Wednesday, September 26, 2012

New Eco-Friendly Online Retailer: One Stop "Green Shopping"



I am a mom.  I have very little free time.   I live in New York City and have to carry all the groceries I buy at the store home, walking.  Needless to say, I have become a fan of online shopping. 

It took me a bit to get used to it; but now I love it - especially for household products. 

I still prefer to buy my fresh produce in person, but everything else from toilet paper, to any cleaning supply I might buy, to diapers I prefer to buy online.  Why waste my valuable time going to the store to buy.... paper towels? My only complaint has been that I don't always find the natural, organic and non-toxic products that I like to buy in one same place. Until now.

From the folks who brought us Diapers.com for all things baby (and then Soap.com for all things household and then yoyo.com for all things toy related etc) and from Amazon.com (who are the owners) comes a brand new website called VINE.COMOne stop shopping for organic and environmentally friendly products.... great for busy moms like me and even better for moms that don't have the luxury of living near a Whole Foods or other trustworthy organic store.

What I feel makes this particular online shop stand out is:
  • They have a huge selection of brands and products
  • You can shop according to the causes that are most important to you: boutiques devoted to Local, Fair Trade, Cruelty-Free, gluten free, paraben free, B Corporation, Forest Stewardship Council certified products...among others.
  • They review the claims of the products to make sure they are either organic, natural, energy- or water-efficient; run on their own renewable energy; are made from sustainable materials; or contribute to a healthier home
  • The best thing, and what I like the most about Diapers.com and Soap.com? They have free (and fast!   In New York I get it over night!) shipping too.
  • They also have a Familyhood Rewards Programs, which gives you 1 point per dollar spent and which I have been able to get $5 and $10 credits towards shopping on any of their sites.
  • Finally, for folks living in New York City, L.A., Chicago, Seattle, Boston, and Denver there is a “shop local” feature that allows shoppers to browse green products made within 100 miles of their selected city.

 It is not perfect.  Just because they sell it does not mean it is 100% non-toxic which is why I would still reference EWG's  Skin Deep Database for beauty products (including baby products) and their new Guide to Healthy Cleaning database... BUT having many many non-toxic brands under one roof and so easily accessible to everyone - EVEN if you don't have a Whole Foods near you- is great! 

 Oh yeah and they are offering 20% off your first order with your code:  VINE20



Sunday, September 23, 2012

Arsenic in rice... its still in there


It was last December when we wrote a blog post about a Consumer Reports investigation that found a link between rice consumption and elevated arsenic levels in pregnant women (New Study Focuses On Arsenic in Rice) .

Last week a follow-up Consumer Report investigation came out in which they tested a variety of rice products  including : rice, ( white, jasmine, brown, organic and non organic, among others) , rice cakes, rice milk, infant rice cereal, rice pasta etc, for both organic and inorganic arsenic (inorganic arsenic is consider more toxic than organic).

Findings
  • Arsenic was found in virtually all of the more than 60 different rice products tested.
  • On average, white rice was found to have lower levels of inorganic (the more toxic type) arsenic than brown rice
  • White rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas, which accounts for 76 percent of rice sold in the US, was found to -on average- have higher levels of total arsenic than rice samples from elsewhere (the reason for this is explained in our New Study Focuses On Arsenic in Rice blog post).
  • Some infant rice cereals had levels of inorganic arsenic at least five times higher than has been found in alternatives such as oatmeal
  • People who ate rice-rich diets had arsenic levels that were 44 percent greater than those who did not.   Hispanics and Asians had the highest levels  ( both groups tend to consume rice often with meals).

Why you should care
  • Arsenic  is produced naturally in the Earth ( this type is called organic arsenic). However “natural” does not equal safe.   The two organic forms of arsenic that were studied have been labeled  as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”  by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. 
  • Inorganic arsenic is of even more concern. "Inorganic arsenic, the predominant form of arsenic in most of the 65 rice products analyzed, is ranked by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as one of more than 100 substances that are Group 1 carcinogens. It is known to cause bladder, lung, and skin cancer in humans, with the liver, kidney, and prostate now considered potential targets of arsenic-induced cancers "
  • Both animal and human studies have shown that what seem like tiny amounts of arsenic--exposures in the parts per billion range--can result in cancer years later
  • Arsenic’s additional effects on the developing brain are slowly beginning to be studied and understood... With worrisome outputs. Studies have shown that arsenic can cross the placenta to the fetus, thus if you are pregnant it is especially important to reduce your levels of rice and rice product consumptions

Tips
  1. Limit you rice ( and other rice products) to once or twice a week. 
  2. Because rice grown in the south-central United States had  substantially higher average total arsenic concentrations,  when you do eat rice look for rice grown in California or outside of the US.
  3. Cook rice the Asian way--rinse first and then cook with six cups of water to one cup of rice--and pour the excess water off at the end. Research suggests that this can remove some 30 percent of inorganic arsenic. 
  4. Dont give you infant rice cereal and limit rice milk and other rice products in children, especially in children under 5 and pregnant women,  to less than 2 times per week. In addition, kids under 6 shouldn't drink more than 4 to 6 ounces of apple or grape juice a day, which were also found to have arsenic levels back in December
  5.  Arsenic-containing drugs can be given to healthy chickens, turkeys, and pigs to promote growth and prevent diseases... Although not mentioned in this study, it is another reason to choose organic ( or at least antibiotic free) poultry at the supermarket
 
NTM News Brief: This past Friday Democratic Representatives from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut  announced plans to introduce legislation that would impose federal limits on arsenic in rice and other food products.... a step in the right direction!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

CLEANING 101: The Best Thing You Can Do For Your Family , Just Got Easier!

 NEW HEALTHY CLEANING DATABASE

So you want to live a healthier, less toxic life... but where to start?

If you can only make ONE change, I always recommend getting rid of your household cleaning products.  Just throw them out (OK, if you want to be more eco conscious maybe finish using them and never buy them again!). and switch to natural do-it-yourself ones (here are some Recipes For Green Laundry) or start buying nontoxic cleaners.  

Hands down. The best thing you can do for your family and your own health. 

Why? Because the air inside our house is more toxic than the air we are breathing outside... and the main culprits are the mainstream “pine fresh”  or “lemon fresh” cleaners  most people are using to clean their homes.   Ironic how what you think is cleaning your home could be making it toxic.

HOW? It seems easy enough.   You can find 'green' and 'natural' and 'non-toxic' cleaners just about everywhere now a days.  But, the sad reality is that, even the most well know ‘safe’ brands aren’t always as non- toxic as they claim. 

Personally, I clean almost all of my house with a 50% white vinegar 50% water mixture.    Vinegar is cheap, the classic  (and safe - we use it on our salads!) disinfectant.  However, I do admit, there are certain areas of the house (ie:  bathroom) where I feel I need something stronger, and so I turn to “official”  cleaning products.

I do my research before, OF COURSE.  I read labels and sometimes I rely  on trusted companies ....  but I don't have access to a lab and the truth is that the companies that make these cleaning products don’t have to list all of their ingredients on their labels.  Even if you want to choose a safe non-toxic cleaner, sometimes you have no way of knowing what you are really bringing home.

That is... UNTIL NOW!

FINALLY there is help.   The Environmental Working Group recently launched their 2012 Guide to Healthy Cleaning.  In it,  over 2,000 cleaning products have been tested and given a grade from A - F. 

The database is super easy to use.  You can search under category (floor cleaners, hand soaps, window cleaners etc) or input a specific brand or product you might have at home or have seen in a store.

FINDINGS
EWG did find good, effective and non-toxic products in almost all categories, except 4 which is why they recommend avoiding:
  •  Air fresheners (Open windows or use fans!)
  • Antibacterial products (including gels and hand soap. Avoid products that contain triclosan)
  • Fabric softener and dryer sheet (Try a little vinegar in the rinse cycle)
  • Caustic drain cleaners and oven cleaners (try making a paste of baking soda and water)
Among the most interesting findings
  1.  Disinfectant products: none received higher than a ‘D’(including products from Lysol, Pine- sol and Clorox). 
  2. Dusting products:  none received higher than a ‘C’ (includes Pledge multi surface dusters, dry scented cloths, Pledge dust and allergen dry cloths,  and Swifter Dusters).
  3. Martha Stewart Clean products tested all got A scores.  I have not tried them but will be looking for them next!
  4. The Honest Company (recently launched by Jessica Alba) got mixed reviews... their products scored everything from A's to F’s.
  5.  Seventh Generation also received mixed reviews.   The products I use mostly scored A's ( including their Emerald Cypress and Fir toilet bowl cleaner ad natural tub cleaner,  automatic dishwasher powder in free and clear ) but their lemon automatic dishwashing gel scored an F as did their Natural 2X concentrated laundry detergent!
WHICH ARE THE BEST PRODUCTS OUT THERE?

TOP BATHROOM CLEANERS (scores of A!)
  • Green Shield Organic Bathroom Cleaner, Fresh
  • Green Shield Organic Toilet Bowl Cleaner
  • Seventh Generation Natural Tub and Tile Cleaner 
TOP DISHWASHING SOAPS AND DETERGENTS
  • The Honest Co Honest auto dishwasher gel, free & clear
  • Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwasher Detergent Concentrated Pacs, Free and Clear
  • Whole Foods Market liquid dish soap, unscented

TOP LAUNDRY PRODUCTS
  • Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value 2x concentrated Laundry Detergent, Lavender
  • Dr Bronner’s 18 in 1 Hemp Pure Castile Soap
  • Green Shield Organic Laundry Detergent, HE Elite Care, Free and Clear

TOP ALL PURPOSE CLEANERS
  •  Bon Ami Powder Cleanser
  • Whole Foods Market Green Mission Surface cleaning wipes, minty fresh
  • Whole Foods Market Green Mission Organic All Purpose Spray Cleaner and Degreaser, lemon zest
  • Green Shield Organic All-Purpose Cleaner Degreaser, Fresh 
  • Green Shield Organic Glass Cleaner, Fresh 
  • Whole Foods Market glass cleaner, unscented 
  • Whole Foods Market all purpose concentrated cleaner, pine
  • Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda Detergent Booster & Household Cleaner 
  • Heinz Vinegar Distilled White Vinegar ( my choice mix 50% water and 50% vinegar!)

BATHROOM CLEANERS
  • Seventh Generation Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaner, Emerald Cypress & Fir
  • Green Shield Organic Bathroom Cleaner, Fresh 
  • Green Shield Organic Toilet Bowl Cleaner 
  • CLR Calcium, Lime, Rust Cleaner 
  • Seventh Generation Natural Tub & Tile Cleaner, Emerald Cypress & Fir

TOP FLOOR CLEANERS
  •  Simple Green Naturals Carpet Care
  • Simple Green Naturals Floor Care 
  • Martha Stewart Clean Carpet Stain Remover 
  • Martha Stewart Clean Wood Floor Cleaner 
  • Aussan Natural floor cleaner concentrate

Sunday, September 9, 2012

NTM Approved: Stylish, fun and non-toxic... happy back-to-school shopping!

Our munchkins are back in school , or starting for the first time (like my own munchkin who starts Pre-K 3 this week!).   The reality is that they will spend a large part of their day at school touching, using and even eating from this year's new school supplies.

With studies showing that over 80% of school supplies are exposing our munchkins to toxic chemicals,  suddenly back to school shopping takes on a whole new level of importance.

Lucky for you, here's a guide with a whole bunch of Non-Toxic Munchkin Approved school supplies.  Stylish, fun and non-toxic... all the makings of happy back-to-school shopping!
  
BACKBACKS
Unfortunately, if your child is bent on having a backpack with a superhero or well-known cartoon character, chances are you will find it on a plastic shiny backpack that -while it may not cost you much- is most probably filled with a couple of worrisome chemicals.

If your backpack does not clearly state it is PVC-free and  if it smells with that yucky plastic scent… the backpack contains lead, PVC and/or Phthalates...  which are all  terrible chemical to surround a child with on a daily basis.

Some Non-Toxic Munchkin Approved Backpacks:

  • ECOGEAR ECOZOO series: From $14.95
Available in fun animal shapes like pandas and pigs, they are made from natural cotton canvas & rope materials with non-toxic dyes.   From $27.  They also have some models (plain one color but still stylish) for older kids starting at $14.95

  • SKIP HOP ZOO PACK (in small and larger sizes)
Might just be the most adorable colorful animals to be seen at the school yard and perfectly sized for younger and older munchkins.

  • MIMI THE SARDINE, From $38
Their new line of super colorful backpacks are bright, colorful and everything a child’s backpack should be!   Made from machine-washable organic acrylic-coated cotton, designed in Sweden and made in the USA.


LUNCH TIME
Because they hold food, it's especially important that lunch boxes and food containers be made from non-toxic materials with NO lead paint, PVC, BPA and antimicrobial chemicals. Some options are: cotton lunch bags, BPA-free plastic or unpainted stainless steel 

 Lunchboxes
  • Kid Konserve  Canvas Sacks, from $9.50
Made from 100% recycled canvas these are a stylish option for a safe toxic free lunch box!
These might take the prize for design and NTM approval!  Made from a material that is degradable, recyclable and 100% free of toxic chemicals, with only water based adhesives  used during  lamination,  (which means it is completely solvent free, with no VOC's)... and did I mention they have super cutesy designs as well as hip designs too? Oh yeah, AND they are machine washable! Love love love

  • Dwell Studio Totes, from $38
BPA, Phthalate Free and PVC Free... Dwell Studio is known for their bold modern patterns and  these are some of the coolest kiddo prints out there. 
  • Skip Hop Lunchies Insulated Lunch Bag, from $14
 Just like their super cute backpacks, Skip Hop’s lunchies are adorable lunchboxes for munchkins.   Choose from the cutest monkey, doggie, fox, hippo... rest assured you will find an adorable animal lunchie to match your munchkin’s personality!  BPA-Free, Phthalate-free, PVC Free of course!
Perfect for the old school lunchbox lover.  Covered in eco-friendly, lead-free tin ( with a chalkboard surface on the inside of the lid – perfect for a sweet little note from mom!).  Designs are limited but  fun and can be personalized and customized... for free!
  • Crocodile Creek Kids Lunchbox, from $14
 They come in cool patterns for kids and are PVC Free. Phthalate Free. Vinyl Free.  
In their own words “all of the things you want in your kid's lunch, and none of the things you don't. Made with 100% certified organic cotton and a tested food-safe lining, they are free of BPA, phthalates and lead. Printed with water-based pigments, the fun and whimsical illustrations are coveted as much by grown ups as by kids.  (which I can vouch for they are just cool!) “

Food Containers
By now most of us should know that plastic food containers can leach toxic chemicals into our food.   The best alternative is using stainless steel containers for your munchkin’s lunchbox.   Another option?  Cloth reusable snack packs.

Stainless Steel
  • Lunchots:  from $14.99
  • Kidconserve :  from $13 for a set of 2
  • Think Baby :   from $9.49 
  • Pottary Barn:  from $8.50
Cloth Reusable Snack Packs
The ideal substitute for plastic sandwich or snack bags that usually have BPA , many companies are now producing cloth snack bags.  Reusable, machine washable; ideal for all kinds of snacks and sandwiches.  Make sure you buy the ones with BPA free lining for stickier snacks like fruit etc.  .

  • Itzy Ritzy Snack Happened Mini Reusable Snack Bag: Adorable prints for kiddos and made with an FDA approved, BPA-free machine washable lining.  Also lead free, phthalate free and CPSIA certified.
  • Lunchskins Reusable Bags:  also come in various sizes for sandwhiches or smaller snacks and in really cool designs and colors (that older kids and parents would appreciate too!).  Machine washable and BPA-free, lead-free and phthalate-free.
  • Fluf Organic Snacl Packs:  From $16.50 for a 2 pack.  Fully machine washable (with a wipeable, water-resistant lining), these bags are easy to keep clean, functional, durable and - above all - safe and healthy... and, yes, cute. Tested food-safe lining. Free of BPA, phthalates and lead. Velcro closure.
Water Bottles
Plastic, even if it is BPA free, is really best to avoid if you can, especially with so many safe, cute and functional stainless steel or glass options.  When choosing stainless steel make sure it does not have a BPA lining in the inside (it should specify it is BPA free).

  • Crocodile Creek:  Makes simple kid friendly stainless steel  drinking bottles. From $11.95
  • Kleen Kanteen :  simple, stainless steel - my personal choice for my munchkin.   From $14
  • Life Factory:  glass water bottles enveloped in a protective silicon with flip top in the brightest colors you have ever seen.   Better for older kids and adults.  From $22

CLASSROOM AND ART SUPPLIES
Crayons, Markers and Paint
While most crayons and kids paint are supposed to be non-toxic, the reality is that industry standards allow companies to say that their crayons and such are non-toxic, but most of them are made from petroleum byproducts, which you certainly would not want going into your child’s mouth any time soon.
In general, avoid crayons or markers that have smells, since that means they probably have phthalates. Also avoid antibacterial products... I mean really do your crayons have to be antibacterial?  Antibacterial products have Triclosan, a bad chemical linked to hormone disruptions, allergies, asthma, skin irritation, eczema, and thyroid problems.  Finally, for paint look for water based.

Art Supplies
  • Clementine Art: Paint, play dough, crayons and glue.  All from natural ingredients with no chemical dyes or other additives.  This is the company I usually turn to for my little budding artist!
  • Crayon Rocks, Soy Wax Crayons from $6.95
  • Crayola Classic Washable Markers: are non-toxic and odorless
  • AusPen : markers say they are non-toxic, refillable and cost 70% less than regular disposable markers

Naked Binder project binders, from $7.50
A great alternative to those plastic hard covered binders that are mostly made out of PVC.  These Project Binders are  made from 97% FSC certified post consumer waste, like recycled magazines, newspapers and office papers. Strong and sturdy, the colorful spines are made from 100% cotton book cloth and a water-based glue... and they come in super fun colors too!

OTHER
OK, so not traditional school supplies, but I just came across these and  love the product and what they do....

ROMA RAIN BOOTS
Made out of natural latex instead of PVC.  Natural rubber boots (like these) often have a jersey cotton lining, while plastic boots can often be quite cold on the feet:  great for autumn days. PLUS, for every pair of Roma rain boots you buy, the company’s nonprofit subsidiary, Roma for All, gives a pair to a child living in poverty.  Need another reason to encourage jumping into puddles this school year?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Disney: Get Toxic Chemicals out of your Lunch Boxes!


Following the recently published study from the Center for Health, Environment & Justice that  found, among other things, that all of the children’s lunch boxes tested contained up to 30 times the amount of toxic dust deemed safe by the federal government, a mother decided to start a petition on Change.org asking Disney to be a leader for children's health and stop using dangerous phthalates in their products now (to read more on the study read our blog post :  Back To School Guide For Non-Toxic Munchkins)

WHY DISNEY?
Disney’s lunch boxes were some of the worst offenders. Their lunchboxes tested, which specifically featured Spiderman and Disney Princesses, some of their most beloved characters coveted by so many of our munchkins  -  could be shedding toxic chemicals and putting our  kids at risk of hormonal, behavioral and developmental health issues.

What is worse is that an alternatives exist. As the petition points out, Disney could choose tomorrow to make their products safer. While Congress works on long-term solutions like the Safe Chemicals Act, corporations like Disney have a responsibility to keep our kids safe now.

TAKE ACTION AND ASK DISNEY TO STOP MAKING TOXIC LUNCHBOXES!
 If you want to sign this petition, just click and include your name and contact information (you can choose to keep it private )... it will only take 30 seconds and could potentially make a huge difference!!



Monday, September 3, 2012

Back To School Guide for Non-Toxic Munchkins


Back to School Season is here and one of the funnest things about going back to school  is choosing this years back packs, lunch boxes and other school supplies.   Some kids choose super heroes, others choose their favorite Disney or other Cartoon character... there are options in just about every store we visit.  

Now, it turns out, it will be a bit harder to choose those supplies, because  a new study by the Center for Health Environment and Justice found toxic chemicals in over 80% of school supplies; supplies that our  children are touching and interacting with every single day.

The chemical in question, phthalates, are hazardous even at low levels of exposure since they are not chemically bound to the vinyl (or plastics or fragrance that contain them) thus can migrate from the product to your child’s body by touch or placing in mouth. 

Phthalates disrupt hormones in our bodies, and have been linked to birth defects, infertility, early puberty, asthma, ADHD, obesity, diabetes, and cancer.   Fetal development has been shown to be the most vulnerable to this chemical (to read more about what phthalates are and how to avoid them read our blog post Phthalates ABC’s )  While banned in toys, they remain widespread in vinyl back to school supplies (think of those plastic shiny backpacks, binders, markers etc).  In fact, 75% of the supplies examined contained levels of phthalates that would be in violation of the federal ban for toys, if these products were considered toys.

The study, Hidden Hazards:  Toxic Chemicals inside Children’s Vinyl Back to School Supplies, examined various vinyl  backpacks, lunch boxes, 3 ring binders and raincoats and rainboots, all purchased (in New York) at national retailers including Kmart, Duane Reade,  Payless and Dollar Stores.    Among the findings;
  • The Spiderman Backpack was found to have 52 times the amount of phthalates limit set by the federal ban.
  • If the Dora Backpack were considered a children’s toy, it would be over 69 times the limit set by the federal ban. It was found to contain 7 different phthalates.
  • If the The Disney Princess Lunchbox were a children’s toy, this would be over 29 times the limit set by the federal ban.


WHAT YOU CAN DO

GENERAL TIPS
  • Avoid  plastics when possible.   Especially soft, flexible plastics
  • Avoid products labeled as “vinyl” or “PVC”
  • Look for “phthalate free” , “PVC free” labels
  • If product is not labeled, look for  and avoid the universal recycling symbol number 3
  • In general, avoid products with a warning that says something such as, “WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, and birth defects or other reproductive harm.” This means the product likely contains lead.
SCHOOL SUPPLIES
  • Look for clays made without PVC and phthalates, or make your own.  This takes under 10 minutes, 3 or 4 ingredients like salt, oil, water and creme of tartar and is really fun! (our favorite recipe is here).
  • Notebooks and binders: Avoid those with metal spirals encased in colored plastic. The colored plastic coating on the metal spirals usually contains PVC. Select notebooks with uncovered metal spirals to avoid PVC.
  • Paints should be water based.
  • Backpacks and lunchboxes:  Opt for natural fibers or polyester.
  • Crayons and Markers:  Most crayons contain paraffin wax, which is made from crude oil.  Better alternatives are  soy and beeswax.  Avoid scented markers or crayons since  the chemicals used in the fragrances are not listed on the label and usually contain phthalates.
LUNCH TIME
  • Choose a backpack made out of stainless steel or natural fiber.  Avoid metal lunchboxes that could have lead paint or shiny  vinyl.
  • Use stainless steel utensils or bio-based (made with PLA or PHA plastics) cutlery and plates.
  •  Use glass or stainless steel drinking containers. 
  • Never microwave with plastics as that will increase the chances of toxic additives migrating into your food.
For a detail  list of brands that do not use PVC  (for:  binder pockets, binders, expanding files, notebooks, paper clips, pencil cases, pens/pencils/markers, planners, report covers, sheet protectors, clothing, glasses, sneakers, rain boots and rain coats, aprons and smocks, modeling clay, backpacks, cel phones, laptop and desktop computers, flash drives, tablets, yoga mats, exercise balls, tennis bags, playground balls, lunch boxes and bags, lunch wrap and bags, reusable water bottles)  click on the 2012 Back‐to‐School Guide to PVC‐free School Supplies