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

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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:

For the latest in green living, health news and products, visit our home page, You can also sign up for our free monthly e-newsletter and enter green product raffles!

If you'd like to have all the daily green living tips, product choices and resources you'll ever need in one handy, user-friendly place, we suggest Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices, by GreenerPenny editor Mindy Pennybacker.

by Emily Main

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Mothballs and other toxic pesticides

When it comes to synthetic pesticides, the less you use the better, and best is using none at all. Labels can't be relied on for safe usage advice. Take mothballs.

At the March 2010 meeting of the American Chemical Society, Linda Hall, a scientist with the California Environmental Protection Agency, presented a new study about the misleading nature of pesticide labels. She was focusing on mothball products and noted that, while companies tell you the minimum amount yper square footage ou should use for their products to be effective, they are loathe to tell you how much is too much. No maximum number of mothballs is noted.

The labeling info gap, Hall said, leads people to think that if a little bit is good, a lot is EVEN BETTER! But this is clearly not a good idea when it comes to hazardous ingredients in mothballs such as carcinogenic
, and para-dichlorobenzene (pDCB; the latter has been found in extremely high levels in homes across California, as well as the rest of the country, Hall reported.

Labels also fail to provide safety information about the need to air out mothballed clothes before wearing them. This should be done, just as with conventionally drycleaned clothes, which release vapors of toxic perchloroethylene.

For less toxic pest control, leave mothballs and insecticides on the store shelf, and find safer ways to keep bugs away. Synthetic pesticides are hazardous in any quantity and can trigger asthma and allergic reactions, and they've been linked to childhood leukemia, Parkinson's disease, autism, and a wide array of other chronic illnesses. A recent study at Stanford University suggested that pesticides can interfere with the way your body produces insulin, possibly leading to type 2 diabetes).

Keep moths away from your clothes by cleaning them before putting them away, and sealing them in airtight containers. If a few moths do happen in, put clothes in plastic bags and shove them in the deep freeze for three days to kill eggs, or air them out in sunlight. Here are more non-chemical mothproofing tips.

For general pest control, boric acid powder and diatomaceous earth are two less toxic products that work by rubbing off a bug's waxy outer shell. They don't have any impact on humans unless directly ingested. For more tips, check out

Bio-Integral Resource Center
Beyond Pesticides
UC-Davis Integrated Pest Management Program

To get all the daily green living info you need in one handy place, see the new book by Greenerpenny editor Mindy Pennybacker: Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple Everyday Choices. The book includes Choose It/Lose It product and ingredients lists and other tips for your daily food, water, household cleaning/energy/deco, personal care, apparel & transportation.

To stay on top of environmental health and green product news, please subscribe to our free monthly e-newsletter in the sub box on our homepage at

And, if you have other ideas about living with less, please leave us a comment below.

--by Emily Main