Green Goddesses Share their Eco-Wisdom

I share my experiences and the experiences of my friends as we try to develop a practical but environmentally friendly lifestyle.

Monday, November 07, 2005

neurotic energy efficiency

I have to admit some of the energy efficiency steps I take come off as a little neurotic.

I do the normal steps of buying more efficient bulbs, turn-off lights when I leave the room, and keeping blinds partly closed during the day when I don't need the light. I buy energy star appliances and try to make other smart choices.

I also keep the thermostat set, so that the AC only runs about 1-2 hours during summer day. Which seems normal until you realize I live in FL and work from home usually. This means my house stays between 81-85 degrees in the summer, which is not normal. I grew up here and had a mom who didn't turn-on the AC except for 3 months of the year. But honestly things have been heating up for the last ten years; I believe it is partly the result of more paving retaining heat that keeps the city from cooling down at night.

Another neurotic conservation measure is how I keep my electronics on power strips that I turn off when they are not in use. I have read that our VCRs, DVDs, computers and other devices consume most of their energy when not turned on (unless you run these devices more than 6 hours a day). The dead power strips also provide me with extra peace of mind that my stuff will not be fried in the event of a lightning strike during one of our notorious afternoon storms.

Finally, I routinely vacuum under my fridge and AC, as well as using a special attachment to clear my dryer vent hosing. I remove the covers and use a swiffer and special vacuum fixture to clean the coils. I have a tube extension with a duster end that feeds through the venting hosing that I use once a month to ensure my dryer works at maximum efficiency. I inherited my washer and dryer, which were highly efficient when purchases 7 years ago, but they now need work to be kept in top form.

Well these are some of my quirks, I would love to hear what others do. Who knows maybe I could pick up a few more peculiarities.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Buying vs borrowing

I love it when saving money also helps the environment. I love watching DVDs, but have never been big on driving to the store to rent them from local shops (except when I lived in DC and the store was in walking distance). So, I loved when I read the other day that ordering things through the mail was more energy efficient than driving to get them if you had to drive more than four miles.

Plus, if you rent instead of buying, you save money and reduce the overall environmental impact of production. The more people who use an item, the more you distribute the cost of production. So now I feel both frugal and eco-friendly when I get my DVD fix from Netflix or through home delivery from the library (the library has a great documentary catalog).

Friday, October 28, 2005

Choosing Organic?

I would love to be able to always choose to buy organic products. However, I face the real world constraints of limited funds and limited availability. Therefore, I try to make choices that most effectively allocate my resources to gain the most benefit for the environment and me.

For starters, I choose organic cotton whenever possible. Most people remain oblivious of the environmental impact related to cotton production. Approximately, 25% of all pesticides used worldwide are applied to cotton crops. The most acutely toxic pesticide registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), aldicarb, is frequently applied to cotton crops. In fact, the EPA classifies the top nine pesticides used on cotton crops as Category I or II chemicals, which ranks them among the most dangerous chemicals registered. However, you don't find organic cotton in most stores, so I am limited to shopping on-line mostly.

While it takes more effort and money, I still find it a worthwhile investment for the environment and me. I will discuss choosing organic foods in a future blog.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Cleaning House

I hate cleaning. My mother loves it, she finds it comforting. If my desire to keep her out of my business was not stronger than my desire to avoid having to clean, I would have her over every week.

Cleaning chemicals contributed to my dislike of cleaning. Most cleansing products have warning labels that would give you nightmares if you ever read them. Many tell people to always wear gloves and avoid inhaling the fumes. I have never been able to clean without taking a breathe. And while I wear gloves, I always get some product on my skin. Manufactures do not warn consumers not to inhale the fumes out of the goodness of their heart, but they warn only because some consumer was actually harmed by using the product.

Contrary to most people's belief, the government does not require most cleaning product chemicals to be tested for toxicity or adverse health reactions. The government regulates to ensure the product does what the label says it will do. They leave health and toxicity testing as optional for the company, who probably can guess that these tests will not give marketable results. Companies have an incentive to do as little testing as possible and the government allows them to do nothing. Cleaning products are definitely a buyer beware situation.

Now my mom didn't use a lot of chemicals while I was growing up, so I learned some good behaviors at a young age. She like vinegar and water for mopping and Murphy's oil for dusting. Still the bathrooms and kitchen did regularly get doused with stronger chemicals.

I still dislike cleaning, but not because of the chemicals anymore. I continue to use vinegar for mopping and microfiber cloth for dusting.
I don't allow bleach into my house, but use hydrogen peroxide. I use a baking soda paste (mix it with very little water) for scrubbing in the bathroom and kitchen.

I also use Orange Glo products, specifically Kaboom. I use them sparingly when I have really tough jobs or to clean metal surfaces. This is not as eco-friendly as baking soda, but still better than most products on the market.

I constantly look for new methods and eco-friendly shortcuts. Therefore, any suggestions are welcome.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Keeping up on info

One of the biggest challenges I find is getting accurate and current information. I learn about problematic chemicals and processes; however, after the initial concerns, I am not so sure how to find good alternatives.

A recent example of this problem is nail polish. I've known for a long time to choose formulas that are formaldehyde and toluene free. Recently, many advise to avoid phthalate because of its ability to interfere with reproductive functions and its potentially mutagenic properties. In fact, EU officials banned the use of phthalates in cosmetic properties.

Finding a nail polish without toluene, formaldehyde or phthalates has proven challenging. I checked an article on the Green Guide website, but their recommendations center around brands I cannot find or common commercial brands that companies have reformulated. Everything I can find that they recommend contains phthalates now. In all fairness, the article was written about three years ago, so I understand the recommendations being inaccurate.

I resorting to reading the labels on all the bottles (rather challenging given the size of the print) and found that Wet'n'Wild states that its formulas are toluene, formaldehyde and phthalate free. And the ingredient list did sort of support this claim. However, while not technically a phthalate, my research suggests that phthalic acid may derive from the same chemical group as phthalates.

I still needed to do more research, but finding good and current information has proven difficult. I've taken to chemistry text to figure out the relationship, but someone without my resources or science background would be stymied at this point. When I have better information, I'll share it. Until then best of luck and use good judgment when relying on propaganda to make educated choices.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Choosing Eco-friendly Fish

As a pesco-vegetarian, I am acutely aware of how difficult making good fish choice proves. Information about how the specific fish you are considering in the market was caught or raised is usually not available. Often you must rely upon the average review of the practices for that species (and now that they do post locations the fishery).

Some fisheries and species information have great track records for being healthy and well managed, such as the wild Alaskan salmon fishery.

But other have shaky reviews and specific seasonal challenges that require the consumer to stay on the ball. For instance, even before hurricane season devastated the Gulf region with oil leaks and toxic runoff from damaged coastal areas, the coast experienced massive red algae blooms. Until recently red algae blooms were considered only a problem for the few weeks they lasted, but new research shows that fish exposed to red algae blooms carry the toxins for long periods after the bloom subsides. It maybe a year or two before I am comfortable eating fish from the Gulf for all these reasons combined.

I will not cut fish out of my diet, largely because you cannot pick up a health-oriented magazine these days without finding an article touting the benefits of eating fish. Usually the articles identify a handful of fish as the best choices for adding omega-3’s into a diet through weekly consumption or explain a regime of fish oil supplements. While some experts have recently started warning about the dangers of mercury in exposure from consuming too much of certain fish, most health oriented articles do not discuss the general environmental impacts of their recommendations. However, the fish you choose impacts not only your health, but also the health of the U.S. fisheries.

The fishing industry has survived for the past few decades on dwindling profit margins that have driven many to adopt unsustainable fishing practices. Some commercial fishing enterprises feel compelled to adopt poor fishing practices to increase their catch from these dwindling populations. Others adopt damaging practices to increase their productivity to stay profitable as fish prices fall. Regardless of the reasons for using these practices, the damage done to the marine ecology cannot be dismissed. The two most serious threats from commercial fishing are overfishing and poor fishing practices.

Overfishing occurs when fishermen harvest more of a commercial fish population than can be replaced during the spawning season or when by-catch levels hurt a non-commercial marine animal population. The National Marine Fishery Service classifies one third of the assessed U.S. fish stocks as overfished, including several commercially important stocks. Unfortunately, the regional councils that set harvest levels for these populations routinely set levels above what scientist identify as sustainable. Bycatch, the capture of one species while fishing for another, also makes it difficult to prevent overfishing in some fisheries and to rebuild others. For example, for every pound of Gulf of Mexico shrimp landed fishermen discard over four pounds of other dead or dying finfish, such as juvenile red snapper (an already overfished commercial stock).

Poor fishing practices can subject vast areas of the seafloor to damage from actions like bottom trawling and dredging, which degrades or destroys important fish habitat. When trawling boats attach weights to the bottom of the nets and then drag them for miles along the seafloor leveling everything in its path. The destruction of the bottom habitat entangle the shellfish and other bottom resting fish in the net as they try to flee the destruction of their homes. Not only does this method produce significant by-catch, it destroys coral reefs and seaweed beds. People occasionally compare this activity to clear-cutting a forest, but in some ways, trawling is more damaging than clear cutting. Many coral beds damaged by this practice are centuries old and their slow rate of growth make them impossible to replace. Scientist have found that some areas trawled fail to restore even basic ecological systems within five years of being destroyed.

Non-fishing threats to important fish habitat also abound. Builders dredge, fill and destroy salt marshes; these marches serve as important hatcheries for many fish populations, as well as natural buffers for marine animals during storms. Dams block salmon runs. Healthy fish stocks cannot be maintained without the habitat necessary for spawning, shelter, and feeding. Water pollution from human activities has spread throughout the hydrological ecosystems allowing longer-lived and fatty fish to accumulate significant levels of toxins and heavy metals.

The accumulation of toxins in fatty fish prove particularly frightening, because those are generally the fish most recommended by the medical community. Fatty fish provide one of the healthiest fats because they are high in EPA and DHA. These omega-3 fatty acids contribute to a healthy heart and brain. Doctors recommend taking fish oil supplements or eating more fatty fish to help patients manage a variety of healthy conditions from depression to high cholesterol.

Unfortunately, in recent years people who add fish to their diet without an awareness of the health of the fish they consumed have experience side effects from the toxins in the fish. In fact the documentation of people suffering from the accumulation of mercury in tuna forced the Environmental Protection Agency to issue consumption advisories the strictly limited the amounts that pregnant women and children could consume.

Various environmental groups focused on protecting fisheries have developed list of recommended fish by either identifying fish that commonly come from sustainablely managed fisheries or identifying fish that generally do not accumulate high levels of toxins. I recommend checking out: the Monterey Bay Aquarium fish guide(very detailed reviews of many commercial species); The Fish List ; Ocean Alive ; or Blue Ocean Institute. I created my own list from these sources and from medical articles that identifies the environmental risk and the healthiest choices, which I will try to post as a Word document.

Good luck and shop smart.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Meat or Not

Many people claim you cannot eat meat if you are trying to live an eco-friendly life. Some even claim that if you really carried about the environment and animals you would never eat meat because it is cruel to animals. I think animal rights have very little to do with environmental concerns, because you can raise and slaughter animals in an eco-friendly manner. People who try to mix these issues simply alienate those who would not give-up meat and possibly discourage them from pursuing other eco-friendly behaviors.

Personally, we both became pesco-vegetarians for environmental and health reasons. While trying to this and live an eco-friendly life, we must watch what types of fish we choose to eat. Just as people who eat other types of meat should choose meat raised in an eco-friendly manner.

I have more information to share that I found about how to make environmentally friendly fish choices and how to incorporate meat into your diet in an eco-friendly manner. However, that information will have to wait for another posting.