Geyser Timers and Saving Electricity

geyser timerHeating water is one of an average household’s biggest electricity spends.  In the UK water heating and central heating systems are usually integrated and managed with a time switch as standard, but here in South Africa our water geysers up till recently have often been left to run all day and night. The conventional wisdom was that it uses more power to heat water from cold than it does to maintain the heat throughout the day. This may be true if the hot water taps aren’t being switched on and off all day, and if you have a very efficient blanket retaining the heat in the geyser, but how many of us do? Continue reading

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

Green Winter Warmers – Draught Excluders

Draught excludersNow that autumn has hit Cape Town, with a breath of winter to come, it’s time to think of keeping warm and keeping down those electricity bills.

We all know that good insulation is key to reducing heat loss and beating the cold winter nights, but rather than starting a major project, let’s look at a small, very do-able DIY measure to keep warmer this winter – keeping out those sneaky draughts, which chill feet and ankles and persuade us to turn up the heater another notch.

Draught excluders are so easy to make that even a total non-sewer like me could make one, if only I’d get around to it. Here are a few tips I’ve gathered together to help me make mine. Continue reading

Planting Trees For Special Occasions

tree plantingPlanting indigenous trees is one way we can all make a difference. Whether it is because we want to reduce our carbon footprint, restore a bleak landscape or just because we love trees, a tree planted and looked after will most likely outlive us, a positive legacy that we can be proud of.

Planting a tree is a great way of marking a special occasion: a birthday, an anniversary. Now that the autumn rains have started it’s a great time for tree planting and our girls were determined to plant a tree each for Easter, not so much for their carbon footprint, it must be admitted, more because the Easter bunny has always left eggs in their special trees! Even though you don’t need to wait for an occasion to plant a tree it is lovely to have a growing memorial to a special birthday or event, and kids love having their own trees to look after. 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 Gifts For Valentines Day

So red roses are out as a romantic gift, if your love is a green, green eco-warrior… so what would he or she like instead, as the ultimate romantic gesture that shows that you are equally committed to their environmentally friendly ideals?

soy heart candleNatural heart candle
A heart shaped hemp and soy candle with a gorgeous scent ticks all the boxes for a romantic token.  The oils are totally natural and beautifully silky so that you can use them as massage oils after you’ve enjoyed your candlelit dinner. This candle is available from Hemporium in several fragrances and is 100% vegan. 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

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