwich bags, Parchment paper, coated with silicone, New, Renewable Bio-Plastics The latest thing in food service ware for green-minded institutions, from Stanford University to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, are compostable (as opposed to “biodegradable”) utensils, takeout clamshells, plates and bowls made of corn-, potato- or sugarcane “bagasse”-based polymers. Many of these are washable and hence reusable. For products, go to: Although, as a general rule, these items can only be broken down by industrial-strength composters, they’re a respectable step in a green direction. Note: Look for the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI)/ USA Composting Council (USCC) “compostable” label. Some cities pick up compostable plastics—check with your municipal solid waste department or see Some Wild Oats markets, which use bioplastic takeout containers, will also take them back from consumers. Ask your local market/deli to follow suit. For locating bioplastic composters, go to

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


Non-Tubby Food Tubs

In Hawaii, where I’m from, you can’t stop guests bringing food, no matter what. Good local manners simply prevent your showing up empty-handed. The container of choice: classic, reusable Tupperware. It stands for something good and homemade, like Aunty Dot’s fruit Jello-mold or Mom’s chicken hekka.

Hence my brother Ethan’s distress when he heard on Honolulu talk radio about phthalates in some plastic containers that could migrate into your food and drink. Next, by popular demand: Greener Picnic Ware. “Apparently, men with higher levels of phthalates in their bodies have 3-inch bigger waistlines. The announcer called it blubberware,” said Ethan, who’s been fighting to keep his buff surf body since the arrival of child #3. “Do we have to throw out all our Tupperware?” The answer: No huhu (don’t worry). Tupperware’s a keeper, with just a couple of exceptions (see “Caution,” below). So use it—and reuse it—for picnics, commuting, back to school, parties and leftovers. Most Tupperware is made of plastics that have not been found to release Bisphenol-A (BPA, linked to hormone disruption, obesity and breast cancer in lab tests), or phthalates. These better plastic wares include: #2 HDPE, high-density polyethylene, also the most widely recyclable plastic: Tupperware FreezeSmart, Ice Cube Tray, Ice Tups Set and Jel-Ring Mold. #5 PP, polypropylene: Tupperware Modular Mates, Quick Shake Containers, One Touch Reminder Canister, and all Tupperware Bowls. The following are included, with other makers’ containers, in Greenerpenny’s BPA-free water bottle list, now on the home page at For kids: Thirstbreak Tumblers with straps, 14 oz, $13.50, or 32 oz On-the-Go version for $13, featuring Tinkerbell; an On-the-Go featuring Shrek, for $13.50. Lunch sets of sealed tumbler and sandwich box feature the Little Mermaid, Dora the Explorer and Diego, $16. For Babies: Pooh meal set with sealable sippy cup, bowl and snack cup, $17. For Commuters: 24-oz insulated (double-wall) Tumbler with Drip-less Straw Seal, $19.95, or Commuter Mug with swivel-open sipper cap, 16 oz., $18.50. Caution: Tupperware Rock ‘n Serve containers, meant to go directly from the fridge to the microwave, are made of #7 (the recycling code for “other” plastic, including polycarbonate), according to The Green Guide, As polycarbonate has been found in some tests to leach BPA when heated, this probably isn’t a good idea. The same goes for Tuppercare Baby Bottles, which are also polycarbonate, according to The Green Guide’s thorough research. And, while Tupperware Crystal Wave Microwave Containers are made of safer #5 plastic, Greenerpenny advises, as a precaution, heating foods in microwave-safe ceramic or glass, instead.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Lead-free Playthings

Poor Big Bird! Like a canary in a coal mine, this feathered icon took a toxic hit last week when 967,000 Sesame Street and Nickelodeon toys were recalled due to lead paint. Suddenly, these trusted educational brands were associated with a heavy metal that can cause learning disabilities. According to Herbert L. Needleman, M.D., professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School and top researcher into the developmental and behavioral harm caused by lead exposure, lead remains the number one environmental health threat to children in this country, despite its removal from gasoline and house paint over twenty years ago. Made in China between April 19 and July 6, 2007, more than 300,000 of the lead-painted Mattel/ Fisher Price toys were sold to U.S. consumers. For a list of recalled items, go to, the website of the Consumer Products Safety Commission. For photos of all the offenders, see Mattel's site, Fisher Price’s hotline, 800-916-4498, provides info as well. You can return a recalled item for a voucher that will get you a substitute toy of the same price. This is small compensation to parents, burdened with taking the toys away and the hassle of mailing them. It’s small consolation to children, who, on top of being inadequately protected by government and industry, may be disillusioned to learn that Giggle Grabber Elmo, as well as various Big Bird, Ernie, Oscar or Cookie items, could hurt them. This, on the heels of the mid-June recall of 1.5 million Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends trains and accessories by RC2 Corp, and 17.9 pieces of leaded children’s jewelry and charms recalled since 2005, may make parents wonder--with good reason--if any toy is safe. “My children don’t have any Fisher Price toys, but I wonder about all kinds of toys made in China, like some other baby toys we have,” says Ethan Won, father of three young children in Honolulu. His first job after art school at the Rhode Island School of Design was in toy manufacture, Ethan says. “And the paint on the Chinese-made miniature cars my older boys play with is always chipping off and taking bits of the soft metal, and it looks like lead, which makes sense because the forms have to be stamped out of a soft material like that,” he adds. Time to grab those giggles elsewhere! Below are some safer alternatives for children under three, who are most likely to put toys in their mouths and thus ingest lead. The following toys are also PVC-free and therefore free of phthalates, the hormone-disrupting chemicals used to soften this brittle plastic. Some PVC children’s products can also contain lead. Lead- and Phthalate-Free Toys Instead of the Sesame Street Shape Sorter, which is being recalled, give a Wooden Shape Sorter Puzzle, $22.95, or Wagon, $54.95, both made in Germany. Slightly older tots may like the challenge of a rubberwood Shape-Matching Puzzle, made in Thailand of fast-growing rubberwood, $19.95. All from The Playstore, Instead of lead-contaminated Elmo Stacking Rings, why not the charming new Witty Worm Stacker, crowned by a smiling antenna’ed head, in rubberwood from Rosie’s Hippo, ? The wooden Rainbow Stacking Tower with waterbased stains has triangle-shaped pieces, $29 from Nunoorganic, Classic wooden doughnuts fit on a Rocky Color Cone, $18.95 from Holgate Toys,,which uses Forest Stewardship Council certified wood when it can. To console a child who’s had to surrender a Big Bird Collectible figurine, present an irresistible Bird Family Pull Toy with 3 bright birds in nontoxic colors and rubberwood, $29.95 and new from Rosie’s Hippo, above. While children who want to make a joyous sound had better not try it on the lead-painted Elmo Saxophone, they might enjoy a 4-tone train whistle, made in the U.S. from pine wood, $5.20 at, or a Hohner harmonica, made in Germany, $18.95, from Rosie’s Hippo. Adorable and affordable wooden trains, made in Vermont, include zoo animal, construction and emergency vehicle sets, $19 and up at Maple Landmarks, above. Before the Thomas train sets, there were (and still are) Brio wooden sets with nontoxic paint. Very pricey, but hey, they’re heirlooms, and a few go a long way. Cute wooden animals, too. For plastic toys comparable to the recalled Fisher Prices, see Other Tips: Avoid toys made in China as much as possible, unless the toy company can assure you that they do regular lead tests independently of their Chinese contractor, and/or the CPSC implements stricter regulations. Ideally, companies will provide independent third-party certification of lead-free composition for every toy. For a Toy Report Card that lists PVC-free manufacturers, see Why buy toys at all? In summer you and the children can play outside, skipping stones on the water, making leaf and gourd boats, paper airplanes, twig teepees, sand castles or clothespin dolls, collecting shells or interesting pebbles, watching birds, or blowing bubbles.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Bye-Bye, BPA

BPA/ Phthalate-Free Shopping List

Part One: Drinking Bottles

It’s hot! Time to hydrate. And while you’re at it, every time you refill a reusable water bottle, rather than buy disposables, you’re helping the Earth’s health, too. If all Americans did so, we’d save the estimated 16 million barrels of oil used to make the bottled-water containers we bought last year. This from the August Harper’s Index, (, which also notes that twice as much water was used to make the containers as was drunk from them.

Choose the right reusable bottle, and you won’t get bit by the chemicals that can leach from some plastics in these sizzling dog days.

Bisphenol-A (BPA) has been found to cause developmental harm in animals, and there’s preliminary evidence of reproductive harm in women. And, while a family of plasticizers known as phthalates has long been linked to cancer and hormone disruption in lab animals, studies in 2005 and 2006 show some connection to genital abnormalities and lower testosterone in infant boys. This inspired a worried phone call from my brother Ethan Won, father of three young boys, ages 5 months, 4 and 6 years. “I’ve been hearing about all these chemicals coming out of plastics. Some plastics smell really bad, especially in the heat,” says Ethan, who lives in Honolulu, Hawaii. “And what about when we warm the baby’s bottle?”

A good question, as many clear plastic baby bottles, along with some of those pretty Nalgene Lexan bottles in transparent jellybean colors, are made of polycarbonate (recycling code #7) plastic, which has been found to leach BPA when heated, worn or scratched. “We always want kids’ products to be safe in any way they’re used,” says Sonya Lunder, M.D., a scientist with the Environmental Working Group (, which encourages consumers to seek alternatives to polycarbonate bottles, especially for babies and children.As Greenerpenny reader Bridget Collins writes,“I am very interested in shopping for products that do not contain BPAs. My kids are active and use water bottles several times a day!”

While it doesn’t accumulate in our bodies,“with BPA detected in about 95% of people in a recent CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control] test, we can assume that most of the American population has daily exposure,” Lunder says. These chemicals may also play a role in the development of obesity and diabetes, according to a 2006 Spanish study of BPA and a March, 2007 article on phthalates in Environmental Health Perspectives. Even if fat is “contagious,” as raised by a study in the New England Journal of Medicine last week, it’s far less extreme to drop risky plastics than an overweight friend.

Below are the safest, greenest and most affordable reusable bottles we could find. Pennypinchers, rejoice: In addition to keeping disposables out of landfills, and conserving the tons of carbon dioxide otherwise released in shipping, bypassing bottled water can save each of us about $1,400 a year, by the estimate of New York City officials.
Top Pick: Stainless Steel
Go plastic- and petrochemical- free with 100% stainless steel, the most recycled metal.

Perfect for kids or those of us who feel oppressed by heavy totes, Klean Kanteen’s lightweight, 12 oz volume stainless bottles are the same size as soda cans; caps have a stainless interior and non-leaching polypropylene (#5) top. From $13.95 to $22.95 for a 40-ouncer. For better totability, order a loop cap with a hole in it, or neoprene insulating sling or sleeve that snaps around pack straps, bike or stroller bars. At

Slightly cheaper stainless bottles are $11.95 for 27 oz or $19.95 for 40 oz from,/ which also sells Klean Kanteens.

Thermos 18 oz. stainless steel Hydration Bottle with stainless interior and exterior vacuum insulation walls; $17 at; insulated sleeves also sold.

Preferable Plastics

You can identify better plastics by the recycling code numbers stamped in them. Look for reusable bottles made of:
#2 (HDPE, high-density polyethylene, the most widely recyclable)
#4 (LDPE, low-density polyethylene) or
#5 (PP, polypropylene).
These plastics have not been found to release BPA or phthalates.

On the other hand, most single-use water bottles are made of #1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE). These bottles, if old, reused or heated, may release two phthalates: Di(2-ethylhexyl adipate), or DEHA, and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), which are possible human carcinogens, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And, although this plastic is easily recyclable, about 90% of the PET water bottles sold each year wind up in landfills. After all, they’re made to be tossed!

Top Plastic Picks:

Nalgene HDPE #2 Loop-Top Bottle, 16 oz, $4.99,

Tupperware for Keeps:

For Kids: Tupperware’s polypropylene #5 bottles include colorful Thirstbreak Tumblers with straps, 14 oz, $13.50, or 32 oz On-the-Go version for $13, featuring Tinkerbell; an On-the-Go featuring Shrek, for $13.50.

Ideal for picnics or back-to-school: #5 lunch sets of sealed tumbler and sandwich box feature the Little Mermaid, Dora the Explorer and Diego, $16.
For Babies: Pooh meal set with sealable sippy cup, bowl and snack cup, $17.
For Commuters: 24-oz insulated (double-wall) Tumbler with Drip-less Straw Seal, $19.95, or Commuter Mug with swivel-open sipper cap, 16 oz., $18.50.
All at

Easiest to Grab and Go: Rubbermaid’s Polypropylene #5 Chug Sports Bottle, about $3.99 for 20 oz size, widely sold at supermarkets, drugs and home improvement stores or or

Sigg Aluminum Bottles

No doubt about it, these lined aluminum bottles are light, beautiful and strong. And doubts about possible BPA leaching from Sigg’s patented epoxy linings have been laid to rest by tests commissioned by the company in May, 2007. After water was heated in the bottles for 3 days, no detectable residues of BPA were found, and EWG, as of this writing, has agreed to remove from its website its warnings about Sigg.

Available in 4 colors, the .6 liter Traveler Classic is $18, and .3 liter Travelers or children’s bottles picturing friendly mammals, dinosaurs, vehicles and the sun, are $15.95, with some NOW ON SALE for $10.95; patterned .4 liter kids’ versions cost $17.95, all at

Given the environmental ravages caused by the mining of bauxite for aluminum, however, and the 75% more energy consumed in the production of aluminum, according to the Worldwatch Institute, from raw materials as opposed to recycled metal, reusable bottles could be a lot greener if they were made from post-consumer-recycled stock.

BPA-free Baby Bottles


Evenflo Glass Baby Bottles, 4 or 8 oz., three for $8 at
made of opaque colored #4 LDPE

Bornfree Glass Baby Bottles, 9 oz, two for $19.99 or four for $37.99 at

Non-Polycarbonate Plastic

Medela breastmilk storage and feeding set, white #5 PP, four bottles, $18.99 at

Gerber Fashion Tints, #5 PP in opaque colors, 9 oz, three-pack for $4.99 at

Bornfree Polyamide (PA) plastic baby bottles, 9 oz, six for $57.99, eight for $77.99, both sets include nipples and a free trainer cup,

Bottle Brushes

Tip: In a pinch, you can always use a chopstick, tip of a long-handled spoon or a twig to work in a sponge, dish cloth–or the hem of your t-shirt.

Twister baby bottle brush with soft, non-scratching sponge, $10 at

Natural coir (coconut fiber) brush on a long wooden handle, best for glass or unlined stainless (might scratch plastic or epoxy linings); $2.95 at

Classic Baby Bottle & Nipple Brush Set from Evenflo, $1.98 at

Coming Next: List #2, Food Storage

Please share this info with interested friends, and send them to



Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Greenmarket Summer Dessert

Red, White and Blueberry Dessert

It’s the season to buy local strawberries and blueberries, fresh from the farm, at greenmarkets. Buying locally grown food also helps reduce emissions of the global warming gas carbon dioxide (CO2)—and air pollution—released by jets and trucks that transport food long distances. Shipping 30 pounds of groceries cross-country consumes about a gallon of gas and releases almost 20 lbs. of CO2.

Find a farmers’ market near you at If you’ve got room, freeze berries whole, and you can enjoy these colorful local treats in winter, too.

I made these quick, easy blueberry muffins for breakfast, and later that day the Green Man brought home a quart of succulent strawberries from the farmers’ market. After dinner, the muffins had a second act as strawberry shortcakes with whipped cream.

Blueberry Muffins

--adapted from the Mark Twain Library Cook Book, Mark Twain Library Association, Redding, CT, 1988.

1 and ¾ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
¼ cup raw demerara or turbinado sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg, well-beaten
¾ cup milk
scant 3 tablespoons butter
1 generous cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and drained

Let butter soften at room temp; blend in sugar, egg and milk. In separate bowl, combine dry ingredients, then fold into butter mixture, stirring quickly until just moistened. Add blueberries. Fill greased muffin pan 2/3 full. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. Yield: 12 muffins.

Correction for yesterday’s blog: For correct urls, plus prices for beach bags, plse go to

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Bird-friendly Beach Bags

Dig it, Beach Birds!

Wherever you beach it, you can leave a smaller dent on the Earth with these greener bags:

Organic Cotton Beach Totes (Organic agriculture keeps synthetic pesticides and fertilizers out of our fresh water and our seas):

Cuteness with a Conscience: Volcom organic cotton Chirp Tote, natural color silkscreened with baby blue bird, with outer pocket, $23.99 at,,4176098,00.html or, 1-877-DOG-FUNK.

Make a Statement with a capacious organic cotton bag that says “Clean Your Beach” in pink. With nautical rope handles, #23.99,from Roxy,,1-800-620-2951.

If the bag moves you, learn about your local beaches and how to ensure cleaner conditions, at

Recycled Tote:

Gecko Traders Recycled Wave Tote, made from reused rice and feed sacks, in choice of 3 bright colors (love the fish in orange/pink). $35.95, from Cambodia, Fair Trade Federation certified, 888-707-3873

Top Totable: Chemical-free Sunscreen. Don’t forget it!

Talk about adding insult to injury: If hormone-disrupting phthalates also cause proliferation of fat cells, as recent research suggests (, I really don’t want them in my sunblock, or anything else that goes on my thighs!

Rule to Remember: Avoid products with ingredients lists including the general disclaimer “Fragrance (Parfum),” without specifying that it’s made of natural plant essential oils. Phthalates are widely used in synthetic fragrances.

Choose a least-toxic sunscreen from our list at Or grab one of the following phthalate- and paraben-free best picks at your drugstore.

Baby Avalon Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 18,
California Baby SPF 30+ Sunblock Stick,
Jason’s Natural Earth’s Best SPF 30+, price reduced now at

The companies above have signed the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) pledge to remove phthalates, parabens and other toxic ingredients from their products. See Dr. Haushka, below, has not signed the CSC pledge because “We have already met, and surpassed their standards,” says Michelle Van Landingham, the company’s ingredients representative, explaining that the signatories have promised to phase out toxins but some are still in the process of doing so. “We’ll sign when the CSC adds a preface stating that a lot of the companies have met the standards,” Van Landingham says.

Which leads us to recommend an evergreen favorite: Dr. Hauschka Sunscreen Lotion SPF 15,

Speaking of recommendations, please send your friends to! And keep sending your great questions.

Happy Fourth!


Caution: When considering a new product, try a test sample first to make sure the feel and fragrance don’t irritate.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Solstice Tips

Summer Stoke

Happy Solstice: The sunrise at Stonehenge this morning was welcomed by 24,000 revelers. Summer officially begins on June 21st, the longest day of the year, which also happens to be International Surfing Day. Double stoke!

Here are some tips for a greener summer out of doors.

Treat yourself to a little something in Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified or reclaimed wood.

In addition to the sun, Druids worshipped the mighty forest, which provided them with wood for shelter, fuel and food. Trees also counteract global warming by storing carbon. The Amazon rainforest alone sequesters 70 billion tons of CO2, or 10% of the world’s carbon, an amount equivalent to total emissions of this greenhouse gas over the past 11 years, according to the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. When trees are cut and burned, their stored CO2 is released.

FSC’s chain-of-custody verification process allows every piece of lumber or furniture to be traced back to its source in well-managed forests, which are selectively harvested with the goal of forest preservation. Given recent reports of how illegally logged Indonesian and Burmese wood gets filtered through China and sold in the U.S. and Europe, supporting work like FSC’s is crucial.

Greenerpenny’s Sustainable Wood Choices:

New River’s square outdoor table, pleasing in its simplicity, made from FSC-certified jatoba hardwood (Brazilian cherry),with a linseed oil waterproof finish, $89 from Check out their FSC-certified Adirondack chairs, dining tables and benches, too.
Support your back—and standing forests—on a sweetly angled chair made from recycled oak wine barrel staves. It folds flat, too. $149 from

Save Your Skin

As longer days can mean more exposure to UV rays, beachgoers should wear sunblock and cover up as much as possible.

In the water and out, Xcel’s UV 50+ poly/spandex surf shirts provide protection with long or short sleeves, in solids or tropical prints, for Men, Women, Kids and Toddlers (find dealers in your zip code at In tropic conditions, you’ll stay cooler in this Hawaiian company’s sleeveless mesh with a UV 25+ rating, but note, you’ll only be protected half as long. For more cover-ups, see

For Greenerpenny’s Top Ten Least-Toxic Sunscreens, go to

Clean a Beach

To celebrate International Surfing Day, help clean a beach. Go to for events and ideas. Safety tip: Do keep your toddler from eating sand; researchers at the University of Minnesota have found that E.coli bacteria in beach sand can contribute to gastrointestinal illness.

Please send your friends to


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sheets, Unfinished

A reader asks, “Where can I get organic cotton sheets that are also free of chemical finishes?” A smart question, as the “certified organic” label applies only to farming, not processing, standards. Thus it’s possible that sheets and pillowcases, virtuously grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, might yet have been bleached with chlorine, dyed with heavy metal or synthetic colors that pollute waterways, and wrinkle-treated with formaldehyde, a skin and eye irritant.

The following sheets and pillowcases will help keep tears off your pillow while being kinder to the Earth:

New from Pottery Barn, The Naturals Collection 100% organic cotton sheet sets ($189 Q, incl 2 cases) are unbleached and free of conventional chemical finishes. They look and feel lovely, as I learned firsthand today in their Chelsea, New York store; to order at (check out their organic children’s bedding, too) or through Pottery Barn Bed and Bath catalogs, printed exclusively paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Extra E-credit!

Native Organic Cotton Homewares’ 100% organic cotton sheet sets are also certified as adhering to the fiber processing standards of the Organic Trade Association (OTA), which prohibit chlorine bleach, formaldehyde, some azo chemical dyes, and plastisols (vinyl coatings). $160 for a Q set, at

Deep Pockets for Those Without

For those (like me) who blench at the high price of organic sheet sets and use a comforter in lieu of a top sheet, Coyuchi provides a welcome alternative. They sell a Q fitted organic cotton sheet for $68, a pair of standard pillowcases for $26. And, their processing is non-chlorine-bleached and nearly chemical-free, using low-impact dyes that don’t run off into waterways as much as conventional types do. Their fitted organic crib sheet is $29, at

While not certified organic, Bed Bath & Beyond’s “400 Natural” and “600 Natural” sheet sets (the numbers refer to thread counts) tempted me with their lack of formaldehyde, chlorine bleach, synthetic dyes/fixatives, at a reasonable price ($80 Q for the “400,” with a generous 18” mattress pocket depth). BB & B also sells very nice “Simply Organic” cotton sheet sets, some colors now on sale ($49); now, if they could only combine the two…at

Please share with your friends, and keep sending me your ideas and questions.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Top Green Sunscreens for 2009

Here’s Greenerpenny’s newly updated, 2009 Sun Products Short List of least-toxic, full-spectrum UV blockers.

The products on this list are free of benzophenone-3 (BP-3), homosalate, octinoxate, octyl-methoxycinnamate, octocrylene, padimate-O, parsol 1789 (avobenzone) and 4-methyl-benzylidene camphor, all of which have been linked to allergic reactions, hormone disruption, damage to skin cell DNA, or the growth of cancer cells in lab tests.

A particular baddie, BP-3, has been implicated in the feminization of male ocean fish and promoting disease in corals as well as hormone disruption in lab tests, and is widely present in the bodies of the American population. I recommend the following physical sunblocks, based on the minerals titanium dioxide (Ti02) or zinc oxide (ZO), which coat the skin’s surface like, well, white plaster. The controversy: To make mineral sunblocks transparent and smoother to apply, some manufacturers use microscopic nanoparticles of TiO2 or ZO. that could conceivably penetrate skin, causing DNA damage. Nicknamed “Trojan horses” because they can carry toxic substances into cells, nanoparticles of titanium dioxide have been found to damage brain cells in lab tests. However, The Environmental Working Group and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics Skin Deep database ( advises that the sunblocking effectiveness of TiO2 and ZO outweighs the risks of nano, at least so far as we currently know.

Buyer Beware: Watch out for sunscreens that call themselves organic and even, sometimes, use some certified organic plant oils, but have toxic chemicals as active ingredients! Ditto products advertised as "mineral" but which also contain oxybenzone/benzophenone-3 and other synthetic agents.

Sunblock Titans

The following products * use only Titanium Dioxide and/or Zinc Oxide as active ingredients, and are full-spectrum (designed to block both UVA and UVB rays). They also contain no parabens, which are also suspected hormone disrupting chemicals.

1. Alba Botanica Mineral Sunscreen SPF 18,
2. Avalon Baby Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 18,
3. Badger Sunblocks,
4. Burt’s Bees Chemical Free Sunscreen soothes and moisturizes skin with hemp seed and calendula oils.
5. California Baby SPF 30+, face stick or lotion, A GreenerPenny top pick!
6. Ecolani SPF 15,
7. Epicuren Zinc Oxide Sunscreen,
8. Jason Natural Cosmetics Earth’s Best Organic Sunblock, Chemical Free SPF 30+, A fave of all Green Guide alumni.
9. Lavera Sunscreen Neutral SPF 40,
10. Nature's Gate Mineral Kids' Block
11. Neutrogena Sensitive Skin SPF 60 and Sunblock Stick are definitely nano-ized, but also very highly rated for protectiveness by EWG.
12. Tru Kid Sunny Days Mineral Water Resistant Sunscreen, rated highly effective by EWG.
13. UV Natural Sunscreen, Sport, SPF 30, at Stays on, but feels sticky greasy.

To round out a baker's dozen, any beach bag ought to contain Zinc Oxide Ointment, straight from the tube, at drugstores everywhere. Truly drop-dead white pasty, but can't be beat for cheap. I dot it on my sun spots for reverse freckles.

Next Best:

The following sunscreens use only mineral active ingredients, but contain parabens. They are also very effective, which is why I recommend them.

Solar Protection Formula SPF 58 allover lotion and TiZO3 Solar Protection Facial, nicely tinted, SPF 40. A new discovery, I used it on my face on a windy surf session in midday Hawaiian sun, and remained untouched by rays. Plus, it's totally matte and non-greasy, and with the tint, it works as makeup!

For the workaday world (if you don't work on the beach):

Clinique City Block non-greasy cream is lightly tinted and all the "foundation" most anyone needs.

For a pure mineral powder that blocks sun:

Peter Thomas Roth Mineral SPF 30 (they also make a moisturizer with sun protection).

Almost pure: I can't help but love my Physicians Formula Solar Powder SPF 20 Bronzer for touch-ups during a sunny day, and hope they'll remove those parabens. Can't hurt to ask!

*Note: Buy the specific product listed, or read labels. Some of these companies use synthetic chemicals in other sunblock products, including some for kids!

Also hot off the presses, Environmental Working Group's 2009 Sunscreen Guide rates specific sunblocks' effectiveness against UVA and UVB rays. They've looked at hundreds of products, and only 1 out of 10 offeres full protection, EWG says! Find out which, here.

What's safest, of course, is staying out of the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. But when the surf is perfect at 11:30, you gotta go. Go coated, and reapply frequently. If you're worried about nano, which manufacturers aren't required to disclose on ingredients lists, choose the opaque instead of transparent mineral products. I do. And here's a secret: On my face, I cover my ghostly white Ninja block with something tinted and stay-on, like:

Shiseido Very Water Resistant Sunscreen Stick Foundation. It's mostly mineral, with a little chemical, but at least it's not resting directly on my skin.

Surfers swear by Vertra for its stay-on waterproof power. Again, I'd layer it over a preferred nontoxic base like California Baby No Fragrance Face & Body.

Got a favorite product you want to vet? Search for it on EWG sunblock rating list (least toxic gets a 0 or 1, goes up to 10)

Sunblock removal tip: A good sunblock sticks to skin. When you want to take it off and let your pores breathe, try my surf buddy Cristal's tip: Organic virgin coconut oil, unrefined. Works like a dream, moisturizes your skin, and doesn't clog pores! From Spectrum Organics other companies, sold at health food stores. Removes makeup, too, and a little bit on the hair relieves dry ends.

Like this blog? For regular seasonal green living and health tips, subscribe to my free weekly email newsletter by emailing Thanks!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sun Blocking Swimwear

Surf Stylin’ Coverups

Greenfemme’s visiting Honolulu, where I was born and raised, and as there’s a south swell cranking, I’m in a rush to hit the waves. If you like to snorkel, swim and surf, I recommend wearing sun-blocking swim tops and bottoms that rate Ultraviolet Protection Factors (UPF) from the Skin Cancer Foundation. Where your skin is covered by these tightly woven fabrics, you can leave off sunscreen lotions, giving yourself—and the living polyps in coral reefs—a break from some potentially hormone-disrupting chemicals (see “Top 10 Sun Protection Tips” on the home page at And they also help keep you warm.

Body Glove’s 50-UPF (that’s the top rating) 540 shirt in nifty white, silver and black, $34.95; or an O’Neill long-sleeve in navy, charcoal and black, $49.95, at

Solarweave chlorine-resistant Lycra shirts in stunning fuchsia (the better for lifeguards to see you with!), $79.50; unisex swimshorts, $38, or tights, $49, and baby longjohns, $49, all 50-UPF, at

Note: Make sure sun protective clothing doesn’t fit too snugly, as if it’s stretched taut, that distends the tight weave and reduces the UPF!

Last-minute Tip: In a pinch, I find that a regular surfer poly or nylon “rash guard” works fine at preventing sunburn.

Go for it! Next, Sunblocks: The Scoop on the Goop.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Greener Sun Hats

Hats On!

To help ensure happy, green, sunburn-free summer memories, please see the new Top 10 Sun Protection Tips at In addition, if you're a Greenerpenny daily email subscriber, you’ll be automatically receiving your free Sun Protection Shopping List. If not, you can sign up for email tips, or just the list, at

Topping the list: Shade your face and eyes from the sun’s damaging UV rays, and help protect the planet with a sustainable topper.

Greener Fabric Hats:

Understated, soft and chic, broad-brimmed Hemp Hats, floppy or safari style with chin strap, in greyblue, dark green, brown, black, size M and L, $30-35,

Kangol organic cotton visor with Roo logo in black, beige, army, white, $22,

Organic cotton visor from Sierra Club,

Organic cotton stretch brimmed cap, in sage, grey, olive and tan, $22,

Tilley T4 Hemp Hat, certified 50 UPF (ultraviolet protection factor), 71/8” to 7 ¾”, $62.10 at

Wash your hat with a petrochemical-free laundry detergent such as those from or To remove stains, presoak in washing soda; Arm and Hammer’s version in the yellow box can be found in the laundry aisles of supermarkets or at

Cool Hemp Bucket Hat, $26.50, romantic soft Cloud, $24.50, and other styles, all one size, by Lost Coast Hemp,

Sustainable "Straw" Hats

Sisal hat, handwoven from the fiber of agave cacti, with a colorful geometric band, S-XL,, which buys from members of the Fair Trade Federation.

Rainbow sun hat in pastel blue, yellow and pink, made of renewable raffia harvested from palm trees, one size, about $40 at

Ladies Collapsible Seagrass Hat (with rayon crown), one size, $34.50 at

Fedora-style, Fairway Golf Hat in breathable straw, rated by the Skin Cancer Foundation as excluding 98% of UV rays, S/M-XL, about $40,

Straw, grass and raffia hats can be wiped clean with a damp cloth.

Friday, May 18, 2007

washing soda

Washing and Hoping

On a recent warm spring evening, the Green Man merrily( sautéed local skate while wearing an unbleached linen camp shirt made in Hawaii. After dinner, the shirt smelled powerfully of fish, but the Green Man refused to consign it to the washing machine, which, he argued, drains the life essence of his favorite things. “You may turn up your nose at skate, but it’s not dirty,” he said. “Besides, washing machines use so much energy that you’re not green if you wash your clothes after wearing them only once.”

True, I said, but what about the brown stain in the vicinity of his navel? His face drooped. “The brown butter,” he said.

“Actually,” I said, “this is an old chocolate stain.”

“Then it’s hopeless,” he said mournfully.

“No. Give it to me,” I said, and put it in the bathroom sink. Wearing rubber gloves I scrubbed the shirt with a paste of washing soda and cold water. Like bleach, washing soda is caustic and can burn skin, but unlike chlorine bleach it doesn’t give off fumes that can irritate the eyes and respiratory tract; chlorine bleach can also form toxic organochlorines in waterways. In two minutes the spot was gone. “Wash it in cold water and the machine will use 90 percent less electricity. And remember to put in a full load so we don’t waste energy,” I said.

He looked worried. “The washing soda won’t hurt the other clothes?”

“No. It’ll just brighten them a bit.”

“You’re awesome,” he said.

“So was the skate,” I said, and without further ado we began sorting the laundry together.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Wrap Gifting


Continuing our resource-saving theme of making the wrapping part of the gift (see Tip #10 for Mothers’ Day Gifts at, my greener girlfriend Christy Wise sends this idea: Wrapsacks. These bright cotton gift bags are meant not only to be reused, but can be passed along and are completely trackable! Think of the tagged green leatherback turtle Stephanie Colburtle, Stephen Colbert’s adopted daughter in the Great Turtle Race organized by Conservation International. So, too, you can adopt and track your sack. And, yes, they come in a turtle print (and a couple dozen other tropical motifs).

Christy received a birthday present in a new wrapsack, registered it online, and recently put a gift for a friend in it and released it, tagged, into the wilds of the U.S. Postal Service. Almost 20,000 sacks have been registered to date. “I’m looking forward to following my bag’s progress in the ‘Journeys’ section of the website,” she says. The only problem we foresee is parting with these bags in the first place. Gift bags from $2.24 to $6.74 (extra large),

Organic Cotton Gift Bags

For $2, Patagonia stores sell beautiful organic, formaldehyde-free cotton sacks made from clothing scraps that tie closed with a selvage ribbon. The large ones also make great pillowcases or laptop travel slips. To find a retailer near you, go to and click on “find Patagonia,” or call 1-800-638-6464.

For an unbleached, undyed wrapper, choose a medium (10 x 12”) or large (12 x 15”) Organic Cotton Sack with drawstring closure, strong enough to haul up to 10 lbs. of fresh produce. $3 or $4 each; $2.70 or $3.60 each for 5-10; $2.45 or $3.20 for 10 and up. A 3” x 5” mesh “soap bag” with drawstring doubles as a wash cloth (put those slivers of old soap inside) or a gift bag for a brand new bar. Buy one for yourself, one for Mom, one for Dad (his day is on the way): $4 each, all from Please share this tip with any interested friends and send them to I deeply appreciate all your blog and website mentions! Thanks,

Monday, May 7, 2007

Green Power for a Cool Planet

Choose Green Power for a Cooler Planet

Perhaps the single biggest way individuals can help dial back global warming is through the power we use to light, heat and cool our homes. The burning of fossil fuels to produce electricity is responsible for about 40% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

What to do?

Easy steps such as turning off lights and air conditioners when we’re not using a room will also save money on our electric bills. In addition, in some states, consumers can now choose green power through their utilities. And most of us want to! Three-quarters of Americans are willing to pay more for energy produced by renewable sources such as solar or wind, according to a New York Times/CBS news poll released in April.

In green power states, utilities provide lists of green sources to choose from on your utility bill. For options in your state, go to

Friday, May 4, 2007

Mother's Day Shopping List

More for Mom

Pretty Little Nothings

Moms adore receiving those little luxuries we never buy for ourselves.

If Mom’s eyes start to water on her day, it should be from joy, not a reaction to her makeup. But some conventional cosmetic ingredients, like Quaternium 15 and petrolatum, can cause irritation or allergic reactions. Formaldehyde and “coal tar colors” have been linked to cancer. “Fragrance/parfum” can mean synthetic scents containing toxic phthalates, associated with abnormal development in animal and some human studies. Parabens have caused proliferation of breast cancer cells in lab tests.

Eye Makeup Alert: In April 27, after investigating several cases of lead poisoning, the New York City Department of Health issued a warning against imported kohl, kajal and surma eye makeups containing the neurotoxic metal. In violation of U.S. FDA regulations, none of the products displayed ingredients lists.

The following are free of the worrisome ingredients above.

Aveda’s Petal Essence eyeliners, in “Cacao,” “Black Orchid” and other colors, are made only with plant oils and least-toxic minerals such as iron oxides. And the pencils themselves are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood. Triple Action double-pointed, two-color pencil can be used to accent eyes, lips or cheeks, $18; Eye Definer pencil, $12,

For the face, Dr. Hauschka’s Quince ($29) or Rose Day Creams ($39) smell delicious as they moisturize and tone the skin.

For the body, Pharmacopia’s lotions with certified organic olive oil and herbal infusions, and essential oils of ginger, citrus, rosemary or lavender, $16.99 at

For Mom’s hardworking hands, put a Badger in her bag and lighten her load. Tiny .75 oz tins pack a lot of comfort. Certified organic olive and aloe vera extract, cocoa and shea butter, plus essential oils of ginger/lemon, tangerine, mint, lavender/orange or rose. About $5 at Lip balms, $3, also come unscented.

The Better to See You With

You’ll always shine in Mom’s eyes, so give her Greenwear reading glasses made of 100% reclaimed plastic by ICU, which will also take them back for reuse and recycling. Don’t know her prescription? Get her a gift certificate at

What to read? Let Mom reconnect with the primal mystery of nature in the GREEN MANSIONS—A ROMANCE OF THE TROPICAL FOREST, by W.H. Hudson, first published in 1904 (Lightning Source, 2002). She’ll be delighted and inspired by MY FIRST SUMMER IN THE SIERRA, by John Muir, first published in 1911 (U. of California Press, 1990). Destined to become a classic, THE WILD TREES, by Richard Preston (2007, Random House) is an uplifting saga of the ancient redwoods and the scientists who explore their rich and diverse canopies.

Basic Rule of Mother’s Day: Thou Shalt Not Let Her Cook!

But you can give her a gorgeous nontoxic pan—and cook her breakfast in it. Lodge now sells a preseasoned cast-iron frying pan, $7.95-$24.95 at, which also sells stainless steel and enamelware. Lodge has a new enameled ovenware line, including apple green, at the dirt on nonstick finishes, see Word of the Week on the home page at and The Green Man’s Daily Ramble at

Serve her breakfast in bed on a lacquered tray made of bamboo, a fast-replenishing grass, in orange, green or turquoise. $18.95 at

Does Mom do most of the household errands? Cosset her feet with shoes that tread lighter on the Earth. Larkspur bamboo platform sandals from Timberland, with “comfortia” padding and leather straps in white, brown or black, $80 at
Cushy crisscross slippers in hemp, wool, yak hair and organic cotton, with soles that can pad outdoors, $48 at

She’ll want to stay in bed all day on a dust-mite-busting, unpesticided wool mattress pad, $230/ queen size at Not to mention organic cotton sheets and pillows $49 for a queen set at

This summer, let Mom get away in sustainable style with a white & black paisley quilted cotton bag, free of water-polluting AZO dyes, made by the craftspeople of the Barefoot College of Tilonia, India, which helps rural communities become self-sufficient and preserve their environment. . Entire code Penny07 for free shipping.

For more ideas and products, see “Top Ten Mother’s Day Gifts” on the home page at .

Please tell your friends about us!


Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Green Bathroom II: The Gleaming Bowl

Green cleaning is gentler to the environment and ourselves, but of course we draw the line at germs. Why is it so hard to identify eco-friendly products that disinfect or sanitize? The reason: They aren’t labeled as doing so. A Greenerpenny reader asks, “Could you please recommend a way to clean and disinfect the toilet bowl? I can'tseem to find a cleaner in the (green cleaning) market that specifically does that.” In what might be called the Disinfect Disconnect, products that claim to be disinfectants or sanitizers must be registered as such by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, EPA’s requirement that registered products be tested on animals prevents some companies from making the claim, says Martin Wolf, director of product quality and technology at Seventh Generation. “Our tests showed that our Natural Citrus Bathroom Cleaner with hydrogen peroxide kills germs, but we don’t test on animals,” Wolf says, noting that the company had unsuccessfully petitioned the EPA. Hydrogen peroxide itself is registered by the EPA as an antimicrobial pesticide--for use on hard surfaces in home bathrooms and killing anthrax bacteria, among other tasks. See in some tooth whitening gels, hydrogen peroxide is also less toxic than caustic chlorine bleach(sodium hypochlorite), which is commonly used as a disinfectant but can burn eyes, skin and respiratory membranes and harm aquatic ecosystems. To answer our reader’s question, Seventh Generation Natural Citrus Bathroom Cleaner is a good, easy green way to disinfect the bathroom. So is white vinegar, which in a Purdue University test was rated among “most effective” substances for reducing microbe populations in the bathroom--a category that also included chlorine bleach. See Back to the bowl, Martin Wolf recommends a “two-step method”: Use a toilet bowl cleaner and brush to scrub off stains and mineral deposits; Spray toilet seat, rim and lid with a cleaner containing hydrogen peroxide, let stand for five minutes, and wipe off with a sponge. For products, go to, Greenerpenny adds: You can scrub the toilet with baking soda and wipe surfaces with white vinegar. Wolf says there’s no reason to disinfect the toilet bowl below the water line. This makes sense to me. Once you scrub it, all dislodged residue, including any microorganisms, will be flushed down the drain. But you can add a little non-chlorine bleach or white vinegar to freshen the water in the bowl if you like.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

It’s Monday. Eat Chocolate!

There’s a reason we reach for chocolate when we’re stressed. It tastes good, it lifts the mood. Now, as it turns out, dark chocolate may lower blood pressure almost as well as medication does, according to an analysis of five studies, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine on April 9 of this year.

In four of the five two-week studies, participants’ systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure dropped to averages that “would be expected to substantially reduce the risk of stroke (by about 20 percent), coronary heart disease (by 10 percent) and all-cause mortality (by 8 percent),” the authors wrote.

The benefit is attributed to procyanid, a type of polyphenol, or plant compound, found in cocoa. Alas, milk chocolate won’t do the trick, because milk proteins block the absorption of polyphenols

How much do you have to eat to get the benefit? Three and a half ounces of dark chocolate a day. That’s 100 grams, the size of a hefty bar of Green & Black’s. That’s also 500 calories, more or less.

Gaining a lot of weight, of course, would negate cardiovascular gains. While stopping short of recommending that those of us with hypertension substitute chocolate for medication, the researchers say we might try to consume it instead of other high-calorie desserts. Good idea!

In addition to our health, we can do some good for the environment and labor by dosing ourselves with dark delights from the following companies, whose candies are certified organic and fairly traded. Green & Black’s, at Certified shade-grown by the Rainforest Alliance (preserves rainforest canopies and habitat) Plantations Arriba, Just fairly traded
Enjoy eight days a week.

Please share this tip with your friends and send them to Thanks!

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Gleaming Green Bathroom

A reader writes: “I have major lime and water deposits in and on shower rails. I’ve tried hydrogen peroxide and different commercial products. What do you recommend?” For tough jobs, such as lime deposits in showers, try AFM Super Clean Concentrated All-Purpose Cleaner/Degreaser, free of ammonia and chlorine. Note, It should be diluted first: AFM advises one part cleaner to one part water for heavy jobs such as lime deposits, and rinsing well after using on metal. Weaker solutions are sufficient for different jobs, such as routine cleaning of countertops, porcelain or metal. $6.95/ quart at . For shower heads clogged by mineral deposits, remove and immerse in warm white vinegar; let soak for 4-5 hours, then scrub with an old toothbrush. Other quick, least-toxic scrubs include plain old baking soda, chlorine-free Bon Ami scouring powder (a mere $1.29 at drug and grocery stores), or cream cleansers by Earth Friendly, , Ecover , , and Seventh Generation, . In a pinch, squeeze that toothpaste tube! Toothpaste works pretty well as a cream cleanser and metal polish. Recently, when guests were arriving and I’d run out of cleaning stuff, I used Colgate to clean and buff the scummy, tarnished fixtures on my bathroom sink. When using any cleaning product, including greener ones, do wear gloves, keep away from eyes, and ventilate well, as even plant-based ingredients can give off irritating fumes. Store well out of reach of pets and children. Please forward this blog to any interested friends, and send them to

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Weekend Penny: Good Food

Farm Fresh

More and more consumers want to know what’s in our food and where it comes from. The melamine-tainted chow that’s killed pets came from China, and now the FDA is testing Chinese wheat, corn and rice additives that go into processed food for people. Some breads, pasta, cereals, pizza dough, protein shakes, energy bars and baby formulas are being examined for melamine.

And unfortunately for shoppers, the U.S. has no mandatory Country of Origin Labeling, except for seafood. See

All of which makes locavores, who try and eat only food that’s grown within a hundred miles of their homes, look more savvy than crunchy. Non-extremists do make exceptions for coffee and chocolate, thankfully! Click here to get the Green Man’s take on this hip trend.

Good Easy Green Food Tips

Go a little local:

Buy early spring produce and organic or grass-fed animal products at the farmers’ market (find one near you at

Eat more vegetables, as the government and nutritionists recommend.

Enjoy more vegetables! Liz in New York City writes, “I’ve been eating so many veggies lately—ever since I picked up Patricia Wells’s new cookbook. (
String beans, carrots, beets, radishes…fennel and endive are at the top of my list right now. Really tasty and I don’t have to fire up an oven—just chop and toss!”

Tender new spring spinach is everywhere now. For a quick vegetarian supper, sautee onions and garlic in whatever oil you prefer or that’s produced closest to you, add sliced mushrooms and a pat of butter for flavor, and, at the last minute, stir in a bunch of well-washed spinach. Serve over pasta or rice, or in a tortilla.

In grocery stores, look for signs and labels that identify vegetables, fruits, meats and dairy products by state, country and region.

For recipes and advice on eating local, see, founded by Jessica Prentice, author of the lovely cookbook Full Moon Feasts ( and

When you can, choose certified organic produce and meat, and certified humane or grass-fed animal products, which, incidentally, contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids that you can offset against those saturated fats. In up to six states, now, FDA is quarantining hogs that may have eaten melamine-tainted food. For more reasons to eschew conventionally produced meat, such as animal confinement in factory farms, and water pollution from overflowing waste lagoons, see

At the Union Square farmers’ market in Manhattan, I bought apple/cranberry juice from Red Jacket Orchards, whose fruit is farmed with integrated pest management (IPM), using beneficial insects and turning to synthetic pesticides only as a last resort. I asked Max when their first fruit crop of spring comes in. “Strawberries. In May,” he said with a smile.

That’s just around the corner!

Please send these tips to any interested friends, and ask them to check out

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A is for April, Allergies and Air Conditioners

A is for April,Allergies and Air Conditioners

Overnight, literally, the cherry trees and lilacs have bloomed on our block. Flowering plants, which held back during a cold April, are now “just exploding” in the warmth, Professor George Hedrey of Queens College said in a New York City scientists’ talk on climate change. Meanwhile, the allergic are exploding in sneezes.

Central Park in 2007 is 2 degrees F. warmer, on average, than in 1907. The first blooms of spring are arriving earlier throughout the U.S., Dr. Hedrey said. Southern plants are moving north. And ragweed, powered by higher atmospheric levels of CO2, the greenhouse gas, is doubling its pollen production.

Allergy season is arriving earlier and lasting longer, according to the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. How to cope?

The Pollen Dodge:

Check local weather reports for air quality, including pollen counts and smog, which can make allergies feel worse. If pollen’s high, exercise or do errands in the morning, before airborne particles rise with the heat, and close windows, especially later in the day. For local pollen levels,

When necessary, turn on the air conditioner to filter pollen and pollutants out. April is a good month to buy before demand and prices escalate. For energy- and emissions-saving models that are at least 10% more efficient than conventional ones, see

Cool Tip: Turn a.c.s off when you don’t need ‘em, and keep your thermostat at 72 degrees or higher in warm weather. For every degree above that, you’ll save 121 lbs. of carbon emissions.

While global warming will mean milder winters and less heating demand for much of the U.S., more and longer summer heat waves will increase air conditioning demand that will “more than offset any reduction in heating,” accrding to Professor John Waldman of the City University of New York Institute for Sustainable Cities.

Use a doormat and leave shoes by the door so particles don’t get tracked in. Natural coir and jute, groovy striped doormat, $21.95 at; striped or bird-and-leaves pattern coir doormats, $19.95 at Colorful recycled flip-flop doormat, $49 from,featured in Elle Magazine (check out their stylin’ green May issue!

Death to Dust Mites: These microscopic mites infest rugs, drapery upholstered furniture and bedding, and their droppings are a potent allergen. Eliminate them by washing pillowcases, sheets and duvet covers twice weekly in hot water. For extra protection, you can zip your mattress and pillows into a cotton barrier-cloth encasement, on sale right now from $65-100 at They sell organic cotton encasements, too. Or try your nearest home products store. Avoid encasements made of vinyl, which is softened with toxic phthalates. For more on phthalates, see

Please share these tips with any interested friends and recommend Thanks!


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

bright dinner & lighting ideas


The longer days feel luxurious, never-ending. It would be nice to bring some of that brightness indoors!

But first, what’s for dinner? It’s never too early in the day to start thinking about the main family meal. Along with the first new spinach at the farmers’ market, one of spring’s bright spots is the first lobster of the season. On the sustainability index, Maine or New England lobster (with the claws) gets a “good” (but not “best”) rating from the Monterey Bay Aquarium,
as a population not currently overfished.

Want to know what’s sustainably fished in your part of the country? The Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program has printable regional fish species wallet cards. Perfect for enlivening dinner conversations!

Although these mighty crustaceans do contain moderate mercury (a nervous-system toxin that can cause birth defects and learning problems), the Natural Resources Defense Council,
says lobster can be safely eaten up to six times a month—but that, alas, would be unsustainable for our budget. Plus, given the precarious balance of the oceans, it seems a bit much.

For an easy lobster pasta recipe, see

Night Brights

I just bought a four-pack of Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs) for $7.97 at Home Depot, That’s a good price for these energy-saving bulbs, which do initially cost more than incandescents, but hey, prices are dropping--a couple of years ago one CFL could run you $11. Plus, over its lifetime(an average 10,000 hours compared with 1,000 hours for an incandescent), a CFL will save you at least 50% in electricity costs and 55 lbs. of atmosphere-warming CO2 emissions. Home Depot’s come with a 9-year warranty. The bulb fits nicely into my goose-necked desk lamp and, true to its name, provides a “soft white” light that’s easy on my eyes.

CFLs do, however, contain small amounts of mercury and so when they do give up the ghost they should be disposed of as hazardous waste. Some Home Depot stores take back CFLs for recycling, as do all Ikea stores,
For safe disposal sites in your zip code, see or

Day Lighting

Window washing lets the sun light your interiors by day, saving on electricity and the global warming emissions from coal-burning power plants. Choose white-vinegar based products free of toxic, eye-watering ammonia. I’ve stuck with the first I tried, Earth Friendly Window Kleener,,800-335-3267, but similar least-toxic ingredients are contained in Ecover Glass & Surface Cleaner, 800-449-4925 and Seventh Generation Glass & Surface,802-658-377.

Or, mix your own window/glass cleaner with a few drops of dish soap and a quarter cup of white vinegar in a quart of water.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Greener, Cleaner Diet

A Greener, Cleaner Diet

If food security isn’t national security, what is? For the latest, human food chain implications of the tainted pet food debacle, see this week’s Word of the Week at But before you get too alarmed, check out some frisky creatures in the real O.C. at

Back to the news: For weeks, U.S. pets have been made ill, and several have been killed, by a contaminant in the wheat and rice gluten used to fortify pet food. The culprits are wheat and rice gluten imported from China and laced with melamine, a common fertilizer.

Now, it turns out that some Northern California pigs raised for human consumption have eaten some of the suspect pet food, and their urine shows traces of melamine, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). While CDFA and USDA were able to warn most buyers of the suspect pigs before their meat could enter the commercial food supply, two custom slaughterhouses, American Hog Farm and Bar None, had already sold some of the meat to private customers, whom CDFA is contacting. For more info, see or call 916-654-0504.

Food insecurity is rampant enough with domestic products, not to mention imports like wheat and rice gluten floating around undetected in processed food. Last year we had fatal outbreaks of E. coli that caused recalls of spinach. There were also recalls of ground beef and lettuce, and salmonella in tomatoes sickened many, as well. Earlier this year, peanut butter was recalled due to salmonella. Looking down the road: As demand from Wal-Mart and other mega-retailers increases sourcing from abroad, will organic food from China be safe? It depends on whether vigilant inspectors enforce organic standards on farms and in processing plants.

Organic or not, it’s processed foods rather than fresh whole foods that more easily thwart ready solutions to food contamination problems, if only because of their many ingredients, which can be sourced from all over the globe. For instance, the exact ingredient causing the sickness in pets has yet to be identified; melamine is thought to be a non-lethal indicator of the presence of more toxic substances. For lists of recalled pet foods, go to

Another link to national security is our food system’s heavy consumption of fossil fuels. The thirty percent of the average American’s diet that consists of meat, eggs and poultry is responsible for the release of 3,274 lbs of global warming emissions a year. This comes from the petroleum used to make the fertilizer and pesticides used to grow conventional corn and soy for animal feed, the fossil fuels burnt in transporting animals and their products, and the methane gas released by cattle intestines (which some enterprising dairy farmers are capturing for use as biofuel).

What to do?

It’s simple. Follow these tips.

Eat less red meat (because it’s heavy in saturated fats, you’ll be doing your cardiovascular system a favor, too.)

Vegetarian diets release half the carbon of a 30% meat eaters’ diet.

Substitute poultry and eggs for red meat, and you’ll still save over 950 lbs. of carbon a year.

When you do eat red meat, make it special. Choose certified organic or certified humane, which restrict animals to vegetarian feed, or meat from grass-fed animals raised by farmers who provide written assurances of such. When cattle are fed a grass-only diet for the last five days before slaughter, E.coli in their guts is reduced by 1000%.

Choose more locally grown meat, dairy and produce, and you’ll reduce fossil fuels used in shipping food an average 1,500 to 2,500 miles from farm to table, as the Worldwatch Institute reports. See

Eat whole, rather than processed, foods. Processed foods are cheaper than fresh vegetables and fruits because of U.S. government subsidies, as Michael Pollan writes in the April 2nd New York Times Magazine. Processed foods are also full of added sugars and fats, warns Marion Nestle, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at New York University and author of Food Safety and What to Eat? Because of this cheap but fattening food, 32% of Amerians are obese—and growing, Pollan and Nestle concur.

Know where your food comes from and how it was produced by buying it from farmers’ markets and relying on meaningful labels. For where to find local food sources, from farms to restaurants, see, and For the farmers’ markets nearest you,

Missed a tip? Don’t worry. See my Daily Tips blog at And please tell your friends to visit.