Moms Clean Air Force: Clean Air From The Inside Out

  • March 28, 2012 11:53 am

My latest post for Moms Clean Air Force talks about how what we do and use at home daily can ripple out and touch a lot more than indoor air. Let me know what you think.

Q&A: Dishwashers Vs. Washing By Hand

  • August 25, 2011 8:06 pm

THE QUESTION:

Hi Alexandra,

What is your take on washing by hand and using a dishwasher??

Thanks, Meika

THE ANSWER:

Meika,

Thanks for your question.  The pros and cons of dishwashers have been debated down to the very last droplets of water, but at the end of the day they are more environmentally friendly than washing by hand, even if you factor in the energy used to manufacture and run the machine.  Here is an excerpt from Planet Home re the eco-friendliest way to wash dishes:

Running a dishwasher filled with scraped–not rinsed–dishes using eco-friendly detergent free of chlorine and phosphates is preferable to washing by hand, especially if the machine has a good Energy Star rating and you don’t use the energy-draining heated dry option.  Only run the dishwasher when it is totally full (although be sure you’re not blocking the water or aeration methods with any dishes, or they won’t get clean).  Face everything inward.  Enzymes in detergent are there to eat off scum.  If you have over-rinsed your dishes, they will have nothing to work on and will therefore dull the surfaces.  Get to know your dishwasher: Does it have a heater or a fan?  Does it have a grinder?  Operate accordingly.  Don’t put everything under the sun in a dishwasher.  Opening the door a crack after the washing cycle is complete will help the dishes air-dry more completely, but it will also increase indoor air pollution.  Fragrances and chemicals (including chlorine) in traditional auto-dishwashing products get turned into vapors when the machine heats up, and so do the pollutants (possibly chlorine or chloroform, maybe radon) in municipal water.  We breathe these vapors as they vent out of the machine during the washing cycle, making dishwashers a major source of indoor air pollution.  Minimize the danger by using a natural (chlorine bleach-free) detergent and by not opening that door until the machine has had a chance to cool off.  Giving the racks a shake will help get the residual droplets off the dishes.  Keep in mind that your municipal water supply will likely provide your machine with chlorine anyway.  A whole house water filter will reduce some of the worst vapors, as will keeping your kitchen well-ventilated.  If your dishes aren’t getting as clean as you’d like them, try using less detergent if you have soft water and adding a natural rinse aid if you have hard water.  This keep minerals in the water from redepositing on your dishes.  You can buy a natural version, or simply use white vinegar.  If you’re in the market for a new dishwasher, consider stainless steel interiors, which retain heat and reduce noise.  They also don’t off-gas (i.e., release fumes from the plastic) when heated to very high temperatures.

Hope this helps!

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: Summer Grilling

  • June 23, 2011 9:43 am

THE QUESTION:

Hi Alexandra,

My family and I love to grill in our backyard all summer long.  If the weather allows it, we’re out there almost every night!  Our old charcoal grill is, well, old and tired, so we’re thinking of purchasing a new one for the season.  We would like it to be as environmentally friendly as possible, especially because we use it so often.  What are your thoughts on the best grills to buy?

Thanks,

Louise

THE ANSWER:

Hi Louise,

Thank you so much for your question, and lucky you to have a backyard for daily grilling and more.  Us city dwellers are very jealous.  This is a hot topic as the days are getting longer, the weather is warmer, and July 4th is fast approaching, but there are a lot of issues to consider before lighting up those coals.  In The Conscious Kitchen I explain the ins and outs of grill use:

No one can deny the allure of an open fire.  Cooking outside makes sense when the weather is warm, but there are a number of things to scrutinize before you grill.  Foodies have long debated the merits of charcoal versus gas.  Gas, a nonrenewable resource, is a convenient and controllable way to cook on an open flame, but where taste is concerned, charcoal always wins.  Environmentally speaking, though, charcoal is worse than gas.  Among other negatives, charcoal promotes deforestation (it is made from trees) and pollutes the air as it burns.  This might not seem like a big deal if you’re the sort who grills once in a blue moon, but think about how much pollution gets collectively released into the air on a day like July 4.  According to an article in the July/August 2005 issue of Sierra magazine, an estimated sixty million barbecues are held on this holiday, during which Americans burn the equivalent of 2,300 acres of forest and release 225,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air.  Research has shown that in areas where people grill often, fatty acids in meat smoke can contribute to hazy skies.  Fat smog!  If you aren’t prepared to give up grilling, it’s good to be aware of the impact it can have on both your health and the environment and to minimize it however you can.

THE LIST: GRILLS

A sliding scale of choices from best to worst:

-Solar cookers (not technically grills) cook outside using nothing but the sun’s energy

-Electric, natural gas, and propane: they burn cleaner and are more efficient than charcoal or wood

-Hybrid grills, using as little natural charcoal or wood as possible

-Natural charcoal and hard wood, using a chimney starter

AVOID: Conventional charcoal, charcoal containing lighter fluid, and lighter fluid in general

I have more on each of those choices, and the nitty gritty on why lighter fluid must always be avoided in the book. And don’t forget about what you’re putting on the grill (i.e. local veggies and well-raised meat), the plates you’re eating off of (preferably reusable), and how you’re cleaning up after dinner (natural cleaners, please).

Who has tried a solar cooker? Curious!