Greening Your Home 101
from May/June 2012 magazine
By Linda Stein
There is so much being written today on methods to green the environment it's easy to be overwhelmed by it all. Kudos to architects building LEED Certified buildings and developing intricate ways to partner with restaurants to run a car on cooking oil! However, you may want to ‘hop on board’ in a less daunting way. I will focus on changes that can be implemented in and around your home. Gradually over the last few years all of the ideas in this article were incorporated into the suburban home I share with my husband, two elementary school age kids, two cats, a dog and a bunch of fish. It's not like I've been sitting around turning my house into a green Mecca without distractions. (Did I mention my home-based business?)
As a general rule; the products you use in your home should be made from plants because they are less harmful to the environment. Give sugarcane toilet paper a try, (affectionately nicknamed “sweet wipes” in our home). Surprisingly soft, this sustainable toilet paper is made out of Bagasse, which are the fibers leftover from squeezing the juice out of sugarcane. Tissues are made from Bagasse, too. To save water without installing a low flow toilet, place an insert in toilet tank to restrict the amount it fills when flushing, we have a Tank Bank®. A homemade version to displace water can easily be created by filling up a container with water and setting it down in the tank.
In all bathrooms, we dispense liquid hand soap from a reusable container. A large refill is more economical to purchase and easily pour into the existing bottle when the soap runs low. Did you know that bathroom faucets average 2 to 4 gallons of water every minute? A faucet aerator is a simple screw-on attachment that mixes air into the water as it comes out. Installing an aerator cuts down water use to 1 to .5 gallons per minute. It's hard to believe, but the water pressure stays the same.
Replace all of the beauty products, shampoo, facial cleansers and deodorant you use with nontoxic alternatives. I am fortunate to be able to make these for myself. Effective cosmetics, skincare, bath and body products can be made safely without chemicals. As an advocate for alternatives to mass-produced toxic cosmetics, I feel it is essential to read labels on all products purchased and educate myself on the ingredients. Products containing sulfates, petroleum derivatives, talc, bismuth oxychloride, nano-particles, mineral oil and other mutagens, carcinogens and endocrine disruptors travel from your home into the ground water. There are readily available alternatives to some of these substances, for example petroleum jelly can be substituted by natural wax jelly. Products with less excess packaging are good choices.
Metal silverware leaches metal toxins into your food that are harmful to ingest. We have 2 bamboo utensil drawer organizers, one for keeping the main items separated and another to segregate the sharp kitchen tools. Consider bamboo, eating utensils too, not only are they ‘green’ but they also have natural antibacterial properties! We use nontoxic Ecover rinse aid in the dishwasher and only run it when it is full to conserve water. Pots and pans are hand washed and set on the counter to air dry because they take up a lot of space in the dishwasher. Keeping pots and serving dishes out of the dishwasher means running less cycles, using less water and conserving energy because the machine doesn't need to run a drying cycle.
Almost everyone has heard about placing a box of baking soda in the refrigerator to keep the air inside smelling good. Now there is a volcanic ash freshener for refrigerators. Volcanic ash lasts longer than baking soda because it can be recharged with sunlight.
Disposable items end up in landfills and should be reduced as much as possible. My favorite is reusable tea bags, wonderful cloth bags with drawstrings. The cloth prevents less tea leaves from escaping than a tea ball does, and is healthier than using metal. Much less waste is generated by spooning in loose tea than buying disposable bags that are individually wrapped, with strings, tags and staples.
Please wean yourself from bottled water! Reusable bottles are more economical, but make sure to find a bottle without bisphenol A (BPA). An expert panel at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at the National Institute of Health in the US has expressed some concern over exposure to BPA, especially in the fetus, infants and children. SIGG brand bottles are BPA free. We avoid the drinking water “issue” entirely by the installation of an in-line filter that purifies tap water, making the water from the faucet “drinkable.”
Also, look at any plastic containers you may be using because some, but not all, plastics that are marked with recycle codes 3 or 7 may be made with BPA. Soak labels off glass food jars when empty for reuse instead of using the plastic containers. Just take a bowl larger than the container with the label. Set the glass jar in the bowl and fill both with warm water. Only filling the bowl makes the glass jar float, putting water inside weighs it down. Wait a few minutes and the warm water will soak off the label and leave a clean surface.
Last summer, for our son’s birthday party, we found a set of party utensils that are non-plastic and tree free. The knives and spoons were made from cornstarch. The plates and bowls were of Bagasse created as the byproduct of either sugar cane or wheat straw. These were marketed as disposable but we found flatware to be reusable and dishwasher safe.
Reusable parchment paper is a wonderful alternative to aluminum foil when baking cookies. Sheets are sized 13” by 17” and can be cut to fit the baking sheet you are inserting into the oven. Most parchment paper is oven safe to about 425° to 450°F. Parchment paper can make at least a half-dozen trips into a 350° to 375°F oven.
We live in a a single family home, and we have wrapped our water heater in insulation. The seam was easily secured with duct tape. If you wrap your water heater in insulation, be sure to cut an area, or affix the insulation high enough, to avoid blocking the pilot light.
To avoid scalding our children, the temperature on the hot water heater was lowered. Now we know there are many other green reasons that everyone should take this action, whether there are children in the household or not. Manufacturers typically set water heater thermostats at 140ºF, yet most households usually only require them to be set at 120ºF. Reducing your water temperature to 120ºF slows mineral buildup and corrosion in your water heater and pipes. This helps the water heater last longer and operate at its maximum efficiency. It also saves money, because for each 10ºF reduction in water temperature, you can save from 3%–5% in energy costs.
If it is available in your area, buy wind or solar power Renewable Energy Certificates (REC) to get energy from companies in the energy grid. Our municipality gives us a per kilowatt credit added onto our bill. This program enables us to opt for 100% wind power without having a turbine on the property.
Instead of having one recycle garbage can in a central location, we found more recyclables were collected after buying small recycle garbage cans and placing them next to each existing trash bin in the house. The key to recycling is to make it as convenient as possible to collect recyclables like glass and cardboard.
All of our unwanted mail is shredded and reused as packing filler in my mail order business. Contacting vendors sending unwanted catalogs or other mailings to get removed from their distribution list has helped to lessen the amount of incoming unsolicited mail. Catalog Choice offers a free online service where sources of unwanted mail are designated and they handle the removal process. You have to have a mail-piece from the source you wish to cease, because the name that the mail is being delivered to has to be exactly the same. I made the mistake of entering my own name when unwanted mail was being delivered to the generic addressee “Current Resident.”
As you can imagine, with a home-based business, deliveries of supplies arrive almost daily. All corrugated cardboard boxes from incoming deliveries are flattened and recycled. If too much recycling material is accumulated or there is no recycling pickup in your location, take a weekly trip to the Waste Transfer Station and drop it off yourself.
The printer in our studio is a Hewlett-Packard and the ink cartridges are made by the manufacturer. Hewlett-Packard provides return packaging to send the empty cartridges back and we’ve always recycled ink cartridges from our printer until a local office supply store started a reward program for bringing in used ink cartridges. It is free to join and monthly e-mail is sent with a code representing the reward value. Several dollars of store credit is extended per cartridge. This program makes it nice and easy to be paid to recycle the used ink cartridges.
I discovered already refilled ink cartridges available for purchase online. (This must be where returned cartridges are sent to.) Off brand premium remanufactured cartridges are guaranteed to be free from defects and do not void your warranty. The cost is at least 30% lower than buying a new ink cartridge and I have never had one fail or perform at less than optimum performance.
It is important to use recycled paper certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council). The FSC is an independent non-governmental not for profit organization established to promote the responsible management of the world's forests. You can find a symbol on the wrapping of a ream of paper indicating approval by the FSC and feel confident about the purchasing decision.
Lawn & Garden
Capturing rainwater in a barrel is excellent for watering a lawn or flower garden. The water cannot be used to water edibles because the water can be contaminated with substances from the roof or gutter. We currently use a solar pump to get more pressure from the rain barrel water to the hose. It is a huge improvement from the previous method of elevating the rain barrel on cinder blocks and using gravity to create water flow to faucet.
Watering turf on a lawn uses a lot of water, so over the last few years we have been digging it up and installing alternatives. A pre-cut raised garden was purchased from Naturalyards. The timbers were pre-cut with notches and easily fit together, the hardest part was removing the grass and making sure the ground was level. Each family member chose a type of organic vegetable or spice to plant in the garden. We ended up coordinating a “pizza garden” with tomatoes, basil, oregano, thyme and a few other herbs. The seedlings came from our local organic farmer and the rabbits were kept out with a ring of marigolds. Marigolds are annuals, so I saved the marigold seed pods to replant this year.
We use nontoxic lawn care such as diomataceous earth to protect our dog from fleas. It looks like flour, but is made from mineral dust. Diomataceous earth also reduces ants. We buy concentrated liquid garlic. When diluted, liquid garlic sprayed on the lawn repels mosquitos and many other insects. It smells when applied but the odor in the air or on the plant disappears in about 30 minutes. We have a sour cherry tree that ripens on our daughter’s birthday in June. The garlic keeps the birds away from the fruit, so we can pick them and bake her a pie.
Taken together, these thoughtful actions made inside and outside of your home create a healthier living space for you and manage your impact on the environment more responsibly.
Linda Stein is the founder and formulator of the Zosimos Botanicals green cosmetics line. She is an activist for nontoxic personal care products and is a contributing author to the award winning book, What It's Like Living Green by Jill Ammon Vanderwood. Linda’s work studio has been awarded Environmental Awards annually since 2009 for its green business practices. © 2012, Linda Stein, all rights reserved.