Archives for February 2009

Overwhelmed? Where to Begin

I was talking with my mother last week. I told her about the lists of personal care and baby/kid products I’d put together based on EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. She’s not into computers, so I printed off the personal care list for her to keep in her purse when she’s shopping. Our conversation about safe and unsafe products moved to a discussion of all the “high-hazard” products we’ve been using for years, to why the government allows these products to be sold and on and on. Finally, she commented that while she appreciates my efforts, it all seems so overwhelming. Things are such a mess with regulation and there are so many hazards out there, it makes her feel like putting her head in the sand. While she won’t actually do this, I’ve been thinking about what she said. It is overwhelming. There is so much work to be done, and so much mess to be undone, as far as chemical and toxin regulation goes. And that’s just one aspect of what concerns me about the world my children are growing up in. I’m glad I’m more aware than I used to be, but at the same time, the problems often seem insurmountable. When I look at all of the issues I read about: so much waste, not enough recycling, over-consumption,  overpopulation, big agriculture, greenwashing, unfair wages for the working poor. . . you get the idea. If you’re reading this blog, I imagine these are areas that concern you, too.

So what do we do? Most of us won’t bury our heads in the sand, even though sometimes we may like to. But, we can’t solve all the problems on our own, either. This is what has worked for me so far:

Start somewhere. Yes the problems are many, but pick one, any one, and do something. Even if it’s one small thing. Something is always better than nothing.

Remember that you do not live in a vacuum. While your one small thing may seem insignificant, there are millions of people all over the world who are also doing things, some big, some small. It all adds up.

Educate yourself. The problems are big, but if you take the time to learn more about them, you’ll likely find steps you can take, often with little effort, to make things better.

Commit to being more conscious of your actions and your purchases. Before you toss something out or buy another thing you may not need, take a few seconds to think about it. Does the item really need to be thrown away, or can it still be used. If it can’t, can it be recycled in some way? Do you really need to purchase another — fill in the blank or can you make do just fine with what you have?

For those of you looking for specific things you can do to improve the state of the world and the health and safety of you and your family, here’s a list:

Start recycling. Many communities offer curbside recycling. Most others have recycling drop-off points. Check out your options.

Print off the lists of safer products for you and your kids and take them with you when you shop. If you switch out just one high-hazard product you normally use for one that is safer, you’ll be better off. Most, if not all, of these products are available in stores you frequent anyway. There’s no great effort involved, and probably no more expense.

Buy better food. Barbara Kingsolver points out in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, that Americans will spend loads of money on everything except their food. The one place we always seem to want to cut costs is with the food we put in our bodies. Go for more real food, less processed stuff. If you eat meat, buy from farmers who raise their animals without hormones or antibiotics.

Switch out your incandescent bulbs for CFL’s. They’ll last a lot longer and save you money in electricity.

Turn off the water when you brush your teeth.

Use a car wash instead of washing your car at home. It uses much less water anyway and many car wash facilities recycle most of their water.

Some of these suggestions are more involved than others, but nearly all of them ask you to simply stop and think about your habits. The problems and dangers in the world are incredibly overwhelming, but we must try to find the “space” Al Gore mentioned in An Inconvenient Truth, “between denial and despair.” Each step counts. What step will you take?

Budget Green (and Safe): Baby & Kid Products


Last week I posted a list of low-hazard personal care products based on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. You can read more about the database and search products here, or use the permanent button in the sidebar. My goal was to highlight products that are relatively inexpensive, but readily available in drugstores, grocery stores, and places like Target.

This week, I’ve created a similar list; this one consists exclusively of baby and kid personal care products.

According to EWG, the hazard ratings are

0-2 Low Hazard

3-6 Moderate Hazard

7-10 High Hazard

Baby & Kid Products

Shampoo

1 California Baby Shampoo & Body Wash Super Sensitive; Tea Tree & Lavender; Swimmer’s Defense

2 Tom’s of Maine Baby Shampoo & Body Wash, Jasmine

2 Aveeno Baby Wash & Shampoo, Lightly Scented

2 California Baby Shampoo & Body Wash, Calming

3 Huggies Baby Wash Extra Sensitive, Fragrance Free

3 Huggies Tear-Free Baby Shampoo, Extra Sensitive

3 Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Shampoo with Natural Lavender

4 Johnson & Johnson’s Head-to-Toe Baby Wash, Originial

4 J & J Buddies Instant-Foam, Easy Rinse Shampoo

4 J & J Softwash Shampoo

4 J & J Baby Shampoo, Original; Honey & Vitamin E; 2-in-1 Detangler; with Natural Chamomile; 2-in1 Extra Conditioning

4 Huggies Natural Care Wash

4 Huggies Baby Shampoo, Extra Gentle; Nourishing with Mango, Coconut & Aloe

4 Huggies Naturally Refreshing Hair & Body Wash

4 CVS Baby Wash, Regular and Tear-Free

4 Walgreen’s Tear-Free Baby Shampoo

4 Aveeno Body Wash & Shampoo

4 Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Shampoo & Wash; also, Shampoo Bar

The worst offenders (those with the highest hazard ratings) in this category are Baby Magic products, Huggies Toddler 2-in-1 Shampoo & Conditioner, Bubblin’ Berry, Johnson & Johnson Soothing Naturals Gift Set, which all rated a 7.

Bubble Bath

0 Aveeno Baby Soothing Bath Treatment

2 California Baby Bubble Bath (all fragrances)

4 Johnson & Johnson Soothing Vapor Bath

4 Rite Aid Night Time Baby Bath, Tearless with Lavender & Chamomile

4 CVS Baby Bath, Lavender & Chamomile

4 Johnson & Johnson Bedtime Bath

The highest rated products in this category, again, belong to Baby Magic with a 7.

Diaper Cream

0 Rite Aid Zinc Oxide Ointment

0 Vaseline Pure Petroleum Jelly Jar for Baby, Creamy Formula, Enriched with Vit. E

1 Aquaphor Hydrophor Baby Diaper Rash Ointment

1 Badger Diaper Cream

2 Balmex Extra Protective Clear Ointment

2 Boudreaux’s Butt Paste (I used this with my daughters and it was great for getting rid of diaper rash, fast!)

2 Aquaphor Baby Healing Ointment (This was the other product I used; it works really well on chapped skin.)

2 California Baby Diaper Rash Cream

2 Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Diaper Ointment

3 Aveeno Baby Soothing Relief Diaper Rash Cream

4 Walgreens Zinc Oxide Ointment

4 Balmex Diaper Rash Ointment (Zinc Oxide) with Aloe & Vit. E

4 A+D Diaper Rash Cream, Original; and with Zinc Oxide

4 Aveeno Diaper Rash Cream, Fragrance-Free

4 Desitin Clear Ointment

4 Johnson & Johnson Baby Diaper Rash Cream

Baby Lotion

0 Vaseline Pure Petroleum Jelly Jar for Baby, Creamy Formula, Enriched with Vit. E

1 Badger Baby Balm, Certified Organic

2 Aveeno Daily Baby Moisturizing Lotion

2 California Baby Every Day Lotion, Calming; and Super Sensitive

3 CVS Petroleum Jelly, Lavender & Chamomile

4 Aveeno Calming Comfort Baby Lotion

4 Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Skin Cream; and Buttermilk Lotion

5 Huggies Baby Lotion, Extra Sensitive

The worst in this category are most Johnson & Johnson lotions and some Huggies lotions with ratings from 7-9.

Wipes

*See Update at Bottom of Post*

2 Seventh Generation Chlorine-Free Baby Wipes; also, Unscented with Aloe & Vit. E

3 Pampers Wipes, Natural Aloe, Unscented

4 CVS Ultra Soft Cloths

4 Pampers Sensitive Wipes

4 Huggies Supreme; also, Natural Care Wipes

Toothpaste (baby)

3 Gerber Toddler Tooth & Gum Cleanser, Natural Mixed Berry Flavor

3 Spiffies Tooth Wipes

3 Oral-B Stages 1 Baby Tooth & Gum Cleanser

3 Gerber Grins & Giggles Infant Tooth & Gum Cleanser

Toothpaste (kids)

1 Tom’s of Maine Goofy Grape Liquid Toothpaste, Fluoride-Free

1 Burt’s Bees Doctor Burt’s Children’s Toothpaste

2 Tom’s of Maine Natural, Fluoride-Free Toothpaste for Kids

3 Kiss My Face Kids Toothpaste

4 Crest Kids Spider-Man Super Action Liquid Gel

4 Crest Wild Expressions Fluoride, Anti-cavity Toothpaste Liquid

4 Crest Neat Squeeze Toothpaste for Kids

4 Oral-B Stages Mickey Mouse Toothpaste

4 Aquafresh Kids Fluoride Toothpaste with Triple Protection

4 Aquafresh Mary Kate & Ashley Toothpaste

4 Colgate Children’s Anti-cavity Fluoride Toothpaste

4 REACH Anti-cavity Fluoride Toothpaste

4 Tom’s of Maine Natural Anti-cavity Fluoride Toothpaste for Children

If you haven’t already, please see the post on Budget Green (and Safe): Personal Care for adults.

I’d like to reiterate that you should be careful not to go with an entire product line because they have a few low-rated items. Check the list first. I’ve found a wide range of ratings in different products within the same line.

If you have experience with any of these products and would like to let the rest of us know how effective you think they are, please write about them in the comments.

Update (4/7/09): After reading a comment from Elena, I’ve learned about Tushies Baby Wipes. They, too, are very safe (rating a 1) as long as you go with the unscented version. Scented varieties rate a 4. I’ve not seen them in my local stores, but they may be available in your area. They are available on Amazon.com, too.

Photo Credit: BigTallGuy

Featured Do-Gooder: Equal Exchange Fundraising

From time to time Smart Green Tips will feature an organization that is a “Do-Gooder”: a group that works to help both people and the environment. The Do-Gooders may be companies, nonprofits, or any organized group that focuses its efforts on making the world a better place.

Need to do a fundraiser with your school or church group, but tired of selling candles, wrapping paper, and other overpriced items people don’t really need or want? For an entirely different fundraising experience, I encourage you to try Equal Exchange.

Equal Exchange is a Fair Trade Co-op, which means that fair wages are guaranteed to the farmers who produce the products they sell. From the Equal Exchange website:

As a Fair Trade and organic fundraiser, Equal Exchange’s fundraising program is an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional fundraisers. Organic farming practices ensure no chemicals or pesticides were used in the production of Equal Exchange products, protecting farmers who grow the products, the surrounding environment, birds and other wildlife, and consumers. Coffee in particular grows best in a shaded environment. Fair Trade principles also encourage environmentally sustainable farming practices so that farmers are able to remain on their land and enjoy productive harvests. Additionally, many of our farmer partners are involved in reforestation efforts, diversification projects, and other environmentally sustainable projects within their communities. Equal Exchange fundraising materials are printed on 100% post-consumer waste paper.

There are a variety of items available in their Fundraising Brochure: coffees, teas, hot cocoa, baking cocoa, chocolates, nuts, and dried cranberries.

In the Fall of 2008 I did a fundraiser through Equal Exchange with a group of teenagers and couldn’t have had a better experience. There are several reasons why I think this is the way to go for any fundraiser.

Their products are consumable. People don’t have to worry about cluttering up their homes with more stuff. Also, it allows them to replace items they would buy anyway with products that are socially and environmentally responsible.

The profit margin is excellent. Based on my experience with other fundraisers in the past, Equal Exchange provides the best opportunity for your group to make money while helping a worthy cause.

The quality of the products is outstanding. I purchased nearly one of everything offered in the fundraising catalog and I was impressed with all of them. I am a coffee and tea lover and these products are some of the best I’ve had. Our “customers” agreed.

Their website provides a wealth of educational materials. Equal Exchange makes it easy to educate your sales group and your customers about the importance of Fair Trade and organic goods.

The support and customer service are great. From the very beginning of our project, Ruthie helped us along. She answered questions, offered suggestions, and followed up to make sure everything went well for us. Once I placed the order, we received our products within days. The turnaround was amazing.

I should note that I am not being paid by Equal Exchange for this article. I really do believe they are a great company with a great mission. This is a fundraiser I feel good about. The teens I worked with felt good about it, too, and were excited by the opportunity to help the farmers.

If your group needs to raise funds, please consider Equal Exchange. You can find out more about their fundraising program here.

If you are a religious group and would like to raise money, you can get more information by emailing their Interfaith Program at interfaith@equalexchange.coop.

Budget Green (and Safe): Personal Care


Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Database" src=
I’ve written before about the Environmental Working Group (here and here) and I’ve mentioned their Skin Deep Cosmetics Database (there’s a permanent button link to the Database, like the one above, in the sidebar). EWG has taken thousands of products and rated them according to their chemical hazards. It’s an excellent resource, but as you might imagine, many of the lowest rated products (those most free of chemicals) often belong to brands that are either hard to find, and/or expensive.

I’ve combed the database and compiled a list of low-hazard products that either can be found in most drugstores, or those I’ve actually seen in Target and/or Kroger. Some are common national brands and others are from organic companies, but all are readily available and relatively inexpensive. I hope this list will be of use to you when you’re shopping. To read more about chemicals in products, check out EWG’s website. You may specifically be interested in their study, Hormone-Altering Cosmetics Chemicals in Teens.

0-2 Low Hazard

3-6 Moderate Hazard

7-10 High Hazard

Deodorant

1 CVS Ultra Dry Anti-Perspirant, Roll-On, Unscented

1 Kiss My Face Active Enzyme Deodorant Stick

1 Burt’s Bees Herbal Deodorant

1 Almay Anti-Perspirant & Deodorant Stick Clear Gel

1 Lady Mitchum Anti-Perspirant & Deodorant Clear Gel

1 Mitchum Anti-Perspirant & Deodorant Clear Gel

1 Ban Classic Clear Gel Anti-Perspirant & Deodorant, Unscented

1 Ban Classic Invisible Solid Anti-Perspirant & Deodorant, Unscented & Powder Fresh

1 Almay Stay Dry Hydro Solid Anti-Perspirant & Deodorant, Powder Fresh & Soothing Aloe

1 Sure Invisible Solid Anti-Perspirant & Deodorant, Unscented

1 Nature’s Gate Organics Deodorant

1 Speed-Stick Anti-Perspirant & Deodorant Solid, Unscented

2 Kiss My Face Liquid Rock Roll-On Deodorant (I really like this stuff. I first learned about it at Eco-Chick.)

Lotion & Hand Cream

1 Badger Unscented Healing Balm, Certified Organic

1 Burt’s Bees Farmer’s Friend Hand Salve

2 Curel Soothing Hand Lotion

2 Kiss My Face Hand Cream

2 Burt’s Bees Shea Butter Hand Repair Cream

3 Aveeno Intense Hand Relief Cream

4 Neutrogena Hand Cream Norwegian Formula, Fragrance Free

4 Cetaphil Therapeutic Hand Cream

5 Nivea Moisturizing Skin Cream

Shampoo

1 Burt’s Bees Grapefruit & Sugar Beet Shampoo

1 Burt’s Bees Rosemary & Mint Shampoo Bar with Oat Protein & Pro Vitamin B5

2 CVS Maximum Strength Therapeutic Shampoo (dandruff control)

2 Burt’s Bees Super Shiny Grapefruit & Sugar Beet Shampoo

3 Kiss My Face Whenever Shampoo (Daily Use)

3 Kiss My Face Shampoo & Conditioner

3 Pantene Pro-V Daily Moisture Renewal Moisturizing Shampoo for dry/damaged hair

4 White Rain Classic Care Daily Clarifying Shampoo

4 Suave for Men 2-in-1 Thickening Shampoo

4 Suave Daily Clarifying Shampoo for normal to oily hair

4 Aussie Aussome Volume Shampoo

4 Clairol Herbal Essences Shampoos

4 Burt’s Bees Very Volumizing Pomegranate & Soy Shampoo

4 Suave Performance Benefits 2-in-1 Smoothing Shampoo

4 Dove Shampoo Moisture

5 L’Oreal Vive Volume-Infusing Shampoo

5 Dove Go Fresh Therapy Shampoos

5 V05 Herbal Shampoo

Make-up, Foundation

2 Physician’s Formula Organic Wear, 100% Natural Origin Matte Finishing Veil

2 L’Oreal Quick Stick Instant Foundation

3 Cover Girl Cover FX Mineral FX Pure Mineral Formula SPF 15

3 Neutrogena Healthy Skin Liquid Make-Up, Oil Free, SPF 20

3 Neutrogena Visibly Firm Moisture Make-Up

3 L’Oreal Ideal Balance Quick Stick Make-Up, SPF 14

3 Physician’s Formula Organic Wear Tinted Moisturizer, SPF 15

3 L’Oreal Bare Naturals Powdered Mineral Foundation, SPF 19

4 Max Factor Facefinity Foundation, SPF 15

4 Cover Girl Smoothers All Day Hydrating Make-Up

Make-Up, Concealer

0 Physician’s Formula Twins Cream 2-in-1 Correct & Cover Concealer

2 L’Oreal Bare Naturale Gentle Mineral Concealer

2 Burt’s Bees Concealing Cream

2 Cover Girl Smoothers Concealer

Make-Up, Eyeliner

1 Burt’s Bees Wings of Love Eyeliner Pencil

1 Burt’s Bees Two in One Eyeliner & Eyebrow Pencil

2 Maybelline Unstoppable Eyeliner

3 L’Oreal HIP Eyeliner Pencil

3 Maybelline Define-A-Line Eyeliner

Make-Up, Mascara

1 Almay One Coat Triple Effect Mascara, Blackest Black

2 L’Oreal Double Extend Waterproof Lash Fortifier & Extender

2 Rimmel Volume Flash Instant Thickening Mascara

3 Revlon Fabulash Waterproof Mascara

3 L’Oreal Voluminous Waterproof Volume-Building Mascara

3 Revlon 3D Waterproof Extreme Mascara

4 Almay Bright Eyes Mascara, Waterproof

Remover: 1 Maybelline Expert Eyes Moisturizing Mascara Remover for Waterproof Eye Make-Up

Make-Up, Eyeshadow (Bad News Here; Very Few “Standard” Brands Have Any Shadows in the Low Numbers)

2 Burt’s Bees Natural Cosmetics Eye Shadow

3 Kiss My Face 3 Way Color

4 Physician’s Formula Mineral Wear Talc Free Mineral Eye Shadow

4 Maybelline Shadow Stylist Eye Shadow

4 L’Oreal for Eyes & Cheeks Touch of Color

5 Cover Girl Smoothers Eye Pencil

5 Cover Girl Eyeslicks Gel

Make-Up, Lipstick

3 Burt’s Bees Lipstick with Vitamin E & Comfrey

3 Max Factor Lipfinity

3 Cover Girl Outlast All Day Lipcolor

3 L’Oreal Endless Kissable Lipcolour

Make-Up, Blush

3 Physician’s Formula Mineral Wear Talc Free Mineral Blush

3 Burt’s Bees Natural Cosmetics All-Natural Blushing Cream

3 L’Oreal Bare Naturale Blush

Some notes on this list:

  • I did not include Boots No. 7 products because they are not incredibly inexpensive or widely carried. However, a Target near where I live does carry Boots No. 7. In the database, they were especially good on eye shadow and lipstick, two areas in which there weren’t a lot of options.
  • Also, be careful not to go with an entire product line because they have a few low-rated items. Check the list first. I’ve found a wide range of ratings in different products within the same line.

If you have experience with any of these products and would like to let the rest of us know how effective you think they are, please write about them in the comments.

I’ll be adding another post like this one with Baby & Kid products soon.

Why Fair Trade Matters

The things I’m most interested in when it comes to food and drink are buying products that are free of chemicals and pesticides, and buying locally whenever possible. There are some items that cannot be purchased locally, and some of those, I’ve been unwilling to do without. Two of those items are coffee and tea. When spending money on items from abroad (or even close to home, for that matter) I believe I have a social responsibility to purchase from companies that promote fair wages and fair working conditions for their employees and suppliers. We’ve all heard about the sweat shop labor in China and in other countries and many of us changed our buying habits as a result. An issue that has received less press, but one that is equally appalling, involves the conditions of, and wages paid to, coffee and cocoa farmers. This is where Fair Trade Certification come in.

What is the problem?

According to Global Exchange,

The United States consumes one-fifth of all the world’s coffee, making it the largest consumer in the world. But few Americans realize that agriculture workers in the coffee industry often toil in what can be described as “sweatshops in the fields.” Many small coffee farmers receive prices for their coffee that are less than the costs of production, forcing them into a cycle of poverty and debt.

What can we do?

Look for the Fair Trade label on the coffee and tea products we buy. According to Transfair, a nonprofit, third-party certifier of fair trade products:

The Fair Trade Certified™ label guarantees:

A fair price
The Fair Trade Certified label guarantees that farmers and workers received a fair price for their product. The Fair Trade price means that farmers can feed their families and that their children can go to school instead of working in the fields.

Quality products
By receiving a fair price, Fair Trade producers can avoid cost-cutting practices that sacrifice quality. The Fair Trade producers’ traditional artesanal farming methods result in exceptional products.

Care for the environment
Most Fair Trade Certified coffee, tea and chocolate in the US is certified organic and shade grown. This means that the products you buy maintain biodiversity, provide shelter for migratory birds and help reduce global warming.

Community impact
Empowered by the economic stability provided by Fair Trade, members of the COSURCA coffee cooperative in Colombia successfully prevented the cultivation of more than 1,600 acres of coca and poppy, used for the production of illicit drugs. In Papua New Guinea, the AGOGA cooperative, is investing in a medical team to meet the healthcare needs of its isolated rural community. In the highlands of Guatemala, indigenous Tzutuhil Mayans in the La Voz cooperative are sending local kids to college for the first time. Near Lake Titicaca, in Peru, the CECOVASA cooperative is assisting members from Quechua and Aymara indigenous groups in raising coffee quality and transitioning to certified organic production.

“The fair price is a solution. It has given us the chance to pay a good price to our farmers. Those who are not in Fair Trade want to participate. For us it is a great opportunity. It gives us hope.”
-Benjamin Cholotío

Fair Trade coffees and teas can be purchased through a variety of companies. Two are:

Equal Exchange, offering coffees, teas, cocoa products, and snacks.

Green Mountain Coffee has an extensive line of Fair Trade Coffees including Newman’s Own Organics, as well as Fair Trade Teas and Hot Cocoa.

Fair Trade does not necessarily mean more expensive. I’ve been buying Nell’s Breakfast Blend, one in the Newman’s Own line, from Green Mountain for some time now. It costs no more than the non-Fair Trade coffee I’d been buying before. All it takes is a little time to consider where our purchasing dollars go.