I think we can all agree that this “going green journey” can at times be overwhelming. There are so many things to consider and remember when it comes to the safety of our families and the planet. At the top of my greenie “to do” list is avoidance of all toxic chemicals that could potentially make me and/or my family sick.
Sounds simple, yet it’s not. Especially when it comes to phthalates.
What are phthalates?
Phthalates are chemicals used as softeners or plasticizers in polyvinyl chloride (PVC, vinyl) products. They can be found in hundreds of products: pre-2009 toys, wallpaper, cling wrap, shower curtains, nail polish, perfume, blood bags, cosmetics, personal care products, shampoos, carpeting, wood finishes and insecticides (the list could go on and on). Phthalates have even been known to coat pharmaceutical pills and vitamins.
Manufacturers like to use phthalates because when added to plastic it increases the flexibility and durability of the plastic and allows products such as nail polish, skin products, perfumes, hair gels, wallpaper and paint to cling on and last longer. That new car smell that you either love or hate is partly caused by phthalates.
Should phthalates be avoided?
YES. Phthalates have been shown to disrupt hormone activity, reduce sperm counts and some preliminary studies show that they may be causing a slow and steady demasculinizing of men. Other studies have linked phthalates to liver cancer and breast cancer.
How do I know if something has phthalates?
Good question: unfortunately, you can’t always tell.
According to the FDA ingredients have to be listed on personal care products, including cosmetics. So far so good. However, the regulations don’t require the listing of the individual fragrance ingredients; therefore, the consumer will not be able to determine from the ingredient list if phthalates are present in a fragrance. Also, the law doesn’t apply to products used solely by professionals. For example- there is no requirement that products used in a hair salon be labeled as containing phthalates. WHAT?? The FDA has some mighty big loopholes in their regulations.
How to avoid phthalates
Avoid fragrance. Fragrance mixtures are considered a trade secret or proprietary information and this enables companies to get away with not disclosing their “secret” ingredients. If a product lists “fragrance” steer clear.
DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate) and DEP (diethyl phthalate) are often found in personal care products, including nail polishes, deodorants, perfumes and cologne, aftershave lotions, shampoos, hair gels and hand lotions. (BzBP, see below, is also in some personal care products.) DEHP (di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate or Bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate) is used in PVC plastics, including some medical devices. BzBP (benzylbutyl phthalate) is used in some flooring, car products and personal care products. DMP (dimethyl phthalate) is used in insect repellent and some plastics (as well as rocket propellant)
Take action against phthalates
Help Congress pass The Safe Cosmetics Act 2011. This will require chemical manufacturers demonstrate that their products are safe before they’re on store shelves. Click HERE , enter your zip code and show your support.
Join Healthy Child Healthy World -stay informed and get involved.
One of my favorite spots at our local Whole Foods Market is the bulk food isle. I love filling endless amounts of containers (at a bargain price of $9.99/lb) with all sorts of grains and snacks, while simultaneously hoping that a previous customer didn’t sneeze in the bin. Yesterday I was in the bulk food isle filling up my plastic containers and plastic bags with all sorts of goodies when a woman passed by gathering her own collection of bulk treats. As her cart cruised by I peered in and noticed that she had several reusable containers and bags to transport her nuts, oatmeal and rice.
She scooped her bulk oatmeal into a bag that looked just like this (but empty):
I then glanced into my own cart only to find lots of fresh fruits and vegetables (I needed to supplement what was already delivered to us by our CSA) bagged in those ridiculous plastic bags off the rolls. All of my bulk foods were also in plastic bags or plastic containers. There were so many plastic bags and containers in my cart that I could hardly see what was what.
I then began to question my dedication to bringing in my own reusable bags each time I shop. I am committed to bringing them with me, but find myself filling those reusables with fresh produce and other foods wrapped in single use plastic bags. Our Whole Foods stopped using plastic bags at the checkout, but continues to have them available throughout the store for produce, meat and bulk foods.
Should I add reusable produce and bulk food bags to my supermarket routine?
I know I have to be realistic-it has literally taken me years to figure out a system where I can actually remember to bring my reusable bags into the store. My system isn’t fail proof, but it does work on most visits to the market. Now I am contemplating adding a new dimension to my reusable routine-bringing in my own containers and bags for the food before it is placed into my reusable bag at the checkout.
If I do decide to change-up my routine and add reusable bags/containers for produce and bulk foods, I’m just not sure what container or bags to bring. Here are a few ideas:
I like this glass container because it’s not plastic. But it could shatter at some point during my bumpy trek to or from the market.
This plastic container could work. It is originally from Whole Foods but could be used as a reusable container for other food.
I could also invest in a few Organic Cotton Reusable Produce Bags. They aren’t very expensive and they could be stored inside the other reusable bags that travel with me to the store.
I’m just not sure I can handle adding anything else to my supermarket routine.
Do you bring in your own containers or bags for fruits, vegetables and bulk foods? I need a little help here.
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*Disclosure: If you buy anything through the Amazon links it will put a few pennies in my pocket-thanks!
**Top photo used under Creative Commons from BCMom
Is a gym membership in your future for 2011? Or maybe you’re already a dedicated gym rat? Whether your membership is an obligatory New Year’s resolution or already a daily obsession, try these simple green practices you can incorporate into your gym workout to reduce your carbon footprint and help the planet.
Use a reusable water bottle. Break your disposable bottle water habit and switch to a reusable water bottle. Breaking the plastic disposable bottled water habit reduces the use of fossil fuels and toxic greenhouse gases that come from manufacturing plastic bottles. By using a reusable water bottle you are also helping reduce the number of plastic bottles that end up in landfills, sitting for years while they try unsuccessfully to decompose. I am hooked on Klean Kanteen.
Don’t use plastic bags for your sweaty gym gear. My gym offers plastic bags to carry my sweaty work out gear home. In 2011 I am going to try to BYORB (bring your own reusable bag) for that sweaty work out gear. You’ve heard me say it over and over. plastic bags are bad, bad, bad.
Gear up in green ware.Replacing your entire workout wardrobe with eco-friendly duds isn’t realistic. As you need to replace old, worn out tops, bottoms and shoes think organic, hemp or non-synthetic. Buying organic clothing reduces pollution, saves energy and water, and helps reduce the amount of junk added to landfills. When buying new, look for companies with sustainable business practices like REI and Patagonia.
Join a human powered gym. More gyms are using specially designed equipment to capture the energy you create while sweating and pedaling, turning it into useful electricity. Last year The Green Microgym opened in Portland, Oregon and has been able to reduce its carbon emissions by 60%.
Mix it up and use the great outdoors.On a beautiful day don’t waste the energy required to run a treadmill or stationery bike when the whole world is at your finger tips. Go for a run, bike ride or walk and breath in the fresh air.
Photo used under Creative Commons from Colin Davis
Bring your own towel.I have to admit, I love the towel service at my gym. There is nothing like walking in, taking as many towels as you need and then conveniently dumping them in a bin on the way out. However, many times the towels are washed in harsh detergents, bleaches, and disinfectants. Bring your own towel and you will be saving water and protecting yourself from potential toxins. This one will be a tough one for me to give up.
Advocate for the use of green products at your gym.My gym has an entire page on their website dedicated to environmental sensitivity, outlining all the green initiatives they have implemented. Check in with your gym-what are their green plans?
Do they recycle?
Do they use CFL or LED bulbs?
Do their televisions automatically turn off when not in use?
Do they use natural cleaning products?
Are toxin-free soaps available for use in the showers?
Do they use chemical free detergents to wash the towels?
Have they installed water-conserving shower heads or filters on their shower heads?
Here’s to healthy beginnings in 2011. Happy New Year.
Disclosure: If you buy any of the items in this post through one of the Amazon links it will put a few pennies in my pocket-no pressure!
*Top photo used under Creative Commons from Neeta Lind
I love Trader Joe’s for many of the same reasons this guy is singing about in this quirky, unauthorized commercial for TJ’s.
Hopefully the tune is now swimming around in your head, as it is in mine (misery loves company). But today my love for TJ’s was tossed aside and all I felt was anger. While opening my newly acquired bag of brussel sprouts, I noticed that the plastic bag was labeled “Microwavable Bag –Ready in 3 Minutes”. In fairness to TJ’s, similar bags of sprouts and other veggies are sold at other stores, but the TJ’s label happened to be on this particular bag.
I’m angry because those simple words on their bag are misleading-they are telling people that it is OK to cook their food in a plastic bag. IT IS NOT OK. The truth is IT ISN’T KNOWN how much risk there is in low-level exposure to plasticizers or chemicals in plastic containers and bags.
Beth says : ” Stop heating plastic. Period. Do not put it in the microwave. Do not put it in the oven. Do not put it in the dishwasher, even on the top rack. Heat causes plastics to leach more readily. If you must eat food from plastic containers, please hand wash them with warm (not hot) water. Do not serve hot food in them ever. And, if you’re still buying bottled beverages (you’re not, right?), never store them in the hot trunk of a car.”
A few years back the Milwaukee Journal Sentineltested 10 plastics labeled “microwave safe”. All 10 products were found to release “toxic doses” of Bisphenol A (BPA) when heated in a microwave. The study found that the amounts detected were at levels that scientists have found cause neurological and developmental damage in laboratory animals.
Just because your food packaging says “microwave safe” it may not be. The term is not regulated by the government and has no certifiable meaning.
Take the safe route and avoid putting any plastic in the microwave. Stick to glass or ceramics.
BTW-I still love Trader Joe’s…….once I vent I don’t usually hold a grudge.
Photo used under Creative Commons from Horia Varlan
In today’s world life without plastic is hard to imagine. Plastic is everywhere-packaging, toys, bottles and personal care products. There has been buzz for many years about the safety of plastic. In a nutshell, plastic is generally toxic to produce, toxic to use, and toxic to dispose of (more to come on this in another post).
The amount of information available on plastics is daunting and the thought of eliminating plastic from our lives can be overwhelming. Beth Terry at Fake Plastic Fish has has documented her mission to live with as little unnecessary plastic as possible.
Before committing to living without plastic, the first step in Plastics 101 is getting to know our plastics.
Most common plastics have a three arrow triangular symbol with the numbers 1-7 (often found on the bottom of the product). Those numbers tell which containers are accepted by recyclers. They also give us the class of plastic and its chemical characteristics.
HERE ARE PLASTICS IN A NUTSHELL:
Number 1 Plastics PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate)-DON’T USE
WHERE FOUND: clear plastic containers for bottled water, soda, sports drinks, cosmetics, shampoos and condiments such as vinegar and salad dressing.
RISKS: PET bottles can produce endocrine disruptors if a product is stored long-term in a PET container or exposed to high heat.
This plastic is picked up by most curbside recycling programs.
Number 2 Plastics-HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)-MINIMAL KNOWN RISK
WHERE FOUND: milk jugs, water, and juice bottles, bleach, detergent and household cleaners, yogurt and margarine tubs, cereal box liners, and grocery, trash, and retail and motor oil bottles.
RISKS: Little known risk-not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones.
This plastic is picked up by most curbside recycling programs.
Number 3 Plastics-Polyvinyl chloride aka vinyl (V or PVC)-DON’T USE
WHERE FOUND: shower curtains, plastic cling wrap, teething rings, and toys, window cleaner and detergent bottles, cooking oil bottles.
RISKS: PVC contains chlorine, so when produced it can release dioxins. PVC can leach lead and phthalates among other things. When burned, PVC releases toxins.
This type of plastic is rarely accepted by recycling programs.
Number 4 Plastics-LDPE (low density polyethylene)-LOW RISK
WHERE FOUND: produce bags, dry cleaning bags, food storage containers, squeezable bottles, frozen food, clothing; furniture, carpet.
RISKS: No confirmed leaching of chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones.
This plastic is not often accepted by curbside recycling programs.
Number 5 Plastics-PP (polypropylene) –NOT HIGH RISK
WHERE FOUND: bottle caps, straws, some yogurt containers, ketchup bottles, margarine tubs.
RISKS: Emits toxins during production. No confirmed leaching of chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones.
This plastic is increasingly being accepted by curbside recycling programs.
Number 6 Plastic PS (Polystyrene, aka Styrofoam)-DON’T USE
WHERE FOUND: take-out containers, disposable plates and cups, foam food containers, meat trays, egg cartons, aspirin bottles, compact disc cases.
RISKS: Evidence suggests polystyrene can leach potential toxins into foods.
Most recycling programs will not accept #6 plastic.
Number 7 Plastic Catch all for any other plastic (usually polycarbonate)-DON’T USE
WHERE FOUND: baby bottles, microwave ovenware, eating utensils, plastic coating for metal cans. New plant-based, biodegradable plastics like PLA (Polylactic Acid) also fall into the #7 category.
RISKS: Polycarbonate plastic can leach harmful Bisphenol A (BPA).
Most curbside recycling programs will not accept this type of plastic.
Now that you have this guide, take the time to look at the bottom of your plastic containers and get to know your plastics.
I’m Lori Popkewitz Alper, a recovering attorney, mom of three and the Founder of Groovy Green Livin. I hope you'll join me as I continue on my journey to live a healthy life. Along the way I just might stop to make some noise about issues that affect the health and safety of our families. Come along with me as I fight for a safer world for all of us. Together we'll discover that simple, small changes in your life can lead to a non-toxic, healthier lifestyle and a greener planet.