Monday, November 24, 2008

BPA-free Pumpkin Pie

Want to cut back on BPA? It's simple. Use fresh not canned foods and avoid the BPA in their linings. According to Consumer Reports' December 2009 issue, almost all samples of the 19 name-brand foods tested contained some BPA. .The secret to making BPA-free pumpkin pie is a simple one: Don't use pumpkin or milk from metal cans, which are lined with resin containing the estrogenic, toxic chemical. See watchdog group EWG's good summary of BPA findings.
For the pumpkin puree, you can make your own. While Halloween pumpkins go for jack o'lantern size, yfor a pie you want a sweet, tender little sugar pumpkin or acorn or kabocha squash. Pick your own and work up an appetite. You can easily find the pumpkin farm or farmers' market nearest you at Local Harvest.
Want something quicker in a time-pressed pinch? Stock your larder with pumpkin puree or pumpkin butters (above, from Muirhead Foods) packed in glass, which is always BPA-free. Jars of organic pumpkin pie butter can be ordered from Latimore Valley Farms.
Instead of canned evaporated milk, indulge in thick sweet organic dairy cream or soy milk (both are also free of added hormones and antibiotics) in cardboard or aseptic cartons or glass.
To make your own pumpkin puree:
*Buy a 2 lb. organic sugar pumpkin or butternut squash, enough for one pie filling.
*With a sharp knife, cut out the top, slice pumpkin into eighths, and scrape out insides (a serrated knife or grapefruit spoon works nicely).
*Boil or steam slices until pulp turns bright orange and soft.
*Let cool to room temp.
*Blend or puree in food processor until smooth.
Pumpkin Pie Recipes
*We like this classic version, which you can alter according to your own tastes, from Diamond Organics, where you can also buy all the ingredients for next-day delivery.
* Here's a recipe using pumpkin butter (which doesn't contain dairy, just pumpkin, sweetener and spices)
* And here's an egg-free, vegan pumpkin pie filling recipe:
3/4 lb. firm tofu
2 cups pumpkin puree (if you use pumpkin butter, taste before adding any spice/sugar)
1 cup brown or raw sugar
2 Tbsp vegetable oil (safflower, canola or corn)
2 Tbsp molasses
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
Blend or process until smooth; add to pie shell; and bake for at least 350 degrees F for 1 hr., or until firm and knife inserted in center comes out clean.
One pumpkin pie from scratch, and another way to scratch BPA off your list!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Top tempered glass food containers and baby bottles

If you can do only one green thing about your microwave, keep plastic containers out of it! This includes readymade meals labeled "microwave safe." When heated, several of these products were found to release toxic doses of Bisphenol A, in tests commissioned by the Milkwaukee Journal Sentinel ."The amounts detected were at levels that scientists have found cause neurological and developmental damage in laboratory animals," the newspaper reported on November 15th. While studies of the chemical has raised concern primarily for its impact upon fetal and infant development, a 2008 study has shown a greater risk of diabetes and heart disease among human adults with the most exposure to BPA. While alarming, it wasn't a surprise to learn that, of the 10 products tested, a can of Enfamil infant formula and a Rubbermaid Premier container made of polycarbonate (#7) leached the most amounts of the chemical. Most food and drink cans are lined with BPA, and polycarbonate is known to contain it. What was unsettling: BPA was also found to migrate out of plastics with the recycling numbers 1, 2, and 5, which have generally been considered to be safer alternatives. These tests, which were overseen by Frederick vom Saal, professor of biology at the University of Missouri, fortify the pediatric environmental health community's warnings against microwaving or heating food or baby formula in plastic containers and bottles of any kind.
Convenient tempered glass containers come in sizes from snack to sandwich to soup to big entrée, and can be safely used to store and reheat food. (Note: In some cases, the products below have PP (#5) plastic lids, which are okay, so long as they don't touch the food.)
Anchor Hocking’s rectangular or rounded dishes in mini to large sizes are sold at
Martha Stewart Glass Everyday Collection containers, at Macy's, or
Vintage Ware glass-lidded containers and svelte Frigoverre Plus with slosh-proof plastic lids can be bought at
Microwavable Pyrex 18-piece glass food container sets are at, where a set of three Frigoverre glass containers is $25.95. Glass baby bottles are made by Bornfree, Evenflo, Medela and Nurturepure.

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Readers Response to Nonstick Cookware

Green Cookware: Seasoned cast iron, enameled cast iron, Thermolon/ceramic nonstick coated pans, ovenproof glassware for baking

Not Green: Teflon/Silverstone-type nonstick coatings using PFCs

Reason: Until recently, most nonstick cookware was made with PFOA, a perfluorochemical that has been linked to cancer. Although chemical companies agreed to phase out the use of PFOA by 2015, this does not affect PTFE, another perfluorochemical, which is the main component in conventional nonstick cookware. PTFE is known to break down at high temperatures and its fumes cause acute, flu-like symptoms if inhaled.

What to do?

If you’d rather not buy new:

Use what you’ve got with care. If your Teflon pans are unscratched and unscorched, there’s no reason to toss them. Continue to use and preserve them carefully with non-scratching wood, silicone or, yes, Teflon utensils. Never use them on high heat, above 500 degrees F. Never heat them when empty.
Look for indestructible cast-iron and uncoated stainless steel pots and pans at yard sales, flea markets, and secondhand stores.

If you’re ready to buy new, buy smart. Greenerpenny recommends the following:

Cuisinart Green Gourmet
Le Creuset enamel (coated cast-iron for stovetop/ oven, and glazed clay for oven only)
Lodge Cast Iron
Pyrex glassware (for baking, not stovetop)
Stainless steel (nonreactive, though not nonstick!)
Calphalon-type anodized aluminum, so long as it's not covered with nonstick Teflon-type coatings. You can see the difference, because the coating will peel & scratch.

To respond to Greenerpenny readers’ latest round of comments and questions on nonstick cookware, below, we checked with DuPont, the Environmental Protection Agency, Consumer Reports, the Environmental Working Group, and Scientific American.

Reader: Anodizing aluminum pans produces a very hard surface with no toxins. Non-stick coatings are applied on top and this is where the controversy is.

Greenerpenny: This is a good point. A pan’s label may declare it’s “PFOA-free” but remain mum on whether the pan has PTFE. Remember: The phase-out of PFOA does not affect the presence of PTFE in conventional nonstick cookware. If you’re trying to discern the safety of your pots and pans, you have to ask whether they’re free of PFOA and PTFE.

Reader: I was wondering if you had any studies of the green pan made by Cuisinart? We purchased one and it works really good. But we wanted to make sure it was safe.

GreenerPenny: According to Cuisinart, their new Green Gourmet pan has a ceramic nonstick coating and contains neither PTFE nor PFOA. GreenPan’s manufacturer makes the same assurances.

Reader: How about ALL-CLAD's Excalibur? I paid a king's ransom for these pans about 10 years ago and they said they were safe! Know anything about them? I'll throw them out if you say to...

Greenerpenny: It’s flattering to be held in such high regard, but we need more information about your cookware. All-Clad makes both stainless steel and nonstick-coated pans. If yours are the stainless steel variety (shiny silver on the inside and out) you probably have nothing to worry about.

If you do have the black silky nonstick coating on the inside of your pans, that’s another story. The EPA and the companies that use PFOA in their cookware didn't agree to a PFOA phase-out until 2005, so if you bought your pans 10 years ago, they could very well have PFOA in them. Heck, cookware can technically have PFOA in it until 2015!

But you can probably still cook on your All-Clad if you take precautions, as noted above. Consumer Reports did independent studies of nonstick cookware known to have PFOA and their findings were reassuring. They recommend not putting the cookware on the stove without something in it first; while PTFE tends to start breaking down (and releasing toxic fumes) at 500 degrees Fahrenheit, the presence of food or oil will prevent the pan from releasing fumes as it heats up, CR said.

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By Island Girl

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Happy Melamine-Free Halloween!

Green Halloween Buys: Lake Champlain or Sweet Earth foil-wrapped milk and dark chocolate coins; Yummy Earth organic, individually wrapped lollipops, Sour Z treats or Gummy Worms; Annie's Organic Bunny Fruit snacks

Don’t Buy: Sherwood Pirate’s Gold Milk Chocolate Coins; White Rabbit “milk” candies; unlabeled candies of any kind, which may contain toxic melamine.

Buccaneers are big this Halloween, but make sure your pirate’s hoard doesn’t contain melamine, the chemical illegally added to Chinese dairy products, including infant formula, that has caused 54,000 cases of kidney stones and four infant deaths in that country.

First, it’s important not to panic: These illnesses are due to contaminated infant formula, and eating a candy or two doesn’t begin to approach a dangerous dose, according to nutritionist Marion Nestle in her column. However, Dr. Nestle points out, melamine is symptomatic of a broader consumer protection matter, namely, that we are entitled to know what’s in our food.

Next, here's what to look out for: The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has issued a recall of Sherwood Brands Pirate’s Gold Milk Chocolate Coins, sold in Costco and dollar and bulk stores. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not recalled Pirate’s Gold because, the agency says, the candies were not distributed in this country. However, on its website, Sherwood admits that it really can’t be certain where all its products end up. The FDA has recalled White Rabbit candies, but its tracking has been less than reassuring: The agency’s list of states where the candies were distributed does not include Connecticut, where White Rabbit toffees containing melamine were found this month by that state’s office of consumer protection.

As a vigilant Greenerpenny reader advises:

“Please make sure to check your children’s Halloween candy and DO NOT LET THEM EAT THE PIRATE COINS (you know, the ones wrapped in the shiny gold foil) and please let other parents know about this!”

Food origins, tracking, meaningful safety standards and enforcement are the broader issue, in this age of global markets. Melamine has just leapt beyond products containing milk, such as Chinese cookies found with high levels in Asian and Europe, (the FDA has also recalled Mr. Brown powdered "nondairy" creamer) to crop up in eggs from China. Dr. Nestle says, “For the moment, it’s best to just say no to imported foods and ingredients supposedly made with milk or soy powder, unless they are certified free of melamine and other toxic contaminants. But for this, it helps to know where food and ingredients come from.”

Organic certification, of course, means a product can’t contain melamine or other synthetic chemicall. Organic labels are transparent, that is, the ingredients are regulated each step of the way and can be traced back to the source. If your child brings home unlabeled candies, “trade” them for organic fruit (including individually boxed organic raisins) and chocolate treats, U.S.-made chocolate coins by reputable companies likeVermont’s Lake Champlain, and organic cookies shaped like cats, bats and autumn leaves from Dancing Deer. Find nearby retailers on company websites; or check at Whole Foods. Also, as much as possible, buy from local producers you know and trust. Check your yellow pages or local “green” pages or food magazines, for candymakers near you; many independent bakeries also make confections, including chocolates and fruit gels. Type in your zip code at Sustainable Table and zoom into your local food network.

More treats:

Fairly traded, foil-wrapped mint-chocolate bits at Kate's Caring Gifts

Sweet Earth Very Scary organic milk or dark chocolate colorful wrapped "coins," skulls, witches' hats, bats

Endangered Species small wrapped chocolate bars and creepy crawly bug bites (10%) of profits go to species protection

Annie's Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks (vegan)

Yummy Earth individually-wrapped soft and hard candies.

Remember...screen, then have a screaming good time!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Best green lipsticks

Perfect Stocking and Pocket Stuffers for Skiers, Surfers,Sunners: Phthalate-free Lip Balms

To keep from licking hormone-disrupters off your winter-cracked lips, choose from this plethora of phthalate-free products, all of which use essential plant oils rather than synthetic "fragrance."
THE BODY SHOP Hemp Lip ProtectorAt a recent Jets game (remember the last one they won?), a green guy said it saved his lips from cold wind splice and the green tube showed off his team spirit. Body Shop is a CSC signatory. $8.
BURTS BEES Beeswax Balms, Lip Shimmers The quickest of comforters: Burt's clear balm (Natural Products Association certified) and new Rescue Lip Balm, which blocks UV rays with natural titanium dioxide. Burt's has also signed the CSC pledge. $3-5.
DR BRONNER’S Lip Balm This USDA certified organic balm comes in "naked," lemon/lime and ginger phthalate-free flavors. Yum. A CSC signatory. $2.99
DR. HAUSCHKA Lip Care Stick or Balm One of our top faves. Moisturizes with jojoba wax and carrot and rosehip extracts; $12.95 or $14.50.
OLA HAWAII Tropical Melody Lip Balms (pictured) The islands in winter! Banana, coconut/lemongrass, liliko'i (passion fruit) and mango aromas will warm your lips and hearts. We can't get enough of 'em. $6.
ORIGINS Lip Balm Their USDA certified organic stick is pure salve-ation. Completely odorless and taste-free, slicks on effortlessly.WELEDA Everon Lip BalmWith shea butter, vanilla and rose. Cheap, creamy, and long-lasting. $3.50-4.99.

Natural parchment paper

Our neighbor Chef Maurizio never uses silicone bakeware because, he says, "It's just plastic, really, and no matter how much I wash it, it always has this greasy feel." Instead, Maurizio uses parchment paper to keep his dough from sticking. But buyer beware: Conventional parchment papers are treated with silicone! Here are some greener choices:

*All-vegetable parchment paper. This is the kind of simple paper butter comes wrapped in, but it can be heated without burning up to 450 degrees F. I just made a nice pear tart on top of a round of Regency all-vegetable parchment paper laid on a stainless steel cookie sheet (greased with butter). Bought it at Whole Foods for $1.77 a roll. The tart baked at 375 degrees, and the pears and sugar got the perfect caramel patina, but the paper emerged fresh enough to be reused after brown edges were trimmed off (see below for how).

*Maurizio recommends Beyond Gourmet Unbleached Parchment Paper: It's certified by the reputable non-profit Green Seal of approval because it's made without environmentally destructive chlorine bleaching, which releases cancer-causing dioxins into waterways. And it is Star-K certified kosher. It can also be bought at Whole Foods.

* Patapar all-vegetable parchment papers are kosher-certified. Note: While the kosher kashrus standards give top ratings to genuine vegetable parchment paper and do not approve of quilon, a DuPont coating used on some parchment papers, kashrus does not formally object to silicone coatings. If You Care unbleached parchment paper is advertised as quilon-free.

Another use (or reuse) for parchment paper: Rewrap cheese in it, after taking off the PVC (and phthalate-leaching) deli wrap most supermarket cheeses are sold in. Toxic chemicals leach most readily from fatty foods like cheese, or when heated (hence never microwave food in plastic).

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Green nonstick cookware choices

We recently did a blog on the nasty chemicals—PFOA and PTFE, specifically, linked to thyroid disruption and cancer—found in conventional nonstick cookware and in the bodies of the general American population. Many of our readers weighed in with questions and comments of their own, which we address here.

Thermolon Update

We previously stated that silicone cookware and therefore the new GreenPan, which contains silicone, have additional ingredients that aren’t listed on the label, which always makes us a little nervous. Since then, we’ve found out more. GreenPan is made of oxygen, silicone, carbon, aluminum, and titanium. A representative from the company that invented Thermolon, the nonstick coating on GreenPans, told us: “Silicone (Si) is not on the list of ingredients of Thermolon. Instead, silicone is in combination with other elements to form a harmless ceramic material…”

O.K., whatever. At least ceramic coatings generally don’t evaporate or leach. More importantly, GreenPan promises that its ceramics are PFOA- and PTFE-free; the company commissioned a few third-party studies, two from universities in both Hong Kong and Europe, which confirmed their coating’s lack of PFOA or PTFE. One study said that the GreenPan also consumes less energy and produces less carbon in the production process than conventional nonstick cookware.

So while we’d always prefer to see results of independent third-party tests (such as those by Consumer Reports, Environmental Working Group or certifiers such as Green Seal or Cradle to Cradle), rather than tests a company has paid for themselves, we think GreenPan is clearly a safer and greener alternative to conventional nonstick coatings.

What about other cookware technology touted as PFOA-free?

This can be greenwashing. Because consumers are now aware that PFOA is a carcinogen and is present in their pans, companies are scrambling to market new non-PFOA cookware. But here’s the question: what’s replacing the PFOA?

According to the Environmental Working Group's extensive report on PFOA replacements, the Food and Drug Administration approved eight new fluorochemicals between 2005 and 2007 intended to replace PFOA-based food packaging and pans. But there was no third-party certification or public assessment of the safety of these new chemicals. At least one—perfluorohexanoic acid (also called PFHxA or C6)—is known to be persistent in the environment, cross over from a mother to her unborn fetus, and may be more toxic to aquatic organisms than PFOA.

The greenwashing of the cookware industry is intense. According to our source at GreenPan, many companies are coating their nonstick pans with PTFE, but then adding small ceramic particles. They tout their products as PFOA-free, ceramic-coated, which sounds safe to consumers worried about toxics in their cookware, when in reality they may be no better than the old PFOA-coated models.

I have Emerilware Hard Anodized Pans and their website says they don’t used PFOAs to make the nonstick. Is there another toxic chemical they use instead?

Anodized pans are sometimes listed separately from the nonstick products on cookware websites, leading one to believe that anodized pans are different and perhaps better than conventional nonstick cookware. We were unable to contact the makers of Emerilware, so we called the popular cookware company Calphalon and inquired about their anodized pans. They confirmed that either PFOA or PTFE is present in the coating. So anodized pans don’t seem to be a safe alternative to conventional nonstick.

Safer Cookware Alternatives

Lodge Iron cast iron cookware: They come preseasoned now!

Le Creuset enamel cookware:

Calphalon stainless steel:

Crate & Barrel’s Mario Batali enamel:


Previous GreenerPenny blog:

EPA PFOA warnings:

PFOA in general population:

Environmental Working Group’s report:

By Island Girl

Thank you. Please keep your questions and comments coming, and tell your friends to visit

Friday, October 3, 2008

Are nonstick pans safe?

In this economy, we’re all motivated to save money and eat healthier by cooking more at home. And a new pot or pan can be a nice motivator. But we feel distinctly unmotivated by non-stick cookware manufactured with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA or C8 in industry terms), which is used to make the polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) coating that is so magically unstickable. Problem is, the chemicals stick to us. And, as the Environmental Working Group reports, the EPA has classified PFOA as a "likely human carcinogen."

PFOA is found in all sorts of modern goods, from cookware to water-repellant fabrics. And it’s also in the bloodstreams of 95 percent of the U.S. population. The chemical has been linked to cancer and birth defects in laboratory animals according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is known to linger and accumulate in living tissues and the environment. DuPont, the second largest US chemical company and manufacturer of Teflon, went to court with the EPA in 2004 when the Agency claimed that DuPont found traces of PFOA in their workers’ bodies and in the municipal water supplies of West Virginia and Ohio as early as 1981 but never reported it. As a result, DuPont agreed to comply with the EPA’s order to phase out 95 percent of PFOA in its products by 2015.

However, the official stance of the EPA is that nonstick cookware is just fine: Wherever we’re getting PFOA in our blood from, they say it’s not from pots and pans. Tests done by Consumer Reports agree that very little PFOA is released by nonstick cookware, though they do recommend using ventilation while cooking with it, tossing out old, flaking nonstick pans, and never placing empty nonstick pots and pans over very high heat (over 500 degrees Fahrenheit).
So, wait? PFOA is bad and DuPont is phasing it out, but it’s still okay to cook with it? Sounds questionable to us, too. How about some nice, safe, environmental alternatives?

Cast Iron cookware that has been seasoned, or coated and baked with vegetable oil, creates a natural nonstick cooking surface with even heating, temperature retention, and durability. Lodge Cast Iron, a family owned and operated company in Tennessee, has been making cookware for over 100 years.

Lodge also makes enameled cast iron cookware; we find that enamel works as well as, and is certainly more durable than, a chemical nonstick surface such as Teflon or Silverstone.

We love our Le Creuset grill pan, as well as the company’s classic enamel-lined pots and pans.

Glass cookware can’t be used with direct heat, so stovetop cooking is out, but brands such as Pyrex are perfect for baking. Tempered glass bakeware inexpensive to buy, easy to manufacture, and easy to recycle if it breaks.

In addition to ceramic, a new ovenproof product is colorful plastic silicone bakeware, the non-PFOA nonstick stuff that’s filling the Teflon niche. Silicone is made primarily from harmless sand and oxygen, but silicone ware also contains carbon, aluminum and titanium, and thus, unlike glass, isn’t easily recycled at the end of its life. While, based on what we currently know, it’s safer than a PFOA nonstick surface, it’s not the greenest option available.

Our advice: if you’re dedicated to the art of cooking, splurge for glass, ceramic, uncoated stainless steel and cast iron. All guaranteed PFOA-free.

By Island Girl

Readers, please keep sending us your questions and suggestions, and, if you like, forward this email to your friends and ask them to check out our tips at Thanks.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Toxic phthalate news and avoidance tips

Phthalates, those pesky, hormone-disrupting plasticizers and fragrance disseminators, are getting under our skin, and new research continues to reveal how disruptive this may be to male reproductive development and virility.

Most recently, phthalates were found to impair the development of the testis in the human fetus, which could potentially harm male fertility in adulthood, according to a study published this month in Environmental Health Perspectives. In other recent studies, phthalates in breast milk were associated with changed levels of reproductive hormones in 3-month-old boy infants, and the chemicals were also linked to abnormal genital development in male infants.

Phthalates are found in most of our bodies, and, alarmingly, at their highest levels in children and in women of childbearing age, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s 2003 chemical body burdens study. Phthalates migrate readily out of plastics and personal care products and are prevalent in the environment.

“You can be exposed to low levels of phthalates through air, water, or food,” says Shanna Swan, Ph.D., principal researcher in the study of phthalates and genital development in humans, and director of the center for reproductive epidemiology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine. How can we reduce our exposures? It’s simple, at least in principle.

1. Avoid personal care products, cosmetics, household cleaning products and air fresheners with “fragrance” in the ingredients list. Phthalates are used in synthetic fragrances. Buy only products whose ingredients lists specify that only plant essential oils and no synthetic fragrances are used. See Greenerpenny’s updated list of phthalate-free personal care product brands. Minimize the use of personal care products on newborns, infants and children. I will always be grateful to my son’s pediatrician, who said that you shouldn’t use soap, oils, lotions or powder on babies’ skin. “They don’t need it when they’re not crawling yet. Think about it. They don’t get dirty,” he said. “Just change the diaper frequently, and wash him in warm water.”

2. Avoid products made of PVC plastic, which is softened with phthalates. These include
many children’s products (toys, teethers,lunch boxes, school binders, raincoats, backpacks) and household decorative products (shower curtains, wallpaper, blinds) made of PVC.

3. Be aware of less avoidable exposures, but don’t panic.“You could be exposed by drinking water that contains phthalates, though it is not known how common that is,” writes Dr. Swan (if you are renovating, consider not using PVC water pipes). In addition, “Children can be exposed by breathing household dust that contains phthalates, or using IV tubing or other medical devices made with phthalates.” Health Care Without Harm has a campaign to get hospitals to stop using soft PVC medical devices and other toxins such as mercury.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Unclogging the drain without pain

Unclogging the drain without pain

Life is tough on drains, which get all choked up on sand, bits of grass, dirt, sunblock, shavings and worse. If it’s high time your drain took a breather, protect your health with a least-toxic, green product. Conventional cleaners are hugely toxic and dangerous. Swallowing or breathing the fumes of caustic drain cleaners can cause breathing difficulty, abdominal and throat pain, nausea, collapse and even death. They contain chemicals such as sodium hydroxide, also known as lye; and sodium hypochlorite, the active ingredient in chlorine bleach. Both of these substances can cause liquefactive necrosis, which, in crudest terms, means that your flesh melts away. (Think of the lye hand kiss in the movie Fight Club.) And if a drain cleaner can do that to your skin, imagine what it’s doing to sensitive fish and amphibians once it goes down the drain. (They can’t even be used in septic systems.) Furthermore, when combined with other common household chemicals such as ammonia, drain cleaners have been known to release toxic fumes or even explode. Adding insult to injury, when it comes to performance, Consumer Reports cautions against the use of conventional toxic drain cleaners due to their health risks, adding that they’re not much more effective than gentler bacteria-based cleaners or an old-fashioned plunger. Here are some greener, least-toxic remedies: In GreenerPenny’s opinion (and that of our apartment super, otherwise a hard-core chemical advocate), no drain remedy is as simple, effective, and eco-friendly as baking soda and vinegar. Pour one cup of baking soda down the drain followed by three cups of boiling water and one cup of warm white vinegar, and let the mixture bubble. If it doesn’t work, toss in the whole box of baking soda and more boiling water. If your pipes are especially old, narrow, or just prone to clogging, regular use of enzyme-based cleaners should keep things running smoothly. Cleaners such as Earth Enzymes and Bio-Flow contain live cultures of enzymes and bacteria that work to break down organic matter in your drains the same way bacteria in your stomach breaks down food. They’re safe to use in septic systems, safe to get on your skin, and actually smell rather pleasant. Think of them as yogurt for your pipes, bioactivated with live little critters to keep the plumbing smooth. Make either of the above part of your regular cleaning regimen, applying the mixtures as often as once a week, as preventive measures. Even if you’re temporarily out of enzymes, baking soda or white vinegar, dumping a pot of boiling water down the drain whenever you think of it will help melt away that schmutz. If you’ve got a mega-clog that won’t budge: Try CLR Power Plumber, a liquid drain cleaner that’s part of the EPA’s Design for the Environment program. It doesn’t have any lye, sulfuric acid, or flesh-melters of any kind, and works well on tough bottlenecks. And don’t neglect the plunger. This old stand-by of the bathroom arsenal works as well as the toxic cleaners on shallow clogs, though it does require some physical strength. But if even that fails, it’s time for the plumber's snake, also known as an auger or a drain snake, available at hardware stores. Consumer Reports lists their price at anywhere from $3 to $130 dollars, but as a professional plumber will likely use a snake, you may as well cut out the middleperson and do it yourself. Be sure to follow the directions carefully: basically you thread the coil down the drain until it can’t go any further, and then you pull it out and the less said about it, the better. If the snake fails, call a pro. You’ve earned it. Remember, prevention is the best medicine, as Treehugger confirms. Be considerate of your drain. Avoid pouring any kind of oil or grease down the kitchen sink, as these substances congeal in the pipes like fat in arteries. Cover the bathtub or shower drain with a drain sieve, available at any hardware store, to catch hair, and clear it daily. Drain cleaning can get pretty gross, but as this is a case where the wrong medicine can kill the patient, don’t compound the harm with caustic products. Household cleaning products swallowed by children are responsible for 10% of calls to poison control centers each year.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Water filters for a cool carefree drink

Water filters for a cool carefree drink

The season’s tropical storms can bring floods, and, as often follows, contaminated drinking water. And even in normal weather, as the New York Times recently reported, traces of pharmaceuticals such as pain relievers, antibiotics, and anti-depressants can be found in the water supply of 24 major cities.

While it’s more environmentally friendly to drink from the tap than buy bottled water, tap water can be purified and made more palatable with water filters, available in all price ranges. Before you invest in a filter, though, find out if you need one; learn what contaminants, if any, are in your water supply by calling your local water utility, or try You can also test your own taps for lead, particularly if your pipes are old.

There are many different filters available, ranging from simple Brita and Pur carafes to elaborate whole-house distillation and reverse osmosis filtration systems. What kind you choose depends on what contaminants you wish to remove and how much you want to spend. Consumer Reports has a guide that includes price ranges as well as pros and cons of each type.

A basic carbon filter, found in Brita and Pur systems, will eliminate lead, chlorine byproducts, some parasites, some pesticides, and some organic chemicals, but it won’t remove other heavy metals, arsenic or pathogens such as bacteria or other microorganisms. Faucet-mounted filters and countertop models also use a carbon filter, which must, in all cases, be changed at least once every three months. Under-counter systems, which attach directly to your water pipes and provide filtered water from a separate tap in your sink, only need changing twice a year, though they tend to be more expensive.

Avoid water filtration systems that use reverse osmosis or distillers, as these waste an enormous amount of water, energy and time.. Distilling water, for example, basically boils it until it becomes steam, which is then condensed back into water; a whole-house distillation system would increase energy use by 378 kilowatt hours per day. You can purify your water yourself by boiling it for 1 minute and then letting it cool, according to the U.S. EPA.

And while you’re at it, remember, it’s never too late to kick the bottled water habit. Bottled water is a $100 billion dollar industry in America, the country with both the best tap water quality and the highest per capita bottled water use in the world. Not only is it silly to pay for what you get for free in your own home, it’s also environmentally disasterous. Seventeen million barrels of oil were required in 2006 to produce the plastic for all those bottles, and that doesn’t even take into consideration the oil needed to transport the bottles to the drinkers. And as most of you know, some types of plastic bottles can leach chemicals into their contents, making your bottled water less healthy for you than tap.

GreenerPenny recommends reusable nontoxic bottles—click here for our list We also want to tell you about a nifty new idea, a water-filtering sports bottle by Water Geeks It’s made of BPA-free plastic and comes with a carbon filter built right into the lid, good for three months. Although there aren’t any toxins in our tap water, the Water Geeks bottle took away some slight chemical undertones and made the water taste great. Unfortunately, the filter makes it a bit difficult to draw water out of the bottle, so while it’s okay for sitting and sipping, you might be frustrated if you really need to hydrate, fast and easy, on the go. Still, a handy item to have on hand for emergencies, the sort of thing Katherine Hepburn might have whipped out of her carpet bag on the deck of The African Queen.

Certain ideas in this current green revolution have reached the tipping point and become decidedly mainstream: eschewing plastic bags for bring-along reuseable cloth totes at the grocery store; organic food and farmers markets; Jack Johnson. And now, buying less water in disposable bottles. There’s still a long way to go, but every day, strides are being made toward a more sustainable world.

Please tell your friends to check out, and send us your questions and ideas!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Green Budget Living: Food

As costs of raw materials and fuel rise, the food industry is making shoppers pay. We’re facing ever-higher grocery prices, and some manufacturers are compounding the injury by employing sleight of hand. Perhaps you’ve noticed some peanut butter, orange juice and mayonnaise for sale in slightly smaller containers, at the same price you paid for the larger ones. For more examples, check out

Meanwhile, Whole Foods supermarket stock has fallen, due, in part, to the perception that sustainably produced food is too expensive in this weak economy. That’s the myth. In reality, many organic and locally grown foods are priced competitively. At farmers’ markets, which require that foods come from farms no farther away than a hundred-odd miles, portions and prices tend to err on the side of generosity. A study by an economics professor at Seattle University, reports the Seattle Times, found that farmers' market produce was slightly less expensive, on average, pound for pound, than its supermarket counterparts.

Certainly, if one eats local in season, one can discover the same thing for oneself. And what a pleasure! For four weeks, I’ve been eating perfectly sun-ripened golden apricots and delectable white “donut” peaches from Redjacket Orchards at our local New York City farmers’ market; the price for both is $5 a heaping quart, or a little over 2 lbs. At the supermarket down the block, which thankfully sources some local foods, the same apricots and peaches are $6 for less than a pound and half (1.3 lbs), while hard California peaches cost the same as ripe local ones. An added benefit: Red Jacket uses integrated pest management, which relies on beneficial insects to control pests and allows pesticides only as a last resort. Conventional peaches have the highest dangerous pesticide residues of any crop, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

More price comparisons: Underripe Washington State apricots, flown 2,500miles, are twice the price of local, at $5/ lb. Blueberries, now in season at the greenmarket, are $3 for an overflowing pint, and $3.99 for a flat-top pint in most supermarkets.

Following are some tips for eating healthily and economically.

1. Save money and eat better by buying local

In a recent example of how consumer demand is steering the economy, Wal-mart just committed to buying $400 million worth of local foods. On average, non-local food travels 1640 kilometers from farm to store. That’s a lot of fuel burned and carbon emitted. Now, in peak harvest season, free your diet from the weight of these greenhouse gases by shopping at the farmers’ market and buying local produce when it appears in supermarkets. To find a farmers’ market near you, type in your zip code at

2. Buy organic when you can afford it.

Organic is not always more expensive. Wal-mart continues its commitment to buying organic, which you can also find in Costco. In the frozen meals section, Amy’s organic meals are priced in the same range as Stouffer’s, Lean Cuisine and other conventional brands, from $3.99- $4.99 a box. We buy organic tofu for half the price in our neighborhood Whole Foods as in our conventional supermarket. Plus, organic is posed to be priced ever more competitively because it uses less petrochemical inputs dependent on the price of oil.

When organic is more expensive, be selective. Buy it where it matters, in the types of produce that, if conventionally produced, carry the most dangerous pesticide residues. Peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines and strawberries top EWG’s list of foods better bought organic. Download the full list and handy wallet card at

3. Buy whole, not processed, foods. When you do buy processed foods, doublecheck how many ounces you’re getting for the price.

4. Eat less red meat. Sources of protein such as tofu and beans are generally 30-40 percent cheaper than animal products. Replace at least one red meat meal a week with an all-vegetarian meal. And a study published this April found that , on average, red meat is around 150% more greenhouse-gas-intensive than chicken or fish. For the full study, click here.

5. Clip “green” coupons online and pick up and use fliers at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and your local co-op and health food stores.

6. Make your own cookies, cakes and pies. And, make hay (and preserve fruits and tomatoes) while the sun shines!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mother's Day green driving tips

Like Earth Day, Mother's Day should be celebrated every day. Of course, if you're within driving distance of your mom, you may feel guilty for not visiting her this weekend. But some may feel the sting of green guilt associated with carbon emissions and our dependence on fossil fuels, which results in ever-more aggressive oil exploration, drilling, and disasters like the horrific Gulf spill.

Cars are responsible for one quarter of the United States’ annual carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, and an average American’s car produces 2750 pounds of carbon per year. Taking light rail cuts out 1366 pounds and a city bus cuts 804 pounds of carbon annually, and of course, biking and walking doesn’t give off any carbon emissions at all.

How to make Mom (and yourself) happy without wounding the planet?
The simplest greenest answer would be to not drive, and send local organic flowers, wine & cheese, and chocolates (delivered by a business in Mom's locale), instead.

That said...would Mom really prefer a material gift to a material hug from YOU? Just in case, here are some tips that will increase your fuel efficiency when you drive.

Did you know that road rage can cost you? According to the Department of Energy’s fuel economy guide, aggressive driving, such as speeding, rapid acceleration and braking to get around that jerk on the bike, lowers gas mileage by 33% at highway speeds and 5% at city speeds. Also, Big Green Purse reports that most cars hit their optimal fuel economy at 60 miles per hour (mph), so every additional 5 mph after that costs you an extra $0.l0 in gas. And remember: a little care and consideration in your driving habits may save you more than gas someday.
Ever wonder why Granddad’s 20 year old Cadillac still had such a smooth ride? Chances are he spent every weekend tinkering with it in the driveway, which both lengthens the life of a car and increase its fuel economy. The Department of Energy states that certain types of serious engine maintenance, such as replacing a busted oxygen sensor, can increase your fuel efficiency by as much as 40%. Keeping tires properly inflated will increase efficiency by 3.3% and regularly cleaning your air filter can improve efficiency by as much as 10%. Guess Granddad was greener than he realized.

For more info on green products: Celebrate Mother's Day by giving Mom, and yourself, a subscription to our free newsletter at the website that belongs to this blog:, and enter our giveaway for a $25 organic cosmetics gift certificate! For lists of top green products Mom will love, from personal care to wine, chocolate and fairly traded, sustainably produced clothing and shoes, see my new book, Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

How to green your dirty laundry

How to green your dirty laundry

There are some crazy ideas floating around the scientific community on how to combat global warming. Pumping gigatons of sulfur into the atmosphere; dumping iron into the ocean; and launching trillions of tiny mirrors into space to deflect the sun’s rays are just a few of the more radical solutions to the planetary crisis. But before you stand on your roof and hold up a mirror, remember that the only real, lasting solution to climate change is lifestyle change. We’ve got to stop using so much darn carbon! Today, GreenerPenny looks at the American household’s biggest energy waster according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy: laundry. Waste from doing laundry is huge. The average clothes washer emits 160 pounds of carbon a year; the average dryer, 2,224 pounds. The average American does 400 loads of laundry per year, which amounts to 13,500 gallons of water, or enough for one person’s lifetime supply of drinking water. In this era of peak oil and peak water, what can you do to green your dirty laundry? When you load up, make sure to run entire loads to get the most out of your water, and use the cold setting whenever possible. The ACEEE states that the hot water setting is responsible for 90% of the energy used to run the washer, and costs 5 to 10 times more. Running just half your loads in cold water will cut out 72 pounds of carbon annually. Washers last for about 11 years, so if you bought yours in 1997 or earlier, it’s probably time for a replacement. Opt for an Energy Star model. Over 11 years, one of these energy- and water-saving models will save you $500 and enough water for 6 people’s lifetimes. The clothes dryer is the biggest carbon emitter in this equation, and the simplest answer is to not use it. Take advantage of summer days by line-drying your laundry. Again, even drying only half your loads this way cuts out 723 pounds of carbon per year according to the Green Guide’s global warming calculator. (Some homeowners’ associations have regulations against line drying laundry, calling it “unsightly,” but the national Right to Dry movement has your back on this one.) Line drying may not be an option if it’s snowing outside, so when you do crank up the dryer, make sure you’re using the auto-dry setting rather than the timed setting. Most better-quality dryers have moisture sensors in the drum and automatically shut off as soon as your clothes are dry. Other less efficient models test the temperature of the exhaust air to infer dryness. Either option is better than the timer, which can over-dry your clothes, waste energy, shorten clothing lifespan, and generate pesky static electricity. And try to dry multiple loads in quick succession to take advantage of residual heat. If mirrors in space sounds like a cartoon episode to you, make a habit of going green with your laundry and other common household chores. Future generations will thank you.
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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Saving Money by Going Green

Saving Money by Going Green

The average American household spends $1400 a year on electricity and that number is only going up. In the waning days of summer, how can the average consumer cut energy costs and become more eco-friendly at the same time? We at GreenerPenny have some tips to save both your hard-earned salary and your planet in peril.
As the planet heats up, so may the urge to crank the air conditioner. But the average AC produces 2,263 pounds of carbon per year and accounts for 22% of an average household’s total energy bill. You can cut out 121 pounds of carbon per year by raising the AC to the ideal temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit. And Consumer Reports states that for every thermostat degree raised, you save 3% on cooling costs.
If 78 degrees still sounds too hot for your home to handle, get creative with fans, window shades, and lighting. Electric fans placed near the AC and in the shady parts of the room will blow cooler air into the hotter, sunny parts. Consider investing in an Energy Star rated ceiling fan, which uses 20% less energy than the standard model. Keeping the lights off, the curtains drawn, and the sunrays out will also cool your rooms. Low cost, eco-friendly window tinting is available at Snap Tint or Solar Gard and can save you 15% on your electricity bill.
The AC isn’t the only energy-waster in the house; many of your appliances have “stand-by power,” which means they are sucking electricity even when they aren’t being used. Computers, televisions, and other entertainment devices, the biggest stand-by culprits, produce 2,105 pounds of carbon annually, so unplugging these appliances will save $110 on your electricity bill and 283 pounds of carbon per year. Try plugging these appliances into power strips that can be turned off when they aren’t being used. A good investment is a Smart Strip Power Strip, which automatically turns off itself and your peripheral devices when your computer shuts down.
Even plumbing can be made more energy efficient. Most water heaters are set to 140 degrees Fahrenheit and produce 3,419 pounds of carbon per year. But according to the Environmental Protection Agency, you can decrease heating costs by as much as 10% and cut out 479 pounds of carbon annually by turning your water heater down to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lastly, be mindful of energy habits. Careless energy waste, such as not turning off lights when you leave a room, is a luxury that you and the planet can no longer afford. By adopting these and other easy, eco-friendly practices, you can reduce your carbon footprint and save hundreds of dollars every year in energy costs.
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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Phthalate-and Paraben-free Cosmetics List

The skin is a highly absorptive organ. We want to preserve our skin, but not, of course, with carcinogenic preservatives. Alas, paraben preservatives (methyl-, butyl-, and so forth), which provoke the growth of breast cancer cells in lab studies, are still common in cosmetics. So are phthalates, hormone-disrupting chemicals linked to obesity in men and genital abnormalities in infant boys. Although they’re widely used in synthetic fragrances, you won’t see “phthalates” on any cosmetic label, because fragrance components are protected as trade secrets.

To further complicate the search for nontoxic personal care, few companies list their ingredients on websites, forcing the concerned consumer to stand on tired feet in store aisles reading labels, while balancing bags and trying not to block other shoppers. So Greener Penny has done that research for you.

Following is a list of companies that make paraben- and phthalate-free lip balms, and lotions and creams for face, hands and body. Their sunblocks, if any, use only the natural minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as active ingredients, containing no synthetic, suspected hormone disrupting chemicals such as benzophenone-3, which is found in 97% of Americans’ bodies, as reported by Environmental Health Perspectives.

CO means that the product contains certified organic plant ingredients. USDA certified organic means that the whole product is certified organic, containing at minimum 95% CO ingredients. BDIH is an EU seal barring all petroleum-based ingredients. The new Natural Products Association (NPA) seal strictly limits chemical processing and additives.
GreenerPenny’s Best Nontoxic Skin Care Products List

Aubrey Organics CO

Burts Bees NPA Note: While Burt's persists in listing “fragrance,” usually a tell-tale giveaway of phthalates, company reps have repeatedly assured us that their fragrances are phthalate-free. We believe Burt's; the company is a co-founder of the new Natural Products Association seal, which specifies no parabens or phthalates, and signatory of the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, which pledges to not to use toxins in products.

Dr. Bronner’s Magic and Sundog USDA certified organic

Dr. Hauschka , BDIH.

Dropwise, CO

Hawaiian Body Products

Healing Anthropology

Jason Natural Organics and Earth’s Best Organic Sunblock

Juice Organics, 70% CO

Karen’s Botanicals

Kathy’s Family

(lotion comes in stroke-on bars)

Kimberly Sayer


MoonValley (lotion comes in bars)

Origins Organics ; some, but not all, of its skin care line is USDA certified organic, but most products have at least 87% CO.

Pangea Organics, CO

Planet Botanicals, CO Purity Cosmetics

Sensibility Soaps’ Nourish Organic Body Lotions USDA certified organic

Suki ,, CO, fair trade

Terressentials ,
CO, and body lotions come in flower essences or fragrance free

Weleda NPA and BDIH certified

Specific Products

We also like the following unique products that are free of the worst chemicals, although other lines by the companies may contain ingredients of concern such as parabens, phthalates, cocamidopropyl betaine and sodium cocoyl sarcosate.

Avalon Organics Botanicals: Therapeutic Hand & Body Lotion with Ylang Ylang, and vitamin C and lavender face creams

Ecco Bella facial moisturizer, 70% CO; but caution, at least one of their Ecco Bella body lotions contain parabens

Kiss My Face Obsessively Organic Lime Chamomile Tighten Up Moisturizer , CO

Origins says that it has reformulated all its products to be free of parabens, and that old ones on shelves will be replaced with reformulated products as they’re sold. Origins Hydrating Body Lotion, has 87% CO, and the Organic Consumers Association test, below, found it had no detectable residue of 1, 4 dioxane.

Physicians Formula tinted moisturizer and foundation, SPF 15

Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value Body Lotion

Tip: Moisturizing oils are generally simpler and purer than thicker butters and potions. On the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep database, , oils often get a greener rating than creams by the same maker.

Other Toxic Ingredients

For the lists above, we also screened for other problematic ingredients. These include ethoxylated chemicals (including PEG, propylene glycol; phenoyxethanol, ethylene oxide, and sodium laureth sulfate), made by a process that can produce carcinogenic 1,4, dioxane as a byproduct. A recent study by Organic Consumers Association found 1.4 dioxane residues in many products with organic and natural on their labels. In addition, while originally based on coconut oil, cocamidopropyl betaine and sodium cocoyl sarcosate are processed in ways that may release carcinogenic nitrosamines.

Least-toxic, natural alternatives to synthetic preservatives include Grapeseed oil and grapefruit seed oil , which raise no health concerns, according to EWG’s Skin Deep database; however, grapefruit seed extract , used in skin toners and astringents, can sometimes be contaminated with parabens, triclosan (an antibacterial that contributes to the growth of resistant bacteria) and benzethonium chloride, another iffy preservative, according to EWG. See also the helpful glossary of ingredients published by Terressentials.

Questions? Just ask Mindy on our home page. For more green living and product tips, subscribe to our free monthly e-newsletter at, tweet with us at and search for on Facebook. Thanks!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

One-stop-shop, paraben-free personal care

Happy Earth Week!

A reader asks:

It's still so confusing even after visiting the Skin Deep site ( I'd like one brand for all skin, hair and body. Even the most talked of para free products still have it showing up here and there. And during pregnancy is there any ingredient I should stay away from?

--Staci in MN

Dear Staci,

It's true that, for different types of products--shampoo, moisturizer, lotion--there can be variations in ingredients by the same maker. And who's got time to read labels on every product? That's why Greenerpenny does it for you.

Because they're readily available, and you want a simple answer, I recommend these brands: Aubrey Organics , Terressentials, Whole Foods 365 and Burt's Bees , all of which make hair and skin products that are free of those darned paraben chemical preservatives, which are linked to breast cancer and hormone disruption.

When pregnant, the cosmetics ingredient that's most prevalent and important to avoid is synthetic fragrance, commonly listed as "fragrance" on labels, as it may contain hormone-disrupting phthalates; choose products that instead of catch-all "fragrance" list plant essential oils. Aubrey, Whole Foods 365 and Terressentials, among others, do so.

Rare but dangerous to fetuses and nursing babies is lead, still present in some cosmetics. Avoid lipsticks on this list.