Product displacement: The inside scoop on 9 household items
Switching out some surprisingly toxic household products for cleaner, greener alternatives can help save your health, money and the planet.
By Leah Koenig
Remember the 1980s? Sure you do — it was the decade of big hair, metal bands and acid-wash jeans. 1985 was also the public debut of the hole in the ozone layer. Scientists warned that the layer was being weakened by, among other things, the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) found in aerosol cans like the ones used to style the aforementioned big hair. As public pressure to save the ozone mounted over the latter half of the decade, consumers looked to non-aerosol and non-CFC hair products to keep their bangs looking rad without the environmental baggage.
All you need to do is open a bottle of traditional bleach and catch a nose-hair-burning whiff to understand why conventional cleaners are often deadly for humans and the environment. Many of these products contain ammonia, chlorine and petrochemicals, making them, ironically, some of the least "clean" substances on the planet.
Some eco-enthusiasts swear by the powers of vinegar and baking soda. From clogged drains to dirty clothes, these two natural cleansers are said to do it all, and for a fraction of the cost of regular cleaning supplies. A number of companies like Method, Dr. Bronner's, Seventh Generation and even Green Works, which was (somewhat suspiciously) developed by Clorox, also specialize in Earth-friendly cleaning supplies. They cost a bit more than a bottle of white wine vinegar, but are formulated to be powerful on dust and dirt and soft on the Earth. Learn more here.
Despite their innocuous name, foam packing peanuts are an environmental hazard. The non-biodegradable peanuts often wind up in landfills or in rivers, lakes, streams and oceans, choking aquatic life. They're also made from polystyrene, which is a known neurotoxin for humans and a carcinogen for some animals. Don't sound so fluffy and fun anymore, do they?
Eschew the Styrofoam mess by wrapping your airmail items snugly and securely with old T-shirts or towels before packing them into boxes. Or purchase biodegradable packing peanuts, which break down when they come in contact with water.
If you find yourself on the receiving end of a well-intentioned gift filled with Styrofoam, contact your local UPS or consult with Earth911 about donating your stash for reuse.
The soft, cushy carpeting that covers floors in 60 percent of American households is filled with volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde, styrene and other chemicals that are included on the EPA's Extremely Hazardous Substances list. These chemical fumes can waft into the air, causing indoor air pollution.
Avoid wall-to-wall carpet in favor of nontoxic area rugs made out of bamboo, recycled cotton or wool and organic fibers.
Conventional detergents used in dishwashers often contain phosphorus. After the detergents get washed down the drain, they can end up in local waterways, causing excessive algae growth that competes with other aquatic life for oxygen. Some states, like Washington, have actually banned phosphorus-containing detergents from the shelves.
Try making your own detergent out of the 100 percent vegetable-oil-based castile soap, which can be purchased in bulk relatively cheaply. Store-bought alternative brands like Ecover, Dishmate and Mrs. Meyers work well, too, but often cost more than their petroleum-based counterparts.
It can take 500 years for a disposable diaper to biodegrade in a landfill. Multiply that number by the number of diapers a baby goes through every day and you have a big, stinking problem.
Cloth diapers, largely regarded as the most eco-friendly option, recently got a makeover of their own. Many of today's cloth diapers are designed to fit snugly, and services like Eco Baby take the inconvenience out of rinsing, washing and drying diaper after diaper at home. Alternatively, some parents keep their babies dry in biodegradable flushable diapers.
In our rushed, hectic society, the occasional plastic take-out container can provide a moment of convenience and relief. But according to Ecoagents' Eco-to-Go website, Americans toss out enough paper and plastic cups and flatware to circle the equator 300 times. Additionally, almost a third of the total waste generated in the United States comes from packaging and plastics that take 1,000 years to decompose.
Like avoiding plastic bags, eliminating take-out containers from your life takes a little bit of simple planning. Toss a clean Tupperware container into your backpack or tote to use as a doggy bag and, whenever possible, seek out restaurants that use eco-friendly to-go containers made out of recycled cardboard, or plant-based plastics.
Candles add warm light to our homes, but they can also add air pollution like soot and other carcinogens. Many candles' are made from nonrenewable petroleum and have wicks that contain harmful toxins like lead or zinc.
Stick to candles made from bees' wax and soy or other vegetable oils that use lead-free wicks. Or, play your DIY card and make your own natural candles or making soy candles.
Like many conventional paper products, paper towels are usually made from virgin wood pulp, which means more trees need to be cut down for each roll. They're also often bleached with chemicals to achieve the clean, white color that Americans have grown to associate with cleanliness.
The best spill-sopping muscle may be found in reusable cloth towels. Whether you purchase new hand towels made of bamboo, or favor torn-up T-shirts, eliminating paper towels from your waste stream is easy. If you prefer to keep a roll around for good measure, try Seventh Generation's 100 percent recycled, unbleached variety.
The chemicals found in most hair dyes can stress out your hair with regular use, so imagine what they must do to your health and the environment. Many of the (sometimes unregulated) chemicals used in these dyes have been linked to cancer and birth defects.
The cheapest and most Earth-friendly option is to decide to rock your grays! If you do want to cover them, try non- (or at least less) toxic hair dyes and hennas made from plant sources like HerbaTint, Rainbow Research or Lush.
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