Going Vegetarian Once a Week For Your Health and The Environment

The simple act of giving up meat once a week can make a significant difference in your health and your carbon footprint. Going vegetarian just one day a week can cut someone's saturated fat consumption by 15%, thus reducing the risk of heart disease. In the United States, over a third of all fossil fuel and raw material consumption is used to raise livestock. It is estimated that if every American lowered meat consumption by 20%, it would lower greenhouse gas emissions by as much as it would if everyone in the country switched to driving a hybrid.

Need more convincing? Here are additional details on how going meatless can benefit your health and the environment.

  • Multiple studies demonstrate that a low fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables lowers cancer risk, while the consumption of red meat and processed meat has been associated with increased cancer risk. High consumption of red meat is also associated with heart disease and diabetes.
  • Reduced meat consumption can help prevent long-term weight gain.
  • Some studies even suggest that low red and processed meat consumption can increase longevity.
  • Animal agriculture produces more than 100 million tons of global-warming methane annually.
  • Livestock requires significantly more water (up to 15 times more) than produce or grains. It takes 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef. A pound of soy tofu, on the other hand, requires just 220 gallons of water.
  • It takes up to 10 pounds of grain to produce just one pound of meat. Over 70% of the grains grown in the U.S. is used to feed livestock. The amount of food eaten by the world's cattle could feed 8.7 billion people.

Going meatless benefits not only your health and the environment, but your wallet as well. Foods like vegetables (fresh or frozen), whole grains, beans and legumes cost much less than meat. Plus, they are more nutritious and have greater disease-fighting properties. Talk about more bang for your buck.

Whether you go full out vegetarian or simply join the Meatless Monday campaign you can make significant impact – on your health and the environment's.

Green Tip of The Day

Make your own dishwasher detergent. You'll save money, avoid harsh chemicals, and avoid the plastic bottles commercial detergents come in.

Mix the following together in a sealed container:
  • 1 cup borax – available in the cleaning aisle of most grocery and hardware stores
  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup citric acid – if you can't find food grade citric acid, you may substitute two unsweetened lemonade packets
For each load (make sure the machine is full each time), put a tablespoon of this mix into the detergent compartment and fill the rinse dispenser with white distilled vinegar.

Organic vs. Natural

Food labels can be perplexing enough. With the growing number of companies looking to jump on the “all natural” bandwagon, they're becoming more confusing than ever.

When grocery shopping, most people just want to eat the best quality, healthiest options that fit into their budget. Unfortunately, some companies are preying on that desire by increasing prices on products that have undergone no other changes than a spruced up label with the word “natural” on them. Hence, one important distinction for the the consumer to make – organic versus natural.

For a product to be certified organic, farmers and manufacturers must meet specific guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA-certified organic meat, dairy and egg products must come from animals raised without antibiotics or growth hormones and fed a diet free of animal by-products, fertilizers, pesticides and genetically engineered food. USDA-certified organic produce must be grown without the use of herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers or genetically modified seeds for at least three years. Processed foods must contain 95% certified organic ingredients for a manufacturer to be able use the USDA organic label. All certifications are verified by an independent agency.

Although the natural or all natural label is used often on a variety of different foods, it is essential a meaningless term. The USDA allows meat and chicken to be labeled as natural as long as nothing, such as flavoring or coloring, has been added after slaughter, but even this meek standard is not third-party verified. The USDA and the FDA do not regulate the term natural for any other food or personal care products. Therefore, anyone can use the natural label without having to meet any type of verifiable standard.

A recent survey by the Shelton Group, an advertising agency, found that the majority of consumers believe the term natural to be federally regulated. In fact, respondents had more trust in the natural label, than the term organic, which they believed to be “a fancy way of saying expensive.” Many companies today are taking advantage of this misconception by using the term natural as a marketing ploy. These companies are not just duping customers, but they are undermining the organic industry. Foods labeled natural tend to cost less than organic food. Consumers, thinking they are getting better food for their money, opt for the natural label thus directing money toward crafty packaging rather than actual greener, healthier foods.

The only way to stop this “greenwashing” is to become better informed consumers. Read labels carefully and know which are the truly greener options.

Green Tip of The Day

Prepare more of your own food. Pick up a morning coffee and buy some lunch and you’re easily spending $10 a workday. That adds up to about $200 a month, $2,400 a year! Invest in a thermos and brew your own coffee and you’ll break even after about a week. Plus, you’ll save all those throwaway cups. Pack a lunch (in reusable containers) and you’ll save money, avoid harmful food additives, and eliminate unnecessary waste (think of all those ketchup packets and napkins in take-out bags). Keep a stainless steel bottle of home-filtered water handy and you’ll save money on bottled water (which is often no cleaner than tap water) and cut down on waste.

Reducing Your Exposure to PBDEs

You may never have heard of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), but chances are you have them in your bloodstream. PBDEs are commonly used flame retardants that have been found in everything from human breast milk to birds’ eggs. Multiple studies link these bioaccumulative chemicals to neurodevelopmental deficits in children, lowered testosterone levels in men, reduced fertility in women, and thyroid disruption. In 2010, after years of study, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed that PBDEs are bioaccumulative and toxic to both humans and the environment and began working on a voluntary phase out of the chemicals by the end of 2013.

The phase out is a good first step, but the fact of the matter is that many of the products containing PBDEs will remain in use for a long time. Plus, PBDEs can be stored in the body for years. There are, however, steps you can take to help minimize your exposure.

A recent study of PBDEs in the workplace shows that hand washing may be people's first and best line of defense. The study tested 31 adults working in 8 different office buildings around Boston. PBDEs where found in every work space (think carpeting, chairs, computers, etc.) tested, including the one newly constructed building included in the study. Despite such prevalence, workers who washed their hands at least four times a day had lower levels of PBDEs on their skin and blood levels of PBDEs that were about three times lower than people who washed their hands less frequently. The study made the important discovery that people aren’t coming into contact with PBDEs by inhaling them, but rather they're absorbing them through their skin or eating them. So, regardless where you work, make sure to lather up often throughout the workday.

PBDEs are prevalent in homes as well. They are most commonly found in polyurethane foam products (i.e, carpet padding, mattresses, pillows, couches, etc.) and electronics. And again, there are measures you can take to minimize your exposure.

  • Inspect furniture, pillows, car seats, and any other household items containing foam. Replace anything that's lost its shape or appears to be breaking down. Make sure foam remains completely encased in protective fabric. This is especially important for items made before 2005. U.S. manufacturers stopped using PBDEs in foam furniture in 2005, so new foam goods are unlikely to contain PBDEs.
  • Use a HEPA filter vacuum. HEPA filters are designed to trap very small particles, picking up pollutants, dust, and allergens that would normally remain in the air. A trademarked HEPA filter (beware "HEPA-type" or "high-efficiency" filters) removes at least 99.97% of dust, smoke, lead, mold, and PBDE particles.
  • Never reupholster foam furniture. Even if they don't contain PBDEs, they may contain other less studied fire retardants with potentially harmful effects.
  • Take care removing old carpet. Try to keep the kicked up dust and fabric particles contained and to a minimum. When done, vacuum with a HEPA filter vacuum and mop to remove as many particles as possible. Wear protective clothing and shower afterward.
  • Shop wisely. When buying something new check what type of fire retardants may have been used. Avoid products with brominated fire retardants. Opt for less flammable fabrics and materials, like wool, silk, leather and metal.
  • Keep young children from touching and mouthing electronics and appliances likely to contain PBDEs. This includes remote controls, cell phones, and TV components.
  • Purchase electronics from companies that have committed not to use PBDEs. The following companies have publicly committed to phasing out all brominated fire retardants: Acer, Apple, Eizo Nanao, LG Electronics, Lenovo, Matsushita, Microsoft, Nokia, Panasonic (from mobile phones and computers), Phillips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony-Ericsson, and Toshiba.
  • Make sure everyone in your household washes their hands with soap and water before eating.
  • Check the tag on those footsie pajamas. Children are exposed to PBDEs not only from wearing flame resistant sleepwear, but also from mouthing the fabric putting them at increased risk. Wal-Mart recently announced that it has banned PBDEs from all of its consumer goods and will be conducting tests to verify that suppliers are complying with their ban. Hopefully, more companies will follow Wal-Mart's lead. Until then, keep a careful eye on the labeling on children's sleepwear (where most of the PBDEs in children's clothing are used). Opt for pajamas made of natural fibers with tags stating “must be snug fitting” and “not flame resistant.”

Green Tip of The Day

Stop buying cleaning products. You can clean your whole house with a few simple products like vinegar, baking soda, and peroxide. Cut up old t-shirts and towels for rags and you’ll save on paper towels and sponges as well. Cleaning green saves you money, reduces waste, and eliminates the need for chemicals that are harmful to you and the environment.

Everyday Green's Guide to Energy Conservation

In these tough economic times it's important to cut costs everywhere we can. When it comes to energy conservation, very simple changes can have a significant impact. The average American household spends about $1,900 a year in energy costs. Plus, there's the environmental cost – residential energy use accounts for about 20% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions.

Taking even just a few of the following steps can make a difference – in your carbon footprint and in your wallet.

Sealing and Insulating
Find and seal air leaks. Check doors, windows, electrical conduits, plumbing fixtures, ceiling fixtures, the attic, and anywhere else air may escape for leaks. Use weatherstripping or caulk to repair any leaks.

Make sure your home is properly insulated. Check the insulation in your attic, ceilings, exterior and basement walls, floors, and crawl spaces to see if it meets the levels recommended for your area. The U.S. Department of Energy offers an online Zip Code Insulation Calculator which provides insulation levels for your home based on your zip code and other basic information about your home.

Heating and Cooling
Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat allows you to preset temperatures for different times of the day, so you can leave temperatures higher when you're out and cooler when you're home (reverse during the winter). A programmable thermostat is relatively inexpensive ($30 to $50), easy to install, easy to use, and can save you 10% to 20% on heating and cooling costs.

Keep air filters clean. Check air filters once a month and clean or replace them when necessary. Doing so can save you 5% to 15% on heating and cooling costs.

Keep the air flowing. Make sure there is nothing, like draperies or furniture, blocking air vents. If you do find that air is blowing up behind curtains, there are inexpensive air directors you can pick up at the hardware store to direct the flow of air out into the room.

Use kitchen and bathroom ventilating fans only for the amount of time truly necessary – typically no more than 20 minutes.

Use window treatments wisely. During the summer, keep window treatments closed during the day to avoid the extra heat of the sun. In wintertime, pull back the window coverings on your south-facing windows during the day to allow sunlight in.

When it's time to purchase new heating and cooling equipment, look for energy efficient models. Since these are the type of items that often need to be replaced unexpectedly and quickly, it's a good idea to research the best options ahead of time so you know what to buy when the time comes.

Water Heating
Install low-flow shower heads to save water without sacrificing pressure. An efficient shower head will save a family of four up to $285 per year. They typically cost less than $15 and are simple to install.

Put aerators on all your faucets and cut your annual water consumption by 50%. If you are in the market for a new faucet, look for 0.5 to 1 gallon per minute (gpm) models.

Increase your hot water heater's efficiency. Put an insulating jacket around your water heater and secure (with tape, wire, or a clamp) foam pipe sleeves around the hot water pipes and three feet of the cold water inlet pipe.

Turn the temperature on your water heater down to 120 degrees. Doing so will reduce the heater's energy consumption by 5% to 10% and prevent scalding.

Drain a quart of water from your water tank every 3 months to remove sediment that can make your water heater less efficient. This is especially helpful if you live in a community with hard water.

When it's time to replace your water heater, look for an energy efficient model. They may cost more up front, but you'll quickly make your money back in reduced energy costs. The water heater is another item that usually needs to be replaced quickly, so do some research ahead of time so you know what to purchase when the time comes.

Replace your incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). They use up to 70% less energy and last up to 10 times longer. Make sure they are Energy Star-certified.

For those who don't like CFLs' cold, bluish-white light or how long some of them can take to light up completely there is the new Energy Smart hybrid Halogen-CFL light bulb by GE. It combines the instant brightness of halogen technology with the energy efficiency and longer rated life of CFL technology. It casts the same kind of warm glow as an incandescent bulb and is even shaped like a standard bulb, but it lasts eight times longer than incandescent bulbs.

Look for the Energy Star label when purchasing light fixtures like lamps, vanity fixtures, and outdoor lights. These products distribute light more efficiently and evenly than traditional fixtures.

Always remember to turn lights off when not in use. Use dimmers to adjust lights so that you are only using the amount of energy you truly need.

Keep your refrigerator between 36 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and your freezer between 0 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Doing so saves energy while still keeping food at the proper temperature.

Only run your dishwater when it is full and use unheated air to dry dishes. Make sure to use the most appropriate wash setting for each load so you're not using more electricity and water than actually required.

When using the stove top, make sure to match the pot you are using with the right size burner to avoid unnecessary heat loss. Even using a 6-inch pot on an 8-inch burner can waste over 40% of the burner's heat. Use close-fitting lids on pots whenever possible (always when you're bring something to a boil) to keep heat in and reduce cooking times.

When it makes sense to do so, skip the stove altogether in favor of a low-energy cooking appliance like a pressure cooker, steamer, slow cooker, toaster oven, or even a barbeque grill.

Only wash full loads of laundry. Cold water rinses detergent out just as well as warm or hot water, so always select the cold rinse option on your washing machine. Most laundry can also be washed with cold water as well, so give it a second thought next time you go to wash something in warm or hot water. Using only cold water for washing clothes would save you at least $100 a year.

Air dry laundry on a clothes line or drying racks. Your clothes will last longer and you'll save up to $75 a year.

For the times you do use your dryer, make sure it is running efficiently. Check the exhaust vent every so often to make sure it closes tightly and clean the lint filter after every load. If doing more than one load, try to do one right after the other to take advantage of the leftover heat.

Unplug small appliances, like toasters and coffeemakers, when not in use. Standby usage accounts for anywhere from 6% to 26% of a homes' electricity use.

When shopping for a new appliance, look for the Energy Star label. It will tell you the annual energy consumption and operating cost for each appliance so you can accurately compare both the up front price and the monthly energy cost you'll be paying for the following 10 to 20 years.

Turn off electronics when they are not in use. Use a power strip for an easy one-click shut off option.

When in the market for new electronics, opt for energy-efficient models when available. An Energy Star labeled computer uses 70% less electricity than computers without Energy Star certification.

Skip the screen saver, which doesn't save any energy, and set up your computer to automatically switch to sleep mode instead. Manually turning off the monitor saves even more energy.

When it's time to upgrade your computer, consider buying a laptop. They use much less energy than desktop computers.

Charge your cell phone with a car charger or your computer's USB port when you're online. Less than 10% of the power drawn from a wall plug by a cell phone charger is actually used to charge the phone. The rest is wasted. So, at the very least, make sure to unplug all electronic chargers once batteries are done charging.

Once your disposable batteries are depleted replace them with rechargeable batteries. They may cost slightly more upfront, but they can be reused for years. Rechargeable batteries are a good choice for most frequently-used devices such as wireless mice and keyboards, radios, cameras, calculators, remote controls, and toys.

Finally, get more individualized advise with a home energy audit. Most public utilities will conduct a free home energy audit for a customer. Or, you can conduct one yourself following the U.S. Department of Energy's Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Assessment Guide.

Green Tip of The Day

Ditch those old candles. Despite how nice they may look or smell, traditional paraffin candles and the smoke and soot they produce can contain harmful toxins. The American Lung Association and the EPA have warned consumers that using paraffin candles can decrease indoor air quality. Paraffin is the last petroleum byproduct removed in the refining process (right after asphalt). The fumes released by paraffin candles are comparable to those produced by burning diesel. For a healthier, greener alternative look for candles made from soy or beeswax, scented with essential oil, with non-lead wicks.

Green Tip of The Day

Fill your home with air-cleaning plants. NASA spent two years testing 19 different house plants for their ability to remove common pollutants from the air. The most effective plants were proven to be philodendron (heartleaf, selloum, and elephant ear varieties), cornstalk dracaena, English ivy, spider plant, dracaena (Janet Craig, Warneck, and red-edged varieties), weeping fig, golden pothos, peace lily, Chinese evergreen, bamboo or reed palm, and snake plant.

Green Tip of The Day

Eat produce from the Environmental Working Group’s 15 Cleanest Fruits and Vegetables in place of produce from the Dirty Dozen list. According to the EWG, you can lower your pesticide consumption by nearly four-fifths by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and instead eating the least contaminated produce. You can print out a wallet-size list or download the iPhone app at http://www.foodnews.org/.

Click here for more tips on Eating Green.

Green Up Your Kitchen

The kitchen is the heart of the home – the central place for family and friends to gather and catch up, gossip, reminisce while breaking bread. It only makes sense that such a room be as green as possible – protecting the health of your family and friends, the environment and, not to mention, your wallet.

Follow these guidelines for a cleaner, healthier, greener kitchen.

Saving Energy
The refrigerator is a major guzzler of energy. Keeping your refrigerator between 36 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and your freezer between 0 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit saves energy while still keeping food at the proper temperature. Properly maintaining your refrigerator can also help it run more efficiently and last longer. This includes unplugging it and wiping off the condenser coils at least once a year. Check your user's manual for additional specifications on how to keep your fridge running efficiently.

Save on the energy used by your dishwasher by only running full loads and using unheated air to dry dishes. Make sure to use the most appropriate wash setting for each load so you're not using more electricity and water than actually required.

When using the stove top, make sure to match the pot you are using with the right size burner to avoid unnecessary heat loss. Even using a 6-inch pot on an 8-inch burner can waste over 40% of the burner's heat. Use close-fitting lids on pots whenever possible (always when you're bring something to a boil) to keep heat in and reduce cooking times.

An even more energy-efficient option is to skip the stove altogether and use a low-energy cooking appliance like a pressure cooker, steamer, slow cooker, or even a barbeque grill instead.

Before replacing an appliance check if a repair is a viable alternative. You can save money and avoid throwing out such a large item before it's truly necessary. When the time does come to replace an appliance, look for a new one with a high Energy Star rating and contact your local department of public works for help properly disposing your old appliance.

Finally, remember to swap your incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). They use 70% percent less energy and last up to 10 times longer.

Saving Water
The simplest and least expensive way to save water in the kitchen is to install a tap aerator on your kitchen faucet. For about a dollar you can cut your water consumption by 50%. If you are in the market for a new faucet, look for a 0.5 to 1 gallon per minute (gpm) model.

Only running the dishwasher when it's full will help save water as well as energy.

Save extra water, like water used for cooking or rinsing, and feed it to your plants rather than pouring it down the drain.

Reducing Waste
The kitchen typically generates more waste than any other room in the house. You can help cut back on waste by being careful with what you bring into your home in the first place. Avoid excessive packaging at the grocery store. Bring your own bags. Opt for fresh, unwrapped produce. Choose products in recyclable or reusable containers, such as cardboard cartons or glass jars. Go even greener and grow your own food in a home garden.

Reuse or recycle as much as you can. This includes using dishtowels and cloth napkins that can be washed and used again instead of disposable paper towels and napkins. Keep a recycling bin in the kitchen if it makes recycling easier to remember.

Go a step beyond recycling and compost your food scraps. Using compost you create from food scraps and yard waste keeps organic materials out of landfills and saves you money on commercial fertilizers.

Instead of plastic trash bags that take years to decompose, purchase biodegradable trash bags (available online). If you can't find biodegradable bags, at least purchase bags made from recycled materials.

Invest in high quality cookware and utensils that last, rather than cheap items that will need to be replaced in short order.

Although there are some health concerns associated with nonstick cookware, it can be difficult to cook certain foods, particularly eggs, on anything else. Nonstick cookware can be safe to use as long as you take care to not heat pans too high or scratch the chemical coating – the two ways harmful chemicals can be released into the air. Add water or oil to nonstick cookware to absorb heat before turning on the stove and then make sure to only use medium heat (350 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit) or lower. Wash nonstick cookware by hand using nonabrasive cleaners and sponges and avoid using metal utensils or stacking pots and pans to avoid scratching. If any of your nonstick cookware does become scratched, toss it or (for a slightly more eco-friendly option) bring it to a scrap metal yard.

You can also rotate out any nonstick cookware with pieces made from other materials. Health Canada has a great overview of the benefits and risks of various cookware materials. It's best to have an assortment. Stainless steel, cast iron, ceramic, Pyrex, and silicone are all good options for cookware and bakeware.

Food Containers
The list of health problems associated with plastics seems to grow longer by the day. For safer, healthier options, 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.

Avoid heating food in plastic containers, especially polycarbonate plastic food containers. Polycarbonate containers that contain BPA usually have a #7 recycling code on them.

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.

If you absolutely must have plastic food containers, opt for those labeled as PETE or recycling codes #2, #4, and #5. Avoid those labeled #3 or #7.

Cleaning Green
Traditional cleaning products can contain ingredients that are harmful to your health and the environment. Fortunately, the number of green cleaning products available today continues to grow. Check out What to Look For In Green Cleaning Products to learn about what to look for and what to avoid in cleaning products.

Or, you can avoid commercial cleaning products altogether by creating your own simple, inexpensive cleaning solutions right at home. Put distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle to create an all-purpose cleaner you can use on glass, doorknobs, appliances, and counter tops (just avoid using it on marble). Add a little baking soda for extra scrubbing power. Spray your kitchen countertops with undiluted vinegar and then 3% hydrogen peroxide to disinfect. This combination 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. Click here for more green cleaning tips.

Green Tip of The Day

When doing laundry don’t use the full manufacturer-suggested amount of detergent. Use ½ to ¾ of your usual amount and you will save money, reduce the amount of suds polluting our waterways, cut down on detergent bottles sent to the recycling center, and get your clothes just as clean if not cleaner than before (unrinsed detergent on your clothes can actually attract dirt!).

Green Tip of The Day

Zap away less energy by unplugging appliances, like toasters and coffeemakers, when they’re not in use. “Standby usage” accounts for anywhere from 6% to 26% of a homes' electricity use.