Is Your Toilet Paper Destroying Forests?

fsc logoNext time you are buying toilet paper, or any paper product for that matter, check for this little logo somewhere on the packaging. The FSC logo tells you that the wood used to make that paper comes from well-managed forests and is traceable to source.

Too many forests around the world, particularly in the Congo and Indonesia, are still being devastated by illegal logging. There’s not a lot we can do about it directly, but we can choose the products we buy just a little bit more carefully, so that suppliers are encouraged to use wood from sustainable, well-managed sources rather than supporting the illegal timber industry. Continue reading

Natural Deodorants – Make Your Own with Coconut Oil

coconut oil deodorantIf you are looking for a healthier and greener alternative to regular deodorants then the simplest solution is to make your own. This may sound all too way out and crunchy granola hippy, but it’s easy and what is more important it works!

Years ago I switched from roll-ons to rock crystal deodorants, thinking that these were totally safe and free of the aluminium that makes the regular products a health worry.(Aluminium has been linked with breast cancer and Alzheimers.) Continue reading

A Greener Home – 3 Small (or Big) Changes You Can Make Now

How many of us would like to make our homes greener, but are put off by the cost? There are lots of great things we could do if we only had an unlimited budget… we dream of going off-grid but never take a step towards it as we just can’t afford the investment.

While it would be great to take giant steps towards a greener lifestyle, there are plenty of small steps that we can take now, instead of waiting to win the lottery. Here are a few suggestions:

Showerheads-water-savingWater Saving
Small Step: The simplest, cheapest and quickest way of saving water is by switching your regular shower head to a low flow, water efficient shower head. Typically you can cut your shower water consumption by half. In an average household where three showers are taken a day, this would save 38,000 litres a year. The cost of a low flow showerhead can be anything from R100 to R1000, so do your research first to find the right one for you. Continue reading

Green Intentions for the New Year

New comfrey leaves growingNew Year’s resolutions are all too often made only to be broken. There’s something about a list of must and must nots that stirs up the rebel in all of us. So I’ve long since changed to setting intentions, and not just at new year. However the beginning of a new year is a great time to look at what you are doing with fresh eyes and see if there are any steps you can take to improve on things.

My green intentions are all about building on where we’ve started to go greener. Continue reading

LED Lighting – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

LED-Light-bulbs-rangeWe’ve all heard the claims by now – LED lighting uses far less electricity, saves costs, lasts much longer and is a far greener solution than either the old incandescent bulbs or the newer ‘energy-saving’ bulbs.

So as good green consumers we go out to buy some, only to be brought up short by the price. At R200 for a light bulb our green principles suffer a set-back. Maybe we find a cheaper version, try it out for a while and are disappointed in its performance: the colour is harsh, the light is too dim or it just doesn’t last as long as the claims. Continue reading

Sunscreen: The Good The Bad and the Skin Cancer

Which sunscreen is safe to use at the beach?If you, like us, have been routinely slathering your kids with sunscreen to protect them from cancer causing skin damage, you might find this article on skin cancer research worrying.

Researchers have found that since the use of sunscreen became general in the mid-70s rates of skin cancers have increased significantly, rather than decreased as expected. One theory was that because they take longer to burn, people spend longer periods in the sun. Another that the sunscreen blocks most of the UVB rays but not so much of the UVA, which penetrates deeper into the skin.

One of the main risk factors identified here though, was some of the chemical ingredients in the sunscreens themselves. Certain of the active ingredients act as free radical generators once they are activated by the UV rays. Free radicals are the big bad wolves of the cancer world, loose cannons in the body that can cause changes in cell structure.

If you are interested in more detail, go read the original article, which is full of information and references to current research. But for easy reference here is a list of things to look out for:

Chemicals to avoid in sunscreen
Benzophenone, oxybenzone or benzophenone-3 – all free radical generators when activated by UV light. These, or derivatives of these, are found in most common chemical sunscreens.
Psoralen – high risk of melanomas shown in several studies that rate this chemical four times worse than those listed above..
Look out for these ingredients in face creams that have an SPF too.

Physical sunscreens
These use minerals such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide and reflect the UV light away from the skin. They tend to look white on the skin. They work as sunblocks and are much safer than chemical sunscreens.

Natural tan
The article concludes  with saying that the safest protection against skin cancer is to build up a natural tan gradually without risking severe sunburn. Most severe skin damage was seen in people with infrequent but intense exposure to the sun. For example the holidaymaker from a less sunny climate who sunbathes too long and gets badly burned. Those with regular, moderate exposure to the sun are less likely to suffer from skin cancer.

Vitamin D
We all need vitamin D and our body manufactures it from the sun shining on our skin. Using sunscreens prevents this natural process. We all should spend a minimum of 10 minutes a day  in the sunshine without any blocking sunscreens on our skin, to get a basic level of vitamin D. Vitamin D helps suppress the growth of malignant melanomas and possibly other cancers too, so getting enough sunlight on our skin helps fight, rather than causes, skin cancer.

Once again it’s all about moderation, getting out in the sun and fresh air, but not overdoing it, minimising the chemicals we expose ourselves to and reading that tiny small print on the ingredients lists.

Photo: © Radu Tania | Dreamstime.com

Re-use Cereal Boxes As Disposable Compost Bins

Re-use cereal boxes as compost binsIf you have a compost heap, eat boxed cereals and don’t like too many plastic buckets cluttering up your kitchen, this idea for instant disposable compost bins could work for you, as well as it works for us.

An empty cereal box makes a great container for compostable kitchen waste. The great thing about it from my point of view is that it is only large enough for a few days worth of vegetable peels, so that we take it out to the compost heap more frequently, reducing the likelihood of flies and fruit flies in the kitchen. When it goes out to the heap, the peels are emptied on to the heap and the cardboard box gets torn into pieces and added to the compost. Then we start fresh with the next empty box.

compost binA cereal box is neat and fits into a smaller space than a plastic bucket would do. There is no washing out of buckets, or build up of mouldy stuff that you sometimes get when the bucket takes too long to fill. And as a bonus you are automatically adding more carbon dense material to balance out all those green kitchen scraps. Plus recycling and re-using some of your excess cardboard.

compost heap

What’s with rBST free milk labelling in South Africa today?

rBST free label South AfricarBST free milk label South AfricaUntil a few years ago I didn’t know about rBST in milk. I didn’t know that artificial hormones were permitted to be given to South African cows to raise milk production, regardless of possible ill effects to the cows and to the humans drinking the milk. As soon as I read about it here, I made sure I only bought milk labelled as rBST free. Only now the rules on labels seem to be changing.

The genetically modified growth hormone rBST (rBGH) is banned in Europe, Canada and New Zealand. It is produced by GMO giant Monsanto and there is controversy surrounding its continuing use in the US. Possible long term effects to humans from exposure to the hormone, from drinking and eating dairy products from cows treated with it, are various cancers. For the cows the side-effects are increased risk of mastitis, requiring the use of antibiotics. The hormone speeds up their metabolism, putting more stress on their systems and reducing their useful life-span.

The powers that be continue to assure us that the use of the hormone is completely safe, but other authorities stress the contrary. Who are we to believe?

In the end it comes down to making a personal choice. We should have the right to choose shouldn’t we? But since labelling regulations got stricter this becomes even more complicated.

Until recently the rBST label was to be found on several milk brands – Clover and Pick and Pay, as well as Woolworths, Fair Cape and some of the smaller dairies. However on a recent shopping trip I found that Clover and Pick and Pay no longer label their milk as rBST free. A new labelling act apparently states that suppliers must be able to prove that their milk is free of artificial hormones (cows always produce their own natural hormones so no-one can correctly state that their milk is hormone free). There is no straightforward test that can prove it, so the only way is to prove that the cows supplying the milk have never been treated with the hormone. Due to fears of court-cases, Clover and some of the bigger dairies have obviously decided not to risk using the label, though Clover still state that their milk is sourced from dairy herds that are not treated with the hormone. Woolworths and Fair Cape continue to use the label, perhaps because they feel more secure in their sources?

What makes it so difficult to investigate is that almost no-one admits to using the hormone, yet about 30% of South African dairy farmers apparently are using it, driven by economic pressure to increase their milk yields any which way they can. There is a whole fog of misinformation out there, which hasn’t been helped by the stricter labelling laws. The laws should have made things clearer and less confusing for the consumer, but have ended up with the opposite effect.

How can I tell if the milk I am buying is not labelled rBST free because of over-caution on the part of the company even though the milk probably is rBST free, or because it comes from cows that are treated with the hormone?

Do I give up and buy my own cow? Visit the local dairy that supplies my milk and insist on seeing all their records and interviewing their vet? Become a vegan and start worrying about GM corn and soy instead?

Probably I should do one of the above, but since I am just muddling along like most of us, doing my best under the circumstances, I’ll just continue to look for the rBST free label, hoping that I can trust it, and buying from small local dairies in the hope that they are more accountable than large, faceless organisations. Hope and trust… or should I get that cow?!

Edited to add: I’ve had a response from both Clover and Pick and Pay in response to my enquiry into whether their milk is still rBST free. For the record this is what they said:

PnP: “Please note all our mil is currently rBST free.  However there is no test method available for this.  In terms of the new labelling legislation and consumer protection act, if a claim is made, one needs to have the scientific evidence to support this.  We are in the process of signing an agreement with our milk suppleirs to confirm this so that we can reintroduce this logo onto our packaging.”

Clover: “Thank you for your e-mail and concern.   The reason we do not have the rBST free sign on the milk anymore is because of the new labelling act.  We are only allowed to have it on our milk if we can “prove” by testing that there are no hormones in the milk.  Unfortunately there is not one machine in the whole Africa that can test hormones in milk.

I can assure you that Clover does not use hormones on our cows.  We have written agreements with our farmers and regular inspections with a vet is made to inspect the cows if they are not injected with hormones, and also how they are treated and how they graze.”

Reduce Plastic Waste – Never Buy Another Freezer Bag

Re-use yoghurt pots for the freezerFreezer bags are temptingly convenient. A nice neat roll, all sizes and clean. But buying plastic bags just to use them once and then throw them away really doesn’t make sense, either from a frugal point of view or an environmental one.

I’m trying to reduce the amount of plastic we use and one thing I’ve found that I can totally do without is purpose made freezer bags. Here are alternative ideas that work just as well.

Re-use yoghurt pots
One litre sized yoghurt pots with lids are perfect for freezing small batches of cooked food, stocks, fruit purees and any other liquid or semi-liquid food. They are also good for freezing berries. Write on the lid with a permanent marker or use a sticky label to identify the contents – otherwise you’ll find yourself getting out stock when you want berries and vice versa.

Re-use other plastic containers
Think twice before recycling or throwing out any sturdy plastic container. Ice cream tubs, margarine tubs and any other similar food containers can be saved and re-used in the freezer. Check the recycling number on the plastic to make sure it doesn’t contain BPA. Numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 are very unlikely to; numbers 3 and 7 may do. Containers can be re-used several times, but if they start looking scratched or otherwise damaged then it is time to recycle them. Plastic in contact with food should always be undamaged to avoid possible chemical contamination.

Re-use cereal bags
The inner bags of cereal packets are a prime example of useful bags that rarely if ever get re-used. Save them up and use them as freezer bags.  Make sure you shake all the fine crumbs out of them, then use them for freezing dry goods, such as bread, cookie dough, breadcrumbs. They could also work well for freezing blanched vegetables, if you have an excess in the garden. The only problem with these is sealing them effectively. Try to push as much air out as possible, then fold over the ends of the bag at least twice. Close it with a peg or a tie, depending on what works best for you.

Glass containers
There are more and more glass containers with lids available these days that are freezer proof. Some are also microwave proof. Start investing in a few of these as and when you can afford them. Having a good stock of permanent containers cuts down on the amount of disposable containers you use. Some people use canning jars to freeze food in. Make sure you leave enough space for expansion as the food freezes, so that the glass isn’t cracked by the pressure.

As a general rule allow food frozen in glass to defrost thoroughly before heating, as a sudden temperature change can shatter it.

Just this small adjustment in thinking will save you money and save the environment from that much more plastic waste. I’m sure there are plenty more possibilities that I haven’t listed here – do you have any freezer container ideas to share?

Also check out the comments in this article on doing without plastic bags in the freezer for some more great ideas.

Natural Air Freshener – A Bowl of Hyacinths

sweet smelling hyancinthsAir fresheners were one of my pet hates even before I had any idea of green living. Now I’ve read about what goes into creating the artificial fragrances used for air fresheners I am even more against them.

They are very bad for respiratory health especially for young children, often aggravating allergies or triggering asthma attacks. Even worse some of the ingredients are cancer-causing in the long term, so all those chemicals can seriously damage the health of your family. This article has more on the dangers of air fresheners if you want to scare yourself!

I’ve written before about using natural scented candles instead of bathroom air fresheners. But what other ways are there of making your home smell nice?

Ours often smells of baking bread, but just as often of wet dog, so I was over the moon when my sister-in-law reminded me of a winter tradition from my childhood. She gave us a bowl of hyacinth bulbs. They have flowered quickly and their scent perfumes the air all around. It would be almost overpowering in a small room, but in a large space wafts appealingly as you pass.

There is no need for any artificial fragrances with that rich floral scent filling the air, and better still the flowers last for ages. In fact the bulbs are coming out in stages so they should be giving us sweet scents for a couple of months at least. Then we’ll put away the bulbs till next winter, re-pot them and they will grow and flower all over again. How about that for renewable, sustainable, sweet-smelling living!

A bowl of hyacinth bulbs also makes a great green gift for kids to give parents and grandparents – they can plant them up and decorate the bowl to make it even more special.