Question: How Do You Compost? (Please Comment!)

Dear Readers,

Help me out. I really want to compost. I feel guilt every time I toss watermelon rinds and carrot peelings in the trash. But I'm having trouble jumping in and trying it. Here are my issues:
  • There are multiple methods. Which one is the best for me? Note that I have actually ruled out worms because a couple of my friends tried that method and it seemed like a lot of work.
  • If it takes too much time, I will fail. I know, because I watched two tomato plants die over the summer simply because I didn't water them. (In case you are concerned, my husband is in charge of watering our new tree.)
  • I have a toddler. A crazy, gets-into-everything, I-cannot-control-her toddler. I need to be able to let her roam somewhat unsupervised in the backyard or I will lose my mind. We are also hoping to get a dog. I cannot have an amorphous pile of compost that my toddler or future dog will get into.
  • I'm scared of attracting vermin. I've had ants, cockroaches, fruit flies, and rats. There are also plenty of stray cats and dogs in my neighborhood that I would like to stay off my property.
  • I am completely willing to drop $100 to $200 on a compost bin if it will solve all my problems and make all my composting dreams come true. But I'm scared I'll buy a bin, and it won't work all that well, or won't make composting easy-peasy enough, and then I won't use it, and then I'll have a big hunk of plastic in my backyard and a lot of eco-guilt.

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If you are a composter, I want to hear from you! Please click over and share your wisdom.

Use Eco-friendly and PVC-free Yoga Mats to Avoid Phthalates and Other Toxic Chemicals

Once I began exercising again after my third child was born, I decided it was time to retire my decade-old yoga mat and invest in a new one. My old yoga mat was very thin and not very high quality (it came free with a yoga DVD), but still usable. However, after years and years of using it, it dawned on me that it was almost certainly made of vinyl (PVC).

PVC is arguably the most toxic plastic. It's made with toxic chlorine which results in toxic dioxin being released into the environment. PVC products are also made using toxic additives such as lead and endocrine-distrupting phthalates, additives which readily migrate and off-gas during the use of PVC products. I especially wasn't comfortable with exposure to phthalates, which are added to PVC to make it soft and flexible (like a yoga mat), and which readily migrate to the surface of PVC products in which they are found. Phthalates also readily pass from mother to fetus through the placenta and are also found in breastmilk.

Phthalates are endocrine disruptors and have been linked to:
  • lower testosterone levels
  • decreased sperm counts
  • poor sperm quality
  • malformations of the male reproductive tract and testicular cancer
  • obesity
  • reduced female fertility
  • preterm birth and low birthweight
  • a worsening of allergy and asthma symptoms
  • behavior changes

Natural (PVC-free) Yoga Mats

Ten years ago, I'm guessing it was pretty difficult to find a PVC-free yoga mat. But now, thankfully, there are many PVC-free options. I wanted a natural rubber mat, and also a thicker one that would give me some decent cushion on top of my hardwood floor. I ended up purchasing the Gaiam Sol Power-Grip Yoga Mat made of natural rubber (note: I remember that it smelled strongly of rubber initially). It is pretty thick (4 mm) and has a nice grip to it too. I use my mat for beginning yoga but also for general exercise (while barefoot on hardwood) that includes pilates, weights, cardio, and stretching. I do not get super sweaty when I workout and am not terribly concerned about slippage. If you are a serious yogi, see the reviews below by yoga experts.

Some other natural (PVC-free) yoga mats include:

TPE and PER Plastic Yoga Mats

There are also less expensive synthetic yoga mats made from Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) and Polymer Environmental Resin (PER). TPE is a synthetic rubber that is touted as a healthy alternative to PVC. According to Thinksport, TPE is "free of BPA, PVC, Lead, Phthalates, Dioxins, and biologically toxic chemicals." What exactly TPE is I couldn't tell you. But I feel confident stating that it is far better than traditional PVC.

Yoga Mats Made from Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) 

Probably the least expensive alternative to traditional PVC is Polymer Environmental Resin (PER), which is touted as a less-toxic form of PVC. According to one manufacturer, which describes PER as "clean PVC," PER is free of "phthalates, dioxins and furans, phenal, or heavy metals and has a ecologically safer method of production which is better for the workers and the environment."

Yoga mats made from Polymer Environmental Resin (PER)

For my daughter, who often likes to "exercise" with me, I got a smaller mat so it wouldn't take up as much room. I purchased the Namaste Kid's Eco-friendly Kids Yoga Mat (made of PER). It measures 24" by 48" and is much thinner than mine, but suitable for my toddler, 4yo or even 6yo. It's main purpose is really to keep them off my mat and out of my way. I actually didn't realize PER is a form of PVC when I bought it. I couldn't find a small-sized rubber yoga mat. In retrospect, I would have preferred a TPE mat such as the Little Yoga Mat for my kids, but I don't feel strongly enough about it to stop using the PER mat.

Looking for additional PVC-free products? Check out these posts that describe and review PVC-free:
Stay tuned for additional posts about PVC-free alternatives to traditionally vinyl products.

Additional Eco-friendly Yoga Mat Reviews for Serious Yogis

How do you avoid PVC?

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 FacebookGoogle PlusPinterestTwitter, or with your favorite RSS Reader. I hope to see you again soon!

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. Your purchase via these links helps support my blog. Thank you for your support. Read my full disclosure policy here.

What's So Bad About Vinyl Plastic (PVC)?

I have a general avoidance policy towards plastic, particularly disposable plastic. I seek less toxic alternatives to plastics whenever I can. But I make an extra special effort to avoid certain plastics, including polyvinyl chloride (PVC), also known as vinyl or the #3 plastic. The Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) calls PVC "the most toxic plastic for children’s health and the environment."

What makes PVC uniquely toxic? 

In a nutshell, PVC plastic is uniquely toxic among plastics because of its highly toxic ingredients which readily migrate into the environment during its production, its use, and its disposal.

Toxic Ingredients

Pure PVC plastic is 57% chlorine, a toxic substance whose production generates substantial pollution (see below). PVC plastic is the only plastic made with chlorine. In addition, PVC plastic requires toxic additives, including heavy metals such as lead, endocrine-disrupting phthalates, and toxic flame retardants, in order to be made into stable and usable consumer products. These additives are released during both the use and disposal of PVC products.

Toxic Production

A basic building block of polyvinyl chloride is chlorine, and chlorine production releases dioxins into the environment.
  • According to CHEJ, dioxins are "a family of highly toxic chemicals that are known to cause cancer, reproductive, developmental and immune problems." 
  • Dioxin has been classified as a known human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (part of WHO) and the U.S. National Toxicology Program. 
  • Some scientists assert that there is no safe level of dioxin exposure for humans. 
  • Dioxins are persistent and bioaccumulative. Most human exposure is through food, mainly meat, dairy products, fish and shellfish (dioxins concentrate in the fatty tissue of animals).
  • In addition to dioxin, chlorine production also results in mercury emissions and asbestos waste. 
  • Communities surrounding PVC plants are particularly susceptible to the toxic chemical pollution from PVC production.  

Toxic Use

The toxic additives in vinyl readily leach and migrate out of PVC products. For example:
  • Merely handling a binder made with PVC stabilized by lead can result in lead exposure. The lead in the PVC migrates to the surface where it is readily picked up by your hand and then transferred to the mouth. 
  • The phthalates added to make soft and pliable vinyl products, such as shower curtains and children's lunch bags, easily migrate or off-gas, making them easy to inhale or ingest
  • Toxic tris flame retardants are added to PVC products such as vinyl flooring and are released as off-gassing occurs from the vinyl. 
  • According to CHEJ, "Scientists have found certain vinyl chemicals linked to asthma, cancer, birth defects, learning and developmental disabilities, obesity, diabetes and other preventable chronic diseases on the rise." 

Toxic Disposal

Whether a PVC product ends up in an incinerator, landfill, or recycling center at the end of its lifespan, PVC is bad news.
  • When garbage is incinerated (still a method of waste disposal in many states), additional dioxins are released into the environment. Dioxins are also released due to the numerous accidental fires that burn buildings and vehicles, two sectors that use substantial amounts of PVC. 
  • Many PVC additives, including phthalates and heavy metals such as lead, slowly leach out of PVC plastics over time when placed in a landfill (many of which are unlined), eventually contaminating ground and surface water. 
  • Vinyl is the least recyclable plastic because of the diversity of additives used to make different types of PVC products. In addition, when PVC-products are accidentally mixed with non-chlorine plastics, they contaminate the entire recycling process.
  • According to a 2004 CHEJ report, "Non-durable (short-lived) products account for more than 70% of PVC disposed in municipal solid waste in the U.S."

Avoiding PVC

Unfortunately, PVC can be difficult to avoid because it's is one of the most widely used plastics and it turns up everywhere. The good news is that more and more alternatives to vinyl products are becoming available. Check out these posts that describe and review PVC-free:

I'll be discussing additional PVC-free alternatives in upcoming posts.

Sources/ Further Reading

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Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. Your purchase via these links helps support my blog. Thank you for your support. Read my full disclosure policy here.

Thrift Store Find: "Like New" Birthday Gifts for Kids

Birthday parties. When you have young children, it seems like another one is always looming right around the corner. Since I hate to shop, I tend to stock up on gifts when I have the chance so I don't have to run out and grab something for every kid's birthday. I keep a bin of kids' gifts in the garage right next to my bin of to-be-reused gift wrapping supplies.

My favorite place to stock up on children's gifts is the thrift store. Oh, I have found some real gems in the toy department. A large wooden construction kit of bolts and screws. Ravensburg puzzles and Eeboo sewing cards. Problem is, you can only give second-hand gifts to close friends who you know will appreciate... a second-hand gift. Which is not every parent, nor every child to be sure. But now and then, you can sneak in a second-hand gift even to the unsuspecting. For me, that sneaky second-hand gift is most often not a toy (since, sadly, most folks expect a new toy to be all wrapped up in a lot of packaging and sealed in plastic wrap) but a book. A used book purchased at the thrift store that looks like new. Or if not "like new," then at least no worse-looking than many of the toddler-handled books you find at Barnes & Nobles.

The photo above shows a stash I purchased for around $10.

Easy Eco-tip Tuesday: Unjunk Your Mail Box

We purchased a home a little over a year ago. And with that home I inherited yet another batch of junk mail. Some days the mail box was jammed so full with the grocery circular as well as magazines and catalogs from the former resident that I could barely get my mail out. Luckily for me, I cleverly documented the unjunking process for myself on this blog about two years ago.

If your junk mail is clogging up your mail box and hogging your recycling bin, follow these four simple and free steps to an unjunked mail box. You'll be happy you did!

How to Unjunk Your Mail Box

Step 1: Save Your Junk
Series Reprise and Final Tips

Related Posts

Easy Eco-tip Tuesday: Clean with Vinegar
Easy Eco-tip Tuesday: Shop at Your Local Farmers Market
Easy Eco-tip Tuesday: Wait One Week to Make a Purchase

Are you interested in Going Green Gradually? Sign up for my free email subscription to get each of my posts delivered to your inbox (I usually post two or three times a week). You can also follow me on FacebookPinterestTwitter, or with your favorite RSS Reader. I hope to see you again soon!

Everything Eco-novice Knows About Cloth Diapers

{This post is continually updated.}

I switched from disposables to cloth diapers when my first child was one and have never looked back. I've had at least one kid in cloth diapers for over five years straight now. Here are all the posts I've ever written about cloth diapering in one handy place, including:

Note that certain posts appear more than once below under different headings.

Thinking About Using Cloth?

Quiz: Are Cloth Diapers Right for You?
Some people are absolutely sure they want to use cloth diapers and some are just as sure that they will never ever ever use cloth diapers. I never had any intention of using cloth diapers but ended up switching from disposables to cloth when my first child was one. If you answer YES to five or more of the questions in this "quiz," maybe cloth diapers really are for you.

I wrote this post for a friend of mine who wanted to try cloth diapers but was overwhelmed by the cloth diapering jargon. Here I discuss the three main categories of cloth diapers in comparison to something most parents are familiar with: the disposable diaper.

Green Phone Booth: The Best Time to Try Cloth Diapers
Many expectant parents shy away from trying cloth diapers with a newborn. They figure they will already be too overwhelmed dealing with a newborn baby and will maybe try switching to cloth later on. In this post I argue that the first six months are in many ways the easiest and most economical time to cloth diaper, not to mention that cloth diapering limits your newborn's exposure to potentially toxic chemicals during a particularly susceptible period. 

The Joys of Cloth Diapering

Why I love cloth diapers
I switched to cloth diapers because I was uncomfortable with putting impermeable plastic composed of numerous undisclosed chemicals around my son's private parts 24-7. Once I began using cloth diapers, I discovered that I liked them far more than disposable diapers for all kinds of reasons.

Wiping my Baby's Bottom
Cloth wipes are one of the best things about using cloth diapers. They helped sell my husband on cloth diapers.

How Often Does Your Baby Poop Up Her Back?
For me, one of the wonderful surprises of cloth diapers was that they eliminated pooplosions completely. Tired of stashing extra outfits for your baby in every purse, bag, and car? Consider cloth.

Thoughts on Diapering and Pottying During Travel
In this post, I talk about using disposable diapers during a family trip, and why I was so happy to return to using cloth when we returned home.

Eco-novice's Favorite Cloth Diapers

Quickly browse all my favorite cloth diapers in the Diaper Department of Eco-novice's Amazon store.

Newborn Diaper Stash
This post explains my favorite daytime and night time diapers for newborns and how many of each I need to be able to wash every 3 to 4 days.

Favorite Daytime Cloth Diapers
My favorite daytime cloth diapers for newborns on up to preschoolers.

Favorite Nighttime Cloth Diapers
My first child's night time diaper was never consistently leak-free until I switched to cloth.

Comparing Brands of Reusable Cloth Training Pants
A comparison of four different brands of cloth training pants test driven extensively on kids from 9 months to 3 years. I discuss materials, absorption, how waterproof they are, ease of pulling up and down, fit, bulk, comfort, when we prefer each variety, and price.

Washing Cloth Diapers

Washing Cloth Diapers
Eco-novice walks you step-by-step through her extremely simple washing routine.

What Do You Do with the POOP???
I'd say the number one reason people steer clear of cloth diapers is the thought of dealing with poop. In this post, I lay out your many options for dealing with poop on diapers (without ever touching it).

I Love Line Drying
Line drying and cloth diapers are a match made in heaven. Reduce your carbon footprint while effortlessly eliminating any lingering odors. 

Cloth Diapering a Newborn

Green Phone Booth: The Best Time to Try Cloth Diapers
By cloth diapering your newborn, you limit her exposure to potentially toxic chemicals during a particularly susceptible period. Luckily for you, the first six months are also in many ways the easiest and most economical time to cloth diaper.

Newborn Diaper Stash
This post explains my favorite daytime and night time diapers for newborns and how many of each I need to be able to wash every 3 to 4 days.

How Often Does Your Baby Poop Up Her Back?
Tired of stashing extra outfits for your baby in every purse, bag, and car? Consider cloth. I've never had a child poop up their back while wearing a cloth diaper.

Nuts & Bolts

Cloth Diaper Tutorial - The EASIEST Way to Use a Prefold
After all these years, prefold plus cover is still my favorite way to cloth diaper everyone but a newborn. I wanted folks to see exactly how simple it is to cloth diaper using a prefold, so I made a step-by-step tutorial with lots of photos.

The Great Debate: Velcro vs. Snaps
Velcro and snaps have their pros and cons. I mostly come down in favor of snaps, but always like to have a few Velcro covers as well. Read this post to help you decide which type of closure is ideal for you.

You have to be careful what diaper cream you use with cloth diapers (petroleum based ones are a no-no). This post describes my journey from conventional diaper creams to more natural and cloth-diaper-friendly bottom balms.

Cloth Diapering in the Real World

Meet Nisha: She Switched to Cloth Diapers
My friend Nisha openly describes the benefits as well as the challenges of switching from disposable diapers to cloth, a change inspired by the loss of her husband's job.

Eco-novice Interviewed on the Green Divas Radio Show
The Green Divas ask Eco-novice: do you use cloth diapers and do you wash them yourself and do you use one of those plastic covers that looks like a shower cap? Listen to the podcast for a lively discussion about Eco-novice's and the Green Divas' experiences with cloth diapers.

The Gory Details of Cloth Diapering (and early potty training) My Third Child:

Related Posts

Are you interested in Going Green Gradually? Sign up for my free email subscription to get each of my posts delivered to your inbox (I usually post two or three times a week). You can also follow me on FacebookTwitter, or with your favorite RSS Reader. I hope to see you again soon!

School Lunch Tips from a Former Teacher

Does your child eat the lunch you pack?

The Truth About School Lunch

It's that time of year. The time when everyone posts beautiful photos and creative recipes for school lunch. I approach the topic of school lunch a little differently. Because in my seven years of teaching elementary school, here is what I learned about young children and school lunch:

1. Most kids spend less than five minutes eating lunch.
For children, lunch is what stands between them and playtime. They shovel a few things in their mouths and get out onto the playground as fast as they can. There are children (mostly girls) who will sit at the lunch tables and devotedly eat their entire lunch while chatting with their friends. But they are the exception to the rule.

2. You don't know whether your kid eats the lunch you packed or not. 
They might eat it, but they also might trade it for something else, or throw it in the trash. As a parent, you usually just don't have that much control over what your child does or does not eat during lunch time. For example, my vegan sister told me how her daughter, desperate to find out what meat tasted like, ate a hamburger patty off the floor of the cafeteria. My sister only found out because she has a friend who works at the school who saw it happen. I think it's important to keep in mind that the amazingly nutritious black bean dip you made with organic sprouted beans could end up in the trash. And the organic snacks you paid a small fortune for might get traded for fluorescent "yogurt" in a tube. All this and more could happen without you being any the wiser.

What I Pack My Son for Lunch

I'm packing a lunch for my eldest for the first time this year. Instead of trying to pack some amazingly delicious, nutritious, and innovative masterpiece for my child for lunch, here is how I approach the school lunch dilemma:

  • Serve a big homemade breakfast each morning. You can make your kid finish breakfast. You can't make him finish lunch. I make large batches of whole grain pancakes and french toast on the weekend, which are easy to reheat for a quick weekday breakfast.
  • Pack a school lunch that is super easy to make using foods that you know your child will eat. This increases the chances that your kid will eat the lunch you pack. It also decreases the odds that you will be really angry at your child for not eating the lunch you worked so hard making. Soon I hope my son will be helping me pack his lunch each morning and eventually packing it all by himself. For now, getting him to change into his uniform and eat his breakfast before we need to leave is challenge enough for us. 
  • Pack foods that are not temperature sensitive, so that your child can eat the leftovers after school or even the next day for lunch. I realize this greatly limits your options. It also limits the amount of food that will end up in the trash. For the past two weeks, my son has eaten more than half of his lunch on the way home from school. And I'm packing his lunch based on the amount of food he would normally eat if he were eating lunch at home with me. Just today I opened his lunch box after school to discover that the only parts of his lunch he had consumed were his milk and his treat (sandwich and fruit untouched).
  • The time to try to get your kid to eat a new or non-favorite food is dinner. Pack a lunch based on what your child will eat, not based on what you hope or wish she would eat. As a teacher, I saw a lot of unfinished and untouched food from home get dumped by kids in the trash.

This is the lunch (free of disposable packaging) I hope to eventually be packing.

So far, my son's school lunch consists of:

The jam sandwich plus nuts is my version of a PB&J. My son does not love peanut butter and jam sandwiches, so I agreed to make him a jam sandwich (he loves bread with jam) if he would also eat some nuts. I've been sending my son to school with special store-bought treats like Annie's crackers or Clif Kid fruit twists to make him extra excited about his school lunch, but it pains me to be using so much disposable packaging. Eventually, I would like to send my son off with homemade treats (like my healthy whole grain "cookies," chewy granola bars or even healthy-ish chocolate chip cookies) in reusable bags instead, but first I need to bake some. I also feel bad about the milk box that goes in the trash everyday. I would like to send my son with a 12 oz stainless steel bottle of water instead (he drinks plenty of milk at home). But I don't want him to feel too bad about not eating the cafeteria lunch which includes milk or chocolate milk, so for now we're sticking with the milk.

A few other suggestions regarding reusable lunch gear:
  • Practice opening and closing reusable containers at home before sending little ones off to school with them. You'll find out that some containers are too difficult for your child to open on her own, and that others require a bit of practice and coaching or all the food ends up on the ground once the container or bag is opened.
  • Don't send your child to school with expensive reusable lunch gear until you know you will get it back. Find out what the system for getting lunch boxes back to the classroom is and then wait a few days to see if your child reliably brings everything back home before sending him or her off to school with $50+ worth of reusable lunch gear. I, for example, did not send my son to school with Lunchbot containers (which I love because they keep the sandwich from getting crushed and are so easy to clean by hand or in the dishwasher) until the second week of school because they are $18 a pop.

How do you make sure your child eats a healthy school lunch?

Related Posts

Eco-novice's Back-to-School Guide
School Lunches Need a Food Revolution
What's for Breakfast? Whole Wheat Pancakes

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Your purchase via these links helps support my blog. Thank you for your support. Read my full disclosure policy here.

The Virtues of Trees

Trees are on the decline in American cities. Large American cities are losing trees four times as fast as they can be replanted. In some cities only one tree is being planted for every eight trees that are being lost. Most of these trees exist on private property. We should all be concerned about the health of our cities' forests because trees are important assets that provide all kinds of invaluable services.

Trees Are Amazing!

Trees Combat the Greenhouse Effect. In one year, an acre of mature trees absorbs the amount of carbon dioxide produced when you drive your car 26,000 miles. A typical healthy tree can remove up to 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air every year.

Continue reading at the Green Phone Booth


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