Raising eco-consciousness one week at a time

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!