Friday, October 14, 2011

Best bedside book: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

Although summer officially ended last month, it hangs on for a little while yet in these golden autumn days. One Indian Summer, in the Vermont forest, my child found a newt red as flame--a long-forgotten moment that returned to mind as I read Elisabeth Tova Bailey's The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. Early on in Bailey's struggle with a debilitating illness, a visiting friend, walking in the woods, sees a small brown snail, picks it up with some wild violets, and presents it to the bedwritten writer. The resulting memoir reminds us of how very much a small but thoughtful gift can mean. The book itself is such a gift to the reader. If you’ve been wanting to slow down and rediscover quiet, illuminated moments in your own life, look no farther than Bailey’s wonderful story about her long, confining illness and the busy, intrepid and, yes, audibly chewing creature that lifted her spirits by sustaining her connection to the forests and fields where she couldn’t wander anymore.

The diverting snail, which could hang upside down from a fern frond and, when Bailey watered the violets on her bedside table,“...would glide to the rim of the pot and look over, slowly waving its tentacles in apparent delight...”, kept her company during a very lonely time when, Bailey writes, “ friends were golden threads randomly appearing in the monotonous fabric of my days.” Although she couldn’t move her body, Bailey’s imagination journeyed far and wide as she studied her snail.

She reads Darwin, who was fascinated by Molluska and the hitchiking propensities that enabled them to be carried by birds or logs across oceans. “Stuck to an autumn leaf, a snail may blow along in a storm, its magic carpet eventually landing in faraway terrain.” She learned, in confirmation of her own observations of her pet, that snails have brains, and romance, too. Gerald Durrell and others watched the mating of snails–some of which, like Cupid, literally shoot a dart into the flesh of a paramour. Bailey contributes to the literature: “Eventually I would learn that I may be the first person to have recorded observations of a snail tending its eggs.”

An illness can change a life for a long time, sometimes forever. For more than two decades, since she collapsed with a high fever on a visit to Switzerland, Bailey has been periodically laid low with a weakened immune system, pain and chronic fatigue. During the year spent with a snail and its progeny, considerable healing began, as so often happens when genuine interest in other beings frees us from feelings of isolation and depression.

Over time, Bailey wrote in an email, she has become sensitized to many synthetic chemicals, such as the pesticides that also harm amphibians and snails, and the phthalates that offgass from polyvinyl (PVC) plastic and have been linked to asthma and hormone disruption. She writes in her email of how chemicals offgassing from a PVC shower curtain produced a reaction--coughing, eye irritation, headaches, and collapse--that led to her hospitalization. Not content with removing her shower curtain, Bailey spoke with her state’s poison control center and, joining the Center for Health, Environment and Justice's campaign, convinced her local stores to stop selling the curtains, which were also treated with a toxic fungicide.

Thinking of other invalids and homebound people, Bailey writes in her book, “I felt a connection to all of them. We, too, were a colony of hermits.” Clearly, she feels and acts on a sense of responsibility to the planet and the rest of us, and it was her generosity of spirit that got me to finally reach for her book, which had received glowing reviews and a recommendation from my beloved aunt in Vermont.

As it happened, I turned to Bailey's book when I was recuperating from a blackout and fall, caused by a sudden mysterious fever, that had severely curtailed my normally active life. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating helped me to recognize the resulting stillness as an opportunity. Bailey's warmth, wit and energy changed my life by reaffirming my connection to what matters most to me--friends, family, the natural world--and reminding me to spend much more time with them. I highly recommend this marvellous book.

You can hear the snail eating, and watch it go with the flow, at

Monday, August 22, 2011

Greener less toxic computers and computing tips

A new computer for back to school. Do or don't? In tech purchasing, as in nearly everything these days, it's possible to spend your pennies more wisely for your sake and the planet's, now that companies are being vetted for energy efficiency and reduced pollutants. On the other hand, given the hazardous e-waste released by improper "recycling" (read, dumping) of 50-80% of our e-waste abroad, you might want to hold onto your old machine, upgrading its memory (and saving your money) for as long as possible.

If you really want or need to buy new, ask the company if they'll take your old machine for free recycling.
In a nutshell, here's what to look for new, and what to avoid:

Choose It: Energy Star computers with least toxic contents

Lose It: Computers that waste energy and contain hazardous chemicals

Did You Know? If all computers sold in the U.S. met the U.S. EPA Energy Star standards, we’d save about $2 billion in electricity each year, and reduce as many greenhouse gases as taking 2 million cars off the road.
Toxic brominated fire retardants (BFRs)can migrate out of computers [casings] into house dust, according to a 2004 Environmental Working Group study. Learn about other hazardous chemicals in computers from the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.

4 things to demand from a new green computer:

It should be energy efficient/ Energy Star compliant.For lists of Energy Star desktops and laptops, click here.
* It should minimize the use of hazardous chemicals. The Environmental Working Group has a list of PDBE-free (toxic fire retardants) computers with links to manufacturers’ websites, while Greenpeace (below)also examines PVC, arsenic, lead and other toxic components.
* Its maker should have a responsible takeback/ recycling program
* The company should be significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
* The company should receive a high rating from the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) and from Greenpeace's annual electronics guide (see below).

Here are the computer companies who scored among the top ten greenest in Greenpeace’s most recent, 2010 Guide to Greener Electronics.

1. Nokia
2. Sony Ericsson
3. Philips
4. HP
5. Samsung
6. Motorola, Panasonic and Sony in 3-way tie
9. Apple
10. Dell

For the details, see Greenpeace's rankings page.

If your student can wait till Xmas, or better yet, the post-Xmas sales, Greenpeace's new guide comes out in November 2011 and I'll keep you posted.

Old or New: Energy saving tips

Whether you keep chugging along with your old computer or buy a new one, you can always improve on its performance and your energy savings by smart usage.

*Use your machine's built-in power-saving features. To learn what they are, how to activate them, and calculate how much you would save, check out the EPA IT Calculator and other tools featured on the Climate Savers Computing website.

Turn off your computer and the power strip when it's not in use. See more tips from the EPA.

If you turn off your PC when it's not in use, you can save 188 kilograms of CO2 and 437 kilowatt hours (kwh)a year. Significant savings, with the average national cost of a kwh topping 12 cents in 2011.

Finding more products

Want more simple green living tips? Subscribe to my free monthly e- newsletter by emailing And, for Choose It/ Lose It lists with brand names in everything from cookware to cosmetics, see my book, Do One Green Thing. Thanks!

Green, Nontoxic Back to School Supplies, Lunch Kits 2011

What I love most about back-to-school shopping is slipping some new green office supplies and lunch totables for myself into the cart. American families are expected to spend about $68 billion on back-to-school shopping this year, so green choices can help stimulate marketplace change. You’ll find lots of planet-friendly, personally healthier products below, plus ideas for lightening the impact on your wallet.

* “Shop” your closets and bins.
Make it a treasure hunt for the kids, giving reward points applicable to new stuff on their wish list. Still-good pencils with worn-down erasers can be renewed with fun eraser caps such as IWAKO’s PVC-free dolphins and monkeys* .Sell old books at cash4books.
*Buy textbooks second-hand. Ask about used book sales at your school or library, or compare prices for titles at
*Drive less. Sparing your car just 10 miles per week can cut your CO2 emissions by 340 pounds per year.Walk, bike, take public transport, combine shopping errands into one trip, and carpool to local stores.
*Roll orders into one. Order green supplies with other families in your neighborhood and have it sent in one shipment to one address.

Pencils and Pens

Pilot’s BeGreen pens are made with 89% PCR recycled plastic bottles, with recycled ink, and refillable.

Earth Zone pencils, which come with a recycled metal sharpener, Greenciles /,in 60 percent PCR packaging, and O’Bon’s wildlife-pattern pencils pencils are all made from recycled newspapers, not wood fresh from trees.
For least toxic, VOC-free art supplies, markers and glues, choose water-based, washable items and look for the Arts & Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) seal. You’ll find it on Faber-Castelli Watercolor EcoPencils made from reforested wood.

Crayons and water-soluble glue made with soy wax, minerals and plant pigments are at Kidzone. And a reader recommends synthetic-free Clementine markers.


Choose products with the highest percentage of post-consumer-recycled (PCR) content you can find. On paper goods, look for Forest Stewardship Council or Rainforest Alliance Certified seals, availabe at Staples and other office stores.

Look for tree-free papers, such as New Leaf’s Farm Fiber Collection. Their 100% PCR banana paper is gorgeous

To hold green paper, Earthbinders are made from 96 percent post-consumer content.

One-stop-shops for recycled paper products, binders, staples, clips, pencils and pens:
The Ultimate Green Store
Staples Eco-Easy directory
Home Depot’s Green Pages

Backpacks: PVC-free, recycled fabric

Chico Bags’ RePete daypack is made from recycled plastics and aluminum.
Ecogear Palila backpack made from RPET (recycled soda bottles), as well as hemp and recycled
cotton ones, can be found at Pristine Planet.

Lunch and drink containers without BPA, Lead and Phthalates,includes a 16-oz. Thermos King insulated stainless food jar with spoon; also, organic cotton cloth or mesh sandwich/snack bags and cleanable wrapping mats.’s back to school page features a frigoverre tempered glass sandwich box, PVC free plastic wrap and soy-wax sandwich bags.

Go Green Lunchbox kits come with a BPA-free covered bento tray, a stainless drink bottle that fits inside, a white board inside the lid for notes to your child, and an insulated, PVC-free bag to carry it all.

Our reader also highly recommends the nontoxic bento boxes, insulated covers and stainless food jars at Laptop Lunches.

For more products, see my lists of BPA-free food containers and drink bottles. For green, healthy product and action tips in every category of daily life, please heck out my home page,, and my green living book, Do One Green Thing!

Thanks all of you for your input and suggestions--just add below to Comment section of this blog!

*Younger Sibling Safety Alert: Erasers, staples, paper clips and other small items are choking risks and should be kept out of the reach of children younger than three.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Mango & yogurt cake recipe

This recipe is a tropical--and lighter--adaptation of the traditional pear or blackberry butter cakes I learned to bake in Brittany, France. Our mango tree had a bumper crop earlier this summer so we cut up and froze (see freezer photo, left) what we didn't eat fresh or give away. You can substitute any fruit you like, fresh or frozen! But remember to let fruit thaw before you add it!

INGREDIENTS (I use organic and local whenever possible)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 and 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup turbinado (raw) sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup plain nonfat yogurt
1 and 1/2 cups diced fresh or frozen/thawed mango or other fruit, such as blackberries, blueberries, or a mix.
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, almonds or macadamia nuts (optional).

PROCEDURE: Let butter soften at room temp and beat with sugar till creamy. Add vanilla, beaten eggs, yogurt, blend well. Sift/blend flours and baking soda. Gradually add to butter mixture. Stir in fruit, nuts. Pour into 8 x 8 inch cake pan. Bake in 325 degree oven for 50-60 minutes until golden brown on top and fork inserted comes out clean.
Delicious with ice cream or more yogurt!

For more information about healthy eating choices and organic and other food, personal care and cleaning labels, please visit my home page and blogs at, and, if you like, sign up for my free monthly (if that) e-newsletter of green living tips!

Friday, July 29, 2011

How to fix leaking toilets before your household savings go down the drain

Never go on vacation without checking your toilets, first! We did, and boy, do we regret it! Did you know that the average American goes through 80-100 gallons of water per day, and our greatest use comes from flushing the toilet? And, a leaking toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water a day, according to the U.S. EPA . In our four-person household, we have three toilets, and two of them sprang leaks while we were gone!

We returned from a three-week vacation to gurgling toilets and a call from the Board of Water Supply–-they’d just read our meter and the dial was moving, which indicated a leak. Plus, our water consumption had spiked six times higher than normal.

I got that sinking feeling. Up until we left, our two toilets had shown an occasional tendency to keep trickling, post-flush, until we’d lifted the tank lid and adjusted the rubber flapper valve to stop water flowing out. Just before leaving, we checked to make sure the toilets weren’t running.

But things can happen while you’re gone. Plumbing is unpredictable and spontaneous flushes. Well-meaning family members who stopped by to check on things in our absence didn’t check the toilets after flushing. Leaks get worse, fast.

“Exactly how much higher was our water use?” I asked.

There was a pause as she checked, followed by a half-strangled cry: “Your average water use in each two-month billing cycle is 27,000 gallons, but this time, you used 176,00 gallons!”

If you have ever fallen flat from the top of the jungle gym and knocked out all your air, you will know how I felt. Twenty-seven thousand gallons was bad enough–-we’d been trying to conserve by taking shorter showers (second highest indoor water use), but we should have tackled the toilets first! Our plumbing had been leaking four gallons a minute, the water rep said.

I did the math. Indeed, four gallons a minute added up to over 170,000 gallons in just 30 days, and ours was a 60 day bill. “Er, does that mean my water bill will be seven times higher?” I asked.

The answer was yes. Hello to the $1,350 water bill! Goodbye, in one fell blow, to our painstakingly accumulated household savings! Worse, all that precious clean drinking water had gone down the toilet!

“You’re not alone, this happens all the time,” the water rep said. “We had an old toilet out back we never used. Turned out it was leaking for three weeks, and our water bill tripled!”

Misery doesn’t love company in this case. Americans use 410 billion gallons of water a day, according to The Ripple Effect: The Fate of Freshwater in the Twenty-First Century. In his compelling new book, Alex Prud’homme reports on water science and politics, with stories of people and neighborhoods faced with clean water shortages due to pollution, privatization, droughts and waste.

While industry and agriculture are the biggest culprits by far, an estimated trillion gallons of water are lost in U.S. home leaks every day. This, at a time when global clean drinking water supplies are shrinking due to industry, agriculture, urbanization, and drought and sea level rise linked to climate change, as Prud’homme reports in harrowing detail. “Borrowing from the notion of peak oil–a point at which the supply of oil is outstripped by human consumption--academics worry that the earth could be reaching a point of ‘peak water,” he warns.

I’m worried, too! But at least, now that we’ve fixed our leaks, I don’t have to worry about being such a huge part of the problem.

What You Can Do

*Be on the alert for trickles and drips.

If your toilet keeps flowing for longer than a minute after a flush, it means the flapper valve is not closing, so the tank never fills.

*Fix leaks right away. Here's how:

Step 1. Both our toilets had worn-out rubber flappers (see round red cap in photos, above) which no longer sealed the drain, so the tank kept filling...

Note the model number on inside wall of tank, go to hardware store and buy new flapper.

Step 2. One toilet also had a worn-out gasket inside the float. The result: The float didn’t rise with the water level, so the flapper, at the other end of the lever, never fully closed.

*Reduce tank capacity.

In our 1.6 gpf toilet, we moved the lever on the float down so that the tank only fills half full.

In the old 3.5 gpf tank, I set two filled glass quart bottles (a total half-gallon), which will save 4,000 gallons a year until we replace that toilet.
*Consider buying an efficient toilet.

If your toilet is older than 1992, it’s likely using 3.5 gallons per flush (gpf). Since 1995, the federal standard is 1.6 gpf.
An EPA-approved Water Sense toilet uses an average 1.24 gpf.

*When you go on vacation, shut the water off.
The exception: If you've got a garden that needs watering. And note, if you turn off your household water valve but if you leave the electricity on, remember to turn off the hot water heater!

For more information:

*“Fix Flow” tips from

*Calculate how much water your dripping faucet wastes.

*Simple water-saving tips:

For more on our water footprints and other green living and product tips, please see my book, Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.

Visit my home page at for seasonal info and to subscribe to my free monthly e-newsletter! Pass it on. Thanks!

Friday, July 22, 2011

How to chill with efficient a.c. in heat wave

Horrible heat! Across the country, 132 million Americans are suffering heat advisory conditions. What to do to beat the heat? First, give yourself a break! Take it easy; it's important not to exert yourself, as our cat, aptly named Penguin, demonstrates on a cool tile floor. Second, don't make your air conditioner overexert. For efficiency's (and your budget's) sake, turn it off when you leave for more than a couple hours, and, if you leave the a.c. running, turn it up to at least 80 degrees until you come back. Pull shades and curtains, too, to keep out solar heat. When it's a record-breaking hundred-plus, 80 indoors is sweet relief, and you can always turn down the thermostat when you return.

But don't turn it down too far! The more power we burn, the more greenhouse gases we contribute to global warming, not to mention brown-outs and no a.c. for anyone. Plus, cooling is responsible for 17-22 percent of the average residential electricity bill . Every degree you go above 72 increases your savings by one to three percent, says the California Energy Commission. And, with every degree you lower it, cooling costs increase by about 7 percent. As Mayor Bloomberg, ever the cool head, advised New Yorkers this morning, keep your a.c. at about 79 degrees, the most efficient setting that still feels cool.

If you've got a programmable thermostat, set it to turn the a.c. on half an hour before you get home.

For more a.c. info, see my "Econundrums" column in the August issue of Whole Living Magazine, and this helpful summer energy slide show at

Please visit my home page at for tips on green, nontoxic sunscreens and cosmetics, updates on the toxic plastic chemical BPA in drink bottle linings, and info on my book, Do One Green Thing. Sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter, and don't forget to ask me questions or comment on this blog!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

How to D.I.Y. clean green shampoo

DJR in Detroit asks: "Do you know of a make-it-yourself shampoo base?"

Answer: Good question. While there are many good green commercial shampoos on the market, made without synthetic fragrances that can harbor hormone-disrupting phthalates, nothing is purer and simpler than one you make yourself. As a short cut, I recommend starting with a pure, unscented liquid soap, such as Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild Liquid Soap, made with certified organic, fair trade botanical ingredients and no synthetic surfactants (foaming agents). That way, you can add the plant-based fragrance of your choice, or none at all (fragrances can be irritating, so do a patch test first).

Exception: If you want a rose, lavender or orange essential oil scent, Dr. Bronner's makes liquid soaps with these ingredients, so buy these for an even shorter short cut!

Caution: Although the essential oils will help preserve your shampoo, it won't last as long as off-the-shelf remedies, so use it up within a couple months. Should be easy to do!

Shampoo Recipe

One ounce Liquid soap
1/4 tsp vegetable oil (olive, coconut) to moisturize and deep cleanse
Three drops essential oil to give the fragrance you want.

Mix this base with eight ounces water & shake to make shampoo. Keep out of eyes.

For readymade shampoos, see my list.

Be sure to check out our home page, , for seasonal green living tips, environmental health and product news. Sign up for our free monthly newsletter!

Friday, April 22, 2011

12 big Earth Day Steps to save water & energy, protect species, eat healthy, protect habitats

Happy Earth Day! 12 Tips Plus

This is the year I'll...catch rainwater in barrels to irrigate the garden. All I need is a hacksaw to shorten a downspout from the roof gutter, and a jolly big rainbarrel like this one, from my Whole Living Earth Day article, 12 Ways to Go Green This Year. Two big green impacts: I’ll save the average 1,300 gallons of drinking water splurged on a thirsty garden each season, and reduce stormwater runoff, which washes garbage, toxic chemicals and pathogens out to sea. Case in point: Last week, surfing after a heavy rain, I caught a virus and wound up in the emergency room! Another big plus: Reducing our water bill.

By now, you’ve probably made many small steps into good green habits, from recycling and reusing to choosing (or mixing your own )green cleaners. Are you ready to try a bigger green step this year? Check out Whole Living's slide show for the eleven other steps, from buying local seasonal produce (with a chart) to composting with a worm bin. We also provide how-to’s, and a readout of the relative effort and impact each step entails. You can also calculate your shrinking carbon footprint (step 2). Take your pick, and let us know how it goes!

Why I chose rainwater catchment for my big step this year: Last night, Earth Day eve, I was on a panel with marine biologist Crystal Sanders and Environmental Defense attorney Cynthia Koehler at the Aquarium of the Bay. The Aquarium is built on Pier 39 in San Francisco Bay, and the evening’s theme was how to protect this vast estuary and the fresh and ocean water systems that flow into and out of it. Crystal talked about how overfishing and pollution contribute to shocks such as the recent collapse of the herring populations in the Bay, and Cynthia, EDF’s political director for water issues, stressed the need to conserve fresh water so that more of it can be returned to important fish spawning and nursery grounds such as the San Francisco San Joaquin delta that feeds the SF Bay. The Bay, Cynthia pointed out, used to be the largest wild salmon fishery in California until all the rivers were dammed; EDF and others are seeking legislation to restore riverrine systems.

By reducing consumer demand for water and upping consumer demand for plant-based, nontoxic green products and sustainably sourced fish from healthy populations, we can help restore the cleanliness and productivity of our rivers, bays and seas.

What You Can Do

*xeriscaping in the garden with native drought-resistant plants
*buying produce from local and organic farms that protect waterways with buffer crops and sound ecological management policies
*fixing your water flow with EPA WaterSense fixtures, low-flush toilets, shorter showers, and rainwater catchment.
*asking where seafood comes from and how it was caught, and choosing sustainable fish picks.
*choosing plant- not petroleum-based
cleaning and personal care products.

Of particular urgency right now
is supporting bills to ban the cruel practice of culling shark fins and throwing these endangered creatures back to die slow agonized deaths.

Some Recommended Products

Thanks to donations from green companies, all attendees were given examples of products that met my criteria for least-toxic ingredients and gentlest eco impact.

* Wild Planet sustainably sourced, low-mercury albacore tuna and other seafoods

* Dr. Bronner’s peppermint liquid soap (certified organic plant oils, certified fair trade); great for deterring ants & garden pests, too!

* Equal Exchange certified organic and fairly traded chocolate and tea

*Martha Stewart CLEAN Dish/Hand soap

*Endangered Wildlife organic lip balms, which also give 25% of profits to the Center for biological diversity

Last but never least, great green thanks to:

*Whole Living
, which cosponsored the event, giving Earth Day issues to all plus very popular raffle prizes: “This is the Year I’ll...” t-shirts and seven year’s subscriptions
*Aquarium of the Bay and its team of cheerful, warm, lateworking staff for providing the space and free Aquarium tours (and stocking their gift shop with my green living book)

*Royal Hawaiian Seafood Co.
Whole Foods Markets and
Farallon Restaurant for providing sustainable seafood (ah, those Oregon rock shrimp!); cheese, crackers & veggies; and divine organic carrot and chocolate cakes, respectively.
EDF and Oceana for providing social networking support and expertise for this event and your great collaborative work in support of our precious seas.

Thank you one and all, and Happy Earth Year!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Reduce risk of antibiotic-resistant staph: Buy organic, grass-fed animal foods

Meatless Monday sounds like a better idea than ever, following recent revelations about drug-resistant staphylococcus bacteria in our nation's meat and poultry. But even vegans can be sickened by poor food handling and cross-contamination. Forty-seven percent of 136 meat & poultry samples from 5 supermarkets nationwide contained staph, half of it resistant to antibiotics, in a study released April 15th. A principal source of the antibiotic resistance was the routine feeding of antibiotics to farm animals, researchers said.

Contamination of meat, poultry and eggs due to e.coli or salmonella is pretty common, as can ben seen on USDA's recall list. What's scary about the recent findings is the staggering 50 percent antibiotic-resistance figure. Staph can cause food poisoning, skin infections, blood poisoning and pneumonia. Treatment options are reduced when antibiotics don't kill the germs. The meat samples in the study included methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), the hospital "super bug" responsible for many deaths.

What to Do?

1. Know where your food comes from. Buy local and/or certified organic, grass-fed animal products. In an article about how dangerous bacterial infections are on the rise, Consumer Reports recommends buying organic and grass fed animal products because they're free of antibiotic residues that can lead to the development of resistant bacteria.

See my updated blog listing "Choose It" vs. "Lose It" green humane animal labels.

Buy from a trusted local source who gives you assurances of sustainable practices and safe food handling. Once a week, my husband walks to the Kapiolani Community College Farmers' Market, a mile and a half from our Honolulu home, and buys local grass-fed meat from Chef Hardy Binscher, pictured above. The executive chef at Michel's, a bastion of fine farm-to-table Honolulu dining, Chef Hardy also grills fresh meat and sustainable fish burgers to order at his farmers' market booth. This week, it was shutome (Hawaii handline-caught swordfish, a Monterey Bay Aquarium "best choice")* papillote with Swiss chard!

2. Chill it. After buying, take meat, poultry, fish and dairy straight home and refrigerate at 40 degrees until ready to prepare. Bacteria grow rapidly in warm animal products.

3. Handle with care. Before and after preparing meat, fish and poultry, wash hands in hot, soapy water. Wash knives, cutting boards, countertops and sink with more hot, soapy water to prevent cross-contamination of other foods. Here are more safety tips.

4. Cook thoroughly. When in doubt, use a thermometer. For internal temps needed to kill pathogens in meat, fish and poultry, see FDA's food prep tip sheet.

For more information:

Keep Antibiotics Working

Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics

*note: Imported swordfish is a "worst choice," and U.S.-caught green ratings depends upon the method used. Always vet your fish at Seafood Watch.

For more green, healthy living news and tips, please sign up for our free monthy e-newsletter at and ask me questions there or in the comment section of this blog.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Green cleaning scorched pots & pans

The Green Man recently scorched my favorite saucepan when his writing project heated up. The smell of something burning reminded him--too late--that he'd left something cooking on the stove. He found the stainless pan caked with burnt tomato sauce with the consistency of hardened lava; we took turns scraping and scrubbing with our green cleaning arsenal--green dish soap, baking soda, Bon Ami, white vinegar-- but only a trace of the gunk came off.

While making lemon glaze for lemon cakes the other day, I reached for the scorched pan, which was just the right size. The recipe called for half a cup of fresh-squeezed lemon juice mixed with half a cup of water, stirred until it boiled and then simmered for five more minutes. Because the black lava had been impossible to scrub off, I thought it had bonded to the pan.

I was wrong. As I stirred it with a wooden spoon, the bubbling lemon sauce took on a distinctly grey tinge. I decanted it into an omelet pan and kept stirring, hoping it wouldn't taste like iron filings. I left the blackened saucepan in the sink, filled with hot water and liquid soap. The lemon sauce tasted fine, soaked into the cakes.

Next morning, the Green Man found the pan in the sink, and exclaimed: "Hey! The black gunk has lifted off!" He swished it with a plastic scrubber, rinsed it out, and the pan was smooth, silvery stainless again.

I hope you never scorch a pot, but if it happens, you know what to do! To economize, I'd use just enough lemon juice and water to cover the bottom of the pot as it boils. Reduce heat, let simmer a couple minutes, then leave in sink overnight in soapy water.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Reject household cleaning products that don't list all ingredients

Two cleaning challenges: I'm allergic to my pet, but I don't want to use a cleaning product that'll turn his favorite Persian rug into a toxic miasma!

"Any idea how bad a Swiffer wet jet is for me/the planet?" a Facebook friend asked the other day. Swiffer,I replied to her, is bad for the planet because the cleaning cloths are single-use disposables. That's basic waste. But a wet jet? I had to look it up.

I checked out the Wet Jet solution refill with Febreze lavender and vanilla. The ingredients: Cleaning agents (including solvents), perfume, water. First of all, solvents include some of the most toxic chemicals in use; "perfume" and "fragrance" are buzzwords for synthetic compounds that can contain toxic phthalates and other unhealthy chemicals, according to Environmental Working Group.

But without even knowing the specific ingredients, I could give my pal my opinion: If they're hiding something, don't buy the product. Given the spectrum of toxic, allergenic chemicals found in many conventional (and some so-called green) cleaning products, you owe it to your health to make an informed choice. Problem is, U.S. laws allow cleaning product manufacturers to conceal "trade secret" ingredients.

Earth Justice, Women's Voices for the Earth and Sierra Club filed suit against leading cleaning product manufacturers in New York State, seeking to compel full transparency regarding ingredients.

After the lawsuit was filed, SC Johnson, the maker of Drano, Fantastik and Glade, announced they were voluntarily listing all their ingredients on this website. But they still don't disclose everything! For instance, the ingredients list for Drano includes "proprietary surfactant blend." Sorry, they haven't come clean enough!

My FB pal said she was returning her wet jet to the store. The kicker was, she'd heard of pets being poisoned after licking the solution off their paws.

Cleaner Cleaning Products How-to's

When reading labels, use my list of cleaning product ingredients to avoid

Mix your own from common household ingredients, plant oils and white vinegar. Window cleaner recipe. Get eleven more d.i.y. cleaning recipes in my article in Natural Home Magazine.

For more green living tips, to enter free raffles for green product giveaways, and to subscribe to my free monthly e-newsletter, visit my home page, Post your comments/questions in the comment section of this blog, and I'll reply. Thanks!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Alex Postman, Eco-Editor and Heroine

She walks her green talk, even on her rooftop!Alex Postman of Whole Living is the first editor-in-chief I've known who has climbed up on her roof and painted it white. Why? "The top floor, where our bedrooms are, is like a Turkish bath in summer," Alex says of her four-story Brooklyn brownstone, "and I hate sleeping in an air-conditioned room." A white roof can reduce your energy use--and your electric bills-- by 20% during hot, sunny weather.

And, for the editor of a publication that nurtures a feeling of community among readers, contributors and staff, how cool is it that Alex is not only cooling her house, but benefitting her neighbors, as well! "A white roof reduces the urban heat island effect for the entire neighborhood, says Alex Wilson, founding editor of Building Green magazine.

You can see Alex wielding the roller atop her four-story Brooklyn brownstone in the April Whole Living's Earth Day feature, "This is the Year I'll..." Full disclosure: I was the writer for the piece. But I have yet to paint my own asphalt roof white, which is one reason Alex is my eco-heroine: her hands-on example is a real inspiration!

For this issue, Alex had the idea to honor 10 eco-heroines with the magazine's first Whole Living Awards. Read about these wonderful women in the article "Planet Keepers." But what about the woman behind the scenes? Not only has Alex painted her roof white, but she, her family and neighbors cleaned trash from sidewalk dirt strips and planted new trees and other plants to beautify the block and provide more cooling shade.

Alex's concern for community also led her to coauthor, with her husband Andy Postman and Healthy Child, Healthy World's Christopher Gavigan,a book for parents on how to protect their children's environmental health. Plus, she challenges herself to go greener in her daily life, for example, giving up paper towels a year ago--no easy prospect for a mom of three young children. Alex shrugs these achievements off. Instead, she calls herself an Eco-crastinator in her editor's note this month.

I'm an eco-crastinator, myself, in so many ways, and this--the human, fallible, humorous side of going green--is yet another reason that Alex is one of my eco-heroines.

For more green, healthy living news and tips, please sign up for our free monthy e-newsletter at and ask me questions there or in the comment section of this blog! Thanks.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

How to avoid GM food, and why it should be labelled

GM foods have recently been making news, with two new GM crops, beet sugar and alfalfa,
getting the go-ahead from USDA, and fast-growing GM farmed salmon awaiting FDA approval . Already, 86 percent of all U.S. corn and 93 percent of soy are GM. On the bright side, Orchids at the Halekulani, a greenmarket gourmet restaurant in Honolulu, where I live, launched a GMO-free menu this month.

We want to know what we’re eating, and more than half of Americans polled have said they don’t want food that’s been genetically engineered (GE), popularly re ferred to as genetically modified (GM). What it means: biotechnicians insert genes from one organism into another, unrelated, organism with which it could not be naturally bred. Example: corn carrying the Bt bacteria gene, which secretes an insecticide. Yum!

But how to avoid GM food, when an estimated 60-70 percent of processed foods in grocery stores contain GE ingredients, but these are not required by law to be labelled (and so are not)?

There are three easy ways.

1. Choose food labeled USDA certified organic, which forbids GE.

2. Choose food labeled “Non GM” and dairy labeled “cows not given rBGH” (see “Why Avoid GMOs,” below)

3. Weed out processed foods from your diet and eat more fresh, seasonal whole foods–-one of the 12 top green goals in my “This is the Year I’ll...” article in the April Whole Living. With the exception of about 50% of Hawaiian papayas, there is no commercialized GM produce–yet.

Halekulani's Chef Vikram Garg, whom I met for a taste of his GMO-free menu, told me he sources non-GM foods by choosing organic, or foods from local farmers who provide him with written verification that their crops or animal products are GE-free. “Fresh, minimally processed,” is this chef’s rule of thumb. He expressed concern that “people are consuming so much processed food–I want to encourage people to eat simply.” He selects organic or all-grass-fed (not corn “finished”) animal products, since conventional animal feed is likely to contain GM corn, soy and, now, alfalfa–and dairy cows are given GE recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH).

Why Avoid GM Foods?

“Personally I’m not against anything GM,” Chef Vikram told me, “but if it’s in the plant you eat, it’s going in your body.”

Reasons you might not want GMOs in your body–or in our environment-- include:

Personal health: Synthetic recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbgh, also known as rbst),produced by splicing cattle and bacteria genes has higher levels of, insulin-like growth factor 1, linked to several cancers.

There is also concern that an increase in food allergies may be partly due to the spread of GE foods.

Protecting Genetic Diversity and Keeping Organic Organic:Contamination of organic crops and shrinking crop diversity due to GM pollen drift are very real risks.

Vegetarians do not want to consume foods with animal genes inserted in them.

What matters most to Chef Vikram, he says, is the superior taste of the fresh, sustainably produced local foods that are the focus of his GMO-free menu. We eat a GMO-free, all-local salad arrives, composed of lightly grilled, mushrooms, plus hearts of palm, red onions, and watercress.“The main idea is that people not think that with GM-free you can’t have a dish that tastes like this,” Garg says. “On the contrary, you get the best of all these flavors.”

The entree is organic green lentil risotto, local tomatoes, and organic brown rice, seasoned with turmeric, cumin, salt and asafoetida. “It’s non-GM, but there are other healthy properties–it’s a wholesome, holistic dish,"Chef Vikram says. "Spices such as cumin have ayurvedic, anti-inflammatory properties, and asoefetida aids digestion," he adds.

This is pure comfort food, with a delicate, light texture and taste.“We call it kichidi, and this is my mom’s recipe; when I go home to India this is always my first dinner,” he says, noting that his parents raised him on a meat-free diet based on what’s fresh and seasonal in the market that day.

The Center for Food Safety’s excellent True Food Shopper’s Guide lists specific products to choose or avoid.


Join the Organic Consumers Association campaign seeking required labeling of GE ingredients in food.

If you’re opposed to GE salmon, which may harm endangered wild Atlantic salmon by outcompeting them for food and other resources, let your Congressional representatives know.
Join a campaign asking major candy manufacturers not to use GE sugar beets.

These tips, and many others, come from my book, Do One Green Thing, and grow out of questions and suggestions from valued readers like you. For more green, healthy living news and tips, please sign up for our free monthy e-newsletter at and ask me questions there or in the comment section of this blog

BPA, pthalates, and the "safer" plastics conundrum

The latest science shows that plastics are really, really bad news. For years, the conventional wisdom has been that while some bad plastics, such as polycarbonate (PC #7) release toxic chemicals, notably hormone-disrupting Bisphenol-A (BPA), other plastics are safer. Unfortunately, they may not be. Hormone-disrupting, estrogenically active (EA) chemicals were found to leach from all kinds of plastics, including those labeled BPA-free, in a study published by Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) in March. “In some cases, BPA-free products released chemicals having more EA than BPA-containing products,” wrote researchers, who tested 450 baby bottles, water bottles, plastic food containers and wraps bought from retailers including Wal-mart and Whole Foods. Seventy percent of the items released EA into solutions at room temperature, and 95% leached EA after stress tests simulating normaluse in dishwashers and microwaves.

Next, a small but significant study released in EHP online, found that BPA levels in urine samples taken from five SF Bay Area families–10 adults and 10 children–dropped by 66 percent over just three days when they stopped eating packaged food, including food from plastic packages and cans. Participants’ levels of DEHP phthalate, another hormone-disrupting chemical commonly found in flexible PVC plastic, dropped by 53-56 percent.

“All plastic should be labeled as hazardous waste," Captain Charles Moore,who discovered what is popularly known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch," told me recently in Honolulu, where he had come with many others to present research at a week-long UNEP/NOAA Marine Debris Conference. Moore's research voyages to the Great Pacific Gyres off Hawaii and Japan, and the waters between, show that the ocean is fast turning into a plastic plasma. Discarded plastic bottles, containers, toys, and fishing line are broken up into microscopic fragments, about plankton size. His Algalita Foundation's latest findings: Thirty-five percent of plankton-eating lantern fish, the bottom of the marine food chain, had plastic in their bellies.

This toxic plastic plasma will rise in the food chain and find its way into our bellies if we don’t stop contributing to it soon. “Everything eventually makes its way into the ocean,” Captain Moore says.

What to Do?

First, we’ve got to stop buying disposable items made of plastic, Moore says.

Second, we must recycle, rather than toss our old plastics in the trash. If your municipality only accepts bottles labeled #1 and #2 in curbside bins, type in “plastic” at to find a recycling/redemption drop-off center nearest you that takes #3, #6 and #7 plastics.

That said,if you sometimes need to store or carry foods in lightweight plastics, choose #1, #2, #4 and #5 and keep them away from high heat and abrasion. No microwaving or cleaning in dishwasher! See my lists of food and drink containers that are least toxic, according to the research that's been done so far.

We can reduce our body burden of toxic plastic chemicals, like the Bay Area families did, by eating mostly fresh, not processed foods, and avoiding plastic. Check out the SF Chronicle’s interviews with the researchers

Take Action

Finally, we can speak up and tell our political and community leaders to ban single-use plastics. Let's not let the plastics industry chill our speech! For example: Over the objections of researchers who were reporting their studies of plastics pollution and the ocean,the “P” word--“plastic"--was left out of all official publications and pronouncements, Dianna Cohen of Plastics Pollution Coalition told me. "Plastic was the elephant in the room," Cohen said. Instead, the euphemism “marine debris” was used throughout, even though, as Moore told me, “Almost all so-called ‘marine debris’ is plastic." Conference sponsors included Coca Cola and the American Chemistry Council (ACC), which has been pouring money into efforts to block bans on disposable plastic grocery bags nationwide.
Support ongoing research by Moore’s Algalita Foundation.

Help stop the use of single-use grocery bags in your community. Take the Plastics Pledge and learn more about Surfrider Foundation’s Rise Above Plastics campaign.

I hope to hear from you! My book, Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices, grew out of questions and suggestions from valued readers like you. For more green, healthy living news and tips, please sign up for our free monthy e-newsletter at and ask me questions there or in the comment section of this blog. I'll answer!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Green Cookware List

What to do if you're concerned about perfluorochemicals (PFOA, PTFE)used to make nonstick coatings? Especially in light of recent human studies showing possible links to infertility in women and ADHD (attention deficity hyperactivity disorder) in adolescents ,If you're in the market for a new pan, I recommend the uncoated or alternative nonstick products below, excerpted from my book, Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.

Cuisinart Green Gourmet
Le Creuset enamel (coated cast-iron for stovetop/ oven, and glazed clay for oven only)
Lodge traditional uncoated cast iron, once conditioned with oil, is quite nonstick; Lodge also makes enamel cast iron.
Martha Stewart enamel cookware
Mario Batali enamel cast iron at Crate & Barrel
Other safe, sound choices

Stainless steel (nonreactive, though not nonstick!)
Calphalon-type anodized aluminum, so long as it's not covered with nonstick Teflon-type coatings.

For Baking, not stovetop:
Pyrex glassware
Silicone, popular with many bakers, has not been shown to leach toxic chemicals, but it also hasn't been studied much in that regard. In the meantime, I personally find its softness can lead to spills of batter, and I'm leery of heating any plastic, period. Better than PTFE nonstick coatings? Based on what we know so far, yes!

If you’d rather not buy new:

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

For more info, see EWG's report on Teflon/Silverstone-type chemicals, and this previous GreenerPenny blog & helpful reader comments.

For more green, healthy living news and tips, sign up for our free monthy e-newsletter at and ask me questions there or in the comment section of this blog!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

More Products for Phthalate- and Paraben-Free Personal Care and Indoor Air

We Heart Green Cosmetics!

A couple quick new finds and tips for warming and freshening up these waning(but draining) days of winter...but first, don't forget to register for a giveaway of organic EndangeredWildlife lip balms on my home page,!

Tropical Phthalate-Free Soaps and Air Fresheners

Yum, tuberose, pikake, all the scents we Hawaiians love to wear in flower leis, are now available in big bath bars of soap from Alora Ambiance, a small company founded by two sisters. I'm a convert to their essential oil diffusers, too, which use only plant essential oils in glass jars; natural reed stems lift the fragrance into bath or bedroom air.

For a great d.i.y. bathroom air freshener, the Feb issue of Whole Living Magazine recommends hanging a bouquet of dried herbs and flowers--shower steam diffuses their scent. On p. 56, there are great green tips for gentler home hair color brands without ammonia, plus how-to's.

Also see this month's feature on "Cozying Up" your winter home by Sarah Engler--insulated drapes, wool clogs,onion soup, pillows & throws. Energy-saving & snug.

Top Mineral Powder Makeups: Pat Don't Puff!

Let's face it, no makeup except maybe d.i.y. cornstarch is perfectly pure, but the following are definitely phthalate-and-paraben free and work great! Brush a bit on palm of hand and stroke on with fingers or cotton to keep loose particles from irritating lungs/eyes.

Bare Minerals by Bare Escentuals
Jane Iredale Mineral Makeup
Mineral Fusion
Physicians Formula Organic Wear

For a full list of purer personal care brands, and a great string of comments, see my Phthalate-and-Paraben Free blog. And check out the Filthy Fifteen Cosmetics Ingredients,specific looks at product categories, and more (for going green in every category of daily life) in my book, Do One Green Thing.

Sign up for our monthly free email newsletter, and email me questions, at my home page,

Friday, January 21, 2011

Top Nontoxic Products: Cosmetics, Dish & Laundry Soaps, Chocolates, Plastics

The Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network has filed suit on behalf of endangered species threatened by pesticides worldwide. Endangered humpback and North American Right whales swim in the same waters we do, polluted by toxic pesticides after heavy rains. In addition to supporting non-profit groups like CBD, PAN, Oceana and Environmental Defense Fund, we can help keep toxic chemicals out of the environment and our bodies through simple attention to the products we choose.

Last week, as the author of Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices, I was on a panel discussing this topic at an “eco-salon” sponsored by Whole Living Magazine in the L.E.E.D.-certified green office of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in San Francisco. See the video here! With the help of a very engaged audience, who asked lots of questions and also gave suggestions, we brainstormed what we could do at personal, community and political levels.

1. Buy and Use Nontoxic Alternatives

From a personal health standpoint, all agreed, the fastest way to reduce our chemical “body burden” is to avoid products that contain known toxics, such as water bottles and food containers made with polycarbonate (PC #7) plastic, which releases toxic Bisphenol-A (BPA), and toys, shower curtains and other products made of polyvinyl (PVC #3) plastic, which releases phthalates, hormone-disrupting chemicals linked to obesity in children as well as adults.

Choosing personal care products that are certified organic, or bear other third-party verified seals, per my truly green cosmetic labels list. Endangered Wildlife Lip Balm is USDA certified organic, and, the company donates 25% of its profits to the Center for Biological Diversity, which is working to protect endangered right whales, jaguars, polar bears, and other wildlife (WFLB also gave lip balms to our eco-salon attendees.

Choosing organically grown food, such as the delectable chocolates and teas that fairly traded Equal Exchange Cooperative donated to our event, keeps toxic pesticides and fertilizers out of the environment as well as our bodies.

Get a fresh start in 2011 with's Top Picks Shopping Guides. Click the links below for best green brands.

Food & Water Containers
Choose what's been proven safe–such as a stainless steel water bottle from this list (which also spells out safer plastics). For safer food containers, click here.

Top Green Dish Soaps

Top Green Lip Balms

Guilt-Free Green Chocolates

Top Green Laundry Detergents

2. Support Actions to Regulate

At the same time and in the long term, we need government regulation, a route pursued by EDF and fellow members of the I Am Not a Guinea Pig coalition , which seeks to ban toxic chemicals such as BPA through legislation. California has led the nation in banning the two most toxic flame retardants, as noted by one of my co-panelists, Debbie Raphael, toxics reduction/ green building program manager for the San Francisco Department of the Environment. And, following San Francisco’s and then California’s lead, Congress has banned phthalates in children's products.

3. Ask Companies to Stop Using Toxic Chemicals

Some companies seize the initiative to go green, such as Patagonia did in switching exclusively to certified organic cotton. In addition to using the power of our wallets by selecting green products, we can support the efforts of non-profit organizations such as EDF, which work with companies to stop putting toxic chemicals into products. Panelist Beth Trask, deputy director of EDF’s corporate partnerships program, spoke about working with Wal-mart to encourage its suppliers to eliminate known toxic chemicals. EDF’s successes in the business front include getting McDonald’s to stop using styrofoam, and getting Starbucks to use post-consumer-recycled paper in its cups.

Shoppers are used to asking ourselves if we really need something. Can we afford it? We can apply the same question to risks of toxic chemical exposures. As Debbie Raphael advised, we should ask ourselvesL Is it necessary? Just because a product is for sale doesn’t mean it’s safe, obviously–and up to 80% of the synthetic chemicals on the marketplace have not been tested for safety, Rafael said. For 5 specific steps for avoiding toxic–and often fattening-- chemicals in everyday products, see my recent Whole Living blog.

Drop by our home page at to win prizes, subscribe to our free monthly e-newsletter, and Ask Mindy any questions! You can also ask and make suggestions in the Comment place below. Thanks!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Latest News on BPA and Tips for Avoiding Toxic (and Fattening) Chemicals

Why is fat related to plastic chemicals? Turns out, BPA and other "obesogens" leach from plastics, cleaning products and cosmetics and find their way into our bodies through our food, water, air--and through our skins. These synthetic chemicals “mimic” the behavior of estrogen and other hormones and have also been linked to cancer and learning problems.

Products Containing BPA
BPA, for example, is found in polycarbonate plastic (PC #7) sports and baby bottles, canned food linings, pizza boxes, cash register receipts and even dollar bills. Plastics and cans are believed to be our most common routes of exposure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control,which found in the urine of nearly all 2,500 people the Centers tested in 2003-4.

The Bad on BPA: The latest science

Bisphenol-A (BPA),has been connected with higher incidence of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in humans in a 2008 study. In a 2010 study, mother mice exposed to higher levels of BPA were found to be heavier than those who were not, and to produce offspring who were more likely to be fat and pre-diabetic.

Human fertility also appears to be at risk from BPA exposures. In 2010, a study at University of San Francisco connected BPA with impaired egg quality in women. Researchers found that,as blood levels of BPA in women doubled, the number of eggs that could be fertilized declined by 50%. Other studies have linked BPA to reduced sperm counts other fertility problems in humans.

Perhaps most alarming is BPA’s potential to harm developing fetuses, infants and children. In 2010, BPA was linked to aggressive behavior in baby girls, as Janet Raloff reported in Science Times. Animal studies have shown that BPA can cause brain damage and learning disorders as well as interfere with reproductive systems. Exposure to BPA in the womb has led to development of asthma in animals.

How to Avoid BPA and Other Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Products

The good news: While BPA is pretty much everywhere, it can be avoided.

Below are five small but significant steps adapted from my book, Do One Green Thing, for losing your body burden of toxic chemicals.

1. Bypass the BPA:

Eat more fresh and less canned food. Consumers Union tests found pervasive BPA in canned food linings last year; Eden Foods has been using BPA-free can linings for more than a decade.

Phase out sports and baby bottles and kitchenware made with polycarbonate PC #7 plastic. Use my lists of top food storage containers and safest drink bottles.

Never microwave food in any plastic container; perversely, even so-called “safe” plastics have been found to leach BPA when heated .

2. Choose green, botanically-derived household cleaning products, like these dish soaps. Use my list of conventional cleaning ingredients to avoid for the sake of your indoor air and our waterways.

Yes, household air can get a little stale in January, but rather than spraying toxic synthetic “air fresheners,”, crack a window to let real fresh air in. For fragrancing, set out some potpourri or dip diffuser sticks in a vial of plant essential oils, like the pure tropical blends from Alora Ambiance.

3. Don’t buy toys, apparel and home decorating products made with PVC vinyl, often identified by the recycling code #3, which can be contaminated with brain-damaging lead and phthalates, which have been linked to obesity in human adults, asthma in children, and reproductive deformities in infants and wildlife.

4. Eat more organic and locally-grown produce and fewer meats and processed foods. It's good for your waistline and you'll reduce toxic pesticide exposures and unhealthy fats, preservatives and sugars in your diet. You can also choose low-mercury, sustainable fish using EDF’s handy seafood selector cards.

5. Stop buying bottled water. It’s generally not safer than tap, as shown by EWG’s 2011 drinking water report.

Eighty percent of disposable plastic bottles wind up in landfills and oceanic garbage patches, whereas 80% of glass is recycled! And, when heated, these polyethylene (PET #1) bottles can release phthalates and other toxic chemicals in some tests, as this 2010 study finds. Drink tap water, filtered if necessary, and get involved with local and environmental groups that work on protecting watersheds, including Environmental Defense Fund. In California, for instance, here are EDF's efforts to preserve major ecosystems by making water use more sustainable.

We're Not Guinea Pigs! Taking Action for Safe Chemicals Policy

Despite BPA’s lengthy rap sheet, the U.S. has resisted taking protective action, lagging behind Canada and Europe. In late 2010, the EU banned BPA in plastic baby bottles, while a similar law, sponsored by Senator Diane Feinstein and calling for further studies by the U.S. FDA, foundered in Congress. Another BPA ban was rejected by the California legislature last fall, after last-minute lobbying by the chemical industry,the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Californialegislators also failed to implement California’s Green Chemistry Initiative. Scheduled to take effect this month, the law would have kept carcinogens out of household cleaners, cosmetics and children’s products, while requiring companies to fully disclose ingredients and materials .

We’re not guinea pigs, but we’re being treated that way “Children’s toys, kitchen productds, cosmetics, fast food containers–countless items that we use on a daily basis are made with chemicals that science is linking to the rising rates of childhood cancers, infertility, learning disabilities and more,” says Richard Denison, Ph.D., senior scientist with EDF, which is part of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition working for policy change. Join up! You'll be glad you did.

Until regulations are in place, it’s up to us to protect ourselves and the environment from chemicals hidden in everyday products.

You’re Invited

If you’ll be in the Bay Area today, January 11th, please join me at a toxic chemicals and daily products talk and sustainable cocktail party at EDF's San Francisco office, from 5:30-7:30, sponsored by Whole Living Magazine, where I'm the "Econundrums" columnist online and in every print issue. RSVP at this link.

Got a question? Ask me on my home page at, and sign up for our free monthly email newsletter filled with new studies and green living tips.

Thanks, and Happy Nontoxic New Year!