Archive for the ‘Household Tips’ Category

What is Your Carbon Footprint?

Image by net_efekt

I’m resurrecting some of my earlier posts which I want to call attention to.  “What is your carbon footprint?” is one of them. 

Relating to that topic, I have another perspective as the price of oil continues to drop and gasoline prices become so much cheaper.  My concern is that we will be more complacent and less careful about our energy usage with such low prices. The news rarely if ever talks about the the environmental impact of oil.   No matter the price of gasoline, driving and flying still are major culprits of climate change and the resulting intensifying storms and droughts.  I drive an electric car and only occasionally have to fill up with gasoline, but I too am enjoying lower prices.  I’m afraid we have to be hit in the pocketbook for necessary change to happen.

Carbon Footprint is a measurement of greenhouse gas emissions an individual produces from energy consumed in their day to day activities, emissions that cause pollution and climate change.  The US accounts for 26% of the world’s energy use despite that we are less than 5% of the human population. Driving, flying, heating, air conditioning, electricity, the size of your home, the type foods you eat, and the products you buy all require the use of fossil fuels and make up your carbon footprint.  It’s important to be aware of how much energy you use, a first step in reducing your carbon footprint.   To find out yours, click here.

Below are simple changes you can make to lessen your footprint.

  • walk or bike more
  • combine errands
  • take public transportation when possible
  • carpool
  • drive more slowly
  • keep your tires inflated
  • consider buying a hybrid or electric car when you need a new one
  • turn off lights when not in use
  • unplug appliances when not in use
  • run your dishwasher and washing machine only when full
  • turn down the heat
  • check for air leaks
  • eat meat less often
  • eat local foods
  • compost
  • reduce consumption
  • recycle paper, cans, bottles, newspapers and buy recycled products

While you enjoy lower gasoline prices, continue to be mindful of your energy usage.  Each little step will reduce your carbon footprint, lower your energy costs and make you a bit healthier!  Calculate your footprint, you will be surprised at how much energy you consume.

A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

Benefits of Buying in Bulk

Bulk food buying is the hallmark of eco-conscious consumers.  Buying in bulk doesn’t just mean buying huge quantities of items to save money, which makes sense for staples like toilet paper and paper towels if you have the space.  It also means buying from those bulk bins you see in the grocery store.  There are several advantages to doing so.

Bulk items are usually cheaper.  With no packaging, companies are able to keep costs down. According to the Bulk is Green Council, “organic bulk foods on average cost 89% less than their packaged counterparts”.  Wow!

You can buy only what you need.  If a new recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of a specialty item that you don’t have on hand, you simply buy what is called for.  Buying this way also allows you to experiment with certain spices, grains or flours that you don’t usually buy without committing to a whole bag or box.  You significantly reduce food waste and save space in your pantry by buying only what you need. How many unused spices are in your spice drawer that have been there for years?  To insure freshness and for peak flavor, spices and most food items are better bought in smaller quantities anyway.

Bulk buying also keeps tons of packaging out of the landfills. A study from Portland State University found that if Americans switched to bulk bin buying for common items, it would “it would save tens of millions of pounds of trash from entering landfills each year.”  Specifically, the Bulk is Green Council states, “If all Americans purchased coffee beans from bulk food bins, 260 millions pounds of foil packaging would be diverted from the landfills per year.”  Or, “If all American families bought peanut butter from bulk food bins, about 749 million pounds of waste would be diverted from landfills per year.”

When buying from the bulk bin, you can either bring your own glass container or use the plastic or paper bags provided. Calculate the price per ounce, pound, etc. A scale is usually right there beside the bins.  If you bring your own container, make sure to weigh the container first before adding the item, then subtract that weight to determine the cost of the item you are buying.  If you are concerned about bin freshness or cleanliness, feel free to ask the store manager.  And, don’t forget to recycle or reuse the plastic bag after transferring your bulk items to a glass container at home.  Store them in the pantry or dark place.  I love the way the pantry looks with attractive glass containers or reused mason jars, which is all the rage today.

Items You Can Find In Bulk Bins:

  • Dry beans
  • Flours (including GF options)
  • Seeds (including flax and chia)
  • Nuts
  • Grains
  • Spices and herbs
  • Ground and whole bean coffee
  • Powders (such as baking powder)
  • Cereal and granola
  • Trail mix and dried fruits
  • Dry pasta
  • Nutritional yeast and other odds and ends

During the holiday season when we are baking, cooking and trying new recipes more than usual, buying from bulk bins makes even more sense.  Try it and enjoy saving money and waste!

Information compiled from http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-15918/the-benefits-of-buying-in-bulk.html and http://www.bulkisgreen.org/.

For more green living tips, visit greenwithbetsy.com.

The Wonders of Coconut Oil

Have you discovered the wonders of coconut oil?  For years, we’ve been told  that coconut oil is bad for you, but the reality is coconut oil has just the right kinds of fats, the same medium-chain fatty acids found in mother’s milk and essential to optimum health and disease prevention.  Coconut oil is in fact a miracle oil and one of the earliest oils  used as a food and as a pharmaceutical.  People who live in tropical climates with a coconut-based diet have fewer incidences of heart disease, cancer, digestive complaints and prostate problems.

Coconut oil adds protective and healthful qualities when eaten internally and used topically.  How much do you need?  Two to four tablespoons is recommended daily, obtained from cooking, as a supplement, or through the skin. Use coconut oil in all recipes calling for butter, shortening or vegetable oil.   It’s an ideal all-purpose cooking oil and has 100% less cholesterol than butter.   You can also get the benefits from coconut milk which comes in a can and is found in lots of Thai recipes, or from  drinking coconut water, hailed as Nature’s Sports drink.   More potassium than a banana, it helps with rehydration, replenishment and concentration. (I also hear it helps alleviate hangovers.)

 

coconut milk
Coconut oil is known to reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.  It stimulates metabolism so that you burn more calories (we all love that) and may promote lower cholesterol.  Coconut oil is a concentrated source of medium-chain fatty acids.  Research has shown that these fatty acids may help prevent and treat a wide variety of diseases too numerous to list here. Recent studies are showing its effectiveness in treating Alzheimer’s disease.

Coconut oil applied to the skin and hair absorbs quickly and not only adds luster and shine, but helps with dandruff, blemishes and other skin ailments.  It’s the only moisturizer you need and a must try for winter’s dry, chapped skin!  It is also anti-microbial and a natural germ fighter.  Coconut oil is also used for oil pulling, an age-old remedy started in India thousands of years ago that uses oil to clean, detoxify, and nourish teeth and gums; it also whitens teeth.

I keep one jar of coconut oil in the kitchen for cooking and one jar in my bathroom for use as a moisturizer.   As with olive oil, make sure you buy extra virgin, expeller pressed. You can purchase coconut oil, coconut milk and coconut water from Whole Foods, Trader Joes or natural food stores.

As you can tell, coconut oil is an extremely diversified and amazing product. I highly recommend replacing some of the fats you eat now with coconut oil.

 

Information compiled from The Coconut Oil Miracle byBruce Fife, C.N., N.D.  This easy-to-read and informative book explains very succinctly the benefits of coconut oil and is worth the read.  It also includes lots of delicious sounding recipes using coconut oil.

 

For more green living tips, visit greenwithbetsy.com.

Steroid-free Chicken

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Read carefully the above menu description for Five Spice Chicken.  Does this  strike anyone else as weird and unappetizing?  While I’m pleased the chicken is steroid and antibiotic free, what a commentary that we have to write that on a menu description.  All chicken should be steroid and antibiotic free, but the reality is conventionally grown chicken is injected with growth hormones and antibiotics and often tainted with harmful bacteria.  The steroids are used to make them grow quicker and plumper, and the antibiotics are a preventative measure to counteract the problems of being raised in confined quarters on big factory farms.  Furthermore,  conventional chicken feed is loaded with pesticides.  All of this is passed onto us when we eat conventionally raised chicken.

The good news is that we are aware now of these problems and healthier choices do exist.  The many healthy choices you find in a supermarket however, can be overwhelming, confusing, and often without proper varification. Below is a list from Consumer Reports explaining the various labels, which you should find helpful.

Organic: In order to be labeled “USDA Organic,” the chicken had to have been fed not just a vegetarian diet, but a diet that does not include any genetically modified ingredients or toxic synthetic pesticides. It also means that antibiotics can not be used for anything other than medically necessary antibiotics (though some may argue that there are farmers who stretch the boundaries of what is medically necessary). However, chickens can be provided with antibiotics during their first day of life; the drug-free rule kicks in the day after the shell breaks open.

Organic certification, which requires annual inspections, mandates that access to the outdoors be provided for the chickens, but sets no specific standards for the size of the outdoor area, the size of the door leading between inside and outside, or the amount of time the birds spend outdoors.

No antibiotics: These chickens are never given antibiotics, including in the egg. That said, there is no inspection process to verify this label before it is employed.

No hormones: This label can be used on all conventionally raised chickens in the U.S. as the use of hormones in not allowed in the production of chickens for market. So if you see “no hormones” on a label, it just means “chicken.”

Cage-Free: Another label that is just touting the industry minimum, says CR. “No chickens raised for meat in the U.S. are kept in cages. Neither does it mean that the birds have access to the outdoors.”

Free-range: The only difference between conventionally raised chickens and free-range is that the chickens have access of some sort to the outside. Once again, there are no standards for size of the outdoor area or for the door to the outside, and inspections are not required to use this label.

No GMOs: To get the “Non GMO Project Verified” label, the chicken’s feed must be comprised of less than 0.9 percent of genetically modified crops. Verification is required for this label.

Natural: CR dubbed this one “the most misleading label” of the bunch, as more than half of the survey respondents said they believed “natural” meant the chickens didn’t receive antibiotics or chow down on feed containing GMOs. 42% of respondents said they thought the term meant the chickens were raised outdoors, while 1-in-3 said they thought it meant the same as “organic.” The only substantial requirement for “natural” chicken breasts is that they contain no artificial ingredients, but even then there is no process to verify this claim. 

 

If you haven’t already seen it, I urge you to watch Food Inc, an eye-opening documentary exploring the way food has changed in the last 50 years and not necessarily for the better.  It’s well worth the watch.

The bottom line when eating chicken? Eat locally grown and organic whenever possible, as with most foods.

 

Some information compiled from: http://consumerist.com/2013/12/19/organic-chicken-is-different-than-antibiotic-free-and-natural-means-nothing/

For more green living tips, visit greenwithbetsy.com.

 

 

If You Can’t Garden, Clean!!!

Happy Spring!  Whether it feels like spring or not, there is a psychological lift to just spotting a crocus or two and knowing that winter is officially over.  It may be too early to start gardening, but it’s not too early to start a thorough spring cleaning!

If you don’t already use non-toxic cleaners, now is the time to switch!  Indoor air pollution, partially caused by the use of chemical based cleaners, is a much more serious problem than people realize and one of the reasons for increased cases of asthma and allergies among other diseases. Fortunately you can find several brands of non-toxic cleaning supplies at your local grocery store and many of the conventional brands are now making a less toxic product.  Be sure to read the ingredients though; some products claim to be “natural” when they really aren’t. Visit Environmental Working Group’s Cleaners database “Hall of Shame” for the worst offenders in cleaning products.

Seventh Generation, Mrs. Myers, Shaklee’s full line of biodegradable concentrated cleaning products, and The Optimist Company, a local Cape Cod company whose owner makes pure cleaning and laundry products in her own kitchen with cool biodegradable packaging, are all effective “clean” (toxin-free) products.  Start with an all-purpose cleaner, an abrasive scrubber, and a toilet cleaner.  You really don’t need a different product for each surface in your home.

Making your own cleaning supplies using baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice is a fun and easy option too!  Baking soda cleans nearly everything from stained kitchen sinks to mildewed showers to tea stained coffee mugs to flatware to fruit or even teeth, and it’s cheap!  White vinegar works great on hardwood floors.  Easy, long-lasting microfiber cloths lift off dirt, dust and grime with no need for additional products.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that if there is no “clean” smell, then it’s not effective – fragrances are part of the chemical danger. (There are some organic cleaners containing safe, essential oils as a fragrance.)

Happy spring cleaning!

Recipe for All-Purpose Cleaner

All-Purpose Cleaner: Mix 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup baking soda (or 2 teaspoons borax) into 1/2 gallon (2 liters) water. Store and keep. Use for removal of water deposit stains on shower stall panels, bathroom chrome fixtures, windows, bathroom mirrors, countertops etc.  Keep out of reach of children.

Check out the short video on green cleaning your kitchen.

Some information compiled from http://eartheasy.com/live_nontoxic_solutions.htm#substitutions and http://www.greencleaningcoach.com/ 

For more green living  tips, visit greenwithbetsy.com.

 

Is Your Shower Curtain Toxic?

Don’t be fooled by the “new shower curtain smell” emitted when you buy a new plastic one.  That smell is actually an indication of the toxic substances that are released, or off-gassed.  Most shower curtains and curtain liners are made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, which contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phthalates and metals, all of which cause a host of problems like respiratory irritation, damage to the central nervous system, headaches, fatigue, dizziness and even worse.   You also want to avoid shower curtains with anti-mildew treatment, antibacterial or antimicrobial claims.  Who knows what’s been added to make these unregulated claims and you don’t want to inhale chemicals in the shower curtain!

In a study recently published by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice entitled “Volatile Vinyl: The New Shower Curtain’s Chemical Smell”, claims more than 100 chemicals are released into the air when consumers open the curtain packages. The level of total VOCs measured was over 16 times greater than the recommended guidelines for indoor air quality established by the U.S. Green Building Council and Washington State Indoor Air Quality Program.  Seven of the chemicals released by shower curtains are classified as hazardous air pollutants by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Air Act.  The heat and humidity in the shower may make the VOC concentrations even worse.

Alternatives to toxic PVC shower curtains?

Cotton, (organic cotton is even better), duck cotton, recycled sailcloth or hemp shower curtains, are best and available on line. If you can’t find cotton ones, synthetic materials are okay as long as they are made of the more environmentally friendly EVA, PVA, nylon, polyester or microfiber. Retail giants like Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond are now aware of the problem with PVC and are carrying non-PVC shower curtains and liners.  I just bought an inexpensive curtain liner made from 100% EVA Vinyl produced without chlorine.   So – stop inhaling toxic substances and replace your shower curtain now!  You’ll be happy you did!

Some information compiled from  http://healthyhomefocus.com/?p=925

For more green living tips, visit greenwithbetsy.com.

Clean, Fresh Babies

Lucie's baby JeanThere is no more special time in life than the anticipation of your first baby – pouring through baby development books, choosing a name, decorating the nursery, researching the best stroller and car seat, buying those adorable baby clothes, and finding the right laundry detergent that won’t irritate your baby’s soft newborn skin.  Many new parents wonder if it is really necessary to buy a specific, costly detergent like Dreft, just for baby clothes?

The answer lies in what kind of detergent you usually use.   If your detergent is loaded with dyes, fragrances, phosphates and optical brighteners, then yes.  But if you use a ”clean” laundry soap, or one without toxic additives, you don’t have to spend the extra money and run a separate load for baby clothes. 

Most conventional detergents now make a non-toxic product.  You can check out the toxicity level of your favorite brand or find the safest ones by going to the Environmental Working Group website, a well-respected consumer watchdog organization.  They analyzed over 2000 products and rated them according to concern for general ecotoxicity, biodegradation, and general systemic/organ effects.

Here are a few laundry soaps I recommend.

Seventh Generation products are fantastic– they contain plant-derived cleaning agents, soil disperants and non-animal derived enzymes; they are naturally biodegradable, phosphate-free and hypoallergenic. Seventh Generation products consistently score the safest rating and they are a genuinely eco-responsible company.

http://www.seventhgeneration.com/learn/video/brighter-way-care-baby

I like supporting local companies and cottage industries.  The Optimist Co, based on Cape Cod and run by a mother of two small children, makes fabulous laundry soap with 100% soap oil flakes and no chemical detergent. You can’t get much purer than the laundry soap she makes right in her own kitchen!  Shaklee, another eco-responsible company, offers a highly effective, chemical-free laundry soap as well, and for a non-toxic soap that does it all – clothes, dishes, body, hair – there is nothing better than Dr. Bonner’s Pure Castille soap.

One other thing, forget fabric softener which is highly toxic and full of harmful chemicals.  It also breaks down the fire retardancy in infant clothing.  Instead use dryer balls or add ¼ cup white vinegar to the rinse cycle.

Make the switch today to non-toxic laundry soap and protect everyone’s skin, especially your baby’s!

For more green living tips, visit greenwithbetsy.com

Information compiled from : http://babyclothes.about.com/, http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/responsible-living/stories/7-least-toxic-laundry-detergents

 

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