Permeable Pavers for Improved Water Quality

Many communities across the U.S. are working to improve water quality by reducing storm water runoff. Just think: Every time it rains that water you see running into storm drains is carrying an assortment of debris, pesticides, fertilizers, and other pollutants into the same local waters we use for swimming, fishing, and drinking water.

Hard surfaces, such as roofs, pavement, and patios, are the main contributor to storm water runoff because they prevent storm water from naturally soaking back into the ground. To combat this problem many cities are issuing guidelines or regulations directing homeowners and builders to use permeable construction materials for walkways, patios, and driveways.

If a new patio or driveway is on your to-do list, consider using permeable pavers. They look like typical brick pavers but are more eco-friendly because they allow water to drain and return back to the earth rather than run off into storm drains.

The Case for Organic Cotton

Cotton, “the fabric of our lives”, is everywhere . . . clothing, towels, bedding, housewares, toys. Unfortunately cotton is as environmentally damaging as it is abundant. Cotton is considered the world's “dirtiest” crop due to its excessive use of insecticides – 16% of the world's insecticides are used on the 2.5% of land used to grow cotton. In the U.S. cotton growers are responsible for 25% of pesticides used. Some other unpleasant facts that may have you itching to get out of those cotton clothes:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency has labeled seven of the top 15 pesticides used in U.S. cotton production as "possible," "likely," "probable," or "known" human carcinogens. The World Health Organization considers the insecticides Aldicarb, parathion, and methamidopho to be the most acutely hazardous insecticides to human health – the three also rank in the top ten most commonly used in cotton production. 
  • It takes almost a third of a pound of synthetic fertilizers to grow enough cotton to produce a single t-shirt. Nitrogen synthetic fertilizers are a major factor in increasing the greenhouse gas N2O. N2O is 300 times more potent than CO2. 
  • Many pesticide residues have been detected in cottonseed hull – a secondary crop (i.e., the unusable leftover from the cotton plant) sold as a food product. As much as 65% of cotton production ends up in our food chain, either directly through cottonseed oil or indirectly through the milk and meat of animals given feed that contains cotton seed. 
  • Cotton production uses massive amounts of water. It takes about 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to produce one pair of jeans. 
  • Ninety-nine percent of cotton farmers in the world live in developing countries, leaving the poorest and most disenfranchised among us to bear the brunt of cotton productions' negative health and environmental impact. 

Organic cotton production, on the other hand, avoids the toxic chemicals that are so harmful to human health and the environment. By buying products made of organic cotton you support sustainable farming practices and humane treatment of workers and help keep harmful chemicals out of the environment and our food supply.

Organic cotton production still accounts for less than 1% of global cotton production, but it has seen significant growth in the past few years as more companies have started to offer organic cotton products. Consumers, with the power of the purse, can continue to drive that change to healthier production practices. Yes, organic cotton products are often more expensive than those made of conventional cotton, but when you consider the impact on human and environmental health it is certainly a justifiable expense. Plus, the more we support organic cotton, the more products will become available and the lower prices will drop.

You don't have to run out and replace all your cotton clothing and linens, but next time you do need something new consider the organic option. With more companies like Wal-Mart, Target, K-Mart, Pantagonia, H&M, and Banana Republic offering organic cotton products you now have more choices than ever.

What to Look For in “Green” Cleaning Products

A clean home is a healthy home. Right? But how healthy can home cleaning products be if they make your eyes sting, irritate your skin, and are labeled poisonous? Green cleaning products get your home clean without harmful chemicals that are hazardous to the environment and your health. Just make sure to take a careful look at those labels to ensure you are truly getting a healthier product and not being duped by the latest company to jump on the green marketing bandwagon.

Start by looking for products certified by EcoLogo or Green Seal. To earn these labels cleaners must meet certain health and environmental standards regarding things like toxicity to aquatic and mammalian life, biodegradability, possible soil contamination, the risk of microbial resistance, labeling and packaging standards, and human health. Not all green products will be certified so use the following guidelines for selecting your own green cleaners.

Select products with 100% plant-based ingredients rather than the ambiguous “natural” label. After all, cyanide is natural element. Look for products with primary active ingredients like tea tree oil, sodium borate (borax), soy, citrus oils, hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, and eucalyptus. These substances come from renewable resources, are biodegradable, contain no- or low-VOCs, and should not cause skin or eye irritation. Just take care to not use products with pine or citrus oil on smoggy or high ozone days because compounds in the oils can react with ozone in the air to form the carcinogenic chemical formaldehyde.

Avoid products containing any of the following:
  • 2-butoxyethanol (also listed as ethylene glycol monobutyl ether) and other glycol ethers
  • Alkylphenol ethoxylates like nonylphenol ethoxylates, octylphenol ethoxylates, nonoxynols, and octoxynols
  • Ethanolamines like mono-, di-, and tri-ethanolamine 
  • Quaternary ammonium compounds, which are usually listed as alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (ADBAC), benzalkonium chloride, or didecyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride 
  • Hydrocloric acid
  • Sodium acid sulfate 
  • Fragrance 

It's also advisable to pass on any products containing dye. It's an ambiguous ingredient that could mean a multitude of things – many of which are unsafe.

Take a products packaging into consideration as well. Look for lightweight packaging made from recyclable and/or recycled materials. Choose pump sprays over aerosols and look for dispensers that help limit unnecessary exposure. Concentrated formulas help cut down on packing as do products that can be used with refillable dispensers.

Of course, the easiest way to avoid the harmful chemicals often found in household cleaning products is to clean your home with all natural products like vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, lemon juice, and baking soda. Click here for homemade, green cleaning solutions.