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Monthly Archives: September 2007

We’re pretty big tea drinkers here. Generally we just buy the biggest box of Tetley’s we can find. But now that we’re a) trying to reduce our waste, b) onto the fair trade thing (coffee and chocolate), and c) trying to live lighter by buying organic, I figured I’d look into the issues around tea.

As far as waste goes, it’s not too bad, tea bags are compostable or green binnable (but less is more, so why bother with bags when it comes loose?) and the box is cardboard (recyclable) but it’s wrapped in plastic.

As for fair trade, this one’s a biggie: most of the world tea industry (from the plants to the bags) is controlled by 6 companies (Unilever, Hillsdown Holdings, Allied Lyons, the Co-operative Wholesale Society, James Finlay and Associated British Foods) which means they can manipulate the market (buying cheap and maximizing profits) and the plantation workers suffer.

And the organic issue is also a big one. DDT may be banned here in North America, but it isn’t everywhere, and it gets high usage in developing countries where tea is grown. Not great for the consumer, but much worse for the plantation workers who are exposed to it.

So, I have found us some fair trade certified organic loose leaf tea at the Ten Thousand Villages Danforth store. The packaging isn’t great, (I’ll keep searching), but the tea is fine!

My near 3 year old needs a night light. And he likes it bright. So we’ve been using an old school incandescent one but when it burnt out the other day I was determined to get a more energy efficient type. I had no idea whether there was one… I figured I’d be able to find something with a CFL, but I thought it would be ideal if I could find an LED night light. Why LED? Here’s a short list of benefits according to eartheasy.com:

  • Long-lasting – LED bulbs last 10 times as long as compact fluorescents, and 133 times longer than typical incandescents.
  • Durable – Since LEDs do not have a filament, they are not damaged under circumstances when a regular incandescent bulb would be broken. Because they are solid, LED bulbs hold up well to jarring and bumping.
  • Cool – these bulbs do not cause heat build-up; LEDs produce 3.4 btu’s/hour, compared to 85 for incandescent bulbs.
  • Energy-saving – LEDs use a fraction of the wattage of incandescent bulbs. Batteries will last 10 to 15 times longer than with incandescent bulbs. Also, because these bulbs last for years, energy is saved in maintenance and replacement costs. Many cities in the US are replacing their incandescent traffic lights with LED arrays because the electricity costs can be reduced by 80% or more.
  • Light for remote areas – because of the low power requirement for LEDs, using solar panels becomes more practical and less expensive than running an electric line or using a generator for lighting.

I was up at Grassroots and happened to find exactly what I was looking for! I picked up two (they were in packs of two) Greenlite X Nite Lite LED 100,000 hour with automatic sensor (they turn off when the lights are on or there’s enough daylight in the room) night lights. They come with a lifetime guarantee – if it fails, you just send it back and they’ll send you a replacement. And, as a bonus, I just found out that they’re a Canadian company. Excellent.

Last week I had a dentist appointment (you groan, but I like my dentist – he’s a good friend’s dad so it’s more like a social visit). I remembered to refuse the freebie Oral B toothbrush at the end and explained that I was going to start using a toothbrush that has a replaceable head in order to reduce waste. Today I made it up to The Big Carrot and found what I was looking for. They have a few different ones, but I opted for TerrAdenT‘s soft head. I actually had to think about what colour to get since this will hopefully be my toothbrush for a long, long time…

What’s the problem with regular toothbrushes, you ask? If we all change our toothbrushes twice a year, 75 million toothbrushes would be landfilled every year (from Ecoholic) in Canada alone. The major brands don’t come from recycled plastic, so it’s just a lot of non-biodegradeable petroleum products going in the trash bin…

No, no, no, Kill A Watt. We just bought a Kill A Watt meter a week ago and it arrived yesterday! (they’re $40-50 but my resourceful husband found one for $17 on eBay) So now we’re measuring how many kilowatt hours various electronic devices in our house are using. For instance, the work laptop is $60/year in energy costs if it runs 24/7. The wall warted baby monitor, if it’s plugged in but not turned on 24/7, only $0.60/year (not the concern that I thought it might be, but I’ll still unplug it when it’s off).

We’ll try to find the big energy suckers and eliminate or minimize their usage as we test everything around the house.

Oh, and on the same vein, our house just got a new Smart Meter a couple of days ago – which may not be implemented on for a year or two, but it should be a good system once it’s up and running, as we will be able to find out how much energy we use during different times of the day, and high use times (day time, business hours) will be billed a higher rate than low use times (night time, sleep hours).

Just a quick note today. We’ve got to stop cutting down ancient forests so we can have soft 3-ply paper with which to wipe our noses and butts.

The World Wildlife Fund talks about it. Greenpeace talks about it.

There’s a list of recycled tissue products (U.S. based but some – maybe all – are available in Canada) at grinningplanet.

I started using PC Green 100% post-consumer recycled paper toilet tissue. It’s wrapped in plastic, but I buy the largest amount I can and get double rolls. I guess the next step is 100% post-consumer recycled tissue that is wrapped in recyclable packaging…

I have an itchy scalp. There, I’ve said it, it’s out there. So I’ve been using the conventional solutions (T-Gel and sometimes a Head & Shoulders type shampoo) for a while. But then I started reading about just how bad they are in Ecoholic:

T-Gel uses coal tar, which “has long been linked to cancer, but the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. says there’s nothing to worry about when using it in such small quantities.”

Other web sites talk about the fact that it may be a skin irritant or increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, and say things like “it is unknown if this drug passes into breast milk” and “it should only be used on the advice of a doctor, particularly in the first trimester of pregnancy“. Nice.

Environmental Working Group‘s (EWG) cosmetic safety database rates the original T-Gel shampoo (and you can see all of the other products) as a 7 (high hazard) out of 10 (update in 2011: now it’s an 8) on it’s scale and gives the following list “ingredients in this product are linked to: Cancer, Developmental/reproductive toxicity, Violations, Restrictions & Warnings, Allergies/immunotoxicity.” Plus the other concerns: Neurotoxicity, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Miscellaneous, Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Enhanced skin absorption, Contamination concerns.

Yikes!

And then there’s the zinc pyrithione, which is used in Head and Shoulders, Neutrogena’s T-Gel Daily Dandruff Shampoo (a 5 out of 10 – moderate hazard – from EWG’s cosmetic safety database), and PC Botanical Secrets Moisturizing Shampoo (Normal Hair), among others. Ecoholic describes a Swedish study (2011 update: the link I used to have to the study no longer works) that found “by that pouring 3ml of dandruff shampoo with 0.8 per cent zinc pyrithione in a 1,000-litre aquarium, waiting 24 hours, then adding fish half the fish died within four days. This despite the fact that the ingredient is said to degrade quickly in water.” Even nicer.

So, I haven’t found the answer yet. Ecoholic has a few suggestions including not using a shampoo with the skin irritants sodium laurel or laureth sulphate. I’m doing that for now but I’ll have to try a few of the others on her list as well and let you know how it goes… For now, I’m just cutting out the fish killers and carcinogens.

Sorry for the long-time-no-entry, but I was away and have been too sleep deprived to think prior to that (ah, teething babies).

What I’ve been wanting to say was this: since I started this challenge, it has actually changed my way of thinking.

For instance, my car usage habits. I’ve been keeping a car usage journal since mid-June to see what is not necessary and what is unavoidable. I mean, we’re pretty good: we use the car 2-3 times per week (I had a couple of bad weeks where I actually used it 4 times, but it’s been 2-3 times a week other than those). Now that I have a bike, it’s gone down since those little errands that need to be done quickly can be done almost as quickly on a bike if they’re not too far.

And this buying second hand thing – it’s great. It’s actually much more interesting to go looking for something second hand then just driving off to the nearest mall or IKEA every time you need something – well, if you live in my neighbourhood it is. I have several vintage/antique/used places within walking and riding distance from my home and have found some great stuff (a sassy dress for a special night that fit perfectly, tinkertoys for the boys, a cast iron frying pan, a perfect wallet, etc). I managed to get a very gently used chariot trailer on kijiji for a great price, which my older son loves to ride in (my younger son is too young to go in it yet).

Then there’s the little things that I started doing just because I’m conscious of all of these things now, like not turning the tap on full blast when I’m rinsing things (hands, fruit, veggies), not flushing every time (if it’s yellow let it mellow…), looking for a nice local restaurant within walking distance of our house for our 5th anniversary dinner (Edward Levesque you rock!), turning out the lights, wetting myself down then turning off the water to lather up in the shower, not renewing my magazine subscription, eating vegetarian even more than we used to, amalgamating my car trips, not buying foods in non-recyclable plastic (like those big plastic tubs of pre-washed spinach and baby greens), canceling catalogues… These are little things, but I guess they all add up.

~ Lynn