Mar 18th – Use cloth napkins today.

In a continued quest to reduce the number of trees cut down for paper hand towels (currently 51,000 trees a day), try deferring to cloth napkins today.

After the One Change early this year of avoiding paper towels for that day, we purchased a few tea towels from Home Goods, 8 for just $4.99, and have successfully knocked our paper towel habit at home.  The cloth napkins/tea towels are easy to throw in with the other wash and are actually nicer to use than paper napkins and paper towels because they are more substantial.

Mar 17th – Decide on one tradition of your heritage that you would like to have live on.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Today is a celebration of the Irish patron saint, Saint Patrick, and of the Irish heritage and culture in general.  But of course not all of us are Irish, so after sending good wishes to your Irish friends, learn a little bit about your own heritage and decide one tradition you might like to carry on through your generation and share with the next.  It could be family related, religious based, or cultural… a special meal, traditional event or place to visit, etc… there is no one right answer, whatever you feel is important and special to you.

As our cultures become more intertwined with greater diversity learning to live together, traditions can be lost along the way.   There is something special about holding on to a celebrated part of our past to enjoy and commemorate.

Take a moment today to think of what you might like to carry on, and share it with someone special and/or write it in your calendar to make it happen.

…And may the luck of the Irish be with you today!

Mar 16th – Skip the fragrance in your soaps, as well as your perfume(s), today.

I have often heard to avoid fragrances without necessarily knowing why, but when I had my first child who ended up breaking out on nearly any fragrance that touched her skin, it made me wonder what really are those “fragrance” ingredients that it could cause such rashes.  I have since found out they may contain a wide range of allergens.

Turns out the “fragrance” ingredient(s) could be any host of ingredients, largely unregulated, and many toxic.  As EWG put it, “A rose may be a rose, but that rose-like fragrance in your perfume may be something else entirely, concocted from any number of the fragrance industry’s 3,100 stock chemical ingredients, the blend of which is almost always kept hidden from the consumer.”

In a separate article, EWG also stated, “The mystery mixtures that provide a wipe’s burst of fragrance can contain hundreds of untested chemicals, including toxic ingredients like phthalates and synthetic musks – both suspected hormone disruptors. Fragrances are also among the top five allergens worldwide.”

While today’s change topic could get into a much longer discussion on more specifics and health concerns linked to certain chemicals, the long and short is that fragrances are not something we actually need, so why not just skip them, at least for today.

If you just can’t give something up, but want to know if there is anything in your product that may be of concern, you can look it up on EWG’s Cosmetic database that I have mentioned previously… http://www.ewg.org/skindeep.

… and if you miss having a lovely scent near you, considering buying yourself a bundle of nature-grown flowers.

Mar 15th – For your next home paint project, use NO VOC paints.

VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compound and has been associated with health concerns such as asthma, eye irritation, respiratory problems, nausea and dizziness, when exposed.  Prolonged exposure has been link to kidney and liver disease and even cancer.  The VOCs are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids such as paint.

As a muralist, I nearly always use my favorite NO VOC paints, Benjamin Moore Natura.  You can feel much better about using this type of paint, even in kid’s rooms, plus you won’t get that nasty smell with paints containing VOC.

No VOC brands:

  • Benjamin Moore Natura
  • Yolo Colorhouse
  • Milk Paint (the ‘greenest’ paint out there)
  • Behr Premium Plus Enamel Low Luster
  • Sherwin Williams Harmony
  • Glidden Lifemaster
  • There may be others out there as technology is rapidly improving, so check with your local paint supplier for their brand with No VOC.

Be prepared to pay for your added value, these paints are more expensive, but in my opinion, worth the extra cost.

Mar 14th – Put a smile on your face and leave it on for the day, today.

A smile can go along way.

Some days this is easier to do than others.  I have even found on some of the toughest days, putting a smile on my face simply makes things better.  Imagine if you walked around with more people smiling at you… it costs nothing, takes rather little effort, but the reward can be big for both the giver and receiver.

On About.com, this wonderful list sums up plenty of reasons to smile…try out #10, it’s true!:

  1. Smiling Makes Us Attractive – We are drawn to people who smile. There is an attraction factor. We want to know a smiling person and figure out what is so good. Frowns, scowls and grimaces all push people away — but a smile draws them in.
  2. Smiling Changes Our Mood – Next time you are feeling down, try putting on a smile. There’s a good chance you mood will change for the better. Smiling can trick the body into helping you change your mood.
  3. Smiling Is Contagious – When someone is smiling they lighten up the room, change the moods of others, and make things happier. A smiling person brings happiness with them. Smile lots and you will draw people to you.
  4. Smiling Relieves Stress – Stress can really show up in our faces. Smiling helps to prevent us from looking tired, worn down, and overwhelmed. When you are stressed, take time to put on a smile. The stress should be reduced and you’ll be better able to take action.
  5. Smiling Boosts Your Immune System – Smiling helps the immune system to work better. When you smile, immune function improves possibly because you are more relaxed. Prevent the flu and colds by smiling.
  6. Smiling Lowers Your Blood Pressure – When you smile, there is a measurable reduction in your blood pressure. Give it a try if you have a blood pressure monitor at home. Sit for a few minutes, take a reading. Then smile for a minute and take another reading while still smiling. Do you notice a difference?
  7. Smiling Releases Endorphins, Natural Pain Killers and Serotonin – Studies have shown that smiling releases endorphins, natural pain killers, and serotonin. Together these three make us feel good. Smiling is a natural drug.
  8. Smiling Lifts the Face and Makes You Look Younger – The muscles we use to smile lift the face, making a person appear younger. Don’t go for a face lift, just try smiling your way through the day — you’ll look younger and feel better.
  9. Smiling Makes You Seem Successful – Smiling people appear more confident, are more likely to be promoted, and more likely to be approached. Put on a smile at meetings and appointments and people will react to you differently.
  10. Smiling Helps You Stay Positive – Try this test: Smile. Now try to think of something negative without losing the smile. It’s hard. When we smile our body is sending the rest of us a message that “Life is Good!” Stay away from depression, stress and worry by smiling.

Mar 13th – Optimize energy efficiency in the kitchen by using proper size pot/pan while cooking on burner that fits best.

Every little bit counts, so make the most of your energy efficiency in the kitchen:

  • Use the best size pot or pan for what you will be cooking.  Smaller pans are cheaper and more energy efficient to heat up.
  • For electric and gas stovetops make sure you have the best fit pot for fitting the heating element (i.e. small pot on smaller burner, larger pot on larger burner rather than a small pot on a larger burner which will waste energy).
  • For gas stovetops – make sure the flame is fully below the cookware.

Mar 12th – Use paint strainer bags while shopping for produce rather than plastic bags.

Picture of a paint strainer

Picture of a paint strainer

A friend of mine brought up this fantastic suggestion, which I just had to share.  While doing your shopping at the grocery store or farmer’s market, bring a few paint strainers along (tucked inside your reusable bags) to use for your produce rather than grabbing for a plastic bag provided by the vendor.

The weight of the strainer is minimal and should not add to the cost of the produce when weighed for pricing.  Your veggies be ready to be washed, you will have saved another plastic bag, and you can reuse the strainer bag many times over.

The bags run about a dollar and can be purchased at your local paint store, you can also get them at Home Depot.

Mar 11th – Keep store receipts out of the recycle bin, among a few others.

Having learned in my recent BPA change on March 9th that store receipts contain BPA, it is important to know that they should not be placed in the recyclable bin.  Instead, take receipts in a pile and place in a bag to be put in the trash.  This way, they are not simply thrown in the trash to possibly be swept away in the wind out of the trash, and end up in our oceans.

Some others notables:

Whole pieces of paper are better than small… for example, shredded paper decreases in recyclable value because it shortens the length of the paper fiber.

Avoid bright colored paper (apparently it’s like having a red sock in a white wash load) – so when you go to buy paper, try to go for white or pastel.

Nothing soiled with grease or oil.

If possible, recycle your plastic bags in special plastic bag recycling, as they can cause problems in the recyclable sorting machines (though still do not throw them away in the trash!

No broken glass.

There are a few other questionable items, particularly the different types of plastics, but as I learned in a sustainability class, when in doubt, put it in the recycle bin and let them decide.

Each city has their own set of items that can and cannot be allowed, you may want to check yours.

Mar 10th – Visit a local park today.

There are so many good reasons to go to a local park, one of the best ones is that it is good for the community.  Parks are a great place to meet other people in your community… and the more people we get to know, the better we are able to build our communities and relationships, and break down barriers among our neighbors.

Some other wonderful reasons:

  • To see, experience, and appreciate nature – and rejuvenate yourself
  • It’s healthy to be outdoors, enjoy some activity while you are there
  • It is a fantastic place for a picnic lunch
  • What better place to take your shoes off and relax?
  • If you have kids or a pet they will love you for the chance to run around in open space
  • It is good for the environment because you are staying local rather than driving somewhere far, so you are saving on gas
  • You never know what is awaiting – a beautiful flower, a new friend to meet, a fun animal sighting, or even a festive local event
  • It’s FREE!

Enjoy your day 🙂

Mar 9th – Avoid food/soda cans with BPA today.

BPA, short for bisphenol A, is used to make certain plastics and epoxy resins.  Articles on the health concerns associated to BPA are far from scarce, and it continues to be studied on the true effects it has on humans, but there is legitimate concern.  It can be found in numerous items such as toys, sports equipment, industrial products, even in store receipts (who knew?.. and a lot of it!)…. and it is still found in the lining of many food cans… INCLUDING, shocking to me, almost all aluminum cans… you will need to skip your soda today ;).

I tend to stay away from canned foods since I am not always sure which do and do not have it.  No longer…. Thanks to a fantastic list put together by InspirationGreen.com, below is a well-compiled list of cans that DO and DO NOT have BPA (updated Jan 2013), as well as some additional information on recent studies associated with BPA from their article:

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WITHOUT BPA:

  • Eden Foods:  All 33 of its organic beans, chili, rice & beans, refried, and flavored.
  • Trader Joe’s Brand:  Canned corn, tomatoes, beans (except baked beans), tunafish, anchovies, poultry, beef, coconut milk, fruit (except mandarins) and vegetables (except artichokes).
  • Hunt’s Tomato Products:  Only their plain tomatoes – but great first step!!!
  • Whole Foods: 27% of its store-brand canned goods. No specifics given!*
  • Amy’s:  As of March, 2012 all products in non-bpa cans. Look for: NB, for Non-BPA on the bottom of each can.
  • Bionaturae:  Canned tomatoes.
  • Campbell’s Soups: Announced March, 2012 that it will be phasing out BPA from its cans! They have yet to make clear when that will begin, or what they plan to use instead of BPA.
  • Crowne Prince Natural:  Tuna, Salmon, Kippers.
  • Muir Glen:  Canned tomato products only.
  • Native Factor:  Coconut Water.
  • Native Forest:  Organic coconut milk, artichokes, asparagus, mushrooms, hearts of palm and all of their canned fruits.
  • Ocean Brands:  Salmon, tuna, oyster, crab, snackit, snack n lunch and fish salads. (Not the shrimp, clams and food service size.)
  • Oregon’s Choice:  Canned Tuna.
  • Vital Choice:  Canned salmon, albacore tuna, sardines and mackerel.
  • Wild Planet:  Canned Sardines and 5 oz tuna.
  • Ecofish (Henry & Lisa’s):  Canned Tuna.
  • Nature’s One:  Organic powdered baby milks.
  • Tetra-pak (aseptic containers) are lined with Polyethylene, not BPA. ‘Pomi‘ Brand and Hunt’s Chopped tomatoes in tetra-paks are becoming more widely available.

WITH BPA:

  • Eden Foods: Canned tomato products (look for their new – glass jars)
  • Trader Joe’s Brand:  All soups, chilis and stews. Plus; Sardines, Crab, Cherrystone Clams & Oysters, Mandarins, Hatch Chilies, Artichokes, Organic Baked Beans.
  • Whole Foods: 73% of its store-brand canned goods. 
  • Ocean Brands:  Shrimp, clams and 4lb food service size.
  • Annie’s, Brad’s, Muir Glen, Westbrae cans are lined with BPA.
  • ALL food cans out there other than those listed above…
  • Most all  Aluminum Cans are lined with BPA.
  • Polycarbonate plastic (grouped in #7) contains BPA and BPAF (worse!).
  • Many shiny thermal receipts contain BPA.
  • (ATM receipts, cash register receipts, prescription labels, lottery/airline tickets, etc)
  • Don’t hand children receipts that might contain BPA!
  • Don’t recycle receipts that might contain BPA!

Since 1999 Eden Foods has used steel cans coated with a ‘baked-on oleoresinous c-enamel’, which does not contain BPA. Oleoresin is a non-toxic mixture of oil and resin extracted from plants, such as pine or balsam fir.’(1) The cost is currently 2.2 cents more (14%) than cans with industry-standard BPA epoxy liners. Yet that natural liner is not approved by the FDA for acid foods, such as tomatoes. Hopefully in the very near future, alternative liners will be put on the market as more research is completed. But as of now, be aware that canned tomatoes, soups and pastas are your highest sources of BPA due to their acid consuming the lining of the can.

The Environmental Working Group estimates that BPA exposure is ‘unsafe’ in 11 percent of all canned food and an unbelievable one-third of all infant formula.(2) When BPA was detected, the EWG found a single serving contained enough BPA to expose a woman or infant to levels more than 200 times the government’s safe level of exposure for industrial chemicals. In the 2010 study, ‘No Silver Lining’, food from 50 cans collected from 19 US states and Ontario, Canada were tested for BPA contamination. Over 90% of the cans tested had detectable levels of BPA, and some at much higher levels than had been detected previously.(3) The study’s tests show that meals involving one or more cans of food can “cause a pregnant woman to ingest levels of BPA that have been shown to cause health effects in developing fetuses in laboratory animal studies.”(3) Consumer Reports’ latest tests of canned foods found that almost all of the 19 name-brand foods they tested contain some BPA. “A 165-pound adult eating one serving of canned green beans from their sample, could ingest about 0.2 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight per day, about 80 times higher than the experts’ recommended daily upper limit.”(4)

The Breast Cancer Fund recently released a product testing report called “BPA in Thanksgiving Canned Food.” For the study canned goods were purchased in California, Massachusetts, New York and Minnesota. Four cans of each of the common Thanksgiving staples: Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, Campbell’s Turkey Gravy, Carnation Evaporated Milk (by Nestle), Del Monte Fresh Cut Sweet Corn (Cream Style), Green Giant Cut Green Beans (by General Mills), Libby’s Pumpkin (by Nestle) and Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce were purchased. The results showed a tremendous variability in BPA levels in the canned foods tested, from non-detectable to 221 parts per billion. Variabily was extreme even among cans of the same product made by the same company, which means that consumers have no way of knowing how much BPA is in the canned food they’re buying and consuming. www.breastcancerfund.org

A 2011 study by Harvard University analysized the urine of seventy-five people for BPA. Each participant ate a 12-ounce serving of either fresh or canned soup for five days in a row. They were advised not to otherwise alter their regular eating habits. After a two-day break, the groups switched and ate the opposite type of soup. The study showed the canned soup eaters had 1,221 per cent higher levels of BPA in their urine than those who ate the fresh soup.5  Of other concern, a 2012 study out of New York, the first study of its kind to test for BPS, found 81% of the urine samples tested contained BPS (Bisphenol S)* in quantities just slightly below those of BPA.6

An August, 2012 study out of the University of Virginia, shows that low dose BPA is associated with decreased social activity in mice for up to four generations!7 And in September, 2012 a Washington State University researcher and colleagues have found that BPA disrupts female rhesus monkey’s reproductive systems, causing chromosome damage, miscarriages and birth defects. Again the research shows the effects to be generational. Patricia Hunt, the head researcher states that; “the really stunning thing about the effect is we’re dosing grandma, it’s crossing the placenta and hitting her developing eggs, and if that fetus is a female, it’s changing the likelihood that that female is going to ovulate normal eggs. It’s a three-for-one hit.” The rhesus’ reproductive system are most human-like of any mammal and were tested with BPA levels similar to those in humans.8

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My advice would be to find some wonderful food products packaged in glass, or even better, no packaging at all.