April 4, 2013

Dear Readers,

It’s been over two years since I first started Everyday Green. My hope was to show people that being green doesn't have to be difficult or expensive. I wasn't trying to save the world, but I thought I could make my tiny part of it a little bit better. I could help people save money or show them how to avoid harmful chemicals in their food and personal care products. Maybe I could even open their eyes to some of the great joys nature has to offer.

Over the past two years I shared everything I knew about being green. What I didn’t know, I researched with only the most reputable of sources such as the Environmental Working Group, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the U.S. Green Building Council.

Everyday Green offers many helpful tidbits, as well as, several in-depth guides to greening up all aspects of your life. And I feel, at this point, there is little more I can add to what is already available on the site.

So while I’ll be happy to share any new information I learn with you via Facebook, I will no longer be posting new items on Everyday Green. The site will remain and I hope you use it as a resource to help you live a greener, healthier life.

Thank you for your support these past two years. It’s been a wonderful journey!

All the best,

Sonia



April 3, 2013

Natural Allergy Relief

Spring has sprung and if you're like 35 million other Americans you're feeling the sting of seasonal allergies – runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, and wheezing. Before heading off to the drugstore, consider some natural remedies that cost less and have fewer side effects than over-the-counter drugs. You may find an all natural way to alleviate mild allergies or compliment a more traditional treatment of severe allergies.

First, take some steps to lessen your exposure to allergens. Avoid using window fans or air conditioning units because they can pull pollen indoors. Keep your car windows closed while driving and limit your time outside when allergy counts are high. Check out weather.com's Allergy and Pollen Count forecast when making plans. Take a shower and wash your hair at the end of the day to wash allergens out of your eyes and pollen out of your hair. A saline nasal spray can help rinse pollen from your nose and thin mucous. A neti pot goes even further and helps rinse your sinuses as well. You simply use this little genie lamp-shaped contraption to rinse saltwater through your nasal passages and pollen grains and the sinus congestion they cause are flushed away.

Next, cut out any foods that cause even the slightest irritation (e.g., eczema, hives, stomach ache, bloating, etc.). There appears to be a strong connection between food intolerance and seasonal allergies. By cutting out any foods you have trouble digesting you lighten the burden on your immune system, leaving it better able to process environmental allergens. It's suggested that anyone suffering from ragweed or other weed pollen allergies avoid eating melon, banana, cucumber, sunflower seeds, chamomile, and any herbal supplements containing Echinacea.

While some foods can exacerbate allergies, other foods can provide relief from allergy symptoms. Spicy food can thin nasal mucous, which in turn clears sinuses. The foods and spices most frequently recommended for clearing sinuses are cayenne pepper, chili peppers, hot ginger, horseradish, hot mustard, onions and fenugreek. Also, studies show people who eat an anti-inflammatory diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids are less likely to suffer from allergy symptoms. Cold-water fish, walnuts and flaxseed are all high in omega-3s.

There is also a theory that a spoonful of honey can help keep allergies at bay. The premise is that by consuming honey produced by local bees you gradually introduce tiny doses of pollen (which gets into the honey thanks to those bees) to your system, reducing sensitivity. It's a very simple form of homeopathic immunotherapy. In order to build your immunity, you would need to start consuming a daily dose of local honey (it's important that it be produced from bees living near you) several weeks or months before allergy season.

If despite these preventative measures you still suffer from seasonal allergies, there are specific nutrients that can be effective in treating allergy symptoms. The most commonly recommended all natural remedy is a combination of vitamin C and quercetin. Vitamin C is an antioxidant shown to be effective at reducing allergy symptoms. Quercetin, also an antioxidant, is a natural plant-derived compound called a bioflavonoid that may control the release of histamine (the chemical that starts your body's allergic reaction). Each boosts the other's effectiveness, so together vitamin C and quercetin have a synergistic effect that's proven quite effective at quelling seasonal allergies. Try 1500 mg of vitamin C with 500 mg of quercetin once or twice a day starting up to six weeks before allergy season.

Some studies show the herb butterbur to be an effective allergy medicine. A Swiss study demonstrated how 32 mg of butterbur four times a day was as effective as the drug cetirizine (the active ingredient in Zyrtec) in controlling the symptoms of hay fever. Plus, no drowsiness, a common side effect of antihistamines, was noted. Stinging nettle is another natural antihistamine alternative. Studies show that 300 mg a day will offer relief for most people, but the effects typically last only a few hours.

Finally, many people have found significant relief from their allergy symptoms with the use of acupuncture. It can be especially helpful for those suffering from multiple allergies.

While natural remedies can be extremely helpful, it's important to use them with the same caution you would use with over-the-counter medicines. It's best to consult with your doctor before starting any type of treatment, but it's especially important if you are mixing alternative treatments with traditional drugs.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy Spring!


March 30, 2013

Spring Clean the Green Way

Spring has arrived! If you're ready to throw open the windows and do some serious spring cleaning, why not do it the green way? You don't need to subject yourself to the high prices and caustic chemicals that come with so many store bought cleaning products. With a few simple ingredients like vinegar, peroxide, lemon juice and baking soda you can get your whole house fresh and clean.

Let's start with vinegar.
Thanks to its acidity, distilled white vinegar is effective at killing most mold, bacteria and viruses. Put full strength vinegar in a spray bottle to create an all-purpose cleaner you can use on glass, mirrors, doorknobs, sinks, appliances and countertops (just avoid using it on marble). Instead of harsh bathroom cleaning products use undiluted vinegar on toilets, bathtubs and showers. Add a little baking soda for extra scrubbing power. For stubborn soap residue in the bathroom or grease stains in the kitchen let the vinegar penetrate for 10 to 15 minutes before wiping clean. To eliminate residue on a showerhead mix 1 part baking soda with two parts vinegar in a bag and wrap it around the showerhead. Let it sit for at least an hour. Then remove the bag, give the showerhead a quick wipe and run the water. To keep your dishwasher clean and odor-free, fill the detergent dispenser with vinegar and run it empty once a month. Mix a cup of vinegar with a gallon of water to clean vinyl and linoleum floors.

Break out the peroxide for serious disinfecting.
Hydrogen peroxide (the 3% solution you can pick up at pharmacies and grocery stores) is a nontoxic antibacterial that kills viruses, mold and mildew. You can think of it as an all natural bleach. Anything you typically clean with bleach can be cleaned with peroxide. This includes countertops, sinks, cutting boards, bathtubs, showers, toilets and garbage pails. Simply spray it on, allow the bubbles to subside (hydrogen peroxide needs time to disinfect) and wipe. To clean and disinfect vinyl and linoleum floors mix equal parts peroxide and water to mop. No rinsing necessary. For laundry you can replace bleach with an equal amount of hydrogen peroxide. You can also soak items like toothbrushes, sponges, cleaning cloths, retainers, thermometers and loofahs in hydrogen peroxide to disinfect them. Using vinegar and peroxide together (spray with vinegar and then peroxide) creates a one-two punch that is as effective as bleach at killing bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella, but is safe enough to use on produce without so much as an aftertaste.

Clean, shine, and bleach with lemon.
Lemon juice is a fresh-smelling, all natural cleaner. You can clean non-marble countertops by wiping them with lemon juice and rinsing with water. Bleach stains on countertops, dishes, cutting boards and other surfaces by pouring lemon juice on the stain and allowing it to sit before sprinkling baking soda and scrubbing. Lemon can clean, shine and remove rust stains from solid brass (never on brass plated), copper and stainless steel. Simply sprinkle half a lemon with salt and use it as a scrubber. Continue adding salt and buffing until all stains are removed. Finish by rinsing with water and buffing dry with a cloth. Shine aluminum by buffing it with a cloth dampened with lemon juice or half a lemon. Add a teaspoon of lemon juice to dishwasher detergent for extra grease-cutting power and make easy work of cleaning the inside of the microwave by heating a mixture of lemon juice and water for a minute before wiping down the inside of the machine. To freshen up the garbage disposal toss some lemon peel into the disposal while running hot water. Mix equal parts lemon juice and water to create an all natural air freshener.

The best way to dust wood furniture is with a damp cloth. Commercial wood polishes can contain harsh chemicals and leave a very hard-to-remove residue. For an all natural polish mix two parts olive oil with one part lemon juice and apply it to your wood furniture using a soft cloth.

Lemon is also a powerful bleaching agent. To bleach white clothes soak them in half a cup of lemon juice mixed with a gallon of hot water for at least an hour. Then launder as usual. To remove rust stains from clothes, pour lemon juice on the stain and then rub in cream of tartar. Let the mixture sit until the stain disappears. Then launder as usual.

Finally, when cleaning with vinegar you can always add a bit of lemon juice to neutralize vinegar's strong scent.

Boost your cleaning power with baking soda.
Baking soda is best known for its power to deodorize. All you have to do is keep an open container of baking soda in the refrigerator, freezer or any cupboard to prevent odors.

Sprinkle baking soda on anything you want to deodorize, including (but not limited to) garbage containers, hampers, gym bags, sneakers and the dishwasher. To remove odors from carpeting or upholstery, sprinkle the area with baking soda, let stand for at least twenty minutes and vacuum. Repeat as necessary.

Baking soda's texture and absorbency make it good for cleaning, degreasing and scrubbing various surfaces. Clean and polish silver, stainless steel and chrome with a paste made of 3 parts baking soda mixed with one part water. Simply rub on the paste, rinse with warm water and dry with a soft cloth. Degrease dishes, ovens and other surfaces by sprinkling baking soda on the grease and rubbing with a dry cloth. The baking soda will soak up the grease making it easier to rinse messes away. To remove burnt on food, sprinkle cookware and grills with baking soda, add hot water, let soak overnight and wash as usual. To clean bathroom floors, mop with half a cup of baking soda mixed in a bucket of warm water and rinse. Clean walls and laminate furniture with a damp cloth dabbed in baking soda (the homemade equivalent of Mr. Clean's Magic Eraser). Clean toys with a solution made from 4 tablespoons of baking soda dissolved in 1 quart of water. To clean stuffed toys, dust on baking soda, let it sit for 20 minutes and dust off.

Baking soda is also very effective as a stain remover. You can remove tea stains on teapots and cups by soaking stains in a mixture of ¼ cup baking soda and 1 quart warm water overnight before washing. To remove scuff marks or grease spills from floors, sprinkle with baking soda and wipe clean with warm water.

Use these all natural cleaning solutions with rags you make out of old towels and t-shirts (saving money on paper towels and reducing waste) and you’re ready to clean green!



Prefer to just buy green cleaning products? Click here to learn about what to look for when selecting green cleaning products.


February 25, 2013

The Problem with Plastic

The list of health problems associated with plastic grows longer by the day. Earlier this year British and U.S. researchers found an association between bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in plastics, and heart disease. The study also confirmed that BPA plays a role in diabetes and some forms of liver disease.

The problem is not so much with plastic, but with the chemical additives used in plastics. They’re necessary to mold and stabilize plastic, but only most recently have people started realizing the extent of their impact on human health.

The additives you hear most about are BPA and phthalates. BPA is used to make plastic food containers firm and vinyl products soft and pliable. It also happens to be a hormone disruptor (a fact known since the 1930s) linked to an assortment of health problems, including obesity, early puberty in girls, low sperm counts in men, reproductive problems, and asthma. It is estimated that 90% of people in the U.S. and Europe have detectable levels of BPA in their blood. In 2010 Canada declared BPA a toxic chemical, making it easier for the government to regulate its use, which may lead to an eventual all out ban of BPA in food containers.

Phthalates are chemicals used as solvents and in the process of making plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) more flexible or durable. While phthalates have been banned in toys and child care products for children under 12, they’re found in pretty much everything else. Just a few examples are food packaging, plastic bags, inflatable toys, hoses, raincoats, shower curtains, vinyl flooring, adhesives, detergents, perfume, nail polish, soap, hair spray and shampoo. Phthalates have been found to disrupt the endocrine system. According the U.S. Center for Disease Control, several phthalate compounds have caused reduced sperm counts, testicular atrophy and structural abnormalities in the reproductive systems of male test animals. They have also been linked to liver cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates phthalates as water and air pollutants and the European Union prohibits phthalates in cosmetics sold in Europe.

It is also important to consider all the oil and other resources used to manufacture plastics, the pollution created in their production, and the massive amounts that end up in landfills, in the ocean, or incinerated (releasing cancer-causing pollutants into the air). While there’s no way to avoid plastics completely, there are steps you can take to guard your health and protect the environment.
  • Choose reusable over disposable. Invest in food and beverage containers made of glass, ceramic, porcelain, Pyrex, bamboo, or stainless steel instead of using bags, containers, and bottles made of plastic. Pack real silverware with your lunch. It feels more luxurious than plastic utensils anyways. And don’t forget: Reusable shopping bags are a great option for all shopping, not just groceries. 
  • Be picky about packaging. Choose products in recyclable or reusable containers, such as cardboard cartons or glass jars. Opt for fresh or frozen foods in place of canned goods. Avoid plastic-wrapped food, especially fatty foods like meats and cheeses, whenever possible. You can even ask the butcher to wrap your meat in wax paper instead of plastic. Transfer any plastic-wrapped food to non-plastic containers once you get home. 
  • Watch how you heat. Avoid heating food in plastic containers, especially polycarbonate plastic food containers. Polycarbonate containers that contain BPA usually have a #7 recycling code on them. 
  • Watch how you wash. Avoid putting plastic containers in the dishwasher. Yes, the dishwasher uses less water and energy than hand washing, but the heat and harsh detergent may cause may cause plastic to leach chemicals. 
  • Just say no to vinyl and PVC. If you absolutely have to have plastic food containers, opt for those labeled as PETE or recycling codes #2, #4, and #5. Avoid those labeled #3 or #7. Instead of a vinyl shower curtain, use one made of cotton, hemp, or polyester. 
  • Filter your tap water instead of buying bottled water. Make a habit out of bringing your own water in a stainless steel bottle to avoid impromptu purchases of bottled water. 
  • Go fragrance-free. Fragrance almost always contains phthalates, so in addition to taking a pass on perfume and cologne choose fragrance-free personal care products (i.e., moisturizers, shampoos, deodorants, etc.) whenever possible. At home, avoid air fresheners and swap chemically-scented candles for soy- or beeswax-based wax candles scented with essential oils. 
  • Opt for clothing, linens, and other housewares made of natural materials, such as organic cotton, bamboo, wool, and hemp.