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6 Strategies for Choosing Non-toxic Personal Care Products




This past week concerned customers have been taking letters to Walgreen asking them to #MindtheStore by keeping products containing any of a list of 100 hazardous ingredients off their shelves. Similar previous efforts have resulted in Target and Walmart agreeing to take steps to reduce and eliminate hazardous chemicals in their products. Some might wonder whether this course of action is really necessary. I mean, don't our national laws and regulations prevent retailers from selling hazardous products in the first place?

Acceptable Levels of Risk


Although most consumers believe the U.S. government regulates the safety of personal care products, the sad truth is, personal products (a.k.a. cosmetics) are among the least-regulated products on the market. The current cosmetics law in the United States dates back to 1938, long before thousands of ingredients had even been invented. The FDA (charged with oversight of the cosmetics industry) has no authority to require pre-market safety testing, does not have the authority to regulate what goes into cosmetics before they are marketed for consumer use, and has no authority to require recalls of harmful cosmetics or even to require that manufacturers report cosmetics-related injuries to the FDA (source).

In fact, the cosmetics industry rather than a government agency is in charge of policing itself. Like many other industries before them (tobacco, alcohol, and now food), when faced with the possibility of meaningful government regulation (in 1978), the cosmetics industry volunteered to regulate itself by creating the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Panel. Who determines if ingredients are safe enough to be used in personal products?
"Acceptable levels of risk are entirely at the [Industry] Panel's discretion" (source).

Whole Grain Chocolate Chip Snack Bars



Here is another recipe that has made it into our homemade snack rotation. They started with the very popular recipe Playgroup Granola Bars on allrecipes.com. My friend Lys made them for me and my kids during a play date and they were a big hit. As always, I have made many modifications. I use chocolate chips instead of raisins, which was actually Lys' innovation. Of course, if I had used only raisins I could have called my recipe "refined sugar-free" or something. But oh well. Chocolate chips make them extra appealing.

I use white whole wheat flour (instead of white flour plus wheat germ). You could probably use whole wheat flour plus wheat germ, but I don't happen to stock wheat germ. I cut the brown sugar entirely, because they really are plenty sweet with just the honey. I also tried substituting applesauce for some of the oil and that works too. I make them both ways depending on whether I have an open jar of applesauce on hand or not. I also added some nuts. As with all my favorite healthy homemade snacks, these freeze extremely well and are perfect for lunch boxes, picnics, and on-the-go snacking.

How to Turn Cereal Boxes into a Lift-the-Flap Toy



Breakfast is my favorite meal and I make hot breakfasts several times a week. Still, we manage to go through quite a bit of boxed cereal at my house. Enough to make me want to do something useful with the cereal boxes before they hit the recycling bin. When I noticed by chance that the boxes of several of our favorite cereals perfectly nested inside each other, I just knew there must be something they would be useful for. Eventually, I came up with the perfect upcycling project, thanks to my middle child's love of lift-the-flap books (which she calls "peek-a-boo books").

Here's how to turn two ordinary cereal boxes into a fun crafty project that your kids will love making and playing with. We call them peek-a-boo houses at my house.

How to Upcycle Cereal Boxes into a Peek-a-Boo (Lift-the-Flap) House


6 Ways to Ditch Disposables



Over the last few years, one of the strategies I have used to green my lifestyle is to switch from single-use disposable products to reusable ones. In addition to trimming my trash's waistline significantly, these changes have reduced my family's exposure to toxins and saved me buckets of money. Here are 6 switches I've made that you can make too!

Goodbye, Paper Napkins and Towels. 

I still keep a roll of paper towels on an upper shelf in a kitchen cabinet, but probably only go through two or three rolls in a year. Switching to cloth napkins and towels was not nearly as painful as I thought it would be. First, we switched to cloth napkins. When we ran out of paper napkins, I simply dug the cloth napkins (wedding gift) out of a bin in the garage instead of buying more paper ones. Then I stocked up on some fabulous sponges and plenty of kitchen towels, and made sure to stash them in convenient locations. You can read more about my switch to a paperless kitchen here.

Goodbye, Disposable Plastic Baggies. 

This was a tough one. And it took me a while. But little by little I have found a new way to store virtually everything I once stored in disposable plastic baggies. I now have a stash of snack, sandwich, and gallon-size reusable food bags in food-safe fabrics. The double-nylon ones work great in the freezer and for partially used blocks of cheese in the fridge. Many other items are now stored in glass jars or cardboard boxes instead. When I do need a plastic bag (to freeze a loaf of homemade bread, for example), I have a stash of plastic bags from other food packaging (tortillas, for example) that I store in an empty tissue box that I can reuse. Click here to read posts about my experiences saying goodbye to disposable food baggies.

Goodbye, Single-use Batteries. 

If you have a lot of electronics, it probably makes sense to invest in rechargeable batteries. My husband led the charge on this change, partly because he was tired of storing used batteries indefinitely in the garage until we found a way to appropriately dispose of them. (Batteries are hazardous waste and should not be discarded in the regular garbage.) After trying several different brands (the very inexpensive ones were mostly duds with a frustratingly short life), we found a high-quality reliable brand that we really like.

Goodbye, Plastic Shopping Bags. 

In the beginning, I reused plastic shopping bags. But I often forgot them, and ended up with more, and they just seemed to multiply like rabbits. Then I reused paper bags, but often overloaded them and broke the handles. They rarely lasted more than a few trips. Next I moved onto the 99 cent reusable variety. I found they didn't last that long either and also read that they could be made with questionable materials. Finally, I invested in some high-quality fabric shopping bags (made of recycled cotton and plastic). This is what I would recommend you do if you are serious about reusing your shopping bags. I also love using reusable produce bags (I often get asked about them when shopping). We always put our shopping and produce bags back in the trunk after returning from the grocery store or farmers market. You can read more about my favorite reusable shopping and produce bags in this post.

Goodbye, Disposable Diapers

Nothing inspires consumption like a new baby.  I remember well how my garbage can overflowed each week with disposable diapers. We literally could not fit all of our garbage into the can given to us by the city. Even more important, I had concerns about the disclosed and undisclosed ingredients of disposable diapers, and the effect of their being in contact with my baby's sensitive areas 24-7. I switched to cloth diapers and wipes when my first child was one and have never looked back. My newborn diaper stash has been used by 5 different babies (only two of my own), and I just lent them out for a sixth round. Actually those diapers have been used by even more babies than that, since I purchased them second-hand. That's some serious reuse! I have also enjoyed using reusable nursing pads while breastfeeding my kids. For more information about cloth diapers, check out my page Everything Eco-novice Knows About Cloth Diapers.

Goodbye, Tampons

My latest foray into reusable products pertains to everyone's favorite topic: menstruation! First I switched to non-toxic tampons and pads made with pesticide-free and bleach-free organic cotton. But eventually, after hearing all my green friends go on and on about it, I switched to a menstrual cup. Even if you aren't ready to try a cup, consider cloth pads. I use cloth liners as backup with my cup and they are so much more comfortable than the paper and plastic disposable pads and liners. Plus, no adhesive (need I say more?). Read more about my recent (and long procrastinated) switch to reusable menstrual products here.

Reuse is Better than Recycling!

Recycling is a great way to reduce your waste, but remember that even better than recycling is reuse. Recycling requires energy (much of it is shipped to China for processing), not everything you toss in your recycling bin ends up recycled (because of contamination and other issues), and even what ends up recycled is usually down-cycled, not recycled into the same product. Switching to reusable gift wrap, water bottles, milk bottles, and returning berry baskets and egg cartons to producers will reduce your recycling and conserve resources. Always be on the lookout for ways to reduce your waste and recycling by reusing!


What are your favorite reusables?
What disposables have you had trouble ditching?





Check out these additional posts on the 5 R's from Green Sisterhood Bloggers


Stay tuned for posts each Friday in April on the above topics as part of Green Sisterhood's Earth Month Blog Party!

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How to Be an Environmentalist without Being a Total Downer



Why don't more people care about the environment?
Why aren't more people anxiously engaged in addressing climate change?
Why are so many good smart people seemingly indifferent to the looming catastrophes?

We greenies muse about these questions now and then. And sometimes thinking about the apathy of others gets us really discouraged and stuck in a feeling of hopelessness (what's the use?). Green Bean shared with me an interesting article that explains that the green movement has a major PR problem, and that the solution is to never say "earth" or "planet" or "environment," to focus on people (not polar bears), to enlist celebrities, and to repeat, repeat, repeat.

Recently I've been reading Daniel Goleman's book Focus about the nature of attention, and his discussion of attention has an enlightening explanation about why are paralyzed by climate change. He gives two very compelling reasons why we are very ill-equipped to address "our slow-motion mass suicide as human systems degrade the global systems that support life on this planet."

Continue reading at The Green Phone Booth


Would you like more ideas and tips about Going Green Gradually? Sign up for my free email subscription to get each of my posts delivered to your inbox (I usually post one or two times a week). You can also follow me on Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest, Twitter, or with your favorite RSS Reader. I hope to see you again soon!


Why I Don't Use Tampons Anymore



I had no intention of ever writing about this. Menstruation isn't my favorite topic, and I am a rather private person. Even after I became one of those weirdly enthusiastic menstrual cup users, I still wasn't planning to publish a post about alternatives to conventional feminine products. It was when I read the troubling report Chem Fatale by Women's Voices for the Earth about the potential health effects of toxic chemicals in feminine care products that I decided I would write a post about my experience switching to eco-friendlier menstrual products. As the report points out, "products intended for use on or in an incredibly absorbent part of a woman's body are marketed and sold with little to no data assuring the ingredients they contain are safe." That's in part because tampons and pads are considered medical devices by the FDA, and "medical devices lack any government requirement to disclose ingredients to the consumer."

Unfortunately, according to the report Chem Fatale, studies have shown that many chemicals of concern can be present in tampons and pads.

Hazardous chemicals in tampons may include:



Easy-peasy DIY Trail Mix



A few months ago, my husband returned from a business trip with a  partially eaten bag of trail mix purchased in the airport. It was probably the healthiest option available in the airport convenience store. Snacking on the store-bought mix had given my husband a new appreciation for trail mix, and he told me he planned to stock up on bags of trail mix at the grocery store to keep with him at work for healthy snacking.

That I simply could not stomach. Making trail mix is far too easy to spend your money on the version at the grocery store. Plus the airport version included fake M&Ms and hydrogenated vegetable oil. Yuck. Even the mixes at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods often have added sugar and other unnecessary ingredients. I quickly whipped up a version using ingredients I already had on hand. If you make granola, or regularly purchase nuts and dried fruit, you already have everything you need to make your own trail mix.

DIY Trail Mix

2 parts nuts
1 part dried fruit
1 part chocolate chips
Measure and mix. Store in an air-tight container (I like to use a glass quart canning jar). Lasts for several weeks. 

Why should you bother making your own trail mix?