Cafe Mom’s Mom Ed: Green Living 2nd Episode –All About Plastics

  • April 26, 2012 3:22 pm

More fun on the set of Mom Ed: Green Living. This time Kristen and I chatted about all things plastic. I really do try to avoid the stuff as much as possible.

Let me know what you think!

Q&A: Breastfeeding vs. Formula

  • January 19, 2012 8:28 am

THE QUESTION:
Hello,

My name is Helene…I wanted to have your opinion on my little issue. I just had my 3rd baby, a little boy, Alexander. Like you, I believe in a sustainable and green way of life. I have been breastfeeding all my babies but this time I’m very tired and I feel my husband wants me to start the formula. I don’t know what to do because even the organic formulas are not a prefect solution. I have read that most of the toxic products come from the can that contains the milk.
Do you have an opinion on this matter ?

Have a nice day and thank you in advance for any piece of advice you can give me.

Helene

THE ANSWER:

Helene,

Sorry for the delay in responding. I know how hard these early weeks can be. I hope you’re managing to get some rest.

Since you–like me–are so devoted to breastfeeding, are there other things you can do to make you less tired? A lactation consultant can help you get your son on a schedule that might give you some time, and help you figure out when to pump so your concerned husband, babysitter, or even older children can help you feed the baby while you get some rest. Can you hire a babysitter to help out a few hours so you can have time to yourself and to rest? These are the things I would try before heading over to formula. At this point–last time I checked–even the staid old American Academy of Pediatrics suggests breastfeeding for a full year (and introducing solids at six months). Here’s a quote from a report they did in 2005: “Exclusive breastfeeding has been shown to provide improved protection against many diseases and to increase the likelihood of continued breastfeeding for at least the first year of life.”

If you are going to introduce formula, can you continue to breastfeed some? Organic formula is absolutely preferable to conventional–especially when it comes to genetically modified ingredients. I think choosing organic and reading ingredients is at least as important as the can linings, which can contain the hormone disrupting chemical BPA. One way to minimize the contents of the can’s lining getting into the formula is to use powdered over liquid. BPA can still be found in the linings of cans containing powdered formula, but the Environmental Working Group says powder is a better choice.

It’s important to consider the water you will mix with the formula. I prefer filtered for so many reasons, including that it helps minimize exposure to excess fluoride in the water, which can lead to dental fluorosis. The CDC says you can use bottled water for this purpose, but  that involves a lot of wasteful plastic bottles, on top of the formula containers.

I hope this helps and that you find your groove and get some rest. I know it was a long time after my daughter was born that I finally got some! This too shall pass.

Best,
Alexandra

Q&A: Mattresses, Mattresses, Mattresses

  • January 9, 2012 11:15 am

I’m behind in answering questions. So here are a few quickies, both mattress-related.

THE QUESTION

Hi Alexandra,

I discovered your website when searching for organic/natural mattresses. Like yourself, I practice green living, and I was appalled at all of the chemicals when my husband and I started searching for a mattress a few months ago. After purchasing and returning a temprapedic, we are still in the market for a mattress. To what extent have you researched mattresses and the wool, cotton, latex in them?
Have a wonderful new year!

Birgit

THE ANSWER

Hi Birgit,
Thanks for getting in touch. It’s great you’ll be replacing the foam. Did you happen to see this earlier post about mattresses on my site? I’ve been writing about mattresses on and off since 2005 when I first researched The Complete Organic Pregnancy. Wool, cotton, and natural latex can all be great alternatives. Hopefully you can find a store near you that stocks these mattresses so you can try them out for softness/hardness. Many stores do now have them.

Hope this helps. Happy sleeping.

Best,
Alexandra

THE QUESTION

Hi ,

I found your blog, when I was searching for the green furniture for my future baby, so I decided to email you. I’m looking for a organic and hypoallergenic mattress, but there are so many options on the market. Any suggestions?

Thanks,

Aleksandra

THE ANSWER

Aleksandra,

See above — hope you saw the earlier post I wrote about mattresses. If you’re buying pretty much any organic mattress, you’re already setting your baby up for better breathing space in her room. That said, you’re right, there are tons on the market. If you have a store near you that stocks them, head on out and ask questions. Push on them, sit on them, see how you feel. Is it too soft? Soft isn’t said to be great for babies. Does it feel nice and hard? Find out what is being used as the flame retardant and what else is in there.

Though I have mentioned brand names in the past, and have linked to stores in some of the links on that last blog, I’m not overly fond of naming names. Manufacturing issues arise and materials can change. It’s always best to zero in on the materials you want (hypoallergenic and organic), then find a brand that sells mattresses made with those materials. From there you can call up manufacturers and ask further questions you might have. Some so called organic mattresses now have third party certification–an added layer of trust since the word organic is really only regulated when it comes to food.

It’s a good problem to have too many organic options to choose from. This wasn’t always the case. This way you’re guaranteed to find the right version for you.

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: Safe Ice Cube Trays

  • December 1, 2011 2:27 pm

THE QUESTION

Hi Alexandra,

My question is –  I wanted to get metal ice cube trays, the kind with a lever so you can easily get the cubes out (we don’t have an ice maker).  Online, I’ve found aluminum ones for $7 and stainless steel “BPA free” ones for $30.  Is aluminum bad for you?  Does it have BPA  in it?  Inquiring minds want to know.
Thanks,

Matt

THE ANSWER

Hi Matt,

A perfect question just in time for holiday cocktail season! And what a great idea to avoid plastic.

There should be no bisphenol-A in unlined aluminum ice cube trays (there has been, however, BPA in epoxy linings of aluminum reusable water bottles — the company SIGG got in hot water over this a few summers ago and has since changed the lining they use to something else that is also proprietary, if I’m remembering correctly).

The issues with aluminum are that it isn’t durable, it’s not great environmentally as it is energy intensive to extract from the earth (though the components of stainless steel aren’t exactly energy neutral either), and there have been lingering concerns over the years–largely unsubstantiated but enough to warrant multiple studies–re links to Alzhiemer’s disease.

The long and the short of it is that I prefer stainless. The price evens out as you will probably have to buy five rounds of aluminum trays before your stainless shows any wear and tear. I’m not sure if aluminum is recyclable where you live, but that’s also something to consider. Stainless also goes easily into the dishwasher without any rusting (a big issue with flimsier aluminum). What else can I say? I’m big on the Precautionary Principle — if the risks of aluminum are unsubstantiated, what’s 23 bucks to err on the side of caution? Stainless steel is considered very safe and won’t leach chemicals into your ice.

Hope this helps. And cheers!
Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: Water Filters

  • November 15, 2011 8:32 am

THE QUESTION

Hi Alexandra,

It was so great to hear you speak and meet you Sunday.  I really enjoyed your talk and I’m so glad I convinced my husband to come because he keeps talking about some of the things you said and “reminding” me! ; )

I find myself having more questions now than before though!  Can I ask your opinion on what to do about water?  We buy cases of Poland Spring bottles every month – but are thinking (with your help!) that we shouldn’t.  I’ve heard that NYC water is one of the best in the country and you mention it too, but that it is a building/piping issue that needs to be examined before consuming large amounts of it.  Our building…was built in the 80′s so it is not that old…do you think I need to get a testing kit?  Filter for the sink?  Shower?  We are in a rental, so if it is something I can screw on myself that would be easiest rather than have a plumber come and install something.  Would love to hear your thoughts whenever you have time.

Best,
Julia

THE ANSWER

Julia,

Nice meeting you, too. Thanks for the email and important question. I’m so glad you’re ready to give up the bottled water! Here in New York City, we can call 311 and the city will send you a free test kit for your water. Even if you didn’t live in NYC, it’s never a bad idea to get your water tested, even in a new-ish building. Remember that water flows through many pipes to get from the source to you–including ones outside your building. Probably all you will need is an activated carbon filter–these can be installed directly to your tap and/or come in pitcher form.

A shower head filter is lovely, too, and very screw-on-yourself-able. Hot water releases all of the impurities that might be found in your water into the air in vapor form, so it goes directly into your lungs as you shower.

Here’s some information on municipal drinking water from The Conscious Kitchen that I think will be helpful. I have separate information in the book on well water, choosing filters, and why, precisely, I dislike bottled water so much. There’s a lot more in there your husband can remind you about, too!
Municipal water, unlike bottled water, is tested and regulated. The results are public information. If you’re curious about what yours might contain, as you should be, ask your water utility company for a copy of the annual water quality report. Even if your municipal water is good, you still might want to test what flows out of our tap if you live in an older building or house. This will show you what might be coming out of your pipes–like lead–into your water. Plumbing installed before 130 tends to contain lead pipes, and lead solder is still used on newer copper pipes. Old pipes don’t automatically equal contaminated water; years of mineral deposits from water can coat the walls of lead pipes, creating a barrier of sorts…..After testing, all most tap water needs–unless there is an issue–is an activated carbon filter, such as Brita. The websites for various filters will say what substances they reduce. These usually include chlorine, lead, copper, cadmium, mercury, arsenic, and benzene, as well as some parasites like giardia, plus odors and “bad” flavor. Even though everything tested within allowable levels in my water at home, I personally still use a filter to further reduce whatever levels I have of the above, and to protect myself against what might arise in the reservoir or corrode in my pipes over time. There are many bogus filtering products on the market, so buy only certified filters.”

I drink filtered NYC tap all day long — in glass at home, and in my stainless steel water bottle on the go. Why pay for what’s free and good? Plus, drinking tap means no extra plastic bottles, no recycling, and you’re no longer involved with having something you already have flowing from your taps bottled, transported, and delivered to you every month. It’s good common sense!

Best,
Alexandra

Q&A: Carpets

  • November 8, 2011 9:14 am
THE QUESTION
Hi,
I’m pregnant and was considering having the old wall-to-wall carpet ripped up in my living room and what will eventually be the baby’s room, to cut down on dust mites (he or she will initially be sleeping in my bedroom, which has hardwood floors).  I’m wondering, however, if the risk of possibly stirring up PBDEs in the carpet backing is the greater of two evils in this situation.  I will be out of town for 5 or 6 days and the carpet could be removed during this time.  The carpets are at least 15 years old, though.  I’m wondering if PBDEs are still a threat if the carpet is just sitting or if it is worse to stir them up.
Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Thanks,
Kim
THE ANSWER

Hi Kim,
Thanks for writing and congrats! Ah, carpets. It’s a tough call. That 15-year-old carpet has offgassed by now, but that’s a lot of years of grime, dust mites, and more. And ripping it up and out will release an unknown chemical cocktail–including, as you mention, flame retardants. Ultimately it’s your choice. I’d have to know more about what the carpet is, who made it, how it was installed, and what your space is configured like to say more.
If you do decide to have it ripped out, make sure you get all of your furniture out of the room and seal off the rooms where you store it; you don’t want the dust from the carpets settling on your bed or chest of drawers. Then, make sure there  is ample ventilation and that you have your place cleaned after the carpet is torn out by someone who specializes in post-construction clean up. The cleaners should have a vacuum with a HEPA filter and do meticulous wet-wiping of all nooks and crannies, baseboards, and more. If you can stay out for longer than six days and use air filters, all the better.
Next — what are you planning on replacing the carpet with? If you can leave the floors bare–and refinish them if need be with the greenest solution you can find–all the better. Then you can put down a few washable throw rugs.  If you want to put back in wall-to-wall carpeting, wool is preferable to synthetic fabrics, avoid chemical stain guard treatments, and be careful with the backings. Installation with tacks/nails is safer than with glues containing questionable chemicals. Ventilate any room with a new carpet for a while before letting baby sleep in it.
Here’s an excerpt from Planet Home on carpets:
Your child’s floor is best left bare. Padded play mats are tempting to break the falls of kids learning to walk, but they’re almost always made of synthetic rubber that off-gasses into the room’s air. Cotton rag rugs that can be thrown into the washing machine are ideal for kids’ rooms. Wool rugs without backing are also a good, washable option. Chose natural latex skid pads rather than PVC or other plastic versions. If you have wall-to-wall carpeting in some rooms in your home, set the children up in a room that doesn’t have it. Do not install new synthetic wall-to-wall carpeting with a glue adhesive. Avoid all rugs and carpets that are treated with stain repellents, mildew treatments, or other chemicals. Ask questions when you’re shopping. Deep pile rugs–even pure-grow wool ones–aren’t something you want in a kids’ room, as they’re dust-mite and pet-dander motels. And no matter what is on the floor, vacuum often with a machine containing a HEPA filter.
Hope this helps!
Best,
Alexandra

Q&A: Sunscreen (And DIY Skin Products)

  • July 7, 2011 8:22 am

THE QUESTION:

Hi Alexandra,

Its that time of year again!  Lots of sunshine and playing outside.  My kids and I are all very sensitive to lotions and sunblocks, so we’re always trying out new products.  What sunscreens do you suggest for us?  Thanks so much!

Best,

Carolyn

THE ANSWER:

Hi Carolyn,

Thanks for your question.  Sunscreen has  been on everyone’s mind now that summer is officially upon us. Hats, shade, and staying out of the sun during its strongest hours are the best ways to avoid the bad rays (and maybe even catch a little vitamin D). But most of us duck out of the shade from time to time–sometimes for hours at a time–and so we need added protection. As far as sunscreen goes, choosing a mineral cream with an SPF above 15 and below 30 that does not contain nanoparticles is your best bet.  Oxybenzone is the main chemical used in sunscreens. The Environmental Working Group calls it a toxic chemical and says it has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage.  To find out more about safer sunscreens, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Guide. (I’ve been wearing Soleo and Badger this summer.)

The other thing to consider when taking care of your skin this summer are the cleansers and scrubs you’re using.  Reading the backs of labels can be confusing and frustrating, so why not make your own?  Its inexpensive, easy, fun (if you like this sort of thing), and, best of all, cheap.  Follow these simple recipes from Planet Home:

Dry Skin Face Mask:

Mix 1/2 cup cooked plain oatmeal with 2 teaspoons honey.  Apply to face, let sit for ten minutes, and rub off.  This mask is both moisturizing and cleansing.

Exfoliating Face Scrub 1:

Combine 4 teaspoons powdered brewer’s yeast, 2 teaspoons plain yogurt, 2 teaspoons almond meal, and 1 teaspoon organic honey and mix well.  Rub gently over face, then rinse with warm water.  Use immediately, do not store in the refrigerator.

Exfoliating Face Scrub 2:

Mix 1 teaspoon baking soda, a dab of mild, plant-based liquid soap, and a few drops of water.  Rub evenly over face and rinse with warm water.

Happy summer!

Video: How To Unclog Drains/Prevent Clogs Using Safe Pantry Staples (Vinegar And Baking Soda)

  • May 22, 2011 9:44 am

Here’s a chatty, foam-tastic video that shows anyone how to clear their drains and prevent further clogs with 1/2 cup baking soda, 1/2 cup vinegar, and a little hot water. So easy, even I can do it.

What You Don’t Know: What’s In Your Makeup

  • May 17, 2011 10:16 am

I cannot tell you how many times a VGP (very green person) leans over to me and quietly says, “Can I ask you a question?” The first few times I thought I was in for something awkward or scandalous or worse. But now I know: they want my makeup list. They’ve greened everything from their cookware to their conditioner, but haven’t been able to take the final leap into natural concealer. I get it. Sacrifice is part of the game when you go green. But looking (or at least feeling) ugly? That’s too far for most of us. Some people find caring about how you look superficial, especially compared to other issues in the environmental movement. To which I say: whatever. Especially as there are important environmental health concerns to consider when it comes to cosmetics.

It takes a while to hit on the products in any given makeup bag. The process of finding the right color foundation, the perfect lip shade, a favorite blush is usually a circuitous one. Here’s the bad news–and the very reason for the whispers from VGPs: the concealer that can erase any sleepless night or banish a blemish like nobody’s business is likely filled with the worst possible wildly unregulated crap. I’m talking carcinogenic, hormone-disrupting,  petroleum-derived ingredients. Things with heavy metals like lead. Nothing you would slather on your skin–your largest organ–if you knew better and really considered it. Now you know better. Time to consider it. If you put this gunk on your lips you know you’re eating it. I don’t have to tell you that. The pink-hued rim of your coffee cup speaks for itself. Grim grim grim. And: no thank you.

Thankfully there are several ways around this conundrum:

1. Have perfect flawless skin. (Ha!)

2. Get a degree in reading cosmetic labels and spend all of your time turning bottles around and researching. (As if.)

3. Memorize the names of a few third party certified natural brands, try out their products to see what works, and wear a minimal amount. Less is more anyway.

I went through this process when reporting the The Complete Organic Pregnancy. It wasn’t fun to have to give up all of my favorite products as my belly grew, but it was extremely worthwhile. Here’s an excerpt from that book where I explain what to avoid and how to find the best buys for your makeup bag.

Beauty products smell good, make us look pretty, and promise instant perfection – flawless skin, think, shiny hair, solid nails.  Unfortunately most are loaded with chemicals linked to birth defects, carcinogens, ingredients derived from nonrenewable petroleum, and preservatives that can end up in breast tissue.  The Environmental Working Group says 89 percent of the ingredients in everyday products aren’t tested for safety.  Which is why – especially when pregnant – organic beauty products are the way to go.  But there’s a catch: our government doesn’t regulate personal products the way it regulates food (though there have been some advances made recently, and hopefully more to come).  This means that any…[cosmetics] company can slap the label “organic” or “natural” on its product.  In the absence of government regulation, the genuine organic- and biodynamic-beauty-product producers (a significant minority) have tried to find a way to differentiate themselves.  Many of them are European companies and adhere to comparatively strict European standards. 

I wear minimal makeup (unless I’m going on television to talk about things like…organic makeup). Here are a few brands I have tested through, am currently comfortable with, and think work well. Nothing is perfect. There have been others in the past and there will be others in the future. These are just my current staples. That said, I still always read labels before I buy any product; ingredients, certifications, and packaging changes. I’m not a manufacturer.

One caveat: the natural makeup world needs to continue their quest to develop products for darker skin tones.

And one tip: try organic olive oil or coconut oil on your lips for moisture and shine; that’s what I wear and I don’t have to give it another thought if I swallow either.

Suki

Dr. Hauschka

Jane Iredale Minerals

RMS Beauty

What have you found that works for you?