Verda Vivo

Verda Vivo means “Green Life” in the universal language of Esperanto.

Book Review: Shift Your Habit March 7, 2010

I recently received a review copy of the book, Shift Your Habit: Easy Ways to Save Money, Simplify Your Life, and Save the Planet. It will be available for sale on March 9. The author, Elizabeth Rogers, an environmental consultant, is also the co-author of the New York Times best seller, “The Green Book”.

The book is packed with practical and easy ways to reduce your impact on the environment and save money at the same time. The book is organized into categories, such as home and garden, kids, pets, work, travel and transportation as well as holidays and celebrations. Each shift is explained in terms of what habit you can shift, how much money you can save, the impact to the planet and how it’s good for you too. If you adopted all of the shifts in the book, an average family of four with a pet would save $48,000. That should make anyone sit up and take notice! The shifts that the author proposes are easy to do and inexpensive. It all adds up!

Since I am a cleaning fanatic, I was very excited to see the easy to use chart of homemade cleaners, including everything from glass and toilet cleaners to wood furniture polish and fabric softener. My copy of the book is already looking well-loved as I have picked it up numerous times to read and re-read sections as I continue to shift my own habits and paradigms. You can pre-order Shift Your Habit: Easy Ways to Save Money, Simplify Your Life, and Save the Planet today at Amazon.

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Mend It Yourself June 25, 2009

Filed under: beauty and fashion,green,home,recycling — Daryl Laux @ 9:37 am
Tags: , , , , ,
sewing at the dining room table

Last week we had drywall and painting crews in to repair multiple cracks in our walls. As a result I ended up stuck in the house with time on my hands. Since I normally like to spend my days outdoors, this made me a bit stir-crazy. What else could I do besides fiddle about on the internet? I scoured my closet for clothes to repurpose or repair.

  • First, I found several items that needed buttons sewn back on. Easy enough.
  • Then I finally hemmed the pair of pants that were about a foot longer than necessary. I have been known to roll the waistband on a pair of pants rather than hem them. This doesn’t give you the most girlish waistline, however.
  • Next, I found three long dresses that I haven’t worn in several years. I thought about putting them in the donation pile but then decided that was wasteful. So I cut them to a length I will wear and hemmed them up. I wore one yesterday!
  • Last but not least, I tackled a pair of pants with a waist that was so big the pants threatened to slip off. Why do clothes manufacturers make waists the same size as the hips? Don’t women have curves anymore? Thankfully, these were stretchy lounge pants so I could just sew through the waistband and down the pant leg. Now they fit!

Once that was done, I found some unfinished Christmas ornament projects – many small pins and beads – lots of glue. Enough to keep this big kid busy for a while.

Need a little inspiration? Check out the folks at Threadbanger for Do It Yourself ideas. They were my muse for my recent sewing frenzy.
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What’s in Your Drain Cleaner? June 10, 2009

bathroom sink
Image by santellij via Flickr

I have long hair so that means I frequently have to clean out the shower and bathroom sink drains. Otherwise I end up standing in a pool of water or brushing my teeth over a bowl full of standing water. As luck would have it, I ended up having to clean both drains within the last week.

I could use a  caustic liquid or solid drain cleaner such as Drano Crystals or Liquid Plumr and pour these chemicals down my drain:

  • Sodium hypochlorite – A chemical compound with the formula NaClO. Sodium hypochlorite solution, commonly known as bleach, is frequently used as a disinfectant or a bleaching agent.
  • Sodium hydroxide – A strongly alkaline compound, NaOH, used in the manufacture of chemicals and soaps and in petroleum refining. Also called caustic soda or lye.
  • Sodium silicate – A white solid that is readily soluble in water, producing an alkaline solution. Can be dissolved in water to form a syrupy liquid.

According to the Material Safety Data Sheets on The Clorox Company’s website for both Drano Crystals and Professional Stength Liquid Plumr Clog Remover, the ingredients are corrosive to the eyes. Injures eyes, skin and mucous membranes on contact. Harmful if swallowed; nausea, vomiting, and burning sensation of the mouth and throat may occur. No adverse health effects are expected with recommended use. Especially if I don’t use them.

Or I could opt for an acid drain cleaner containing sulfuric acid and risk a chemical burn or damage to our plumbing. Acid chemical cleaners should be used as a last result and by a professional. Although available to the general public, there is decades-long debate about whether or not they should be. The recent death of a 22 month old toddler from drinking sulfuric acid drain cleaner should be enough to convince you that this chemical should not be in your house. It’s certainly not in mine.

Enzymatic biological drain cleaners, such as Earth Friendly Products’ Enzyme Drain Cleaner or Bi-O-Kleen’s BacOut are primarily for routine maintenance rather than clearing a completely clogged drain. Enzymatic drain cleaners react with organic material. They are non corrosive and contain bacterial cultures which break down fats and greasy deposits in the drainage system. These types of drain cleaners were originally used in septic tanks before their wider use as an effective and less environmentally damaging way of drain clearance or prevention from blockages. This might work (but maybe not for hair) and then again I don’t want to spend money unnecessarily.

My drain cleaner of choice is either a plunger for totally clogged drains (please consider having one specifically for toilets, the other only for sinks) or baking soda and vinegar for drains that are slow.

Since baking soda and vinegar isn’t going to dissolve a clump of hair, the first step is to clean the drain. For the bathroom sink, I first remove the drain stopper by disconnecting the pivot rod that sits behind the drain tail pipe under the sink. It usually comes out with a hank of hair and disgusting gunk clinging to it. Once I clean that off (with rubber gloves, of course!), I also remove the J-Trap, letting it drain into a bucket and then clean that out as well. I don’t remove the bucket until I put the J-Trap and pivot rod back together and test the connection by running water through the drain.

The shower stall drain is easier yet. Remove the drain cover by loosening the screw in the center or placing the flat end of a screwdriver under the edge of the drain cover and popping it off. There is my lovely long hair dangling from the drain cover loaded with soap and gunk. Once the drain cover is clean off, I scrape out any hair and gunk from the pipe itself.

Once the hair is removed, I pour 1/4 cup baking soda down the drain, followed by 1/2 cup white vinegar. After the foaming reaction subsides, I follow it up by pouring boiling water slowly down the drain.

For more suggestions and an excellent video, click on Tips For Clogged Drains & Homemade Drain Cleaner Recipe.

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What’s in Your Shampoo? April 14, 2009

A bottle of TRESemmé shampoo.
Image via Wikipedia

Ever shampoo your hair and then get a skin rash or hives? How about pimples, dry scalp, dandruff or contact dermatitis? Maybe you’re allergic to the chemicals in your shampoo. In addition to an allergic reaction, you may be exposing yourself, unnecessarily, to chemicals that can do far more damage.

Preservatives (Parabens)

One of the most common cause of negative reactions are the preservatives used to protect against product contamination and bacterial growth. In addition to allergic reactions, parabens can disrupt the hormone (endocrine) system and were found in the breast cancer tumors of 19 of 20 women studied. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tested urine from 100 adults and found parabens in nearly all.  (Environmental Working Group – Parabens)

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration continues to believe that at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens, they in fact, do NOT regulate parabens in cosmetics. In the meantime, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently funded a case study on the toxicity of parabens in wastewater to fish. Considering the FDA’s glorious record in safeguarding our food supply, I’m not convinced they’re guarding our best interests as far as the cosmetics industry is concerned.

Parabens can be listed as:

  • benzylparaben
  • butylparaben
  • ethylparaben
  • isobutylparaben
  • isopropylparaben
  • methylparaben
  • parabens
  • propylparaben
  • sodium methylparaben
  • sodium propylparaben

Organic products may use the natural form of preservatives such as citric acid or a derivative.

For more information, see Healthy Child, Healthy World – Use Precaution with Parabens.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

One of the most common ingredients in shampoo is a common detergent: sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). SLS is used in shampoo because it strips out oils and, despite its name, has a low sodium content. However, SLS can cause contact dermatitis by irritating the skin. Some companies have tried to link SLS and cancer but TreeHugger did their own research in this article: Common Eco-Myth: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) Causes Cancer. So, while, you can dry your hair and scalp to a fare-thee-well, there is no hard evidence linking SLS to cancer. Depending on how greasy your hair is, choose your surfactant accordingly.

Gentle Surfactants

This list of surfactants are gentle but don’t cleanse as well.

  • cocamidopropyl betaine
  • cocamphocarboxyglycinate-propionate
  • sodium lauraminodipropionate
  • disodium monococamido sulfosuccinate
  • disodium cocamphodipropionate
  • disodium capryloamhodiacetate
  • cocoyl sarcosine
  • sodium lauryl sarcosinate

Harsh Surfactants

The following list could cause an irritated scalp or be drying to hair.

  • sodium lauryl sulfate
  • TEA-lauryl sulfate
  • sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate
  • TEA-dodecylbenzene

For more information, see Healthy Child, Healthy World

Diethanolamine

Diethanolamine, more commonly called DEA, is not only a suspected carcinogen, it has been shown to negatively affect the development of memory cells, making it a particularly dangerous ingredient for pregnant women to use. One of its derivatives, triethanolamine (TEA) has also been shown to be carcinogenic.

Diethanolamine appears as:

  • Cocamide DEA
  • Cocamide MEA
  • DEA-Cetyl Phosphate
  • DEA Oleth-3 Phosphate
  • Lauramide DEA
  • Linoleamide MEA
  • Myristamide DEA
  • Oleamide DEA
  • Stearamide MEA
  • TEA-Lauryl Sulfate
  • Triethanolamine

For more information, see Healthy Child, Healthy World – Diethanolamine and U.S Food and Drug Administration: Diethanolamine and Cosmetic Products.

Methylisothiazoline

Methylisothiazoline, or MIT, limits the potential for microbial contamination in water based solutions. It has been shown to cause neurological damage, potentially putting a fetus at risk for brain damage. The chemical might also be a factor in the development of Alzheimer’s and other nervous system disorders.

For more information see Medical News Today: Shampoos with Methylisothiazoline May Pose Risk for Unborn Babies.

Fragrance

Most hair care products have some form of added fragrance. Fragrance is considered a trade secret and does not have to be revealed. Fragrances are considered to be among the top five known allergens and are known to both cause and trigger asthma attacks. All I have to do is walk by a perfume counter to trigger a reaction.

Natural Shampoos

You can find “organic” or “natural shampoos” on the market. Bypass the marketing on the label and go straight to the list of ingredients to make sure you’re getting a product without synthetic chemicals. They are likely to be more expensive than the drugstore brands that contain potentially harmful chemicals. However, what many people don’t know is that you don’t have to wash your hair more than once or twice a week. In fact, it’s healthier for your hair to wash it less frequently, as it gives the natural oils (which is what really creates shine) a chance to replenish themselves. I know, I know. When I was much younger, I washed and dried my hair every day thinking I needed to. These days, I usually skip the shampoo and wash my hair with conditioner. Then I let my hair dry naturally. My hair has never been in better shape.

If you have dandruff, give yourself a natural hot oil or deep conditioning treatment, which is far better for your scalp than dandruff shampoos.

You can also make your own shampoo:

Resources:

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5 Ways to Clean Your Toilet Naturally April 7, 2009

Filed under: environment,green,home — Daryl Laux @ 6:00 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,
NATURAL LAUNDRY PRODUCTS
Image by live w mcs via Flickr

I don’t know about you but I hate cleaning the toilet. In the past, I’ve used all sorts of harsh chemicals, thinking it was necessary to get rid of, well, you know, germs.

Chemical companies have led us down a merry path. You really don’t need to pour caustic chemicals down the drain to get the job done. All you need is vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, and/or borax. It’s cheaper, safer for the environment and safer for you and your children.

Below are 5 different natural recipes to clean your potty:

Vinegar - howstuffworks Uses for Vinegar: Cleaning Your House

Pour white vinegar into the toilet and let it sit for 30 minutes. Next sprinkle baking soda on a toilet-bowl brush and scour any remaining stained areas. Flush.

Baking Soda - eHow How to Clean Your Toilet Bowl Naturally

  1. Pour 1/2 box of baking soda into the toilet bowl.
  2. Let the baking soda stand overnight in the bowl. Try to do this the last thing before bed so you don’t accidentally flush the toilet before the baking soda has a chance to work.
  3. Flush the toilet several times in the morning.
  4. Run a brush around the bowl to fully remove any loosened grime.

Vinegar and Baking Soda

  • 1 cup vinegar
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  1. Pour the vinegar into the toilet bowl.
  2. Let it sit for 30 minutes.
  3. Return to the toilet, grab your toilet brush and dip it into the toilet.
  4. Take it out, and sprinkle some baking soda onto the brush.
  5. Scour the inside of the toilet with the brush repeating the sprinkle procedure until the baking soda is gone…..voila! Clean Toilet!

Borax and Lemon JuiceeHow How to make Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaners

  1. Pour 1 cup of Borax into a small bowl.
  2. Pour 1/2 cup of lemon juice over the Borax and gently stir with a spoon into a paste.
  3. Flush the toilet to wet the sides, then rub the paste onto the toilet with a sponge.
  4. Let it sit for 2 hours before scrubbing thoroughly. This is great for removing a stubborn stain, like a toilet bowl ring.

Borax and VinegareHow How to make Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaners

  1. Flush the toilet to wet the sides of the bowl.
  2. Sprinkle a cup of Borax around the rim and sides of toilet.
  3. Spray 1/2 cup of vinegar over the Borax.
  4. Allow to sit for several hours or overnight.
  5. Scrub thoroughly with a toilet brush until the bowl gleams.

Sometimes, hard water just leaves a stubborn ring that no amount of scrubbing or rubbing can eliminate. That’s when I grab a pumice stone and rub lightly on the stain.

Related Post: Flapper Failure Flushes Dollars Down the Toilet

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Flapper Failure Flushes Dollars Down the Toilet April 6, 2009

Close coupled cistern type flushing toilet.
Image via Wikipedia

I’m a clean freak. So years ago, before I knew better, I plopped one of those in-tank automatic toilet bowl cleaners into the tank of my toilet. You know, the kind that turns the toilet water blue. It didn’t take long before the toilet starting leaking. We could hear the water running all night.

We called the plumber who replaced the flapper, the piece of rubber that seals water into the tank and allows it to leave when you flush. A part which costs all of about $10. His service call, oh so much more. He told us the reason the flapper had deteriorated and started to leak was the in-tank automatic bowl cleaner. In-tank bowl cleaners that contain chlorine corrode vinyl and rubber parts. For this reason, most toilet manufacturers will not warranty any tank parts if these cleaners are use.

Wired took a look inside an in-tank automatic toilet bowl cleaner: What’s Inside: 2000 Flushes — a Nonstop Potty. What they found follows below. Decide for yourself whether you want to be exposed to these corrosive chemicals and whether they belong in our water system. When the MSDS for a product says “DANGER!”, I’m taking them at their word.

Chlorinated hydantoins
Ironically, you can clean a toilet with urine. No, not by aiming at the stains, but by using hydantoins — organic compounds sometimes employed as anticonvulsants and that can be made from a mixture of amino acids and urea. Chlorinate the hydantoins and they become a magical ingredient — bleach. But watch for “vacation drip”: If you don’t flush for a while (say, while off camping or when you give in to those comfy adult diapers), the chlorine can eat away older rubber valve flappers. And then your toilet might end up running constantly.

Hydrated alumina
Also known as aluminum hydroxide, this is a solid formed when alumina reacts with water. Here it’s one of the salts that helps control the rate at which the puck dissolves, so the bleaching action can last for up to four months — giving you 16 2/3 flushes per day.

Sodium chloride
Table salt also helps control how fast the tablet dissolves. As a side benefit it may reduce germs by turning the water slightly briny. Unless, that is, you’ve got a salt-loving extremophile in your bowl, in which case you’re gonna need a stronger toilet sanitizer.

Sodium lauryl sulfate
Found in hundreds of bathroom products, SLS is a great foam and lather producer. It is made by combining sulfonic acid with lauryl alcohol and sodium carbonate; the resulting soap-like compound traps greasy particles, which can then be rinsed away.

Cocamide MEA
Cocamide is derived from the acids in coconut oil. MEA stands for monoethanolamine, which is in everything from hair dye to oven cleaner. Together they work as a powerful detergent and another dissolution retardant. Most of the stains in your toilet are going to be from, well, natural organic residues, and MEA is a master at cutting through caked-on organics. It loosens the material so it can be easily washed off with the next flush.

Sodium citrate
The nonorganic stains in your toilet likely come from hard water deposits. These can grow there like rock candy, eventually needing to be acid-washed or chiseled away. Sodium citrate softens the water by locking up (chelating!) calcium, magnesium, iron, and other metals that might be found in your water supply.

Acid blue 9
The full name of this colorant: N-Ethyl-N-(4[(4-(ethyl[(3-sulfophenyl)methyl]amino) phenyl)-(2-sulfophenyl)methylene]-2, 5-cyclohexadien-1-ylidene)3-sulfobenzenemethanaminium hydroxide inner salt, disodium salt. Whew! So why add blue to a cleaning agent? It’s actually just a marker — when it’s gone, your 2000 Flushes are up.

I don’t remember this warning on the package “WARNING: Do NOT actually use this product in your toilet tank. It will eat the hell out of your plumbing.”

But there it is, an expensive lesson.

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Questionable Convenience March 30, 2009

Filed under: food,green,home — Daryl Laux @ 6:00 am
Tags: , , , ,
Gala (apple)
Image via Wikipedia

I admit it, at times I’ve been a sucker for convenience products. Not as often these days but there’s always room for improvement. For example, I eschew bagged greens and vegetables, preferring to wash and prepare my own, make my own croutons and salad dressings and use vinegar and water to clean my ceramic tile floors. However, I dislike baking so I buy whole grain bread at the market. My most notable baking disaster occurred when I attempted to make a pie crust. After much huffing and puffing, kneading and flour-adding, the dough still stuck to the counter, the rolling pin and my hands. I finally grabbed the entire wad of dough in a fury and threw it up in the air in a mighty heave – where it stuck – to the ceiling. My baking days were over in that instant.

How do convenience products compare to homemade? As part of a research project sponsored by the Arizona Republic, Linda Vaughan, chair of Arizona State University’s Department of Nutrition, and student researchers purchased both raw ingredients and prepared foods to see how they stacked up. By comparing the extra cost of ready-to-eat food to the time it took to make the same thing from raw ingredients, they could determine what buyers are actually paying for the preparation.Vaughan’s group determined that the consumer was paying the equivalent of $80 per hour for the convenience of buying shredded cheese, $75 per hour for sliced gala apples, and nearly $50 per hour for pre-cut celery. Never mind the packaging that can’t be recycled.

The study also found that “convenient” doesn’t always mean “time-saving”. A frozen teriyaki dinner took 20 minutes to prepare while a teriyaki dinner made from scratch took 30 minutes to prepare. Vaughan also found that the quality of prepared meals was usually low and typically high in fat and sodium content. So the frozen teriyaki dinner tastes like oily, salty cardboard and is less nutritious. Sounds like a deal to save 10 minutes, no?

Convenience food goes one step further when “quick-cooking” morphs into “instant”. The author of  The High Cost of Convenience Foods – Case 1 compares instant oatmeal packets to quick cooking oatmeal. Since the oatmeal cooks for the same amount of time, the convenience is that you don’t actually have to measure the oatmeal. You pay twice as much for this convenience.  The High Cost of Convenience – Case 2 compares ravioli in a microwaveable bowl to its counterpart in the original can. Again, cooking time is the same but buying the ravioli in a microwaveable bowl saves you the trouble of getting a bowl out of your cupboard. For this luxury, you pay 70% more.

Nearly eighty cents of each dollar Americans spend for food goes to pay for marketing services – processing, packaging, transportation, storage, advertising, etc. All of these costs are associated with making our food convenient – getting it into the most convenient form and package, getting it to the most convenient location, at the most convenient time, and convincing us to buy it. So, we pay far more for the convenience of our food than we pay for the food itself. In fact, we pay more to those who “package and advertise” our food than we pay to the farmers who produce it. So by far the greatest part of the total cost of food is the cost of convenience. (John E. Ikerd,  Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics, University of Missouri)

Think about it the next time you reach for a food that comes prepackaged. What price are you paying for the convenience of having someone else pre-measure, pre-cut, pre-shred, pre-pour, pre-slice, or pre-season your food? Keep that $80 an hour you save in your own account. You’ll need it to pay your taxes.

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