Sunday, November 21, 2010

For Lead-free Shopping Bags, choose organic or recycled cloth, not plastic.

Shopping with reusable bags, and not taking disposable bags, is one of the greenest little things you can do, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. But last week, reusable bags were dealt a p.r. blow when brain-damaging lead was found in plastic models sold by some CVS, Winn-Dixie and Publix stores. Tests of the shopping bags found the neurotoxic heavy metal to be present "potentially unsafe levels," The New York Times reported . Note: When it comes to children's health, there is no safe level of lead, which collects in the body and causes irreversible developmental harm.

The Tampa Tribune, which paid for some of the tests, warned that the lead content could qualify the bags as hazardous waste Wegman's recalled its own reusable bags due to lead in September of this year.

The recycled-plastic bags are made in China, which also produces lead-contaminated toys , millions, but not all, of which are recalled every year. Because so much lead in paint, ink and plastic goes undetected in consumer products, it's a good idea to treat any plastic bag--reusable or disposable--with caution, especially if it's worn and crumbling, and/or ink is flaking off.

An easy solution: Choose totes made from certified organic or recycled fiber, like these organic cotton bags from Mimi the Sardine. Both from Oliveand .

Do try to avoid vinyl (PVC #3) lunch boxes, bags, toys, shower curtains, raincoats, lunch pails and other products, because PVC plastic is often made with lead and toxic phthalates.

Top 10 Green Holiday Gift and Decorating Ideas

Simplify the Holidays: Less Waste, Less Stress, Fewer Things, More Time

1. Make the season bright--and energy efficient--with Light Efficient Diode (LED) lights, like these holiday LED strings by Martha Stewart at Home Depot. Give LED lightbulbs, too, for year-round use: They're 25x more efficient than incandescent bulbs, mercury-free, and last 10x longer than compact fluorescents (CFLs).

2. Make D.I.Y. ornaments by reusing and recycling materials like shredded paper and these bottle caps, which aren't recycled by municipalities although the containers, if made of #1, #2 or #5, are. Photo by Natalie McKinney, Kokua Hawaii Foundation.

3. Give locally grown and/or organic, heirloom food. Baskets of fresh farmers' market produce or dried fruit and nuts, cheese platters, gift boxes of dried pasta, bottled pesto and olive oil, homebaked treats, you name it, won't go to waste! Top it off with organic, fairly traded chocolate.

You can send organic whole foods and prepared meals from Diamond Organics ( A great source of tasty organic meat is, or you can find a local purveyor of organic or grass-fed meats by typing in your zip code at Indulge in hand-crafted American artisanal cheeses made from the milk of grass-fed cows, sheep and goats, from, and more.

The holidays, when we observe traditions, are an ideal time to sample heirloom foods that keep gene pools diverse and healthy. Treat your family to the unique taste of a free-Range heritage turkey or pampered pig; see for a state-by-state listing of farmers who raise native breeds of fowl, as well as special regional vegetables, fruits and meats.

Get a sustainable taste of the wild-- Alaska salmon, that is--free of toxins and not overfished. It’s not in season fresh right now, so buy it smoked from or

Organic coffee is being produced from Sumatra to Colombia to Hawaii, USA. When it’s also shade-grown, beneath a forest canopy that provides a home to migratory songbirds, and is produced by farmer cooperatives under fair trade standards, coffee is one of the most well-rounded green choices you can find. Meeting all three standards are Batdorf & Bronson ( and Grounds for Change (

4. Give time and togetherness.
Among its top 12 ways to simplify the holidays, Kokua Hawaii Foundation
suggests giving redeemable "service certificates" for tasks you or a child can perform, such as: good for one car wash, one homemade meal. We might add an hour's worth working in the garden, helping with shopping and carrying groceries, sweeping the front steps.

5. Buy a live local tree, and plant it after the holidays in your yard, city park or botanical garden. You'll find a place!

6. Give a plastics and (mostly) paper-free party. My friend Sarah rents wineglasses, for example. It’s so nice having real glass instead of plastic, which affects the taste of the wine. I just bought a lot of vintage wine glasses from a neighbor's yard sale where I ran into Cristal. Use lightweight, renewablebamboo plates and bowls, or Recycline’s colorful dinnerware made of recycled milk jugs. Organic cotton and hemp or secondhand cloth napkins and dishcloths /can work even in large parties, but for best, post-consumer recycled paper goods, click here..

7. Choose gifts that are minimally packaged, or not at all. Culture’s the ticket: No matter where you live, you can give tickets to theatre, concerts, art exhibits, aquariums and natural history museumsl or services, such as yoga or dance classes, piano, drawing or pottery lessons, in your recipient’s locale. No shipping, no fuel miles.

8. Good green drinks. Give and toast with certified organic wine,
gin, vodka and rum from,and beers, including several varieties from Non-alcoholic options include R.W. Knudsen’s organic grape (choose red for resveratrol), apple and orange carrot juice from

9. Treat a hard-cooking loved one to a truly special night out at a restaurant that uses locally produced and organic foods. Search at Chefs Collaborative.

10. Buy local whenever possible. It's the strongest and most rewarding connection you can make. Search for sustainably produced goods made and sold in your vicinity in the Organic Consumers Association Buying Guide, and Green America's(formerly Co-op America) National Green Pages.

During the holidays and beyond: Visit loved ones. You don’t have to entertain them, just be yourself and listen. Even if you have to fly a long distance and pay to offset your carbon emissions and assuage your conscience, it’s totally worth it.

Want more simple green living tips? Subscribe to our free monthly e-newsletter at Follow us at and on GreenerPenny’s Facebook page.

See more tips, and make a pledge to simplify your holidays at Kanu Hawaii(they have a cool calculating widget to show how many trees and how much carbon you've saved) and Center for a New American Dream, whose 2009 holiday tips pamphlet is on their website now.

Gifts that Give Back to the Earth

Contribute directly, or as a gift on behalf of a caring person on your list, to non-profits that work to save our planet and, therefore, ourselves.

Waste for Life teams design and engineering students and professionals with members of poor communities worldwide, from Argentina to Lesotho,in projects that make sustainable building materials out of trash. These 5 reasons to donate to Waste for Life can apply to most green and fair trade non-profit organizations. Be as generous as you can this year!

After this summer's tragic oil spill in the Gulf, the ocean and its threatened species need a lot of loving care. Adopt the Gulf or arctic seas, and denizens from porpoises to polar bears, with a gift to Oceana. Adopt 4 animals and get sea creature cookie cutters (I can't resist)! Contribute to the Blue Frontier Campaign. Support the work of Environmental Defense Fund, which works out ways to sustain natural resources, such as fisheries, in partnership with local industries such as small fishermen. Become a member of, and donate to, your local aquarium, or, if you haven't got one nearby, to one of the active ocean/estuary conservation organizations such as San Francisco's Aquarium of the Pacific .

Sponsor a specific national park or wilderness area through Sierra Club. Even Yosemite, Yellowstone and Sequoia need help! You can do so paper-free for $20 and up.If your recipient is a child, $25 will garner a stuffed animal (cougar, wolf) of a species that lives in that place, plus pictures and info.
And do check out Sierra columnist Avital Binschtock's generous roundup of fun, fresh, appealing fair trade and environmental gift ideas at Sierra Club's The Green Life blog .

Some green organizations offer some ungreen swag as membership premiums, such as petroleum-based plastic backpacks and the lot. That's why I'm stoked by Surfrider Foundation's organic cotton cap and tote in their membership package. Giving a membership supports annual state of the beach events, protection of ocean water quality, coastal open space and beach environments, marine life and habitat, and most of all, our waves!

Kokua Hawaii Foundation, which seeks to eliminate plastic waste and supports green education in public schools and community agriculture, gives an organic cotton bag to new members. In their store, you can buy prganic cotton onesies for babies and clean wave graphics on organic tshirts for grownups.

For other ethical giving opportunities, click here.

Want more simple green living tips? Subscribe to our free monthly e-newsletter at Follow us at and become a fan on GreenerPenny’s Facebook page.

Green holiday wrap, cards, and shipping: buy local, d.i.y., order early

During the holidays, Americans toss out 25% more waste. Two words that make the season green: Waste Not! Saving paper and packaging for reuse saves trees, and sending gifts by ground rate, not by 2-day-air or overnight, saves fuel. Both reduce carbon emissions.

*Tree-free Gift Wrap
Try not to buy readymade gift wrap, or any paper made from virgin trees rather than post-consumer-recycled paper.

Last week, when I was Terri Trespicio's guest on Martha Stewart's Whole Living Sirius Radio show , listeners called in with some creative ideas for reused, reusable gifts, wraps and cards. One woman, who grew up in India,continues the Diwali festival tradition of giving gifts of food in stainless steel containers wrapped in fabric and embellished with fresh flowers.

Another listener has her kids "shop" their basement for gifts, like forgotten but tools and art supplies. A seamstress sews fabric gift bags that her recipients can reuse. Another collects old Christmas cards from friends that don't want them and repurposes them into new cards and gift tags.

My friend Cristal wraps all her Xmas gifts in old scarves found at yard sales.My friend Lexy saves all her daughter’s drawings on butcher paper and wraps gifts in them, although how she parts with these artworks I do not know.

You can reuse any kind of paper or fabric, including newspaper, old maps, magazine & comic pages. Organic cotton dishtowels, handkerchiefs and napkins are doubly green because they're part of the gift. If every family wrapped just 3 gifts this way, it would save enough paper to cover 45 football fields, according to Sierra Club.

Give at least one gift that doesn’t require wrapping, like a colorful bag or box (preferably made of Forest Stewardship Council certified PCR paper) of rainforest-friendly coffee, tea or chocolate.

Holiday Cards.

According to the Greeting Card Association, more than 2.6 billion holiday cards are sent each year. Terri and I discussed whether e-cards are a satisfactory replacement, and concluded that, while certainly sustainably tree-free, they're also rather soulless. We're also old-fashioned enough to treasure real signatures, by hand, over virtual or printed ink.

If you’re sending out traditional holiday cards, look for those with the greatest percentage of post-consumer recycled (PCR) paper or paper that's certified by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as PCR or coming from well-managed forests. National Envelope and sell holiday cards that are certified by the Rainforest Alliance to FSC standards. All of the cards sold by come from FSC certified, responsibly managed forestsPaporganics offers wrapping paper made with 90 percent post consumer recycled with 10 percent hemp, a tree-free fiber, as well organic cotton holiday gift card packs. Or send electronic invitations and cards from or Or spare forests with tree-free fibers, such as hemp, kenaf, banana-stalk or bamboo, or even recycled blue jeans, dollar bills or green tea leaves. *For greetings, Green Field ( sells "Peace" cards made from 100% recycled junk mail; Dolphin Blue ( sells card stock that's 50 percent PCW recycled and 50 percent recovered cotton. Decorate it with your own photos or potato or linoleum cut-out print.

*Shipping News

Order and send gifts early, ideally at least three weeks in advance. Rush air shipping releases more carbon dioxide than standard ground delivery.

Buy from companies that use recycled and recyclable packaging (ask sales reps, or check shipping policies on company websites), for instances, packages items in boxes composed of 25- to 30-percent post-consumer recycled material.

When you shop and buy local, carpool and combine errands to save fuel and emissions.

Want more simple green living tips? Subscribe to our free monthly e-newsletter at Follow us at and become a fan on GreenerPenny’s Facebook page.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Do One Green Thing for Your Holiday Travel

Transportation is responsible for 28 percent of U.S. annual carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Every gallon of gasoline burned releases 24-28 pounds of CO2. It's about the same for jet fuel, according to the Tufts University Office of Sustainability. With a national average fuel inefficiency of 19.1 miles per gallon, each car is responsible for releasing 2,750 lbs. of C02 annually. Per seat, on average, every airplane passenger is responsible for burning about 77 gallons of fuel in a 2500 mile cross-country flight, according to this roundup of air travel studies by . That's about 1,555 pounds of CO2!

But hey, it's the holidays. It's all about family togetherness, and families are far-flung. How can we prevent hurt feelings without wounding the planet? Here are some tips from the transportation chapter of my book, Do One Green Thing.

If you can do just one green thing to green your transportation, take the train.

Riding the train cross-country reduces your carbon footprint for the trip in half compared with flying, to 775 pounds of CO2. For commuting and shopping, taking light rail instead of driving reduces your annual transportation greenhouse gases by 1,366 pounds. No light rail in your locale? Take the bus. Commuting by city bus cuts 804 pounds of carbon per annum.

If you've got to drive, it's merrier, greener and cheaper not to go alone. Car pooling spreads expenses and carbon emissions among riders.

*Zipcar car sharing services can now be found in more than 50 cities and 100 universities.

*Car rental companies, which have been offering hybrids for a while, are now branching out into electric vehicles.

No matter what you drive, here are some tips that will increase your fuel efficiency when you drive.

*Drop the road rage. 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.

*Keep your car in tune, tires correctly inflated, and change the oil regularly. 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.

Check out our other seasonal tips at

For a one-stop, well-organized green living guide full of tips, product info and shopping lists in every category, from food and drink to cleaning, appliances, lighting, electronics, recycling, clothing and more on transportation, see my book, Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How to Find Heritage Turkeys and Other Green Thanksgiving Tips

Just caved and ordered a fresh antiobiotic-free, family-farmed Diestel turkey from my local Whole Foods, which also sells Mary's heirloom and organic birds. I was going to order a frozen organic from my food co-op, Kokua Natural Foods, but given my pre-holiday work deadlines, I couldn't trust myself to defrost safely in time. I confess, I view this choice as a lesser evil, because although Diestel's is not a huge industrial factory farm, I can't rely on "free range" or "humane" claims unless they're backed up with third-party-verified seals such as Certified Humane, which forbid cruel practices such as debeaking. When Whole Foods rolls out its long-anticipated Global Animal Partnership ratings for animal welfare later this year, we'll see how they rate the companies whose products they sell.

I compromised, because stress does not make for a holiday! I personally know two women who literally broke their backs while taking 20-lb. Thanksgiving turkeys from the oven. That’s not sustainable! Although I like to eat turkey, as a child I was disturbed by the mass seasonal slaughter and the deadening conformity of nearly every household’s cooking and eating the same thing on the same day.

Now I realize that what I actually oppose are industrial factory farms, and thecommodification of what was originally a local and spiritual feast of thanks for good fellowship and food.

Below are a few ideas for sustaining yourself, your community and the planet.

* Give to the hungry. Donate dollars to non-profit organizations in your community that serve free meals to the needy. For where to take food, locate your local food bank, participating supermarkets and other distribution channels through Feeding America.

* Eat out if you like. While cooking whole foods at home most days is better for the budget and health, it’s a holiday! Don’t break your back.

To find a green restaurant near you that serves local and sustainably produced food, type in your zip code at Eat Well Guide. Within 20 miles of my Honolulu home I found 12 restaurants ranging from gourmet Alan Wong’s to health food bars.

Eat conformity-free. “My brother and I decided to eat out and only eat desserts. We'll skip the turkey, dressing and side dishes,” writes my friend Julio Vega, a creative director and book designer in New York City. I feel lighter already!

* Find local produce and animal products, farmers’ markets and farm stands at Local Harvest

*Vegetables can make the meal, and not just for vegans.

Thanks to Paul Rauber, senior editor at Sierra Magazine, for sharing “my fabulous brussel sprout side dish that even brussel sprout haters like. Trim ends off sprouts, slice thinly. Saute in brown butter (or just butter) until they begin to brown. Add stock to not even cover, plus roasted walnuts or pecans. Cook maybe 5 minutes, squeeze on a spritz of lemon, and there you go. It's from Alice Waters' Vegetables. Have a great day!”

And why not stuff a squash instead of a bird? My Aunt Claire makes a succulent roast pumpkin filled with apples, cranberries, raisins, nuts and grains. Check out these recipes at .

Food for thought: “Animal, Vegetable, Miserable,” by vegan philosopher Gary Steiner, in the Sunday New York Times.

* Turkey shopping? Choose heritage, organic and/or certified humane. Call your local natural and health food supermarkets.

Heritage birds are registered breeds such as the Narragansett, the first domesticized turkey in the U.S. Buying them helps preserve a diverse gene pool. Plus, they’re able to breed naturally, unlike the industrial Broad-Breasted Bronzes or Whites, whose bodies are too heavy and legs too short for sport. Your bird might also be a Bourbon Red, White Holland, Royal Palm, or Standard Bronze. We got a Bourbon Red from Mary’s Turkeys. We could tell because it’s, ahem, flat-chested, lacking the “high, raised keel bone” that characterizes a Naragansett, according to Mary.

Thinking ahead to December, you can order heritage poultry, meat, wine, and artisanal cheeses through Heritage Foods USA, the retail arm of Slow Foods USA.

Organic turkeys have to be raised without antibiotics and eat organic, vegetarian feed free of GMOs and pesticides. Make sure it displays the USDA Certified Organic label. certified organic ranch; guaranteed no GMOs, no pesticides.

Is there a dif from a taste point of view? “Organic has a larger breast, heritage has larger thighs,” says Mary of Mary’s turkeys.

Philosophically, we favor humane animal welfare labels that guarantee the creature had had freedom to move about, clean quarters, fresh air, a vegetarian diet, and was slaughtered with minimal suffering. The most reliable labels are certified humane, food alliance and animal welfare approved.
Need a turkey recipe? We like Maria Rodale’s.

*Pumpkin Pie? Buy fresh farmers’ market kabocha/acorn squash or canned organic pumpkin. While there’s a reported shortage of conventional canned pumpkin, shelves at natural food stores are well-stocked with organic in cans. Find regular and vegan (dairy free) recipes here.

*Prepare for Psychic Survival with Sierra Club’s Thanksgiving how-to-cope guide. Provides witty, fact-based ripostes to environment-bashing table talk.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Top green humane poultry, meat & dairy labels

Best Green, Humane Picks

If you eat animals but care about how they live and die, and felt discomfited by recent reports on chicken slaughter methods, rest assured there are humane alternatives. Look for third-party-verified, certified humane labels on poultry, eggs, dairy, and meat. Independent third-party vetting of claims is the gold green standard, as opposed to industry self-verification, which cannot be objective. The following seals mean that antibiotics are given only to sick animals; no growth hormones are administered; and feeding of animal parts to animals is prohibited. Animals are not confined in cages, and specific humane slaughtering requirements must be followed to qualify for the labels below (pasture/grass requirements are noted where applicable).

Animal Welfare Approved: This family farm label guarantees that cows and chickens spend most of their lives outdoors in the fields; has very specific humane handling and shelter standards; and gets top ratings from the World Society for Protection of Animals.

Certified Humane: Pasture time is not specified, although humane shelter (enough space to freely move about; no crates, cages, or being tied in stalls) and handling are.

Food Alliance Certified: Sets clear standards for lifetime access to pasture and humane treatment, including slaughtering. (See Food Alliance now has an additional, exclusively grassfed label

Demeter Biodynamic (meat, milk, cheese, eggs): Animals are guaranteed outdoor time at least partially on grass, and may not be confined.

American Grassfed Association (ruminant meat & dairy): Cows, sheep, and goats eat grass, period, and this standard requires that they spend most of their lives outside, in a pasture. Third-party-certified by the Food Alliance (see later in this list). Sick animals, if given antibiotics, are removed from the program.

Maine Quality Trademark (milk): No growth hormones are used; animal welfare is respected.

Good and Green but Not Guaranteed Humane

USDA Certified Organic: Better for you, but not necessarily for the animals. They eat only 100 percent certified organic grass, corn, or grain, and sick animals given antibiotics are removed from the program. While it's required that animals have “access” to pasture, this is currently not clearly defined except, since February 2010, for dairy cows. In the autumn of 2010 USDA is considering similar outdoor living guarantees for poultry. Human slaughtering is not addressed.

Lesser Labels: Not Third-Party Verified

United Egg Producer Certified: There is no third-party verification of humane treatment of creatures,nor pasture/outdoor acess requirement.

Cage-Free, Free Range or Free Roaming: There is no guarantee that the cows, chickens, or other animals actually got outdoors, and no third-party verification that they are not caged or confined, the Humane Society warns.

“Grass Fed”: The USDA defines this as the animal ate only 100 percent grass in its life, but third-party verification is not required.

USDA “Naturally Raised”: These products contain no hormones* or artificial colorings, and only a few antibiotics are allowed, but there’s no third-party verification.

Excerpted from my book Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices (St Martin's Press, 2010).

For more green news and product tips on food, cleaning, personal care, plastics and more, come to our home page,, where you can also send me an email and ask me questions.

Mindy Pennybacker

Friday, October 22, 2010

The trick to a Green Halloween: organic, vegan, healthier treats

For a safe fun Halloween: When it comes to costumes, I vote for fresh air, preferring props that don't cover the face, especially masks made of toxic PVC vinyl (for my PVC lecture, see bottom of this blog). When it comes to treats,the main attraction, adults know to check kids' loot bags for safety, and this includes reading labels to make sure, at minimum, candies come from identifiable and traceable sources. Then, if you can, nix the high-fructose-corn syrup and hydrogenated vegetable oils, organic or not! If your child brings home unlabeled candies, “trade” them for organic, fairly traded treats--the ones you've been giving out, of course, as a good green parent and community member.
Green Halloween Sweet Treats:
Endangered Species organic "bug bites" and more
Annie's Organics vegan (no gelatin) little packets of gummi bunnies
: Lake Champlain's new individual wrapped organic chocolate squares Newman's Own Organic chocolate cups, cookies, soy crisps Sweet Earth foil-wrapped milk and dark chocolate coins;
Yummy Earth organic, gluten-free individually wrapped lollipops, check out their super-natural ingredients Sour Z treats or Gummy Worms
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

For a handy organic, fair trade chocolate, mobile-handy shopping guide, click here, and check out the other product lists and criteria at
Be sure to visit our homepage,, for news, updates, to ask me any questions and sign up, if you like, for our free monthly newsletter!
And plse check your local or online bookstore for my green living book full of practical tips, the latest science, and recommended products, Do One Green Thing.
Remember...screen, then have a screaming good time!

*For more info on phthalates in synthetic fragrance and plastics, and how to avoid them, click here

Thursday, October 21, 2010

d.i.y. green glass cleaner

Thanks to Terri Trespicio, Jennifer Sendrow and the other folks at Martha Stewart Radio for inviting me this morning to talk about green money-saving tips!

In response to one listener's call-in question, here is a fume-free, effective cleaner for your glass shower doors, mirrors, glass table tops, windows, whatever, from my book, Do One Green Thing.

Glass Cleaner
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
3-4 drops liquid plant-based soap

Mix in a spray bottle, spray and wipe off with newspaper!

For more tips and to ask me questions, come to

Sunday, September 19, 2010

From my Garden to my Kitchen to my Belly

After only 5 weeks of tending my garden several of the plants began to ripen and offer their abundance. First off, most of the herbs became full enough to allow me to harvest small handfuls. Helpful Tip: Many of the herbs actually do better when you use them regularly and keep them pruned. Allowing an herb grow overly full, or letting it flower, causes the plant to expend too much of its energy nourishing the flowers while the flavorful parts - such as the leaves - suffer and wither. Several times I've had to prune the flowers off the cilantro, basil, Thai basil, chives and thyme. Now by late summer my garden is at its peak, overflowing with vegetables and herbs. Here comes the fun part: Eating!

I've made an array of dishes this summer: fresh mojitos with the mint; tomato-basil and mozzarella salads with the basil and tomatoes; flavorful omelets with the chives and spring onions; soup with the eggplant, onions, garlic, and chilies; and a tasty white wine and butter sauce for scallops using the chives, spring onions and tarragon. (See below for some of these recipes).

Fresh Mojitios
- 10 fresh mint leaves
- Crushed ice
- Rum
- Freshly squeezed lime juice
- Sugar
1. Rinse and wash the mint leaves
2. In a glass mix the crushed ice and mint leaves. Muddle until the leaves are partly broken up (in order to disperse the minty flavor).
3. Over the mint and ice, pour the rum and lime juice. Half rum, half lime juice - or adjusted depending on how strong you desire your drink.
4. Mix in the sugar to taste. Stir until all ingredients are mixed well. Enjoy cold!

Tomato-Basil Mozzarella salad
- 3 tomatoes
- About 3/4 cup of fresh mozzarella
- 5-10 basil leaves
- Olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- Salt, pepper
1. Slice the tomatoes and mozzarella into small bite-sized pieces. Mingle together in a serving bowl.
2. Rinse and wash the basil leaves. Cut or tear the leaves into thirds and mix into the salad.
3. Sprinkle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the salt. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve fresh.

Eggplant Soup

- 1 eggplant, sliced in thin discs
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves crushed garlic
- 1 chili pepper, finely diced (optional, if you like spice)
- Olive oil
- 1 28-oz. can of crushed tomatoes
- 2-3 chicken bouillon cubes (or vegetable bouillon cubes)1 1/2 cups water
- 1 small yellow squash, cubed
- 1 8-oz. can of corn
- 1 14-oz. can of black beans

1. Saute the eggplant discs with the onions, garlic and chili pepper until slightly browned. Add generous amounts of olive oil while frying.
2. In large saucepan combine the can of crushed tomatoes with the sauteed eggplant, onions and garlic. Add the bouillon cubes, water and squash and bring to a boil. Sprinkle additional olive oil in soup, if desired.
3. Add the black beans (include the liquid in the can) and the corn. Continue simmering for about 20-30 minutes, or until the vegetables reach desired consistency for soup.
4. Remove from heat, add salt and pepper as desired.

White Wine and Butter Scallops
- 12-15 fresh medium sized sea scallops
- 1/4 cup white wine (I used a Sauvignon Blanc)
- 1 stick butter
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- Handful of chives
- 2 spring onions
- 4 tarragon leaves
- 3 garlic cloves
- 3/4 cup of baby Portabella mushrooms, sliced
- Olive oil
1. Chop the chives, spring onions, garlic and tear tarragon leaves.
2. In a saucepan mix the white wine, butter, lemon juice, chives, spring onions, garlic and tarragon leaves. Cook on medium heat on the stove top, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts completely. Remove from heat.
3. In a fry pan, sauté the sliced mushrooms, with olive oil and a few sprinkles of the wine-butter mixture, for taste. Bring to a light golden brown. Remove from heat.
4. Lightly sauté the scallops, for about 40 seconds on each side, or just until each side turns slightly brown.
5. Add the wine-butter sauce and the mushrooms to the scallops, and continue cooking on stove top for about 3 more minutes, paying attention to the scallops to ensure that they do not get overdone. Remove from heat.
6. Serve over rice with a side of greens such a bok choi, kale or broccoli.

For information on seafood, such as scallops, see the Enviornmental Defense Fund ( or the Marine Stewardship Council ( Or see chapter 3 of Mindy Pennybacker’s book Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth through Simple, Everyday Choices for more information on fish.

If your garden is lacking a few key ingredients you can still source sustainable, locally grown produce. Visit or to find farms stands and farmers markets near you. See chapter 2 of Mindy Pennybacker’s book Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth through Simple, Everyday Choices for more information on finding local and organic produce.

For BPA-free canned goods, try Eden Organic products (

See chapter 5 of Mindy Pennybacker’s book Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth through Simple, Everyday Choices for food storage and cookware that is healthy for you and the planet.

For information on how and why to eat organic and live green in all areas of daily life for your health and the planet, see GreenerPenny editor Mindy Pennybacker’s book Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth through Simple, Everyday Choices. Visit, to get more green news and tips, sign up for our free monthly e-newsletter, or ask any green living questions that pop into your head!

--by Lindsay Kurz, GreenerPenny web and graphic designer

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Green nontoxic garden pest control: deer fences

Return of the Critters! Just when the herbs and vegetable in my garden began to pop out and things got exciting, the deer wanted in on the action too. Two weeks ago, the kale had grown full and luscious enough that I was just about to harvest my first batch. When I went outside to clip some leaves for dinner I found that someone had been there first: To my dismay, each kale plant had been munched down to leafless stumps! Deer had also nibbled some of the parsley, though they had kindly left about half the leaves.

I quickly sprinkled a generous helping of Rabbit & Deer Scram over the entire garden, but not wanting to risk losing any more of my dinner to the deer I decided it was time to move onto plan B of protecting my garden.

Up until now I had avoided fencing off my garden with netting - as many gardeners do in these parts. I liked that my garden was open, and the fencing was not aesthetically pleasing. At this point, however, I realized that it would either be the fencing or no more vegetables for me to eat.

I soon found that there is a variety of fencing materials, and so I chose materials that were the least intrusive to the look of the garden. I found a light black netting that seems to disappear somewhat into the background because of how lightweight it is. Instead of heavy wooden posts to hold the netting up, I used svelte and sustainable bamboo poles.

I erected 12 bamboo poles around the perimeter and corners of the garden, stretched the black netting around the poles to create a fence and held it in place to the poles with twist ties. One section of the fencing I open and close to enter and exit and hold the netting door in place with twist ties.

The netting fence has been in place for a week. And while I still prefer the garden without the fencing it has seemed to work in keeping the deer away (fingers crossed). The parsley has since recovered and is full again. The kale still looks sad and out of the six kale plants only two have started to recover with small new leaves.

Tools and Materials:

Netting and bamboo poles - Agway or other yard and garden store

Twist ties - saved from old bread loaf packaging

Bio Integral Resource Center ( for common-sense pest control in home and garden.

For information on how and why to eat organic and live green in all areas of daily life for your health and the planet, see GreenerPenny editor Mindy Pennybacker’s book Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth through Simple, Everyday Choices. Visit, to get more green news and tips, sign up for our free monthly e-newsletter, or ask any green living questions that pop into your head!

--by Lindsay Kurz, GreenerPenny web and graphic designer

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Least-toxic garden pest control for deer and weeds

After preparing the soil and planting seedlings, the most labor-intensive portion of gardening was behind me, and I could, I thought, look forward to the more leisurely pursuit of upkeep: weeding, watering, pruning and watching the garden grow. I was delighted that after only four days after planting, the white onions had already sent up small green pips emerging from the soil, the cilantro seemed taller and the basil seemed fuller.

I live in the Northeast, where, thanks to summer rain showers, I do not need to water the garden every day. Every other day or once every three days suffices and helps conserve water, too. At one point I noticed some uninvited mushrooms sprouting alongside the garlic sprouts - a confirmation that my garden was getting enough moisture.

Speaking of the uninvited: Next came woodchucks and rabbits and deer, oh my! A downside of living in the Northeast is that there is no shortage of woodland creatures poised to infiltrate the garden and make a meal of my lovingly tended greens. If only they ate the equally opportunistic weeds, instead!

To stay faithful to the non-polluting and hopefully non-violent ethics of organic gardening, here’s what I did to keep my two main adversaries—deer and weeds—
at bay the least-toxic way. Note on "nontoxic": Even organic essential oils can be toxic if directly or over ingested, so we don't loosely use the term!

Furry Pests

* I surrounded each seedling with a plant cage, making sure it was tightly woven enough to keep rabbits from squeezing through and deep enough, at least 6 ". to at least make burrowers think twice. While cages do nothing to enhance the visual appeal of my garden, they make a difference in keeping woodchucks, rabbits and deer at bay.

*Another trick, which I learned from my mother, is to sprinkle the perimeter of the garden with a powder called "Rabbit + Deer Scram." I purchased the powder at Agway, my local yard and garden store. It is not cheap, but my mother swears by this potion and indeed it has kept the animals mostly away. It is made of powdered blood (a byproduct from slaughterhouses) and powdered herbs and spices such as garlic, peppers and cloves. I would not have been surprised if the directions on the bottle had instructed me to sprinkle this on the garden at night, under a full moon while chanting some spells.

There's also a bloodless remedy, Deer Pharm repellant by Pharm Solutions, which is made with USDA certified organic plant oils.

Deer detest dill, oregano, peppers, sage, and rosemary, So plant ‘em! They’re good eating garden essentials, too. For more on plants that repel deer and other mammals, go to

For great common-sense methods of discerning what pests you’ve got and how to outwit them or remove their cover, see this University of Georgia Cooperative Extention gardeners’ pest control publication. Your nearest USDA ag extension will be glad to help you with their scientific know-how for discouraging local garden pests of all spots and stripes. Find them on USDA's page here.


Weeding the garden is both satisfying and tedious, I find. Using my hands works better and quicker than a weeding tool. A new crop of weeds - mainly clovers, dandelion and stray grasses - seem to crop up every 5 days. It takes about 1 hour each week to make a clean sweep and restore the garden to crisp alternating lines of green plants and dark soil.

For least-toxic control of weeds, Pharm Solutions also makes an organic herbicide.

D.I.Y. solutions include sprinkling gluten meal (left over from making cornstarch), or targeting weeds with white vinegar. For more great tips, see Go Organic Gardening.

See Resources, below, for more organic gardening and least-toxic pest control websites.


Bio Integral Resource Center ( for common-sense pest control in home and garden
Deer + Rabbit Scram - Agway yard and garden store

Plant cages – your local garden supply store

Organic fertilizers, nontoxic pest control for insects, weeds, diseases, from essential oils to green soaps including composters and tools, can be got from Planet Natural,Gardeners Supply Company or Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, which also has canning supplies and sends you a gift of organic seeds with each order.

For information on how and why to eat organic and live green in all areas of daily life for your health and the planet, see GreenerPenny editor Mindy Pennybacker’s book Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth through Simple, Everyday Choices. Visit, to get more green news and tips, sign up for our free monthly e-newsletter, or ask any green living questions that pop into your head!

You can also comment on this blog and I’ll be happy to respond.

--by Lindsay Kurz, GreenerPenny web and graphic designer

Next week: Least-toxic insect control in the garden

Friday, July 23, 2010

How to plan and plant your organic garden

After many hours clearing and tilling the soil of my future vegetable garden , the next step was planning the layout and planting the variety of herbs and vegetables.

I decided to start with seedlings from pony-packs, rather than seeds. My reason was that, because weeds grow quickly and I am not an experienced gardener, I might not be able to differentiate between new sprouts and weeds. Additionally, starting with seedlings allowed me to better line the garden up in the tidy rows I'd envisioned since the idea of a vegetable garden first popped into my head.

While a seed is significantly cheaper than a potted seedling, everything was so relatively cheap to begin with that this small extra cost was worth it to me. For those plants that grow from bulbs – such as onions and garlic – I started simply with the bulbs.

I bought the seedlings at good prices (about $2 on average per plant or pony-pack) from the garden center in Walmart and also from a local garden shop and greenhouse. I also purchased several bags of composted manure from a local dairy farm (). Because it was composted manure there was no smell; it looked and felt like dark rich soil. You can also use compost made from kitchen produce scraps layered with woody "brown" material, or buy organic compost at a garden supply store locally or online.
For more info on compost, see

With a pen and paper I drew out a map, plotting out where each section of plants should go. It's impressive how many herbs and vegetables ultimately fit into that 20' x 15' space ! I planted mint, horseradish, chives, oregano, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, basil, Thai basil, tarragon, sage, parsley, lavender, two varieties of tomato, Serrano peppers, jalapeno peppers, green bell pepper, orange bell pepper, red bell pepper, kale, red onion, white onion, garlic, two varieties of eggplant, yellow squash, cucumber and strawberries.

For each plant, I dug a hole about the size of my head, filled it with the composted manure and tucked the plant in, gently padding down the soil around the base. After planting each herb or vegetable, it's important to water it shortly afterwards. I next made labels, penning the name of each plant with permanent marker on the top of a popsicle stick and planting each popsicle stick next to its respective plant.

Preparing the garden had been an incredible amount of work, and so being able to step back at this point and see the small plants in neat rows was quite rewarding.

--by Lindsay Kurz
Graphic artist and website designer

Editor's Note: On Planning what to Plant

For advice on what to plant in your climate, and when, contact your nearest USDA agricultural extension office.

Tools and Materials:

Potted seedlings:
Seeds of Change /product_details.aspx?item_no=PS17981
Walmart ()
Local garden store
Composted Manure, or homemade or storebought organic compost
Garden shovel, gloves
Popsicle sticks and permanent marker

For more info and tips on living healthily and sustainably, including editorially vetted products and shopping lists, please visit our website,, sign up for our free monthly e-newsletter, and check out Do One Green Thing,the lifestyle book by GreenerPenny founder Mindy Pennybacker.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Synthetic Air Fresheners' Toxic Taint

In winter, when homes are sealed to keep drafts out, make sure you're not breathing toxic chemicals! High on the list of indoor air pollutants are commercial air fresheners. A study published on July 10, 2010 in Environmental Health found that women who used more household cleaning products, including air fresheners and mold removers, had a 2x higher risk of breast cancer. 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 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.
4. For greener cleaning brands, free of the most-toxic ingredients, click here. 5. Here are a "Choose It" list of safe d.i.y. cleaning ingredients, including plant essential oils for air freshening, and a "Lost It" list of ingredients to avoid.
• Baking Soda
• Borax
• Cornstarch
• Hydrogen peroxide
• Lemon juice
• Plant essential oils
• Table salt
• Vegetable oil
• Washing soda
• White vinegar

• Alkylphenol Ethoxylates (APEs)
• Ammonia
• Chlorine Bleach
• Fragrance (synthetic, likely contains phthalates)
• Glycol ethers
• Lye
• Nonylphenols (NPEs)
• Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
• Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
• Terpenes
• Triclosan (antibacterial)

Excerpted from my book, Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices

For the dirt on glycol ethers in cleaing products, particularly when they react to other ingredients such as terpenes, click here.

Phthalates, suspect hormone disrupters that have been connected to reproductive system deformities in male infants and obesity in adults, have recently been linked to attention deficit disorders.

For more info, go to and sign up for our free monthly e-newsletter, plus the chance to win green giveaways!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Coffee: Organic, Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance or Bird Friendly certified

You can't go wrong with one of these 3-star certified coffees: All are certified Organic, certified Fair Trade and either certified Bird-Friendly or Rainforest Alliance, which means they're cultivated in the shade of forest canopies.

Arbuckle Organic Line

Audubon Breakfast Blend


Cafe Canopy

Cafe Ibis

Cafe Moto


Catskill Mountain

Coffee AM

Deans Beans Birdwatchers Blend

Elan Organic

Higher Ground

Jim's Organic

Marques de Paiva

Montana Coffee Traders

--The above list is excerpted from Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices, by Mindy Pennybacker (St Martin's Press, 2010).

Visit our website,, for lots of fresh green living tips and the skinny on new studies and products.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Getting started growing my own food

Up until a mere 10 months ago I lived in a small, but charming, one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. My kitchen was minute, and my garden consisted of a window box in which I unsuccessfully attempted to grow basil, parsley and rosemary for the occasional homecooked meal. I spent Saturday mornings browsing the farmer's market at Union Square, eyeing the beautiful displays of luscious fruits and vegetables. Someday, I dreamed, when I have more land than a window box, I'll plant my own organic vegetable garden.

This spring, after my husband and I moved to a small town in upstate New York, I decided to act on my dream.

There is a small 20' x 15' patch of land next to our garage that at one time must have been a well-kept garden, but had long since gone to weeds. Armed with advice from friends and neighbors and a few borrowed tools, I began. The first task was to clear the land and till the soil. So far this has proved to be the most arduous step, taking three consecutive weekends in late May. I removed wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of weeds to add our compost heap. Once and a while I would discover a small sapling, buried bulbs or a patch of overgrown herbs (primarily mint and horseradish), that I would save to transplant elsewhere.

Once the land was cleared, I tilled the soil with a pick-ax and shovel. This was a strenuous task. The dirt was heavy and clay-like, and desperately needed the aeration. There were also many rocks and small boulders that had to be removed. Luckily, previous owners of our house had kept a compost heap, which provided a source of dark rich soil to be churned into the garden.
Now the soil was prepared, the fun part--planning the layout and variety of vegetable and herbs-- could begin.

--by Lindsay Kurz

Next week: Planning and Planting the Garden.

Editor's Note: On Planning what to Plant

It's already mid-summer--too late, if you live in a climate where the ground freezes to start a garden from seed. But depending on your climate, you can at least grow herbs or cultivate (and harvest from) a well-established plant, while laying in some seedlings, like eggplant and chard, for harvesting in a couple of months and into the warm, if cooling, days of fall.

For advice on what to plant in your climate, and when, contact your nearest USDA agricultural extension office.

To order organic seeds, go to Seeds of Change

To order packs of organic seedlings--right now, eggplant & Swiss chard are still available!--go to Seeds of Change.

Tools + Materials for clearing land and enriching soil
•Garden gloves

Where to order garden tools & supplies

Organic fertilizers, nontoxic pest control, composters, tools, can be got from Planet Natural or Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply
, which also has canning supplies, potted fruit trees and an irresistible henhouse (watch out or you'll order it, even if you don't have chickens!) and sends you a gift of organic seeds with each order.

For great easy, funny instruction: Talking Dirt: The Dirt Diva's Down to Earth Guide to Organic Gardening, by Annie Spiegelman.

For the dirt on pesticides and other non-organic additives, a list of the most important produce to buy organic, and conventional produce that has fewest pesticide residues, plus green food storage and cookware and tons of resources for all categories of sustainable living, see Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth through Simple, Everyday Choices, the new book by Greenerpenny editor Mindy Pennybacker, in bookstores now!

For more seasonal green living tips and news, please visit our home page,, where you can ask Mindy questions and sign up for our free monthly e-newsletter (and prizes).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Green grilling methods

Every July 4th, 60 million U.S. barbecues emit 225,000 metric tons (5.17 million lbs) of CO2 . Propane & natural gas, although they’re nonrenewable fossil fuels, release the least CO2 when burned. Electric grills, fed by power plants, cause the highest CO2 emissions but release no air pollution while they cook. Charcoal, made from wood, contributes to deforestation and burns dirtiest, spewing lung-threatening particles of soot.

If you’re happy with your hibachi and charcoal, no reason to pop for a new, less-polluting propane grill. But you can green it up by burning solid charcoal from well-managed forests or untreated scrap wood instead of toxic-chemical-larded briquettes (never dump these on a beach!). The EPA advises using a chimney or electric starter instead of lighter fluids, which produce 14,500 tons of smog. For a green upgrade (less deforestation attached) and more distinctive taste, use real wood charcoal harvested from sustainably managed forests or reclaimed (and untreated) lumber. Lump charcoal is cleaner than conventional briquettes, which may contain coal dust and chemical additives as binders, advises the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Here’s a list of greener charcoal to stoke up on.
Cowboy Charcoal: Made from fast-replenishing hickory and mesquite
Original Charcoal: From Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) audited American tree farms, not clearcut forests.
Lazzari Charcoal: Made from mesquite, some from Rainforest Alliance/ FSC certified sources.
Nature’s Own Chunk Charwood: Made from logging leftovers; cured with grain alcohol rather than petroleum.
Greenlink Charcoal and Briquettes: Made from mangrove wood, coconut shells.

Grill without guilt! For more information about green cooking methods, recycled materials and energy saving electronics and appliances, and every facet of a sustainable lifestyle, see Mindy's book, Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices (St Martin's Press, 2010).

For frequently updated green living and product tips, visit our home page,, where you can also subscribe to our free monthly e-newsletter. Ttweet with us at and, if you like, like on Facebook. Thanks!

Greenest Soap & Shampoo Brands

Botanical, not petroleum, ingredients are the basis for the soaps & shampoos made by the companies below. I've also vetted them to be free of the man-made chemicals that are currently of most concern for our health and the planet's, including synthetic "fragrance" that may contain hormone-disrupting phthalates. Green seals are noted. For ingredients and abbreviations keys, see end of list, below.

GreenerPenny's Top Shampoo and Soap Picks
Alba Botanica Rainforest Shampoo contains tropical andiroba and brazil nut oils certified by Rainforest Alliance to Forest Stewardship Council standards.
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, a co-founder of the Natural Products Association, but urge them to fully disclose their fragrancing ingredients.
California Baby Super Sensitive Shampoo & Body Wash, No Fragrance, CO
Dr. Bronner's USDA, fair trade, 100% PCR packaging.
Dr. Hauschka, BDIH.
Ecco Bella
Jason Natural Cosmetics Organics Earth’s Best Organic
J.R. Liggett's Shampoo Bar (no plastic packaging!)
John Masters Organics, CO, USDA
Kathy's Family
Lavera , BDIH
Miessence , USDA, CO
Neals Yard
, CO
Nourish Organic USDA
Organic Apoteke (high-end facial cleansers) E
Organic Essence USDA
Pangea Organics, CO
Planet Botanicals, CO Purity Cosmetics
Terressentials ,
Weleda NPA and BDIH certified
Whole Foods 365


We also like the following shampoos & body washes that are free of the most problematic chemicals, although they contain at least one of these ingredients of concern: cocamidopropyl betaine, disodium EDTA, "fragrance," phenoxyethanol, polyethylene glycol, or quaternium compounds.
Avalon Organics, CO
Aveda Dry Remedy Moisturizing Shampoo and Men's Pure-formance Shampoo, CO, C2C
Kiehl's aloe vera bodywash, C2C, 100% PCR bottle
Method hand & body soaps, C2C">Natures Gate Organics (as distinguished fr their regular line) 70% CO, E, QAI

For details and explanations re cosmetic brands, labels, specific types of products and ingredients, see my book, Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices (St Martin's Press, 2010).

Toxic Ingredients

Parabens, "fragrance" (synthetic,phthalates),hormone-disrupting sudsers alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) and nonylphenols (NPEs), formaldehydehile; cocamidopropyl betaine and sodium cocoyl sarcosate, while based on coconut oil, are processed in ways that may release carcinogenic nitrosamines; 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 labeled (but not certified) organic and natural.
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 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.

Labels Key

USDA: the whole product is third-party certified organic (CO), w/ 95% CO ingredients.
CO: contains some USDA certified organic plant ingredients.
BDIH: EU third-party seal barring all petroleum-based ingredients.
NPA: Natural Products Association industry-certified seal strictly limits chemical processing and additives.
E: ECOCERT, a European industry-verified seal requiring 10% CO ingredients and bans many toxic chemicals.
QAI: Quality Assurance International.
C2C: Cradle to Cradle certified biodegradable
PCR: Post-consumer-recycled packaging

To receive frequently updated green living and product tips, subscribe to our free monthly e-newsletter and ask me any questions at,tweet with me at and search for on Facebook. Thanks!

Mindy Pennybacker

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Twelve simple steps to shrink our oil footprint and save our seas

As the author of an optimistic green book who's admittedly felt somewhat challenged since BP's cataclysmic gusher, I was invited to speak to a local Surfrider Foundation chapter about simple ways we can help protect the seas in our daily lives. Can individuals really make a difference in the face of such vast damage? The answer: Yes. Our collective consumer muscle, which represents 70% of the U.S. economy, matters more than ever now in redirecting the marketplace away from energy and products based on fossil fuels. Surfrider members agreed, and we had a lively and productive discussion about steps to take right now.

Wherever you live or travel, here are some things you can do this summer to reduce our demand for fossil fuels and save our wounded seas. In 1988,the Exxon Valdez tanker spilled 11 million gallons, or about 261,904 barrels, of oil in Alaskan waters. As of this June 15, it was estimated that up to 60,000 barrels, or 2.5 million gallons, are spewing into the Gulf every day, meaning that BP's gusher may be surpassing the Exxon Valdez total every 5-6 days.

Worldwide, by improving energy efficiency in buildings and transportation alone, we can save 64 million barrels of oil a day, the equivalent of one and a half times U.S. annual energy consumption, McKinsey & Co. reports.In this way, we can conserve our own resources and the sensitive ecosystems that are threatened by oil and coal extraction.

As summer heats up, there are many simple things we can do in our energy and product choices to stop unnecessarily "spilling" oil. Below, 12 tips to get you started:

1 Say no to bottled water and toxic, non-recyclable plastics

If every American stopped buying water in disposable bottles, we'd save at least 17 million barrels of oil a year. That's 6 million more than the Exxon Valdez, and the equivalent, in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, of taking one million cars off the road, according to the Pacific Institute.
Not only are plastics made from fossil fuels and likely to release unhealthy chemicals such as Bisphenol-A and phthalates into our water, food and air, but they make their way from landfills out to sea, where they strangle turtles and birds and collect in floating continents of trash. For a list of safer reusable plastics, click here.

2 Eat sustainably sourced fish.
Seventy-five percent of fisheries worldwide are on the brink of collapse due to overfishing and habitat destruction (like BP's). Make healthy green choices with the Monterey Bay Aquarium's newly updated fish & seafood lists at

3 Use compost and organic, not synthetic, fertilizers in your garden.

Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, made from fossil fuels, overload the soil with nutrients, which run off into waterways and out to sea, stimulating the growth of algae and causing oxygen-depleted dead zones. For organic options, click here
For the same reason, choose USDA certified organic food, which is required to be produced without synthetic fertilizers.

4 Eat just a little less red meat, and choose certified sustainably produced animal products.

If all Americans skipped red meat for one day (3 meals) a week, it would reduce the equivalent in carbon emissions of taking 20 million cars off the road for a year. Substituting vegetables for one day equals driving 1,160 fewer miles per year. As Michael Pollan reported in "Power Steer," the fossil-fuel fertilizers used on the corn fed to one beef calf adds up to about 284 gallons of oil. About thirty-two million cattle are slaughtered in the U.S. each year for beef, so in addition to blood, that "spills" more than 9 billion barrels of oil.

In addition to their cruelty, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) result in runoff of nitrogen-rich manure. CAFOS splling into the Mississippi River have produced one of the largest dead zones on the planet--in the Gulf of Mexico, where algae that feed off spilled petroleum may cause yet more hypoxia.

Choose meat and dairy that's certified humane, organic, biodynamic, or Animal Welfare or Food Alliance approved.

5 Use green cleaning and personal care products.
Many conventional detergents, liquid soaps and shampoos contain chemicals, such as alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) and nonylphenols (NPEs), that harm reproductive development in marine life--and may impact human hormones, too. Happily, many cleaning and cosmetic brands steer clear of these and other toxic tongue-twisters. Purer shampoos include Aubrey Organics, Burt's Bees, Dr.Bronner's. and Nature's Gate Organics.

6 Reduce runoff.
Keep soapy, greasy water out of storm drains, which carry it out to sea, by collecting "grey" water to irrigate plants, and using porous materials like gravel and pebbles for terraces, driveways, and paths. Catch rainwater in barrels, and don't wash cars on slopes. Conserve clean water by taking shorter showers, turning tap off while sudsing, shaving or brushing teeth, and using water-efficient faucet aerators, shower heads and appliances. See for more tips.

7 Use a nontoxic sunblock.
A widely used sunscreen chemical, benzophenone-3 (BP-3), also known as oxybenzone, has been implicated in the feminization of male fish and viral infections in coral. BP-3, rated a high hazard by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), is also a suspected human hormone disrupter that's been found in 97 percent of Americans tested by the Centers for Disease Control. Enough, already!

Here's a short list of mineral-based sunblocks that are free of BP-3 and other problematic synthetic chemicals, and rated highly protective in EWG's comprehensive guide.
While you're at it, try not to break or step on coral!

8 Buy green power and Energy Star appliances/electronics
In many states, we can now choose green power, like solar or wind, for our homes through our utility. Replacing old appliances, like air conditioners, refrigerators and washing machines, with Energy Star models also means big savings for the planet and, thanks to state and federal rebates and other incentives, for our budgets.

9 Drive alone less, take public transportation and carpool, bike and walk more. "If enough people reduce driving or switch to more energy-efficient vehicles, gasoline demand would decline and prices would be dampened," the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports.
It's basic economics: reduced demand results in reduced production.

10 Make sure automobile tires are properly inflated.
By conservative estimate, this would save 800 thousand barrels of oil a day. See more driving tips that will conserve oil and reduce your carbon emissions from the Union of Concerned Scientistsand Environmental Defense Fund.

11 Turn off lights and turn up the a.c. temp.
Incandescent lightbulbs waste 90% of their energy as heat, and even CFLs waste 30%, so turn off unneeded lights to keep your space cooler. Now you can comfortably turn your air conditioner temperature up a bit. Air conditioning represents 21% of annual home electricity consumption. A shift from 72°F to 74°F in the summer will save 366 pounds of CO2/year and $28 on the average annual energy bill.

12 Join hands to take action: Clean a beach, sign a petition,tell your Congressional delegation to support green energy and tough new environmental protections.
*For Gulf spill volunteer efforts in your locale, petitions and more info, visit Oceana's website.
*Join the Hands Across the Sands campaign June 26 to show solidarity for the people and environment of the Gulf and encourage the growth of clean, renewable energy sources. is one of the organizers.
*Help clean an ocean, bay, river or reservoir beach. Get inspired on Surfrider's event site for International Surfing Day June 20th, which is also the summer solstice and Father's Day.
*Hands in your pockets! Give $ to Gulf wildlife rescue and families in need.

Many more everyday green living and safer food, water & product tips can be found in my book, Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Now that mosquitoes can resist DEET, we should, too!

DEET-based insect repellents can be bad news for people. DEET can trigger allergic skin reactions and asthma attacks in sensitive individuals, and has recently been linked to nervous system harm . Still, for a long time, DEET was thought to be the only chemical that could adequately repel mosquitoes that carry dangerous diseases like yellow fever, dengue fever and West Nile virus. But a new study suggests that convention wisdom may be wrong. The research, published early May in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that mosquitoes that carry the yellow fever virus can develop a resistance to DEET and that those mosquitoes can pass the resistant trait down to their offspring.
Apparently, this isn't the first study finding that mosquitoes can become resistant to the toxic pesticide. As far back as 1978, scientists wrote in the Journal of Medical Entomology that some mosquito species could tolerate higher levels of DEET exposure than others, and in 2004, scientists found that the amount of DEET used to repel mosquitoes that carry yellow fever was inadequate at repelling a species of mosquito found in the Caribbean that carries malaria.

The good news is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other scientists have found safer chemicals that, in some cases, work better than DEET against even the most ravenous disease-carrying mosquitoes. In one 2004 study published in the Journal of Entomology, comparing effectiveness of different mosquito repellents, picaridin, a chemical derived from pepper, was found more effective at repelling yellow-fever mosquitoes than DEET, and oil of lemon eucalyptus was found just as effective as DEET in repelling mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus. Other plant oils, such as soybean and geraniol (an oil derived from geraniums), have also been found effective at repelling mosquitoes but not as effectively as picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus (note: the CDC advises using products that contain oil of lemon eucalyptus as an active ingredient, not the undiluted oil you can buy at natural food stores. The latter isn't as effective alone as it is when combined with other ingredients).

Unfortunately, you have to make a bit of a tradeoff when purchasing insect repellents. The natural brands that disclose all their ingredients use mostly plant oils that haven't been found very effective in scientific studies. Products that use the most effective ingredients, on the other hand, are made by large companies will tell you what the active ingredient is but not any of the other ingredients, which means they could be using hormone-disrupting chemicals like paraben preservatives or phthalates.

Looking for a safe insect repellent for those evenings outside or an upcoming tropical vacation? Give these a shot. They all contain an effective insecticide without any other nasty chemicals like parabens or phthalates:

Badger USDA Organic Anti-Bug Balm
: oils of citronella, rosemary, lemongrass and geranium make you smell sweet to anyone but bugs.

-BiteBlocker contains a 7 percent concentration of soybean oil and geraniol and no toxic chemicals ($5.40/2-oz. bottle).

-BugBands are rubber bracelets treated with geraniol that you can wear on your wrist or attach to a belt loop or ankle if needed; the bands are reusable up to 120 hours ($14.95/4 bands).

California Baby Natural Bug Blend
uses citronella, lemongrass and cedar oils.
-Repel is the only commercially available product sold in the U.S. that contains oil of lemon eucalyptus. While the concentration of the ingredient is high (the more of the active ingredient, the more effective the product), the company doesn't disclose what the additional ingredients in the product are. So you may want to save this product for the occasions when mosquitoes are really unavoidable, like camping trips or hikes in the woods ($11.50/4-oz. bottle).

-Likewise, products based on picaridin, like Natrapel, Cutter Advanced, and Off! Skintastic contain effectively high levels of the active ingredient but don't tell you what else is in the products. You should also save these for deep-woods hiking or other situations where the threat of mosquito-borne illnesses outweighs the risks associated with unhealthy chemicals in personal care products.

A few other tips when applying insect sprays:
- Forgo the sunscreen/insect repellent combos. Insect repellents should be applied only when needed, whereas sunscreens should be reapplied every two hours to protect against skin cancer.

- Take care around your face. You don't want to directly inhale any chemical regardless of how safe it sounds. When you need to apply insect repellent to your face, spray some on your hands first, then rub it on your face.

Caution for Children: Insect repellents of any kind should not be used directly on young children's skin. For safety tips, see this helpful fact sheet from the Palo Alto Medicatl Foundation.
* report on DEET's neurotoxic effects

**Another study finding that picaridin works better than DEET:

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by Emily Main