Youth team for TheGreenHub.ca
Community green news, views, features, video, and photos
Beth Greer, Super Natural Mom®, is a syndicated radio talk show host,
former President and Co-Owner of The Learning Annex, Certified Build It
Green® healthy home makeover specialist, and holistic health educator, who
eliminated a sizable tumor in her chest without drugs or surgery. She's
author of the bestseller, Super Natural Home, endorsed by Deepak Chopra,
Ralph Nader, Peter Coyote, and Dr. Joe Mercola. Beth is leading a movement
of awareness and responsibility about healthy home, work and school
email: firstname.lastname@example.org website: www.supernaturalmom.com
Clearing the Air: 5 Easy Ways to Reduce Toxins and Stay Healthy
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Airborne chemicals are embedded inside our homes. They swirl around us as toxic gases emitted from the poorly-labeled bottles of cleaning fluids in our kitchens and bathrooms, from the bug sprays and air fresheners we use, and from the glues, sealants and flame retardants in our furniture. They are also dragged inside our homes on the bottoms of our shoes and then stirred up when we walk on our carpets. Studies have shown that the air that surrounds us indoors is more toxic than the air outdoors -- even if you live in a highly polluted city like Los Angeles or New York.
Airborne chemicals are known as VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. They are called volatile because they don't stay put... they evaporate into the air and then you breathe them in. You never really think that your home could make you tired, irritable or even sick, but over time your body may absorb common VOCs like formaldehyde, phthalates or PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) -- the chemicals in flame retardants used in furniture, which have been found in human breast milk and dryer lint.
These chemicals may exacerbate allergies and asthma, and can cause fatigue, nausea, dizziness, eye, nose and throat irritation, cough, headache, flu-like symptoms and skin irritation. As they accumulate in the body over time they can silently affect how efficiently your body runs -- like whether you can maintain a healthy metabolism, burn fat well and keep your hormones in balance. Some also are known to cause heart, lung or kidney damage and even cancer and nerve damage if exposure is prolonged. This in turn can have a devastating effect on your health. If your liver, for instance, becomes taxed by an overburden of chemicals, it may not work efficiently, setting you up for other health problems.
There are literally tens of thousands of chemicals that have been invented by humans in the last 60 years and depending on who you ask, somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 are in common use today. Yet only a very tiny percentage have ever been directly tested for their effects on human health.
Our bodies are remarkably resilient in defending ourselves from these chemicals, but only to a point. Scientists question the cumulative effect. It is common sense to believe that the more chemicals you are exposed to, the more likely you will eventually be negatively affected by them. Here are some easy and effective ways to reduce your exposure to chemicals in your home and minimize your risk of getting sick. They are simple to do and will give you peace of mind in knowing you are doing something proactive to help you and your family stay healthy.
5 Ways to Reduce Toxins by Clearing the Air:
1. Remove your shoes at the front door. Shoes track in lead, pesticides and other pollutants. Stuff we track in from the outside can make our home toxic, especially for pets and young children who spend more time on the floor. At the very least, get a good doormat to wipe your shoes before entering your home.
2. Vacuum with a well sealed, high quality HEPA vacuum cleaner. This can do a much better job of cleaning your carpets than the cheaper vacuum cleaners found at most department stores. Steam cleaning can kill dust mites and bacteria as well.
3. Avoid buying new upholstered furniture containing "halogenated fire retardants." If it contains polyurethane foam, look for models where the foam is thickly covered or wrapped inside the cushion so dust from it is less likely to escape into your home. See if they offer non-toxic stain resistant fabrics as well.
4. Use an air purifier. Try one with HEPA (High Efficiency Particle Arresting) technology developed by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission to filter and trap sub-micron particles. Many reviews say this type of air purifier is the most effective.
5. Add houseplants to green and purify your living space. A NASA study found that common houseplants are natural air purifiers. Look for Aloe Vera, Philodendron, Rubber Plant, English Ivy, Ficus, Boston Fern, Gerbera Daisy and Spider Plant, to name a few.
Turning Waste into Wages: Using Recycled Coffee Grounds to Grow Gourmet Mushrooms
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
What if you could take 1 million pounds of waste that was heading towards landfill and repurpose it to grow food? Well, that's exactly what two recent UC Berkeley graduates are doing with their company Back to the Roots. Founders, Nikhil Arora and Alex Velez started a 100% sustainable urban mushroom farm that transforms coffee ground waste into the growing medium for gourmet mushrooms. The 2 year-old company is on pace in 2011 to collect, divert and reuse 1 million lbs. of used coffee grounds, from Peet's Coffee & Tea, a San Francisco Bay Area company, and use it to grow over 250,000 lbs. of gourmet mushrooms.
They got the idea during their last semester at Berkeley in 2009. The two 23-year-olds had the intention to go into investment banking and consulting, but became intrigued, during a business ethics class lecture, with the idea of being able to grow gourmet mushrooms entirely on recycled coffee grounds. They walked around to local cafes and collected used coffee grounds, put them in paint buckets and seeded them with mushroom spawn. The experiment, to their delight, led to one bucket of pearl oyster mushrooms. They then saw the potential of these mushrooms… to turn waste into wages, as well as provide fresh, local food to their community.
"We knew nothing about what a good gourmet mushroom should taste like, so we thought, what's the best restaurant in town?" said Nikhil during a recent interview on my radio show "Your Super Natural Life." Chez Panisse, the acclaimed Berkeley restaurant, wasn't too far from their campus, so they walked their bucket of mushrooms over and its founder Alice Waters happened to be there that day. She got excited and got her head chef involved, who immediately sauteed them, tasted them, and declared that the mushrooms were great. That same day, the guys walked into their local Berkeley Whole Foods Market and the produce buyer was excited about the idea and Whole Foods became a client. Two weeks before graduation they received a $5,000 Grant for Social Innovation. The guys, who graduated Summa Cum Laude from Biz School, changed direction at that moment. "We looked at each other and said, let's forget investment banking and consulting and become full time mushroom farmers," said Nikhil.
Most mushroom growers use wood shavings or sawdust, and many import the growing medium from China where they're cutting down trees just for the purpose of growing mushrooms. Plus, about a third of the energy costs for growing mushrooms is sterilizing the growing medium. Coffee grounds have already been sterilized by having boiling hot water poured over them, and are also rich in cellulose, making them a superior growing medium. In addition, when coffee grounds go into landfill they create a lot of methane gas, affecting greenhouse gas emissions, and they take up a lot of space, so it's a win win all around.
But there's more…Back to the Roots is repurposing its own waste. After the mushrooms are grown on the coffee grounds, what's left over becomes a wonderful soil amendment, which Alex and Nikhil are now selling to Whole Foods and donating a lot of it to school gardens and non-profit farms. A handful adds amazing nutrients to plants and flowers. They are also producing Grow at Home Mushroom Kits and are hope to inspire people to grow their own food. The mushrooms appear in about 10 days, right from the box, and produce about a pound and a half of gourmet mushrooms. Over 300 Whole Foods are selling them. (Greenopolis readers can get a 10% discount online by using the code "greenopolis10" on the Back to the Roots website).
In two years the company has grown from an idea to having a 10,000-square-foot warehouse in Oakland, CA and a staff of 14. It is one of the most innovative, socially conscious, green businesses I've seen. It's no surprise that in 2010 its founders were named BusinessWeek's "Top 25 Entrepreneurs under 25." Future plans? They're experimenting with using soy pulp and tea waste. But they really see their company as more than an urban mushroom farm. They want to inspire people and create awareness about waste, sustainability, and growing their own food. Also, check out their school campaign on Facebook. Anytime anyone posts a picture on their facebook page with their fully-grow kit, BTR will donate a kit and sustainability curriculum to an elementary school classroom of their choice.
Is Your Bedroom Toxic? 5 Easy Ways to Get a Restful Night's Sleep
Monday, June 6, 2011
If you had to choose just one room in your home to make environmentally friendly, it's your bedroom. We can unsuspectingly create a toxic environment by sleeping on the wrong type of mattress, or exposing ourselves to electronic devices that interfere with sleep. Getting good quality sleep allows you to stay healthy and fight off illness because sleep is the time when your body heals, repairs and rejuvenates.
Transforming your bedroom into a safe haven can have a major impact on improving your health and well being. The good news is creating a healthy bedroom is pretty simple.
Start by looking at the most important piece of furniture in the room -- your bed. Most mattresses are made with synthetic ingredients like polyurethane (PU) foam (that degrade over time), and have been treated with flame retardants known as PBDEs. Research has linked PBDE exposure to adverse health effects including thyroid hormone disruption and permanent learning and memory impairment. Some other chemicals used by mattress manufacturers include stain-resistant chemicals that are recognized carcinogens, as well as Boric Acid, Antimony Trioxide, Vinylidiene Chloride, Zinc Borate, Melamine, Formaldehyde, and Decabromodiphenyl Oxide. These chemicals off-gas, or release chemicals into the air... imagine breathing this stuff in every night! No other type of chemical exposure comes close to the intensity and duration of exposure to a mattress. It's in your face, with full body contact, every day, for years.
Read your mattress label, but know that there are no standard labels on mattresses listing flame retardant chemicals, so it's important to check with the manufacturer or store before purchasing.
The healthiest mattress is one made of natural latex foam. But watch for the words "made with" on the label. For example, if it says "made with natural latex" that might mean there's only 1 or 2 percent of it in the mattress! You want to see 100% (if you're chemically sensitive) or at least 80% of the mattress made with all natural, non-toxic ingredients.
If you can't afford to buy a new mattress, get a mattress topper made from organic cotton and wool. Or use a mattress cover made of a tightly woven barrier cloth. Look for a thread count of 300 or higher to help isolate an unhealthy mattress.
Choose organic cotton whenever possible (for the mattress topper as well as your sheets) because conventionally grown cotton requires huge amounts of water (bad for the planet) and lots of chemicals (bad for us and the planet) to grow. It is one of the most intensively sprayed field crops in the world. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that more than 53 million pounds of pesticides and 1.6 billion pounds of synthetic fertilizers are applied to cotton fields annually. Organic cotton, on the other hand, is grown without chemicals.
For the bed frame choose one made from solid wood instead of particleboard or fiberboard, which can give off toxic formaldehyde fumes. The National Cancer Institute has classified formaldehyde as "carcinogenic to humans" based on nose and throat cancers in working populations.
Do you feel buzzed at night and you haven't had any coffee? A big sleep disruptor in the bedroom might be exposure to electronic devices, wireless technology, and other forms of electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Aside from feeling buzzed, Dr. Magda Havas, a leader in the movement against unrestrained wireless technology use, says they can cause headaches, nightmares, depression, fatigue, fibromyalgia, mood disorders, as well as long-term illness.
Simplify your sleep space and try not to have your office in your bedroom. In other words don't sleep with a VCR, TV, electric clock, telephone answering machine, cell phone, or computer nearby. Dr. Havas suggests turning off your WiFi at night. WiFi, an abbreviation for "wireless fidelity," means that an Internet connection can be made without the use of wires or cables, and like cell phones, WiFi uses radiofrequency (RF) signals (radiation).
Also, your cordless phone, especially DECT (Digital Electronic Cordless Telephones) might be contributing to lack of restful sleep. All DECT digital cordless phone base stations emit microwave radiation continuously 24 hours a day, even when the phone is not in use, as long as they are plugged in. Better to have a landline phone that is hardwired.
5 Easy Ways to Get a Restful Night's Sleep:
- Sleep on a mattress made from untreated, non-toxic natural materials containing no synthetic chemicals or fire retardants.
- If you can't afford a new mattress, buy a wool and organic cotton mattress topper.
- Buy a solid wooden bed frame instead of particleboard or fiberboard which can give off toxic fumes.
- Simplify your sleep space: Try not to have your office in your bedroom, especially cordless phones, and wireless technology.
- Be sure that all electrical equipment is as far away from the head of your bed as possible, or better yet, not in your bedroom at all.
Green Health: 3 Easy Ways to Help Your Body and the Environment
Thursday, May 5, 2011
If you're like most people, a little voice inside your head has probably been telling you for a while that it's time to get back to a more natural way of living and take a more serious look at the toxins in your everyday life. Even so, you may feel confused about the simple, practical things you can do to minimize your exposure and maximize not only your health, but your contribution to a cleaner planet.
What if I told you that making small, simple changes in your everyday routine could make a huge impact on your health and well-being, as well as the health of our planet?
Studies are coming out frequently about how everyday chemicals in our bodies are resulting in health problems like learning disabilities, autism, cancer and infertility. Often, the impact chemicals have doesn't show up for decades, like with tobacco, for example. What is also unclear is what happens inside our bodies when we come into contact with different chemicals from lots of different sources. What are the risks for us and our children? Don't wait to find out! You can do something today, right in your own home. Become aware of what goes IN you, what goes ON you, and what SURROUNDS you.
IN You: Your drinking water
If you think the water coming out of your tap is clean and health-giving ... you'd be mistaken. In 2008, an investigation by the Associated Press showed that America's tap water is contaminated with prescription and over-the-counter drugs, including antibiotics, pain medications, antidepressants and sex hormones "in significant quantities." Scientists are concerned that, even in small concentrations, these drugs could harm us over time because water is consumed in such large amounts every day. Our bodies may be able to deal with a big one-time dose of a chemical, but if a small amount is consumed continuously over years ... no one really knows what can happen to our health.
Green Tip #1:
Play it safe: Buy a water filter and fill up your own reusable metal or glass water bottles at home. Get off plastic bottles. 8 out of 10 plastic water bottles used in the U.S. become garbage or end up in a landfill, contributing to global warming.
(To check your local water quality, go to the Natural Resources Defense Council's site at www.nrdc.org and then go to "What's on Tap"? You should be able to access your community's Annual Quality Report, or you can ask your water utility company for a copy of its annual water quality report.)
ON You: Your personal care products
Most of us use at least 10 cosmetic and personal care products a day and according to the Environmental Working Group, people apply an average of 126 unique ingredients to their skin daily. No one really knows what happens in our bodies when we repeatedly expose ourselves to minute amounts of synthetic chemicals from a variety sources. Another way to absorb chemicals in our personal care products is through the mouth. When a drug like nitroglycerine is administered for a heart condition, it is given under the tongue for fast absorption. So are natural homeopathic remedies. So what happens with your toothpaste?
Green Tip #2:
Switch one thing you use most often in your bathroom. Your toothpaste, for example.
Chemicals like fluoride, saccharin, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), triclosan and acetylpyridium chloride are in there. Switch to a natural brand that doesn't contain these chemicals.
SURROUNDS You: Your household cleaners
If you've ever walked down the household-cleanser aisle at the market and your eyes began to burn or your nose became irritated, it's because common cleaning products contain chemicals that can be more dangerous than the germs themselves. Every time your children roll around on the carpet or your pets lick crumbs off the floor, they are being exposed to noxious chemicals. Don't make the assumption that if it's on the grocery shelf it's been tested and is safe. Most of us, unwittingly, buy products for our home with ingredients that are either poorly studied, not studied at all, or are known to pose potentially serious health risks. Of the roughly 17,000 chemicals found in common household products, only 3 in 10 have been tested for their effects on human health. Why? Because the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission does not require manufacturers to test household cleaning products before they appear on store shelves.
Green Tip #3:
Use hydrogen peroxide, vinegar and baking soda to clean your home. Fill one spray bottle with a 3 percent solution of hydrogen peroxide and a second one with vinegar. Spray one right after the other. Use it to wipe kill salmonella and bacteria on counter tops, appliances, and cutting boards. Do the same for the shower to kill bacteria and viruses. Use baking soda instead of commercial abrasive cleaners. Put it in a grated cheese container made of glass with a stainless steel top that has holes in it, and just sprinkle it on the surfaces and scrub.
Fragrance Free: 10 Ways to Protect Yourself from Toxic Scents
Friday, February 25, 2011
Stinky, sweet smelling air fresheners, cologne, body sprays, and scented shampoo are made with synthetic fragrances, and they're bad for your health…especially children and pregnant women. These factory-made fragrances contain phthalates, which are chemicals that can cause hormonal abnormalities, birth defects and reproductive problems.
I tell my clients not to buy artificially scented products for their home or office because they can also trigger migraine headaches, allergies and asthma attacks. A recent Institute of Medicine study sponsored by the EPA put fragrances in the same category as second hand smoke as a trigger for asthma in school-age children. Also, in homes where aerosol sprays and air fresheners were used frequently, studies found that mothers experienced 25% more headaches, and infants younger than 6 months old had 30% more ear infections.
Scented disinfectants and air fresheners are showing up everywhere! I now call ahead and request no air fresheners in rental cars and at hotels, just like asking for a non-smoking car or room. I ask my groomer not to use fragrance when she washes my dog. But it's hard when you work at a school or non-service oriented business because most people think the person who is sensitive to fragrance is just plain weird. I know a chemically sensitive woman who was told to attend staff meetings by using Skype on her computer, so her co-workers wouldn't have to give up using cologne or perfume. "They think it's all in my head," she said.
Even the mall isn't a safe haven. The clothing store Abercrombie & Fitch sprays its signature fragrance Fierce inside as well as outside, so people are unknowingly being exposed to harmful chemicals by simply walking by the store. One environmental group, Teens Turning Green, held protests in San Francisco and New York demanding that the spraying stop. Their effort is supported by more than two dozen groups, including the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which revealed that A&F's Fierce contains 11 secret chemicals that are not listed on the label.
When you see the word "fragrance" in an ingredient list, you can assume it's all synthetic—and not a blend of natural flower extracts. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reports that "95% of the ingredients used to create fragrances today are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum, including benzene derivatives, aldehydes, and many other known toxins and sensitizers." According to the EWG, there are potentially hundreds of chemicals in a single product's secret fragrance mixture.
Be forewarned: Fragrances can contain neurotoxins and are among the top 5 allergens in the world.
Ten powerful ways to protect yourself from toxic synthetic fragrances:
- Avoid air fresheners. They are made with synthetic fragrances, containing phthalates.
- Watch for any product that lists "fragrance" or "parfum" on the label — these are FDA-approved catch-all words synonymous with hidden phthalates.
- Products that claim to be "fragrance free" or "unscented" could contain masking agents that give off a neutral odor, so it is best if the word "fragrance" does not appear on the label at all.
- Look for scents that are naturally derived or are plant-based or labeled as 100% essential oils. These are not the same thing as fragrance oils which are artificially created and contain synthetic chemicals.
- If a product says "Made with…" it can mean as little as 1 percent of the ingredients in the bottle.
- For scented candles, try those made from soy or beeswax, and make sure their fragrance is made from 100% essential oils.
- To clear the air use a non-aerosol citrus spray containing only citrus peel extracts, which are effective at dissolving airborne odors, instead of scented aerosol sprays, liquids that emit a continuous scent, or solid air fresheners.
- Labels that claim a product is "natural" or "biodegradable" do not mean that it is necessarily free of synthetic fragrances or other chemicals
- Certified Organic products do not contain synthetic fragrances.
- Make requests at hotels, car rental companies, dog groomers, schools, and offices to not use scented cleaning products.
Greg McMillan, a veteran journalist/communications advisor, wants to help you get your message out clearly and effectively. Learn more.