Always happy to be included as an eco-expert in Earth Day articles! Thanks to The Daily News.
Our homes hum with electric power, and our neighborhoods are scattered with the poles and wires that deliver it to us. What's less visible is the air and water pollution this system produces.
Generally speaking, the burning of nonrenewable resources creates greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, and emits mercury, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur dioxide that dissolve in rain particles and fall to earth (this is known as acid rain). The mercury contaminates fish in our waterways that we then catch and eat, poisoning ourselves.
Even if you don't live near a coal power plant, the pollution travels. New England forests are being harmed by mercury smog from power plants in the Midwest, and there is evidence now that emissions from Chinese power plants are reaching the West Coast of America. That's quite a system.
Find out where our electricity comes from and how we can do better in "Planet Home: Conscious Choices for Cleaning & Greening the World You Care About Most."
Many resources go into creating electronics. Keeping old versions for as long as you're willing to use them reduces both the consumption of these resources and e-waste.
When you're truly through with an item, try to reuse before recycling. Move an unwanted VCR and your old VHS tape collection into a guest bedroom, where it might delight a visitor. Give your out-of-favor TV to a relative or friend who could use it, or donate it to an organization. If all else fails, take it to an electronics recycling event.
Whatever you do, make sure it doesn't wind up in a trash heap. Older CRT TVs contain lead and other toxic chemicals–not something we need more of in our landfills. The Electronics TakeBack Coalition is a good resource for locating responsible recyclers in each state. Unfortunately, not all recyclers are trustworthy, and some don't handle your electronics as they claim they're going to. TakeBack maintains a list of TV companies with take-back programs. Earth911.com also helps connect conscious consumers to electronics recyclers.
Find more tips on conscious consuming and electronics recycling in "Planet Home: Conscious Choices for Cleaning & Greening the World You Care About Most."
Plastics are everywhere in the kitchen. And it seems that there are news reports daily on the hazards of hormone-disrupting chemicals found in plastics, which get into our food, beverages, and even baby formula.
Although there are plastics on the market that are generally considered safe to use with food, there is a growing body of evidence showing that plastics need to be treated gently, washed by hand, and never, ever placed in a microwave, where their chemicals leach into what's being heated, especially things with a high fat content, like meat and cheese.
Plastics are also derived from a nonrenewable resource (petroleum), and not all kinds are recyclable. Even the ones that are recyclable often wind up overcrowding landfills or floating around in our waterways.
It might be difficult (but not impossible) to avoid plastic packaging at the supermarket. When it comes to storing your leftovers at home, why not bypass plastics altogether–baggies, wrap, or containers–and use reliable, renewable, and reusable containers made of glass, stainless, steel, and lead-free ceramic instead.
Glass storage containers are widely available, or you can use what you already have in your kitchen: old jelly, peanut butter, or pickle jars. Glass can also go in the freezer–just make sure to leave enough room for liquid to expand.
If you'd like a replacement for plastic wrap, try a reusable wrap, or opt for was paper coated in non-genetically-modified (GM) soy wax instead of petroleum-derived wax.
This way you won't have to worry about what's migrating into your food or hope the plastic currently considered safe doesn't become tomorrow's must-avoid.
Find more info on keeping your home plastic-free in "Planet Home: Conscious Choices for Cleaning & Greening the World You Care About Most."
In order to keep outdoor pollutants outside, shoes should be taken off near where you enter the house. Outdoor shoes track in a vast majority of the dust and chemicals found in household rugs and on floors (this includes allergens, pesticides, and lead, plus other carcinogens and endocrine disruptors).
Taking off your shoes before entering a house is the public-health equivalent of washing your hands. A large majority of the dirt in any home arrives on the soles of our shoes, and removing them will help keep your house cleaner. Mud, water, snow, and animal feces are not pleasant, but the real issues here are the invisible ones: pesticide residues if you live in an agricultural area or if your neighbors spray their lawns, automotive exhaust, and chemical contaminants from your workplace. You do not want these substances in your home.
If you don't like walking around barefoot, invest in a funky sock collection or comfortable slippers. And don't be shy about asking guests and visitors to remove their shoes before entering your home. The more people encounter and learn about shoe-free homes, the more likely they are to institute similar policies in their own. You can even provide slippers to your guests.
Find more info on keeping your home dust-, allergen- and chemical-free in "Planet Home: Conscious Choices for Cleaning & Greening the World You Care About Most."
Also, check out the article I wrote for The Daily Green about keeping your shoes off in the house.
Throw open the windows in your home or office to improve the indoor air quality. Remember that the air outside is likely to be much cleaner than the air inside, even in the city. To purify air—and make your space look nice—add plants, which are natural air purifiers that can absorb formaldehyde, benzene, and other chemicals that aren't great to breathe.
Plants won't filter everything, but every little bit helps. To be most effective, use a lot (a NASA study recommends 15 to 18 good-sized houseplants in six- to eight-inch-diameter containers to improve air quality in an average 1,800-square-foot-house), and don't forget to water them.
The plants that filter out the most unwanted chemicals are:
- Boston fern
- Areca palm
A few other great bets and the gases they absorb:
- Aloe vera (formaldehyde)
- Ficus (formaldehyde)
- Spider plant (carbon monoxide)
- English ivy (benzene, formaldehyde)
- Bamboo palm (formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene)
- Rubber plant (formaldehyde)
- Peace lily (alcohols, acetone, formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene)
For more info on plants, see "How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office," by B.C. Wolverton.
Find more tips like these in "Planet Home: Conscious Choices for Cleaning & Greening the World You Care About Most."
I'm getting asked that question a lot lately. An email just popped up in my inbox that describes it really well. Read this and then apply it to food and kitchens. And that's what a Conscious Kitchen is!
"When we talk about being "conscious," we're referring to a greater consciousness that allows us to view the world as an endlessly interconnected system and thereby see the unintended consequences of our actions. Consciousness requires reflection, self-awareness, and the constant questioning of our assumptions and beliefs."
– Jeffrey Hollender co-founder Seventh Generation
Think about the interconnected system of the spray on a conventional apple, or really question what a claim on food packaging might mean. Natural might make you feel like you're getting something, well, natural. But questioning this assumption is crucial to locating conscious food. Educating yourself about what labels really hold any meaning means better access to the good stuff. I talk about this a lot in The Conscious Kitchen.