Raising eco-consciousness one week at a time

Friday, May 6, 2011

Eco-Cycle’s Microbe Brew “Compost Tea” Makes Gardens Happy

So far this spring, we’ve been Buzzing about the wonders of compost: Why compost is so good for the earth, how composting reduces your climate change impact, how to make your own nutritious compost with the help of worms, even if you don’t have a backyard, and how to best maintain your backyard compost pile in a dry climate.

This week, let’s talk about how Eco-Cycle’s homemade Microbe Brew can help make your plants, garden and lawn happy in the dry spring and summer heat. Our Microbe Brew “compost tea” is made from worm castings (aka worm poop) and is full of living microbes that instantly go to work balancing your soil and feeding your plants by releasing the minerals and nutrients already present in your soil.

What does Microbe Brew do?

Microbe Brew basil plant trial
With depleted soils, dry heat, little rainwater, pests and weeds, Colorado’s spring and summer climate doesn’t exactly create ideal garden conditions. But Eco-Cycle’s Microbe Brew tackles all of the above. It has been proven to retain moisture in your soil, save water and yield more plentiful and more pest-resistant plants.

Unlike conventional plant foods you’ll find at the store, which act as an “IV” to transfer artificial nutrients directly to your plants, Microbe Brew infuses your soil with millions of live microbes, giving your plants an ideal habitat.

Learn more about the benefits of the Brew here.

How is Microbe Brew made?

Microbe Brew tomato plant trial
The Brew is a great example of how food scraps that often end up in the trash can become a vital natural resource for improving local soils.

To make Microbe Brew, we start with vermicomposting, or composting with red worms (Eisenia fetida). As organic material passes through the gut of the worm, it is converted to castings—stable little balls of nutrients readily available for uptake by plant roots. The castings are then brewed in highly oxygenated water under conditions that are optimal for the beneficial micro-organisms present in the castings to reproduce rapidly. When finished, Microbe Brew tea is a liquid teeming with living microbes and beneficial plant-growth compounds.

Learn more about how we make the brew here.

How do you use Microbe Brew?

The Brew is easy to use and requires no prep work: Just sprinkle some on your lawn, garden beds and potted plants with a standard watering can. Then, thoroughly moisten the soil with water. Be sure to use the Brew within 24 hours of purchase because the brew is alive! One gallon of Microbe Brew covers 200-400 square feet; five gallons cover an average city lot.

Check out the applications for specific plant types and other tips on our website.

Where you can purchase Microbe Brew

April 2 - July 16: Saturdays only, at the Boulder Farmers’ Market, from 8 am – 2 pm
April 6 - August 17: Wednesdays only, at the Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials (CHaRM), from 9 am – 4 pm

Because the Microbe Brew is alive, it is very important to plan to use it on the day of purchase. This also limits our ability to sell the tea on other days, so pick up your fresh batch on Wednesdays or Saturdays!

Prices and a special Buzz discount!

Mention that you heard about Microbe Brew on the Eco-Buzz and we’ll give you $2 off a 1-gallon container or $5 off a 5-gallon container! This discount only applies on May 7, 2011 at the Boulder Farmers’ Market and May 11, 2011 at the CHaRM.

  • 1 gallon: $6  (covers all planted areas of a typical city lot)
  • 5 gallons: $25  (covers all planted areas of a typical city lot)

    (plus $.50 refundable container deposit; $5 for 5 gal. container)

Are you a fan of Microbe Brew? Have you tried it before? We want to hear your Microbe Brew story! Let us know below how it’s helped your plants or garden grow.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Maintaining Your Backyard Compost in the Colorado Climate

So far this month, we’ve blogged about why compost is so good for the earth, how composting reduces your climate change impact and how to make your own nutritious compost with the help of worms, even if you don’t have a backyard.

This week, we’re covering the best practices for backyard composting in the Colorado climate.

(For those who want to learn the basics of backyard composting, we recommend Let It Rot! by Stu Campbell and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Composting by Chris McLaughlin.)

Eco-Cycle's composting
expert Dan Matsch
Colorado’s dry climate and large temperature swings require a backyard composter to have a different approach than elsewhere in the country, says Eco-Cycle’s very own organic farming and composting expert, Dan Matsch.

Before coming to Eco-Cycle, Dan was an organic farmer for 13 years and owned Gem o’ the Field Organic Farm with his wife Carol. He sold produce, plants and flowers at the Boulder Farmers’ Market for the 13 years he farmed, and he served on the Market’s board for eight of those years.

Here are Dan’s tips for making the most of your backyard compost pile amidst Colorado’s ever-changing weather.

  • If you look in a book on the subject, they always talk about building a pile that will heat up by using a minimum ½ cubic yard of brown, dry material mixed with an equal amount of wet, green material. We almost never have a ½ yard of green material in our climate so this is impractical.
  • Likewise, if you buy a typical plastic compost bin and just use it as a trash can for compostable material – dump at random as you accumulate it – when you go to harvest you are likely to find that everything you dumped just dried out but didn’t decompose at all.
  • The key in CO is to add water every time you add material, and mix the new into the top of the older material every time. Two good tricks are to add a quart or more of water into your kitchen food scrap pail and swirl it around a bit before you take it out to dump (bonus – this makes it a lot easier to clean the goo out of the pail), and to keep one of those 3-prong hand-cultivator tools out by your compost bin so you can use it to incorporate the material into the pile.
  • Keep the pile uniformly moist right out to the edges.
  • A bin with fewer air circulation holes works better in CO to limit evaporation.
  • Ideal bin location is under a deciduous tree, providing shade in summer, sun in winter.
  • Bottomless bins that use the ground for the bin floor are easier to manage in CO – you’ll have a larger population of composting microbes and no chance of an anaerobic goo forming if you overwater.
  • Tumblers are a little quicker, but you really need two because you don’t want to mix fresh food scraps throughout – you’ll never get finished compost. Fill one at a time and let the other one complete the cycle.
  • DON’T PUT STICKS OR DRIED STEMS OR BONES IN YOUR COMPOST (fish bones are usually okay – see next bullet). They decompose at a much slower rate and will form an impenetrable mat when you go to harvest finished compost. Set sticks, stems and bones aside for curbside compost pickup or use a chipper shredder to make mulch out of it instead. Tip – you’ll have fewer dried stems to deal with if you clear plants out of your garden beds BEFORE they get woody and dried up. Chopping garden waste with a spade in a wheelbarrow speeds decomposition and reduces the chances that it will form a fibrous mat in your compost.
  • Small quantities of meat and dairy can be okay to add once you have some confidence in operation of your system. Many advise against this and as a beginner you may want to avoid it. The main reason to avoid is to keep wildlife out of your bin. If your compost bin only has thin slits for air holes (too small for a mouse) and you don’t typically have a problem with  wildlife getting into your outdoor trash can, you may want to give it a try.
  • I call this the lazy, slow and simple system. You don’t worry about trying to get the pile to heat up; your focus is on uniform moisture throughout the pile and throughout the year (like a wrung-out sponge at all times – if you squeeze your compost in your hand, you just barely get a few drops of moisture out). This is actually the exact same management style as if you had outdoor composting worms.  In fact, if you have one of the “bottomless” compost bins you may well find that worms have moved in when you go to harvest.  If so, just continue to manage it just as you have been doing. The worms will inhabit the top portion of the bin if you keep it moist enough, allowing you to easily harvest the finished compost out of the bottom of the bin.
  • Most importantly, just be attentive and allow yourself time to learn. If you spend 30 seconds spreading and mixing in the new material every time you empty your kitchen pail and don’t put in anything you’ll regret, you can expect that the bottom half of your compost bin will be completely decomposed and ready to spread on your garden when you go to harvest. I do this just once a year in the spring, though you can do it in the fall instead if you prefer.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Composting with worms, without a backyard

Happy “Let’s make Earth Day Every Day” Day! ;)

Earlier this month, we gave you the many benefits of composting, including how it reduces your climate change impact. This week, let’s talk about how to make your own compost, even if you don’t have backyard space!

About Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting, or composting with red worms (Eisenia fetida), can keep your compost pile compact and contained, perfect for those living in an apartment or those who live in the mountains and want to compost indoors so as not to attract bears.

These red worms eat your leftover food and poop out a fantastic fertilizer. Worm castings (a.k.a. worm poop) make soil nutrients and beneficial microbes much more readily available to plants than regular compost. They're the best compost in the world!

Here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know to start your own vermicompost bin, in Q & A style.

Q: How do I get started?

A:  First, you need a worm bin (which is very different from a backyard bin). They are available online for anywhere from $50 – $200, BUT you can make your own bin for a fraction of the cost using an inexpensive plastic storage bin with a lid, like a 10-gallon Rubbermaid® Roughtote® storage box (pictured) using these guidelines:

  • You want to match the size of the bin to the amount of food scraps you generate. A typical storage box is a good fit for a two-person household. Allow 3 square feet of surface area in your bin for every pound of food scraps you generate per day, and any bin should be at least 10" deep.

  • Worms require darkness, so you need a lid.

  • Worms also need oxygen, so drill five holes on top and five holes in the bottom using a quarter-inch drill bit for every square foot of feeding surface area inside.

  • The holes on the bottom will also serve to drain excess moisture (make sure they are at the low point!), so you need something under the bin to catch the leachate. It can be another container of the same size and shape as the bin on top.

  • Don’t use treated wood or toxic finishes to build your bin.

Q: Where can I buy worms?

A: We recommend purchasing worms locally by heading up to Fort Collins to meet our local worm expert and Eco-Cycle® supplier, John Anderson (970-407-9076). A pound of worms (roughly 1,000 worms) is a good start for most households. You can also find several worm growers online if you search for “compost worms.”

Q: I have all my supplies. What’s the first step?

A: Have your bin ready before the worms arrive. Create a layer of bedding several inches thick using strips of moist newspaper. Mix in a small amount of soil or finished compost for the worms to ingest into their gizzards—they need this to digest their food. Then add a small amount of food scraps and watch them go to work!

Q: How do I know when it is okay to add more food? What can I do to make sure my compost stays healthy?

A: Use your nose! A healthy worm bin should smell like fertile soil. When feeding, don’t get too far ahead of the worms, especially when establishing a new worm colony. Wait until you see more castings (which look like dark, rich soil) than food at the top of your bin before you feed them again. Under good conditions, a worm can eat about half its weight per day. So, if you just bought a pound of worms, be patient and let the population grow. Worm populations can double every two months under ideal conditions.

If your bin smells overwhelmingly of rotting food, you are probably feeding your worms faster than they can eat. Remove excess food so you don’t have more than a one-inch layer of food in your bin and keep an eye out for mold—worms won’t eat food once it spoils. The moisture level of your bin is also very important; make sure excess water is draining out of the bottom of your bin.

The best advice is to stay attentive. Don’t be afraid to gently rummage around in your bin to assess conditions. You are maintaining a whole ecosystem of critters when vermicomposting; the worms are just the most visible inhabitants. If the worms are climbing the sides of the bin in large numbers, they are trying to tell you that conditions aren’t right. Channel your “inner worm” and trust your instincts—you’ll keep everybody happy and healthy.

Q. How do I harvest the castings?

A: Worms live in the layer between finished castings (below) and food scraps (above), so unless you invest in one of the “worm condo” models that have drawers that can be removed once filled with finished castings, you will need to temporarily remove the worms and the layer of partially-digested food to get at the finished castings below. Keep in mind that worms respond to light by burrowing down (and faster than you might think), so make sure you are ready before you lift the lid. You’ll need a place to put the worm/food layer (the lid or a tarp), a container for the finished castings, a small garden fork, and a trowel.

   1. Remove the worm/food layer. Worms create colonies, so the less you disturb them when harvesting, the faster they can recover. Scoop out this layer as intact as possible and set it aside carefully.  Do not put it directly on the floor—you’ll sacrifice too many worms trying to pick it up later. A garden fork works best to do this because it will pick up the undigested food and leave the finished castings. If you are leaving a lot of worms, go deeper. Expect to remove a layer about four inches deep.

   2. Remove the castings. You may want to switch to a trowel for this step. You will probably see some worms down in the castings layer, but more than 90% of them should be in the food layer.

   3. Put the worm/food layer back in the bin, again as intact as possible to minimize disturbance.

   4. If you feel that too many worms are left in the finished castings, you can recover them by piling up the castings in a conical shape. Gradually skim a layer of castings off the cone as the worms burrow away from the light. (Hint: a strong light or bright sun makes this go faster.) When you start to see worms again, back off and wait for them to burrow further. If you are patient, you will eventually end up with a small pile of worms at the very bottom and a big pile of worm-free castings. (But, don’t be TOO patient. Finish this process in a few hours at most and get the worms back in the bin.)

Q: Won’t the bin get smelly? And what about fruit flies? Will animals be attracted to my bin if it’s out on the porch?

A:  Your compost won’t stink as long as it stays healthy. A small population of fruit flies is inevitable, so the best way to minimize this issue is to keep your bin outside. If you want to keep it indoors, choose a place where you can tolerate a few flies. You can keep their population in check by avoiding overfeeding the worms, which limits the amount of rotting material available for the flies to lay their eggs. Fruit flies also prefer a slightly acidic environment, so if you have more flies than you can tolerate, cut back on the amount of citrus, coffee grounds and other acidic foods in your bin. Or, build your own fruit fly trap (pictured).

Your worm bin is definitely a potential food source for animals like squirrels and, yes, even bears, if left outdoors. You’ll have to judge for yourself the level of bear activity where you live. If bears aren’t regular inhabitants of your neighborhood, you may be able to leave your bin outside undisturbed for much of the year and only bring it indoors in late summer and fall when bears are loading up on calories for hibernation. Squirrels are usually deterred by a good-fitting lid. Raccoons may be the most difficult to deter because they are so dexterous and persistent. If you see tooth marks on your bin or other evidence of a raccoon visit, bring your bin inside for a few weeks.

Have a question we didn’t answer? Check out “Composting in Apartments & Bear Country,” from the Eco-Cycle Times archives, or ask us below!

Next week, we’ll give you everything you need to know to start a backyard compost pile.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Boulder County SoilSaver compost bin sale, 4/17/11

Boulder County is having a great sale on a compost bin we highly recommend: SoilSaver! The county is selling them for $50/each, a great price you're not likely to find anywhere else. It's from 9 - noon at the Boulder County Recycling Center.

Learn more here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Boulder County Composting Workshop, 4/16/11

Want to compost but not sure how to start? Check out Boulder County's Compost Workshop on Saturday, April 16, from 10 a.m. - noon. 

Space is limited. Register here, or learn more about composting at the County's informative web page here.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Compost: Reducing climate change, not just landfill space

Spring is here, as is Earth Month, and what better way to celebrate our planet than to give back to her?

This month, we’re covering everything you need to know about compost and how to do it at home, whether you have a backyard or not.


What is compost?

Compost is a nutritious soil amendment that provides your plants with natural food. It is created by combining carbon-rich “brown” materials like dry leaves and small twigs, with “green” materials like grass clippings and kitchen scraps. Natural composting, or biological decomposition, began with the first plants on earth and has been going on ever since. As vegetation falls to the ground, it slowly decays, providing minerals and nutrients needed for plants, animals, and microorganisms.

By having your own compost pile, you are taking would-be trash, like kitchen scrap and even tissues and other non-recyclable paper products and putting them to good use in the way nature intended. 

Making Our Soils Healthy

Compost improves soil, the lifeblood of our society. It has been shown­­­ to help soils retain moisture, provide nutrients to plants and vegetation, suppress plant diseases and pests, prevent erosion and promote higher yields of agricultural crops.

Did you know? Compost can...

  • suppress plant diseases and pests.
  • reduce or eliminate the need for potentially harmful chemical fertilizers.
  • promote higher yields of agricultural crops.
  • facilitate reforestation, wetlands restoration, and habitat revitalization efforts by amending contaminated, compacted, and marginal soils.
  • cost-effectively remediate soils contaminated by hazardous waste.
  • remove solids, oil, grease, and heavy metals from stormwater runoff.
  • capture and destroy 99.6 percent of industrial volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) in contaminated air.
  • provide cost savings of at least 50 percent over conventional soil, water, and air pollution remediation technologies, where applicable.
  • help combat climate change.

Learn more here 

Combating Climate Change

Composting is also one of the easiest ways to reduce your climate change impact. When discarded in a landfill, biodegradable materials decompose without oxygen, or anaerobically, and create the greenhouse gas methane, which has 72 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide over the short term! Composting keeps these materials out of the landfill, prevents these methane emissions and puts the materials back to good use. 

The impact is tremendous: If we all composted all of our biodegradable discards, it would be like shutting down 21% of U.S. coal-fired power plants!

Read our groundbreaking report, Stop Trashing the Climate, and join Eco-Cycle’s campaign against landfilling biodegradable discards, COOL 2012.

Next week, we’ll cover how to make your own compost, whether you have a backyard or not!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Take Action Against Lax Government Regulation of Hazardous Chemicals in Cleaning Products — It's quick and easy!

So far in this campaign, we’ve covered the big problems with conventional store-bought cleaners, how to make your own effective, inexpensive, people-friendly and earth-friendly cleaners and how to cut through the greenwashing of store-bought cleaning products.

Now let’s get to the bottom of the problem: Lax government regulation of hazardous chemicals in cleaning products and beyond.

Did you know that in the last 50 years, more than 80,000 chemicals have been introduced to products sold in the U.S., but only about 200 have been required to get tested for safety? (Baffling, isn’t it?!) As the Environmental Defense Fund explains, it’s all due to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), America's main law governing chemical safety, which requires the government prove chemicals are harmful instead of requiring manufacturers to prove they're safe. (Learn more about it under #2 below.) As a result, virtually every American is exposed to hundreds of toxic chemicals every day.

It’s time for us to speak out against anything-goes chemical regulations, self-policing corporations and consumers having a huge burden of responsibility just to keep themselves safe. Here’s how to do it.

3 Quick and Easy Ways to Take Action

From the Campaign for safe cosmetics:
1) Tell the EPA to Get Triclosan, a Pesticide, Out of Household Cleaners, Cosmetics, and Toys
Triclosan, an anti-bacterial chemical categorized as a pesticide by the EPA, can be found in more than 75% of “anti-bacterial” liquid hand soaps sold in the U.S., yet it is no more effective than regular soap! Researchers have found triclosan in the majority of Americans, including pregnant women. The chemical can have adverse effects on fetal growth and development, can lead to bacterial resistance to antibiotics and can harm aquatic life.

A petition to ban triclosan for non-medical uses (like in cleaners, cosmetics, toys and cutting boards) has gone to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Make your voice heard: The EPA is only taking public comments through April 8, 2011. Submit your thoughts in support of a triclosan ban right now! It will only take about a minute.

You can also Pledge to go Triclosan-Free and share this news with your friends and family.

2) Send a letter to Congress to Support and Strengthen the Safe Chemicals Act

Women’s Voices for the Earth and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families have joined forces to encourage an overhaul of the failed Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) by supporting the newest piece of legislation on the subject, the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010

Learn more and send your letter!

From Women’s Voices for the Earth:
3) Tell the Largest U.S. Cleaning Product Companies to Replace their Toxic Ingredients with Safe Ones
By signing this petition, you’ll be sending a message to Procter & Gamble, Clorox Company, Reckitt-Benckiser (Lysol, Easy Off, and more), and Sunshine Makers, Inc. (Simple Green) – as well as the Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) and the Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA), insisting that they disclose all ingredients in their cleaning products and replace harmful ingredients with safe ones.

Sign the petition. It’s quick and easy!

Check out even more ways to take action via Women's Voices for the Earth.

Pass this message along to your friends and family by using one of the share buttons below.

Thank you for taking action with us!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cutting through the greenwashing of cleaning products

Last week we gave you the scoop on how to make your own non-toxic cleaners, but if that’s a little too Eco-Martha Stewart for you, store-bought eco-friendly cleaning products are the next best thing.

In a perfect eco-conscious world, we’d have a unified, regulated system of labels and claims that would tell us which cleaning products are bad for us and the earth and which ones aren’t (or, better yet, it would be flat-out illegal to sell such super toxic products in the first place!).

But, that is not the case. And with so many companies jumping on the “green” bandwagon, it’s become a chore for consumers to figure out which claims are legitimately earth-friendly and which are just greenwash (forgive the pun).

Nonetheless, there are a few guiding principles we can follow to do our best in figuring out the best products without calling a chemist. Here are some guidelines we follow.

Tips for Deciphering Product Labels

Don’t assume the green claims made on products are legitimate. The words “natural,” “herbal,” “green,” “eco-friendly,” are just adjectives, generically and randomly used. Even the terms “biodegradable” and “non-toxic” are not regulated by the government or any other entity and essentially mean nothing. The word “organic” can also be slapped on any label but won’t mean anything unless it’s certified by the USDA, Oregon Tilth, or QAI. Consumer Reports’ Eco-Labels website has thorough explanations of what some of these terms could mean if they are verified by a third party.

Don’t trust products that don’t disclose all ingredients.
Companies have no legal obligations to print all the ingredients contained in their products, and the ones who DO disclose that information are showing they have nothing to hide. Check out 12 ingredients you should always avoid.

Don’t trust general and vague claims.
Truly earth-friendly cleaners have very specific claims about their products’ greenness. For instance, “contains no chlorine, ammonia, strong acids, or petroleum-based ingredients” is much more viable a claim than “natural, biodegradable, organic.”

Products labeled “disinfectant” or “anti-bacterial” are not any more effective than cleaning products that do not have those labels. In the past few years, the use of these terms has exploded as companies have tried to convince consumers that regular, non-anti-bacterial soaps and cleaners don’t kill germs and bacteria. Not true. In fact, studies have shown that many products labeled “anti-bacterial” and “disinfectant” are actually less effective than those without those claims. Plus (here’s some scary news), according to a 2000 report by the World Health Organization, these anti-bacterial products are contributing to the rise of drug-resistant bacteria (similar to what’s happening with the overuse of antibiotics!). Bottom line: Most, if not all, everyday cleaning needs can be met with regular cleaners that don’t make these disinfectant and anti-bacterial claims. Check out this handy cleaning and sanitizing brochure for more information on when you need to sanitize vs. clean your home.

Do trust companies that make it their mission, as an organization, to make products that benefit people, animals and the planet. And this brings us to…   

Truly Earth-Friendly Companies You Can Trust

Seventh Generation CEO Jeffrey Hollender might have said it best when he said, in response to Clorox’s new Green Works products: "'Green' is not something a company becomes because of a new product line, a marketing campaign, a decision to be carbon neutral or even the selection of an enlightened new CEO. 'Green' is about the inside, not the outside of a company. It’s about its DNA, its culture, and its very reason for being."

Annnd, we agree. Here are some products and companies we love.

Seventh Generation, perhaps the largest and most well-known green cleaning products company, discloses all their ingredients, has proven the effectiveness of its products with scientific research, and has an incredibly informative website with answers to just about any question you might have about their products or green cleaning in general. Plus, their bottles are made of 90% post-consumer recycled plastic!

biokleen cleaners are reasonably priced and effective. The company specializes in concentrated cleaners which help you save money and reduce packaging. Check out more about their mission here. We especially like their laundry detergent and dishwashing soap.

Ecover is another great and effective product. They’ve won a plethora of awards for the environmental sustainability of their products and outline their eco-mission on their website. Check out their Cream Scrub for super bathroom cleaning power.

And last but not least, we LOVE Bon Ami’s Powder Cleanser. It’s great on tough food stains, bathroom grime and has loads of other uses, like cleaning porcelain or polishing silver.

BONUS: All of these companies are also cruelty-free, i.e. they don’t test on animals! (Whodathunkit? Sarcasm…)

Next week, we’ll talk more about the lack of government regulation of harmful chemicals and how you can take action on a greater scale.

So, have you tried these products? What brands do you love? Let us know below!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Effective, inexpensive, eco-friendly cleaners you can make at home

We didn’t always have aisles upon aisles of cleaning products at the store, with different cleaners for toilets, showers, sinks, floors, windows, kitchen counters…you get the picture. Our grandmothers didn’t have to buy 10 different products to clean 1 house.

And grandma’s house wasn’t any less clean. In fact, numerous studies have shown that vinegar and hydrogen peroxide in particular are as effective or more effective than conventional “anti-bacterial” cleaners and disinfectants you’d find at the store.

Plus, by making your own cleaners, you'll prevent single-use plastic bottle waste.

Getting Back to Granny’s Basics

So let’s get back to the good ol’ days when having a clean home wouldn’t give you asthma, cancer or poison our water systems.

Open your cupboards to find these basic ingredients (or purchase them in bulk—they’re really inexpensive!) to make some non-toxic and effective cleaners.

Basic Cleaning Ingredients


White Vinegar is a proven natural disinfectant. It cleans, deodorizes, and while it has that unmistakable smell while it’s wet, it’s odorless when dry. NOTE: Never use vinegar on marble as it will corrode the surface.

Hydrogen Peroxide is a proven disinfectant and can also be used instead of bleach to whiten. Hydrogen peroxide breaks down to water and oxygen in waste water. NOTE: Don’t use Hydrogen peroxide on brass, zinc, copper, nickel/silver plating.

Washing Soda is another naturally-occurring cleaner. It softens water, disinfects, cuts grease and removes stains. Look for it in the laundry section of most grocery stores or in pure form from chemical supply houses as "sodium carbonate."

Borax is a naturally-occurring mineral and is much stronger than baking soda as a cleaner. It also kills mold and mildew, deodorizes and acts as a fungicide. It is often sold in stores as a “laundry booster” as it softens water. 20 Mule Team is a popular brand and can be found at at these stores. Caution: Borax is harmful when ingested, so be sure to keep it out of reach of children and pets.

General Cleaners:

Baking Soda is a naturally-occurring mineral. It cleans, deodorizes, softens water (to increase sudsing and the cleaning power of soap) and is a good scouring powder, especially in the bathroom.

Castile Soap biodegrades safely, is non-toxic and is available in grocery stores and health food stores. Look for plant-based castile soaps, which are NOT the same as many “liquid soaps” out there that are made from petroleum-based detergents and no actual soap. We like Dr. Bronner’s fair-trade, organic castile soap, packaged in 100% post-consumer recycled plastic. It’s also concentrated, so a little bit goes a long way.

Lemon Juice cleans, cuts grease and freshens.

Tried and True Non-Toxic Cleaning Recipes

Household Cleaner
Mix in a spray bottle:

2 Tbsp baking soda
1 pint warm water
Add a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of vinegar to cut grease.

1/4 cup baking soda
1/2 cup borax
1/2 cup vinegar
1 gal. water

1/4 cup baking soda
1/2 cup borax
1/2 cup vinegar
1 gal. water

For surfaces that need scouring, try moist salt or baking soda and a green scouring pad.

Window Cleaner
Mix in a spray bottle:
2 tsp. vinegar
1 qt. warm water

2 tbsp. borax
3 cups water
Rub dry with newspaper to avoid streaking.

General Disinfectant
Spray undiluted hydrogen peroxide OR undiluted vinegar to clean and disinfect. To sanitize, leave it on the surface for a few minutes.

NOTE: Never mix hydrogen peroxide and vinegar together.

Bathroom Disinfectant
Mix together:
1/4 cup borax
1/2 gal. hot water (hot water helps activate the cleaning properties of borax)

Basin, Tub, and Tile Cleaner
Mix together: 1/2 cup baking soda
2-3 tbsp. liquid castile soap

Toilet Bowls
Pour: 1/4 cup baking soda into bowl and drizzle with vinegar.
Let sit for 1/2 hour. Scrub and flush. Add borax for stains.

LOTS More Recipes
Get more recipes for everything from oven cleaners to metal polishes to spot removers on Eco-Cycle’s website.

Eco Cleaning Tools

Spray bottles - You can reuse old ones if the previous product was non-toxic, or purchase some good-quality spray bottles from a local hardware store that you can label and use over and over

Plant-based sponges you can compost. Or better yet, long-lasting scour pads and brushes.

Rags instead of paper towels

A bucket or reused plastic tub

Next week, we’ll show you how to cut through the greenwashing of product labels to find truly eco-friendly cleaners (if you want to purchase some, instead).

We want to hear from you! Was this post helpful? What are your favorite DIY cleaners? Let us know below.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The dirt on household cleaners

Spring is in the air, and so is a cloud of chemicals in most American homes after a day of cleaning. Those modern miracle products that let you spray on suds and wipe off scum, clean the toilet with every flush, and kill airborne germs with a fog of lemon-scented disinfectant might get the dirt out of sight, but what's also out of sight is the chemical residue left throughout your "clean" home.

This month, we’re showing you alternatives to toxic cleaning products.

2 Big Problems with Conventional Cleaning Products

1) They’re bad for your health. Most cleaners on the market contain dangerous solvents, acids and other hazardous chemicals that have been proven to cause irritation to noses, eyes, and lungs. Some of these chemicals are proven to cause indoor air pollution, and some are suspected carcinogens-especially with repeated and prolonged use.

Here’s what the EPA has to say about chemicals in cleaning products.

2) They’re bad for the environment. Outside, your detergents and cleaners flushed down the drains contribute to water pollution.

12 Ingredients to Always Avoid

While there are thousands upon thousands of chemicals out there that are questionable, there are several you should always avoid.

Check out the top 12 worst chemicals found in cleaning products from Planet Green.

Fortunately, there is a plethora of effective, eco-friendly and non-toxic products out there, and many cleaning concoctions you can make on your own that will save you money and keep your house clean and free of toxins.

Next week, we’ll share our favorite cleaning recipes.

What did you think of this Buzz? Let us know below!

Welcome to the Eco-Buzz Blog!

We’re about a year into the Eco-Buzz, and as we pondered how to take it to the next level for year two, we thought a blog would be a great home for it and a perfect place for folks to share their thoughts and have conversations with fellow Buzzers as they get Buzzed on various eco-topics each week.

While our messages will be in their entirety on our blog, we will continue to send weekly e-mail alerts as we post new content—you can sign up for them here. We will also continue Buzzing on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

We’re always looking for ways to improve the Buzz and make it the best tool it can be to help you live a more environmentally-conscious lifestyle. Let us know what you think and leave a comment below! Happy Buzzing!