Thursday, February 25, 2010

Please check out my green living article in the March/April issue of Nesting Magazine!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Diatomaceous What Now?

When I mentioned that I had snails and/or slugs in my garden this summer, my mom immediately started talking about diatomaceous earth (DE). She is one of the few people I've ever heard mention such a thing, and I had no idea what she was talking about.

The subject came up again when I discovered that my cats, being the exquisite pains in the behind that they are, somehow managed to contract fleas in the dead of winter. I went straight to the Internet to search for chemical-free ways of dealing with the little blood-sucking pests (the fleas, not my cats). Recommended over and over again was diatomaceous earth.

So what in the heck is diatomaceous earth, and how is it helpful in dealing with fleas and snails and such? According to Wikipedia, DE is a powder made up of fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae. The powder comes from a naturally occurring, soft, chalk-like sedimentary rock that is easily crumbled. DE absorbs lipids from the waxy outer layer of insects' exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate. (Lipids are a diverse group of compounds that have many key biological functions, such as structural components of cell membranes, energy storage sources, and intermediates in signaling pathways.)

There are at least two kinds of diatomaceous earth available for purchase by your average citizen: the food-grade kind, and the industrial kind. Please pay attention to this part. The saltwater (industrial) form contains a highly crystalline form of silica, resulting in sharp edges. The sharpness of this version of the material makes it dangerous to breathe and a dust mask is recommended when working with it. The food-grade diatomaceous earth is what you want to use to treat pets inside your home. I've read that some people ingest it as well to kill off any intestinal parasites. I'll stick to treating my pets with it, thank you very much.

Off I went to the nearest hardware store, thinking that I would find DE there. However, the only DE I could find at the big box stores came with a whole host of accompanying chemicals that I did not want on my cats or in my house. Next, I half-heartedly checked my organic grocery store, not really expecting DE to be there. It was, though, in the pet section: a food-grade DE sans pesticides.

The label offered no instructions on using it externally, so back to the Internet I went. The advice there was to simply rub the powder into the cats' fur, and sprinkle it on carpets and bedding where they spend a lot of time. (The powder is very drying to human skin, so you might want to wear gloves if you try it.) The cats didn't seem to mind too much, and the fine powder actually stayed on them pretty well.

I can't say for certain that the fleas are completely gone. I haven't been re-applying the DE as often as I probably should. But I'm satisfied that when Sienna crawls under the covers with me at night, she's not bringing any harmful chemicals with her. And I don't have to worry about rushing Alice to the bathroom to wash her hands every time she touches the cats.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Hello everyone! Sorry I've been too busy to blog for a while. I have an easy subject to write about today, though, thanks to Green America: Greenlists. Green America is a non-profit whose mission is "to harness economic power—the strength of consumers, investors, businesses, and the marketplace—to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society." All of the following information came to me in a mailing from Green America.

10 Products to Buy Fair Trade*
  1. Tea
  2. Chocolate
  3. Bananas
  4. Sugar
  5. Rice
  6. Vanilla
  7. Apparel
  8. Wine
  9. Olive Oil
  10. Coffee
*Fair trade means that workers who harvest and/or produce these items are paid a fair, living wage so that they may become economically self-sufficient while promoting sustainable farming and production practices.

5 Things You Should Always Buy Green
  1. Paint (low or no VOCs)
  2. Paper (look for a high post-consumer recycled content)
  3. Light bulbs (compact fluorescents)
  4. Appliances (Energy Star compliant)
  5. Fruits and vegetables

10 of the Worst Corporate Criminals to Avoid
  1. Wal-Mart
  2. ExxonMobil
  3. Coca-Cola
  4. Nestle
  5. Monsanto
  6. General Motors
  7. Dominion
  8. Citigroup
  9. Shell Petroleum
  10. McDonalds
To learn why these companies are considered criminals, please visit this website and click on Responsible Shopper.

10 Things You Should Never Buy Again
  1. Styrofoam cups
  2. Paper towels
  3. Bleached coffee filters
  4. Teak and mahogany
  5. Chemical pesticides and herbicides
  6. Conventional household cleaners
  7. Toys made with PVC plastic
  8. Plastic forks and spoons
  9. Farm raised salmon
  10. Rayon
(Wow, that's a lot of stuff you may be accustomed to buying. To find out why Green America recommends against these products, visit their website and click on unshopping.)

8 Body Care Toxins to Avoid
  1. Mercury (including the preservative Thimerosal)
  2. Lead and lead acetate
  3. Nanoparticles
  4. Placenta
  5. Hydroquinone skin lightener
  6. Phthalates
  7. Petroleum by-products (like 1,4 Dioxane)
  8. Fragrance

3 Steps to Reduce Dangerous Toxins in Your Home Today
  1. Get rid of conventional cleaners. Instead, use nontoxic, biodegradable cleaners free of synthetic fragrances. Or use baking soda and vinegar.
  2. Filter your water. Contaminants found by the EPA in some of America's largest cities include rocket fuel, arsenic, lead, fecal matter, and chemical by-products.
  3. Use care with paints and stains.

That ought to keep you busy for a while, but I hope to be in touch again soon.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, December 1, 2008

Green Things For Which I Am Thankful

These are a few of my favorite green things:
I hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, October 20, 2008


One of my loyal readers posed a question in response to my last blog entry about cotton's environmental impact: what about bamboo? A lot of people are asking that these days, and the answer is complicated.

Bamboo grows very quickly (up to a foot a day!) with little pesticide and herbicide use and little water. Hence its reputation as an eco-friendly alternative to cotton. Bamboo also produces 30-35% more oxygen than a hardwood forest on the same amount of land, and is an excellent soil erosion inhibitor. But if you've ever seen bamboo growing, you know that it doesn't so much resemble a soft fabric as a bunch of hollow sticks. The controversy about bamboo stems from the process of turning the stalks into wearable clothing.

National Geographic's The Green Guide has this to say:
According to Morris Saintsing, sales development and operations partner of bamboo clothing retailer Bamboosa, all bamboo stalk intended for clothing in the United States is converted into raw fiber at one factory in China. "This is a proprietary process and they have a patent on it," says Saintsing. "It's hard to find out what is going on from an R&D standpoint," he adds. Other sources have compared it to the viscose process used on rayon, which involves sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide, both of which are caustic, and carbon disulfide has been known to cause breathing and sleeping problems among workers. Sodium hydroxide can threaten aquatic wildlife when released into groundwater and streams. Saintsing said that greener ways of creating bamboo fabrics are being tested, but those generally result in a linen-like product that doesn't have the silky texture people are looking for in clothing. Few of the alternatives are in use, but "We're doing what we can to make it a greener process," he says.
Like many decisions we have to make in our quest to be more environmentally friendly, finding green clothing is tricky. Bamboo may not be a perfect choice because of its controversial manufacturing practices. As consumers, we need to pay attention to how our clothes are made so that we can exert pressure on companies when their processes don't match our values. Just as you would try on clothes to make sure they fit, investigate how that bamboo shirt is made before you spend your money on it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Debunking the Cotton Ads

I am fed up with the cotton ads I've seen lately, touting cotton as the greenest thing you can wear. I understand what they're trying to say: that it's better to wear clothing made from plant fibers than clothing made from petroleum-based fibers. But these ads totally ignore the fact that conventionally grown cotton takes a huge toll on the environment.

Here are the sobering facts:
  • Just 2.4% of the world's arable land is planted with cotton, but it accounts for 24% of the world's insecticide market and 11% of global pesticides sold, making it the most pesticide-intensive crop grown on the planet.
  • In California, five of the top nine pesticides used on cotton are cancer-causing chemicals (cyanazine, dicofol, naled, propargite and trifluralin). If you read my blog entry on mosquitos, you've heard of naled before.
  • In Egypt, more than 50% of cotton workers in the 1990s suffered symptoms of chronic pesticide poisoning, including neurological and vision disorders.
  • In India, 91% of male cotton workers exposed to pesticides eight hours or more per day experienced some type of health disorder, including chromosomal aberrations, cell death and cell cycle delay.
  • 14 million people in the U.S. are routinely drinking water contaminated with carcinogenic herbicides and 90 percent of municipal water treatment facilities lack equipment to remove these chemicals.
  • In California, it is illegal to feed the leaves, stems and short fibers of cotton plants known as "gin trash" to livestock because levels of pesticide residues are so high.
  • In the United States, 1/3 pound of agricultural chemicals are typically used in the production of a single cotton T-shirt.
  • $2 billion’s worth of chemicals are sprayed on the world’s cotton crop every year, almost half of which are considered toxic enough to be classified as hazardous by the World Health Organization.
According to Steve Trent, Director of Environmental Justice Foundation, “With no less than 99% of the world’s cotton farmers living in the developing world, the pesticides are applied in fields where illiteracy is high and safety awareness is low, putting both the environment and lives at risk.” He adds, “The dangers faced by poor illiterate children and farmers, to keep our clothes cheap, is unacceptable.”

Organic cotton, grown without pesticides and herbicides, is the only truly green cotton you can wear. If you're not sure who to believe, keep in mind that the cotton industry has a vested interest in getting the general public to believe that wearing conventionally grown cotton is a green thing to do. They're probably a little biased.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Bright Idea or Not?

CFLs, or compact fluorescent lamps, have been touted as the environmentally friendly way to light our homes and businesses. According to Energy Star, if every American home replaced just one light bulb with an Energy Star-qualified bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars.

Sounds good to me: save the environment, save the pocketbook! My husband and I have been slowly replacing the burned-out lightbulbs in our house with CFLs, and many of my friends have done the same. But we couldn't help noticing the warning on the package:

"Lamp contains mercury. Manage in accord with disposal laws."

Wait a minute. Mercury is a known neurotoxin! Acute exposure to mercury vapor has been shown to result in profound central nervous system effects, including psychotic reactions characterized by delirium, hallucinations, and suicidal tendency. Fetuses exposed to mercury in the womb are at a much greater risk for developmental disorders.

Energy Star says there's no need to worry. CFLs only have a small amount of mercury vapor in them, which is sealed off in the glass tubing. The amount of mercury contained in the average CFL is 4 milligrams—about the amount that would cover the tip of a ballpoint pen. (As a comparison, old-fashioned thermometers contain about 500 milligrams of mercury, equal to 125 CFLs.) Besides, mercury is an essential part of a compact fluorescent lamp; it allows the bulb to be an efficient light source. No mercury is released when the bulbs are intact (not broken) or in use.

I have yet to crack one of these sturdy bulbs, but there are guidelines (too complicated to go into here) you should follow if you do manage to break one. What I want to address is how to properly dispose of burned-out CFLs. I didn't bother exploring my local laws; I wanted to know the most environmentally responsible option.

The EPA recommends that consumers take advantage of available local recycling options for CFLs, because the mercury in CFLs can be fully recovered and reused through the recycling process. I discovered that both Ikea and Home Depot have CFL recycling programs. At Home Depot, you just give them to the store associate behind the returns desk. You can also take expired bulbs to a hazardous waste drop-off location in your community, but then they may not be recycled.

Why would we want to use a product in our homes that has to be so carefully handled? Because according to, using CFLs can actually reduce the amount of mercury released into the environment each year. Half of the power in the United States is still generated by coal-fired plants, and burning coal releases mercury into the atmosphere (about 10 milligrams over the life of an average incandescent bulb). Because of its superior efficiency, a CFL will only be responsible for about 2.5 milligrams. Even if you add the 4 milligrams of mercury contained in the typical CFL, a CFL is actually responsible for putting less mercury into the wild than its incandescent equivalent.

So lighten up. You're doing the right thing using CFLs. Just try not to break them and don't put them in the trash.

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Odenton, Maryland, United States