Chemicals can be found everywhere, from the air we breathe to the water we drink to the food we eat. Reducing the amount of harmful chemicals we are exposed to every day becomes an issue of health both for our planet and ourselves.
Many Canadian cities have already banned chemical insecticides and fertilizers for lawns and gardens which prevents them from leaching into our soil or being released into the air so chemical-free gardening is the way to go. Choose additive-free mulch and flowers that attract beneficial insects to feed on pests, and try to choose only eco-labelled gardening products.
Take a few seconds to read the label and put down any beauty product that contains phthalates, mercury, toluene, lead, formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, parabens (hormone-disrupting preservatives such as methylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, and propylparaben), or BHA.These chemicals are considered the most detrimental to humans and the environment. More than 5,000 ingredients are allowed for use in personal care products and many are identified by government agencies as hazardous, but others remain untested, according to www.lesstoxicguide.ca.
Many municipalities now provide homeowners with a small composter for a reasonable fee. This encourages residents to recycle kitchen waste, such as potato peelings, banana skins or coffee grounds, and throw them in the composter instead of the garbage where it ends up in city landfill. Hauling garbage requires energy, so by composting, you're saving on greenhouse gas emissions. As an added bonus, the composted material will provide you with a safe and chemical-free fertilizer for your garden. Everyone wins.
A good old-fashioned push mower is the way to go if you want to reduce your use of fertilizers. Push mowers cut grass into smaller pieces than power mowers, which can be left on the lawn to decompose and slowly release nitrogen back into the soil, eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers. Gas mowers also emit pollution, ranging from carbon emissions to noise. Plus, modern push mowers are engineered to cut grass easily, without too much effort. So: quiet, emission free and a good way to get exercise.
Purchasing poplar or oak hardwood instead of pressed wood products, which contain formaldehyde in the glue, is one way to make an eco-choice. Building materials often emit volatile organic chemicals (VOCS) into the air and who wants to breathe that? If you are looking at a wood floor, look for wood that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC, which means it comes from responsibly managed forests. You could also install a tile floor or all-natural fibre carpet instead of synthetic carpet, which uses harsh chemicals in its manufacture. And, as always when looking for new materials, buy locally whenever you can!
Purchase one of the many environmentally friendly household cleaners instead of abrasive cleaners made with harsh chemicals. There are lots of brands now on the market in formulas designed to clean everything from windows to dishes to clothes. Many common household cleaners contain alcohol, ammonia, bleach, formaldehyde and lye, substances that can cause nausea, vomiting, inflammation and burning of the eyes and throat.10 Read the label carefully and choose only cleaners that are made with natural, non-toxic ingredients.
Buy or rent a steamer to clean floors, stove tops and grime around sinks. In addition to not having to use harsh cleansers (floor cleaners, lime reducers, degreasers, etc., all of which contain toxic chemicals), this also saves on purchasing sponges or abrasive cleaning pads (which generally are not biodegradable), and considerably saves on water, thus helping conserve an important natural resource. With the steamer, you use 2-4 cups of water in comparison to filling a bucket once or more with water.11
If you are out looking for new clothes look for natural-fibre clothing (100% organic cotton, linen, wool, or silk). Make sure the clothes are not "permanent press" or "wrinkle resistant." These are treated with formaldehyde that does not wash out, according to safety web site www.safety.com.
Look for 100% organic cotton bedding. Natural, un-dyed organic cotton sheets are perfect against sensitive skin. But make sure you look for organic cotton since conventionally grown cotton uses 25% of the insecticides and 10% of the pesticides used in the world.12 Fewer pesticides/insecticides means cleaner air and soil.
Look for fresh local produce (lettuce, broccoli, apples etc.) that is grown organically. Same goes for meat and poultry aim for organic or free range. Buy organic dairy products too. Local produce, dairy and meat means less transportation and fewer greenhouse gas emissions spewing into the air, adding to global warming. If you are not sure, ask the store manager. Most major chains have sections for organics labelled prominently.
Use re-washable, recycled glass baby bottles instead of plastic. Older plastic bottles and sippy cups contained BPAs (bisphenol A) a hormone disruptor, according to www.greenyour.com. Glass bottles are easily sterilized in the dishwasher and can be used over and over again, which goes a long way in keeping more waste materials out of landfill.
Baby foods are made from condensed fruits and vegetables, so if they are not organic, the high concentration of fruits and vegetables can have a higher concentration of pesticide residue.14 This matters because babies are more vulnerable to pesticides.14 Organic baby food should be free of pesticides, herbicides, preservatives and artificial flavours and colours. To be certified as an organic product, 95% of the product's ingredients must be certified organic meaning that it has been grown and processed without the use of genetic engineering, according to Canadian baby food maker My Organic Baby.14
Check out your pharmacy or grocery store for natural alternatives to personal care products that contain chemicals. Shampoos, soaps, facial cleansers, even deodorants can all be found made from natural ingredients including oatmeal, soy and baking soda. Also look for natural toothpaste and shaving cream: Your safest bet is to drop by your health food store or pharmacy and pick up toothpaste and shaving cream made with almond or coconut oil. Many regular branded products contain chemicals called phenols, which are not good for you or the environment.15 And while you are doing your ablutions, save water by turning off the faucet between brushing your teeth and rinsing or turn off the shower a few minutes earlier than you normally would. You'll save energy, water, and be just as clean.
Purchase only pump spray containers instead of aerosols, which emit volatile organic chemicals into the air, contributing to an increase in greenhouse gasses.
Many pharmacy chains now have programs where you can take expired medication back to the store and they will properly dispose of them. Throwing old prescription medications into the garbage or pouring them down the drains can result in them breaking down and leaching powerful drugs into our land and our water supply.