Friday, February 5, 2016

A Year of Green Living - Is a Home Energy Audit Worth it?

On Wednesday, I received a $362 check (woohoo!) from the Energy Trust of Oregon.  This isn't the first check I've received, but it's been the biggest so far.  And why did they grace me with this new found money?  For insulating my attic.  The 1957 home I purchased in 2012 still had its original, now much compacted, insulation and was leaking heat.  This October, I finally upgraded to R38 insulation before another winter set in.

The surprising part of completing this project is how the living room "cold zone" almost instantly became the same temperature as the rest of the house.  Even better, my heating bills are down 25% this winter over last!  I hadn't honestly believed it would make that much of a difference.  And while it's unseasonable warm right now, we had a good snow and freeze early in January that I've already seen the bill for.

While conscious consumerism is an essential part of green living, we have to look well beyond shopping to make our largest impacts.  So to answer my own question; Yes, getting a Home Energy Audit is well worth the time and money.  Here's a good intro video, though each state handles them a little differently.

 
In my case, I didn't have the full-blown audit like the one shown, but I did have an inspector point out areas of concern.  Since I was already doing some renovations, I had my contractor make suggestions and then compared the two to determine which areas would have the most impact.  In addition to the attic insulation refund, I was able to take advantage of a rebate on an Energy Star refrigerator and a tax credit for upgrading to an energy efficient water heater.
 
If you're not quite ready to have someone do something as extensive as in the video, you can also try Energy Star's self-assessment test.  If it looks like you can make some improvements, whether from windows, appliances, heating and air-condition, insulation or elsewhere, there's a good chance you can get some financial help for it.  Here's a list of incentive programs by state.
 
This is a great green step that not only has environmental impacts, but can also be a good financial investment for the long haul.
 
As a side note, we steered away from compact florescent light bulbs in favor of the more expensive, longer lasting, and much greener LED bulbs.  This Light Bulb Showdown has LEDs winning on price alone, with other benefits like no heavy metals in LEDs, being icing on the cake.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Fast Fashion and the Destruction of Developing Countries


Photo by delpentax on Flickr

If you're reading FaeriesDance.com's blog, then the chances are high that you have an interest in environmentally friendly fashion. I work for a waste management and recycling company in the UK called Forge Recycling, and we recently did some research into clothing and fashion in terms of waste, recycling, and environmental impact. We are keen to share the results with you, as we found some shocking statistics. For example, did you know that in conventional cotton farming it has been estimated that only 0.1% of applied pesticides reach the target pests, leaving the remaining 99.9% to wreak havoc on the environment? This is why shops such as FaeriesDance.com exist; organic cotton is so important for our planet. Please take a look below, and find out more about cotton farming and textile waste.
 
Best wishes,
Lucy Ravenhall
Content Manager, Forge Recycling
 

Fast Fashion and the Destruction of Developing Countries


576px-Oxfam_clothing_and_shoe_bank

It’s a little known fact that us Brits wear just 70 per cent of the clothes that we have stored away in our wardrobes, which leaves us with a total of 1.7 billion unused items. On average, a consumer keeps their garments for three years, but even more shocking than this is the fact that something might be frequently worn in the first year, and then phased into the stockpile of unworn clothes later on. That is why the average British closet is so overstuffed: we don’t wear all of the clothes we own.
 
The spending habits of the average person in the West have changed dramatically over the last hundred or so years when it comes to buying clothing. Between 2002 and 2003, for example, people in the US spent, on average, four per cent of their income on clothes, whereas back between the years of 1934 and 1946, clothing used up 12 per cent of people’s incomes. The current average expenditure per item in the USA is $14.60. Don’t go thinking that we are all consuming less though. On average, just one person in the UK will produce 70 Kg of textiles waste per year – that is a lot of clothing. Cheap, fast fashion means we are spending less yet buying more.

So, what will happen after you clean out your closet?
The best way to rid your wardrobe of unwanted clothes is to donate them to a charity shop, as this generates revenue for the charity.

Donated garments are sold in charity shops, but any clothes that aren’t sold will be resold to the used-clothing industry. These clothes are sorted into piles based on potential markets (type, condition of the clothes, and fabrics). The sorting process is actually quite labour-intensive because it is often done by hand. After sorting, the clothes will be distributed all over the world, but in fact, most of them end up in countries such as Poland, Ghana, Kenya, and Benin. So, what begins as a charitable donation can end up as a trading commodity.

Although this process is good for the charity, it could be argued that this process destroys the textile industries of importing countries. In fact, as a result of this issue, over 30 African countries have actually prohibited import embargos of used clothes.

Destinations of end-of-life clothing
Destinations of end-of-life clothing (Wrap)

From the sorting process, there will also be unwearable garments left over. These are sold to “shoddy industries”.

These industries disassemble garments into shreds, fibre or rags. It is a mechanical process that breaks down clothes with carding machines into fibre components; producing less material than before. These materials are then used as a stuffing in coffins, mattresses, and upholstery. An innovative company, IRIS Industries, is currently using these shredded materials and converting them into furniture or countertops.

Click here to continue reading the full article at Forge Recycling.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Pretty without the Poisons: A Year of Green Living Makeup Review

I was at first reluctant to do a post on makeup, because when it comes to my face, I'm usually au naturel.  Like most women, I definitely look better with makeup.  So it dawned on me at a young age that if I wore make-up everyday, I'd look "bad" on relaxed, no makeup days.  Alternatively, if people were used to seeing my "normal" face, then when I got dressed up, the make-up would really add a punch of glamour.  Now at 50 my glamour days are fewer and farther in between.  The occasional wedding, holiday or upscale play will bring out the makeup a few times a year.


Two things made me decide to post this short roundup.  First, most makeup has been shown to contain toxic heavy metals as well as a host of other toxins and carcinogens.  I find that a little crazy.  Even if you discount the tiny amounts absorbed through your skin, most of us eat a little lipstick.  Second, and the one that tipped the scales for me, I recently read in Veg News Magazine about an organic, plant-based, edible makeup line by Gwyneth Paltrow!  Full disclosure, I haven't tried this brand new line, Juice Beauty, but it's now on my list and I was really excited to share it.  Please leave a comment if you've tried it yourself.

If you're already using a line of makeup that you love, you can check the ingredients in the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep cosmetics database. It's quite comprehensive. 

In the meantime, here is my personal very short list of cleaner, more sustainable makeup brands.

Honeybee Gardens - I particularly like their Truly Natural Mascara.

No Miss Nail Polish - I started on this brand quite a while ago and particularly like their Almost Natural Polish Remover.  Several companies have come out with even cleaner polish formulations (like Honeybee Gardens above), but I paint my nails so rarely that I haven't needed new polish in forever. 

W3ll People - A comprehensive organic makeup line that can be a one-stop shop for everything you need.  I personally like their powder foundations and blushes.

I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention Dr Hauschka Cosmetics.  When I was initially doing research on cosmetics, this brand came up again and again as high quality with good ingredients.  Alas, my minimalist cosmetics approach never lead me to try it.  If you have, please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Hopefully this will provide a good starting point if you're just looking into eco-friendly, non-toxic cosmetics.

Friday, January 15, 2016

A Year of Green Living - Luscious Natural and Organic Body Care Products

When I first started to look for more sustainable options in body care, I wandered down the aisles of several natural foods stores, and was surprised to find a number of brands touted as "natural" or "organic" that still had some pretty nasty ingredients in them.  There are several good resources online to help guide you on what to look for to keep toxins out of our water supplies and off our body.  Treehugger.com has a well-rounded list.  Terressentials has a comprehensive list that, imho, goes a little too far in some cases, but it's a good read for purists.  Hopefully you can save a little time yourself by taking advantage of my research.  Here are some of my personal favorite products and brands.


Facial Care
I've been fortunate to try a lot of brands of facial care products both from personal purchases and as samples from the national wholesale show Natural Products Expo West.  In the end, I've narrowed down to a few favorites that have very clean ingredient lists and feel fantastic on my skin.

This affordable, luxury skin care brand has lotions and potions for every skin type.  Their eye cream works so well it actually got a rid of an eye rash I had that prescription eye cream couldn't help.  Sign up for their e-mail to get regular discounts.

Terressentials
The maker of my favorite deodorant is also one of my go-to brands for basic moisturizers and skin care.  They don't have an eye cream in their line, so I add 100% Pure Coffee Bean Caffeine Eye Cream to this regime.
 
A relatively new find for me, I've only tried a few of their products so far.  They have a gorgeous feel and beautiful, organic ingredients.
 
Eminence
This professional spa line is truly delicious (and pricey).  They have links to local spas that use their line if you're looking for a treat.  You can find most of their line for sale on Amazon.  I keep this on my wish list, but don't buy it often due to the price point.
 
Skin Care Tip: No matter how good a facial care system is, they each have a limited number of good-for-your-skin ingredients.  One way to maximize the benefit from your skin care, is to use two completely different lines with varying ingredient mixes.  Alternate them either every couple of weeks or use one regime in the morning and one the evening.  

Hair Care
In an interview with Green America, I was asked what product, that I don't carry, could I not live without.  My answer was Terressentials Pure Earth Hair Wash.  It's an odd product that doesn't invoke confidence at first glance.  It's a brown, muddy color and it doesn't lather at all, so you really have to work it through your hair with your fingers. 

I have always had dry, brittle, thin hair.  Initially this product made it feel greasy and odd.  Terressentials talks about a hair "detox period" when using this, and it's true.  You'll likely not be impressed with your first "wash."  However, after a couple of weeks my hair completely changed from using this.  It went from dry and brittle to soft and silky.  I used to shampoo and condition my hair every other day.  Now, I only use my "mud" once every 3-5 days (depending on my workout level that week) with no need for conditioner at all.  My hair has never looked better, and the scents are delicious.
 
If you're not quite ready to take on a whole new hair washing experience, my favorite brand of traditional shampoo before I switched was Aubrey Organics.  They have a fairly clean ingredients list and enough variety for nearly any hair type.  Also checkout the links in Facial and Body care, as many of them offer shampoos.  While I haven't tried any of them, I feel comfortable recommending these brands.

Soap
I have to admit that despite all the wonderful body washes out there, I still love a good soap. Soap is the "saponification" of an oil with a base, usually lye.  Modern soaps that you purchase at a grocery store generally use either petroleum as their base oil or slaughterhouse tallow because both are very inexpensive.  In addition to the environmental and animal issues, both of these oils are very drying to your skin.  Almost any cold processed, vegetable oil soap scented with essential oils rather than synthetic perfumes is an infinitely better option.  Jojoba and Almond Oil soaps are my favorites, though they tend to cost a tad more.

Soap Goddess is hands-down my favorite soap store.  Buy 11 bars, get free shipping.

100% Pure has a good collection of scents both online and in stores.

Dr.Bronner's makes a nice pure castile soap that's easily found in stores.
 
Soap making has become a handmade cottage industry.  Check your local farmers market or craft fair for cold-processed soap. This is my favorite way to buy since you can sniff them all to get a scent that speaks to you.  It also supports small business and local communities.

Body Care
Almost all of the brands I've linked above have body washes and lotions as well.  I also like Nubian Heritage, particularly for their philosophy and work in underdeveloped areas.  Click and explore...

Note: I have not received or been offered free products, gifts or compensation for any of the items or brands listed herein.  My reviews are completely unbiased.

Friday, January 8, 2016

A Year of Green Living - Natural Deodorants that Actually Works

Earlier this week, I announced the beginning of a new blog series: A Year of Green Living.  I'll be sharing my personal research and testing of a wide variety of eco-friendly products. We won't address organic and natural clothing in this series since that's been the mainstay of the blog to date, and there are already over 100 posts on that topic. OK, let's get started!

First up in the series is Natural Deodorant.  As an athlete who tends to sweat a lot, finding an all-natural deodorant that actually worked was more than frustrating.  I tried brand after brand only to find that half way through the day I had developed a noticeable aroma and/or that in the middle of my workout I didn't want to lift my arms anymore.  For almost 6 months, I felt like I had a ripe stench nearly every day.  Eventually, I did find a deodorant that works, even for sweaty athletes.

Here are the criteria by which I judged the deodorants I tried:

  • It had to last all day and night.  If I put it on after my shower in the morning, I wanted to wake up the next morning without underarm odor.
  • If I was working out that day, the deodorant had to cover underarm odor throughout the full length of the workout (no matter how long that was.)
  • It had to be free of aluminum, parabens and phthalates.  (This article explains the worst chemical offenders in deodorants and why they're bad.)
  • It had to smell nice using only essential oils or natural fragrances, no chemical perfumes.  (Most of the brands I tried offered a fragrance free option for those who may have sensitivities to any type of fragrance.)
The Winners

Pros: This is my go-to brand and I was so happy to finally find it.  I mostly use Zen Spice, which smells amazing, but occasionally also get Lavender Fresh just for a change of pace.  This deodorant got me through marathon training this summer.  While my whole body smelled of sweat after a 4-5 hour run in 80 degree temperatures, my underarm odor was completely diffused with this fantastic roll-on.
Cons: It does leave white lines on your clothing when it's wet.  So if you get dressed right after putting it on, you have to be careful about not touching the outside of your shirt.  It has always washed out, though.  Also, this brand hasn't really broken into the natural foods markets yet, so it has to be purchased online unless you live in Maryland.


Pros: For those who prefer a solid stick deodorant over a roll on, Schmidt's is my second choice. I've only used the Lavender Sage, but the Bergamot Lime smells divine - a great choice for men, too.  It keeps odors at bay for a full 24 hours, and works almost as well at the gym as Terressentials.
Cons: I find it a little sticky going on, which is why I favor Terressentials, but otherwise it's a close second.  I tried the deodorant jar and found the application absolutely ridiculous.  I still have 3/4 of a jar sitting in my cabinet, so I don't recommend that variety


#3: Crystal Deodorant Stick
Pros: I wasn't really expecting the crystal deodorant to work.  It seemed more like a gimmick than a real solution.  But I was pretty shocked at how well it kept odors at bay.  It might also be a great choice for someone with chemical sensitivities.  The trick with this is that you have to add a little water to the top to loosen it up before using.  Then you really have to be sure to rub it on for a while, about 10 full seconds under each arm.  This is also the cheapest solution to natural deodorant that I found, because it seems to last forever.  It's also easy to find at drug stores, grocery stores, online and even some department stores.
Cons: It has no smell at all, which might be great for some folks, but I personally prefer an essential oil scent.  While 10 seconds per arm is really no time at all, it's a little more effort than the normal swipe and go of a roll on or stick.


Pros: This brand is similarly effective to Schmidt's at #2.  The AL SOL scent is very refreshing.
Cons: I found it even more sticky going on than Schmidt's so I don't ever buy it myself.  However, everyone has different preferences and this brand does work.



The Losers

I did the big deodorant sampling many years ago, and I no longer have the complete list of brands I tried.  There were so many from my local natural foods store, it's ridiculous.  Here are some of the ones that I remember and/or still have in my bathroom because I only used them once or twice and hated to throw away the whole thing.  Some of these would last most of the day, but have me getting up in the morning smelling like I hadn't showered in 2 weeks.  Others were so bad that I was embarrassed before I'd even left work.  In some cases, I tried more than a few scents of the same brand.

Hugo Naturals Solid Deodorant
Tom's of Maine Solid Deodorant
Aubrey Organics E Plus High C Roll on
Jason's Natural Solid Deodorant
Via Nature Stick Deodorant
GeoDeo Detox Deodorant - this one was marginally effective and smelled nice, but had a lot of questionable ingredients for a "natural" deodorant.

I should mention that I like other products from some of these brands, so this is not meant to dis the whole brand, just their deodorant.  Also, I imagine that deodorant effectivity may depend on each person's personal chemistry, but hopefully this will provide a good place to start.