One of the ground rules for creating a sustainable society is to stop poisoning the system we depend upon for our survival – the earth! Did you know that as a society, we create 75,000 – 100,000 different man-made chemicals? Many of these chemicals have not been tested for their interactions with each other and many of them do not break down naturally. This means they exist in the environment (water, air, soil) for a long time and some of them can even accumulate in us through the food chain.
Even though it’s scary to admit, our homes can be one huge simmer pot for toxins. Children’s mattresses can off-gas chemicals, pesticides can be leftover in cotton clothing, chemicals you need a PhD to decipher lurk in your soap, shampoo, conditioner, shaving gels, hair dyes, skin creams, hairspray, and nail polish. And to top it off, large companies that produce household cleaning products spend millions of dollars on advertising, conditioning us to be germ-phobes. Their solution? Anti-bacterial soap, chemical cleaners and disinfectants, chemical air fresheners and sprays like Febreze.
The results? There is growing evidence that common health conditions are associated with toxic exposure. They are: allergies, asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorders, birth defects, cancer, developmental disabilities, diabetes, obesity and reproductive disorders. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the incidence of childhood cancers has jumped almost 27% from 1975 to 2002. Last year on CBC’s Doc Zone, a documentary named The Disappearing Male stated that, “The last few decades have seen steady and dramatic increases in the incidence of boys and young men suffering from genital deformities, low sperm count, sperm abnormalities and testicular cancer. At the same time, boys are now far more at risk of suffering from ADHD, autism, Tourette’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, and dyslexia.”
This is scary stuff! The results of the last sixty years of our chemical inventions are beginning to clearly show their results. Detoxing your home environment needs to be high on your priority list. The challenge is how to do it without breaking the bank. Here are my suggestions for easy to replace, cheaper items to get rid of right away.
1. Chemical based household cleaners
Do you still use chemical based cleaners to clean your house? 5 years ago, it was difficult to find alternatives other than water, lemon and vinegar (which still work great incidentally!). Nowadays, companies like Seventh Generation, Method, Dr. Bronners and many others offer equally priced, non-toxic alternatives.
When you spray your counter tops and clean your bathroom, would you rather be breathing in chemicals or non-toxic substances? No brainer really! Make the commitment to switch over to non-toxic cleaners when your old ones run out – just make sure to read the labels to avoid greenwashing or ask your friends if they have any much loved, non-toxic favorites!
2. Chemical based air fresheners
This is one of my biggest green pet-peeves. Every time an Airwick or Febreze commercial comes on TV, I want to throw something at the screen! If you use these products in your house, you are essentially releasing air-contaminating chemicals into your air, on the couch, pet beds, car and where ever you put these products. You can breathe these in or absorb them through your skin. The non-profit, Environmental Working Group in the US tested a Febreze product and found it contained 89 different air contaminants, only three of which were listed by the manufacturer. A great, non-expensive, non-toxic alternative includes using essential oils mixed with water in a bottle with a mister spray or a candle lit diffuser.
3. Shampoo and Conditioner
Love your cheap, nice smelling, rich lathering shampoo? Well you might want to check a little closer. Many shampoos and conditioners contain parabens, chemical fragrance, mono- , di-, tri-ethanolamine (MEA, DEA, TEA), nonylphenols, and sodium lauryl sulfate (or sodium laureth sulfate). These chemicals are known to cause allergic reactions, affect the central nervous system, mimic hormones like estrogen, and be carcinogenic to our kidneys and liver. Even if the label says, “Natural” or “Green” make sure to flip over the bottle and have a closer look! Only buy ones that leave out these toxic ingredients.
4. Skin Creams and lotions
Did you know if you put a piece of garlic against your foot in your shoe, you’ll taste garlic in your mouth in 20 minutes? Your skin is a highly absorptive organ so be mindful of what you put on it. Body lotions can contain any of the following chemicals: mono- , di-, tri-ethanolamine (MEA, DEA, TEA), Diazolindinyl Urea, FD&C Colors, Fragrance, Parabens and sodium lauryl sulfate (or sodium laureth sulfate). Look for skin creams and lotions without these toxic ingredients in them. Check out this website for a listing of tested body lotions: http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/browse.php?category=moisturizer
Many name-brand toothpastes and mouthwashes contain potentially harmful ingredients, which are made up of very small molecules that may penetrate through the tissue of your mouth, enter the blood stream, and build up in the liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, and tissues. They can contain the following chemicals and toxins: sodium fluoride, triclosan, FD&C Blue Dye #1 and 2, sodium lauryl sulfate, and hydrated silica. All of these common ingredients have been found to be harmful to humans. Need help sourcing some non-toxic alternatives? Visit this site for a listing of tested toothpastes.
Your home should be a non-toxic haven for your family to grow and thrive in. Making these changes just requires a small commitment to take action and substitute your chemical based products for non-toxic ones! The benefits will last a lifetime!
Tracy Lydiatt is an international expert and TEDx Nedlands (Australia) speaker on sustainability. She is among the first graduates of the award-winning Masters of Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability program at Blekinge Institute of Technology in Sweden. She is a sustainability advisor, author and educator passionate about empowering families while on their journey to “go green” and facilitates learning through in-person workshops, online teleclasses and public speaking. You can reach Tracy at tracy(at)howgreenismyfamilynow.com or at www.thegreenfamiliesguru.com