Wednesday, November 30, 2011

School Portraits and Extreme Wastefulness

Both of my boys have been in preschool programs prior to public school, so I've now faced this scenario for the fourth or fifth time. Vendors such as Teddy Bear Portraits and Lifetouch provide appealing kick-backs to the schools (which they, of course, desperately need) in order to try to sucker parents into spending exhorbitant amounts on picture packages. This isn't about highway robbery or finding creative ways to finance education. It's a wasteful practice.

Case in point: My younger son had his picture taken yesterday at a local daycare. Today, I get a paper saying that on December 15, for three hours in the afternoon, I have the opportunity to view my child's finished portraits at the center. It's called "Picture Selection Day." They promise "Package Options for every budget!" And there are promotions and bonuses good only on that day.

On that hallowed day, the vendor presents you with one or more poses of your child produced in every possible size, format and finish. And a free t-shirt with your child's photo on it. (WHY would he wear that? So weird.) Now, what if you don't buy "Package 1" with a "Masterpiece Creation" (an extra $72 to $144, even with the 40% one-day-only discount)? Or even "Package 13," which is all you can afford?

THEY THROW AWAY ALL THE PRINTS/ITEMS YOU DON'T BUY. Just trash them. Just like that. Do the math on that. Let's conservatively say they discard, on average, 6 sheets/items per child out of 10. I'm betting it's more, but let's go with this. In our little daycare, we have about 30 kids. That's 180 sheets. They do these twice a year. That's 360 sheets. And, according to public record, the six counties near us in PA (out of 67 in the whole state) have 185 similar type centers. Let's say about half offer school photos. That's 92 times 360, or 34,560 sheets discarded. Times 11 to account for all the counties in PA, for a grand statewide estimate of 380,160 sheets of photos carelessly tossed in the trash.

It's not just a waste. It's bad business. I don't know if you've ever bought photo paper, but it's expensive. Especially with the fancy finishes. This is why the packages are so ridiculously overpriced. Maybe if you could (gasp) go online to view the photos, place your order and pick up just what you want, it could be a third of the which case, you might happily buy more.

Don't get me wrong; I love having pictures of my kids, especially nice cheesey ones from school. I just don't think it's smart or ethical to intentionally print out untold volumes of prints that are destined for the landfill, full of ink and chemicals masquerading as innocent smiling children.

Who is with me on this one?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Agave-sweetened, lavendar-infused martini — at RT's?!

The husband and I have both had some busy times at work lately, so we've been eating out more than usual. This always leads to the inevitable burnout of our standard dining establishments. So, when I got a BOGO entree offer from Ruby Tuesday's, I thought, yes, that's a good idea for a change of pace.

I had tried their "handcrafted fruit teas" (with free refills, thank you) and they are divine. Not too sweet and full of juicy mango, berries or peach. But I was really surprised to see that their drink menu included a selection of "fit and trim" drinks with fewer than 150 calories and no artificial sweeteners. I chose the Skinny Lavendar Lemon Drop martini and it was really quite delicious. It's sweetened lemon juice (I'm told that's with agave nectar) and Absolut Citron, infused with lavendar tea. Delicious and beautifully presented. For just six dollars.

In addition, they offer a great assortment of healthy sides on the kids' menu, which I really appreciate. Fresh grilled asparagus, zucchini or green beans; mashed cauliflower, sugar snap peas, broccoli, spaghetti squash or sliced tomatoes. Really! There's also the salad bar, with the usual suspects, plus edamame and peas, which please my kids. For dessert, they offer sensibly small cupcakes: red velvet or carrot cake with cream cheese icing. The red velvet cupcake I shared with Timo was not the highlight of the meal for me, but I appreciated that it seemed homemade, fresh and not too big.

When I went looking for an image to place in this post, I found a great article from "Tampa Bay Food Monster" that goes more in-depth about the Ruby Tuesday revival. Worth a read, too.

Before you judge me and raise your eyebrows, check it out. They are not perfect, but they are among the few chains making real strides toward healthier options and portions. You might just be pleasantly surprised. (Unfortunately, their site is all in Flash, so I can't link to specific items, but it's a nice site so you can take a look around before you try it for yourself.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

PVC-Free School Supplies

Today, from GreenAmerica, comes this great article, I wanted to share:

CHEJ Releases Fourth Annual Guide to PVC-free School Supplies
US Capitol "Children are not 'little adults,'" says Mike Schade of the nonprofit Center For Health, Environment, and Justice (CHEJ). "Their developing brains and bodies, their metabolism and behaviors make them uniquely vulnerable to harm from toxic chemicals released by PVC." 

That's why CHEJ is releasing the latest version of their PVC-free back-to-school guide, to help parents avoid products – like plastic backpacks or lunchboxes, or three-ring binders coated in plastic – that might contain PVC. 

To download the newest guide, go here. You don't need to sign up to get the download. Use the little link at the bottom that says, "you can also just download the guide here."

It's quite comprehensive and explains how to look for PVC in labeling, why avoiding PVC matters and actions you can take if you want to help rid the world of this nasty toxin.

Monday, August 15, 2011

What's in that children's pain reliever?

So I was at CVS yesterday trying to get some ibuprophen to have on hand for the boys. I started reading labels and saw things like "sucralose," "polysorbate 80," "butylparaben," and "propylene glycol." Seriously? I asked the pharmacist if there were any other options. He came out and looked and concluded that, no, just the dye-free varieties.

I vowed to come home and write a blog post (and try to find something that is better). First I searched and found lots of other green bloggers having the same issues I had with ingredients. But I found no alternatives. Shocking, really. Then again, what I'm saying is that big pharma is not listening. And that is not surprising. Sigh.

Here are two of the best articles I found on the topic:
Surprise, there are parabens and other additives in my children's medications
The FDA Panders to Poisons

Sadly, I did not find any mainstream pain relievers that contained more natural ingredients. So, try to ride a fever out, I guess, or find a Chinese herbalist (TCM) or Homeopath (both should be credentialed and experienced, of course). If anyone knows a good resource or directory to find these providers, please share.

Monday, August 8, 2011

My sister outgreened me: the legend of Mythic Paint.

My sister is decorating her nursery and after much research into paint, concluded that Mythic Paint is the most eco-friendly and high-performing product on the market. While in town for her baby shower, she asked us to stop in at Fresco Green Building Supplies on Commerce Drive in Lancaster, Pa., to pick up some samples. I didn't even know this place existed and it's been there for 18 months. Sigh.

I am not ashamed to say that this new mother (to a healthy preemie, thank goodness) outgreened me, her eco-evangelist sister. I have heard of Mythic Paint through The Land of Nod site, but almost five years ago when we were painting our rooms, I did not have it in my consideration set. They claim to be "the World’s first high performance, zero-toxin, zero-VOC paint." And they are less expensive than low-VOC version of mass brands such as Benjamin Moore's Aura or Sherwin Williams Harmony. It's not a fair comparison because those both contain more VOCs than Mythic, as well as kaolin, which some believe has negative health effects. Green Your Decor did three green paint reviews that are mostly favorable (Olympic, California and Mythic), for anyone looking for additional opinions.

I am anxious to see how Mythic performs for them in their new nursery and will report back.

I will also be doing a follow-up interview with the nice guys with the beautiful Fresco Green store. They are a great resource for people in Central PA who want to decorate using eco-friendly materials, from carpet to cement stains to flooring and even LEED consulting. Stay tuned for that.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I did it! I changed to my real URL.

While this post has little to do with healthy things for the planet, I am writing to say that I feel very happy and smart. It's the little things.

Back in January, I bought three more years of from GoDaddy and three years of hosting from GreenGeeks. Then I couldn't figure out how to get *this* blog pointed to the "real" URL, nor could I make any headway with GreenGeeks.

Well, I am still hosting on Blogger, but I am now at the totally legit URL of my own -- woo hoo! Maybe I don't need the GreenGeeks after all? Wonder if I can get my money back? Add it to my list. :)

Saturday, April 30, 2011

20 Spring Cleaning Recycling Reminders (Don't Throw It Out!)

I don't know how long ago I got it, but I held onto a flyer from Co-op America about recycling because I really wanted to write a post on it. I used their new online list as a starting point, added my own suggestions and even did a little research. So, without further ado:
  1. Appliances. First try the store where you're buying a new appliance; many will take your old one. If it's in good working condition, Freecycle it or donate it to Goodwill. Some utility companies pay you for your old refrigerator. Or, as a last resort, contact the Steel Recycling Institute.
  2. Athletic shoes. One World Running will send still-wearable shoes to athletes in need in Africa, Latin America and Haiti. Nike's Reuse-a-shoe program turns old shoes into playground and athletic flooring.
  3. Automobiles. If they're old and more trouble than they're worth, don't pawn them off on some poor sap. Donate them to a charity and take the write-off.
  4. Batteries. For rechargeables and single-use, use Battery Solutions. You have pay for the kits, but FedEx shipping is included both ways.
  5. Cardboard Boxes. Contact local nonprofits and women’s shelters to see if they can use them. Or, offer up used cardboard boxes on Freecycle or Craigslist. When we moved here, we put our moving boxes on Freecycle and had a taker in minutes. If your workplace collects at least 100 boxes or more each month, UsedCardboardBoxes accepts them for resale.
  6. Clothes. My favorite, for women's work clothes, is Dress for Success. You can also donate them to the Salvation Army, Goodwill or your local shelter. If the clothes are unwearable, your local animal shelter may want them for pet bedding.
  7. CDs/DVDs/Game Disks. Send scratched music or computer CDs, DVDs and PlayStation or Nintendo video game disks to AuralTech for refinishing, and they’ll work like new.
  8. Compact Fluorescent Bulbs (CFL). Your local IKEA store will take them. Or you can order a Sylvania RecyclePak.
  9. Computers and electronics. Find the most responsible recyclers, local and national, at BAN.
  10. Crayons. We all have 10 times as many as we need, thanks to the many places that hand them out. Send them to Crazy Crayons to be melted down into new crayons.
  11. Eyeglasses. Your local Lion’s Club or eyecare chain may collect these. Lenses are reground and given to people in need.
  12. Foam packing peanuts. First, make sure these are not the bio-peanuts that melt in water. Those are easy to get rid of. Otherwise, your local pack-and-ship store will likely accept foam peanuts for reuse. If not, call the Plastic Loose Fill Producers Council to find a drop-off site at 800.828.2214. For places to drop off foam blocks for recycling, contact the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers.
  13. Ink/toner cartridges. pays $1 each. 
  14. Motor oil. Find used motor oil depots in each state at
  15. Phones. Donate cell phones: Collective Good will refurbish your phone and sell it to someone in a developing country. As will the CTIACall to Protect reprograms cell phones to dial 911 and gives them to domestic violence victims. Recycle single-line phones at Reclamere.
  16. "Technotrash." Project KOPEG offers an e-waste recycling program you can use as a fundraiser for your organization. Use Project KOPEG to recycle iPods, MP3 players, cell phones and chargers, digital cameras, PDAs, palm pilots and more. Also, easily recycle all of your CDs, jewel cases, DVDs, audio and video tapes, pagers, rechargeable and single-use batteries, PDAs and ink/toner cartridges with GreenDisk’s Technotrash program. For $30, GreenDisk will send you a cardboard box which you fill with up to 70 pounds of any of the above and ship back to them. Your fee covers the box, as well as shipping and recycling fees.
  17. Tires. Bad for landfills. Look up a local recycling program on Earth911. (This site is a great overall resource for recycling.)
  18. Toothbrushes and razors. Buy a recycled plastic toothbrush or razor from Recycline, and the company will take it back to be recycled again into plastic lumber. Recycline products are made from used Stonyfield Farms’ yogurt cups.
  19. Tyvek envelopes. Quantities less than 25: Send to Shirley Cimburke, Tyvek Recycling Specialist, 5401 Jefferson Davis Hwy., Spot 197, Room 231, Richmond, VA 23234. Quantities larger than 25, call 866.33.TYVEK.
  20. Wine corks. Recork upcycles them into other products. Bottoms up, everyone!
One man's junk is another man's treasure.

You know not to buy stuff you really don't need. Just keep reminding yourself. Or shop at second-hand stores or on eBay. Then, of course, there's the stuff you already have that needs a new life. Try to find someone else who wants this stuff. And people will. Post it on Freecycle, Craigslist or or give/sell them at or on eBay.  iReuse will also help you find a recycler, if possible, when your items have reached the end of their useful lifecycle.

Other great posts and resources worth checking out for more information on recycling:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

REVIEW: Made From Earth

OllieOllieToxinFree (OOTF) product review policy: I accept free samples from brands I deem promising (with regard to ingredients, price point and philosophy). I agree to try the products and provide my readers with an honest opinion of them. If I do not like the products, I follow the Golden Rule (say nothing if nothing nice to say) but do report back to the brand contact with my concerns/dislikes. I post reviews of products I like, so my readers learn about new, OOTF-friendly products.

Some time ago, I was contacted by the marketing director at Made From Earth to see if I would review some sample products. (How flattering!) Soon after, I received a package with lots of samples, so many that I have still not tried them all. What Stergios didn't know—and I didn't think to mention—is that I have a pretty pared down beauty routine. 

So, while I'm sure I'll eventually get to test all of them, for now I'll just tell you about the ones I tried, all very good products. My favorite items were the Rosehip & Hibiscus Facial Serum (which is currently half off at just $12.50!) and the Citrus Fresh Lip Balm. I also liked the the Vitamin E & Citrus Body Gel and the pH Equilibrant Moisturizer.

General Notes
Fragrance is something I find challenging with natural concoctions. I like good-smelling products, but most true eco-brands avoid strong scents, even naturally derived ones, because some people have reactions to essential oils. But when potions have no smell or an odor that's not at least a tinge floral/fruity/musky, I personally find that unappealing. Made From Earth seems to have found the right balance with a barely there nontoxic fragrance for facial products and a light natural scent in the other products I tried.

I should also note that testing beauty products for me is always a crap shoot. My skin is highly sensitive and breaks into little dry crusty patches for no apparent reason—usually related to trying a new product or being in a new climate. I have used these products long enough to say unequivocally that my sensitive skin liked Made From Earth.

Looking at the ingredients, it appears that Made From Earth products would get a very low (which is favorable) rating on the EWG Cosmetics Database, however, no products are listed in that system. They specifically ensure that their products contain none of the following:
  • Petrochemicals and Phthalates
  • Parabens (Methyl, Propyl, Butyl)
  • Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate Diazolidinyl Urea
My friend, Todra, at The Healthy Beauty Project, is a fan of Made From Earth. See her inside scoop on the company and the products here. She also tells me that they reformulate their products constantly, and they are very responsive to constructive feedback.

Product-Specific Notes
The Rosehip & Hibiscus Facial Serum has a great consistency, emollient but not greasy, and overall very lightweight. My skin is normal to dry, especially in winter, but it’s not generally amenable to heavy moisturizers, even at night. I love to use serums all over, morning and night, though I’m sure cosmetologists would say it’s not enough moisture for my skin type. I believe that moisture also comes from the inside—be hydrated and your skin will show it. But, I digress.

The Citrus Fresh Lip Balm was smooth and deliciously scented. It's made with beeswax, essential oils, and other natural goodness, and at $3.99, is quite affordable. Made From Earth also offers Mocha, Vanilla, Blueberry, Spearmint and a Chocolate/Vanilla combo pack.

The Vitamin E & Citrus Body Gel was not super sudsy, but most eco-friendly soaps are not, because they are sulfate-free. I found the scent to be refreshing, the texture was typical of a bath gel and I felt clean after using it. That's the point, right?

The pH Equilibrant Moisturizer was a nice addition to my nighttime routine, after the serum. It's light and non-greasy but definitely not as light as the serum. It absorbed into my skin easily and, it's worth mentioning again, did not cause any freakouts. I would like it to have a teeny tiny little bit more natural fragrance, but it wasn't a deal-breaker for me. 

One last product I didn't mention earlier, but did try, is their Grapefruit Glycolic Scrub. An interesting texture, its gel base is sprinkled with soft little scrubbing bits. It didn't feel harsh, but typically, glycolic-type products are not categorized as nontoxic. It's not in the Cosmetics Database, so its toxicity is unclear to me. I'd guess that it's "safer" than drugstore and probably department store brands, but I would use it sparingly, just for a little extra facial rejuvenation. 

All in all, this is a well-priced, low-hype, U.S.-made line of products with carefully selected ingredients that you'll likely really enjoy using. Thanks to the team at Made From Earth for introducing me to your line.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A novel concept: double-sided register receipts

Sometimes, I like to give props to companies who are taking even the smallest initiative to be eco-friendly. 

I was surprised to find that Karns, a local grocery chain, had different register paper so the receipt came out half the size of the monstrous receipts I get at Giant Foods, simply by printing on both sides of the paper. It's a little confusing the first time you look at your receipt; it looks incomplete. But, lo and behold, I flipped it over and there my tally continued, with no space-wasting frills. That is a great way to cut paper use in half. Kudos to Karns.

This post would be incomplete if I didn't also mention the growing concern about all these thermal receipts we collect -- the presence of BPA (Bisphenol-A) on them. 
Handle BPA-laden thermal receipts with care—or not at all!

Just today, I saw an article (which of course I can't find now) on this, and when I searched, came across this one. You can Google it yourself; these articles date back to 2000, but it's definitely attracting more media attention. As the Fox story says, some stores are already using BPA-free paper: Trader Joe’s, Home Depot, Albertson’s, Ace Hardware, Wal-Mart, Sears and Costco. 

The super creepy thing about BPA is that you can't wash it off your hands. Anything that it touches, it attaches to, like paper money, your clothes, your skin. Ick. So what should you do with all these receipts? Recycle them, right? No, says the Washington Toxics Coalition. Read this short post on how to dispose of them and how to avoid BPA-laden receipts in the first place.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bright Lights, Now 33% Whiter?

One morning last week, very early, I gazed out of the window of the regional jet I was flying to Chicago and took notice of all the lights. Street lights, headlights, parking lot lights, flood lights—all illuminating Central Pennsylvania in a dot pattern like a giant LiteBrite board. Looking closer, I realized the lights were two distinct colors: orange and white. Orange for old-school, incandescent bulbs and white for newer, LED bulbs. I scanned the area within my view and made the entirely unscientific declaration that about one-third of the fixtures were energy-saving ones. I found that encouraging.

Last week en route to Las Vegas, I didn’t take notice of white lights, but, then again, in Vegas, most lights are colorful. It’s hard to imagine the original Sin City worrying about their electric usage when that neon skyline is tied so closely to its image. Has anyone noticed how entrenched “white lights” are in cities you’ve visited?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Conventionally grown fruit or no fruit in the winter?

The wisdom and sustainability of certain things we take for granted, like grocery stores brimming with perfect looking produce all year round, should probably be questioned.

Photo (c)2010 Dr. Danny George, Farmers Market in Hershey
I find myself picking up organic apples only to put them down when I realize they're from New Zealand. I scour the red peppers for varieties from Canada rather than Mexico (mostly because I think the use of pesticides is not as great; unfounded assumption that it is). I find myself longing for organic grapes, no matter where they grow this time of year. My kids love fresh fruit and veggies and it's hard to figure out the best options for out-of-season months here in Central PA.

Like I said, I still buy peppers and cucumbers, mostly the greenhouse variety, and I'd love to know if these carry a lower toxic burden. I've done some research and posted questions on popular sites, but so far have not gotten any useful responses. I won't give up, but it's not at the top of my list at the moment. I also buy melons and bananas (I know that's a dirty business!) because they're good for my kids and they eat them. I wash the outside of the melons and always wash my knife in between cutting, to minimize the exposure to chemicals on the rind, but they're still being shipped from South America or somewhere else not very eco-friendly.

What's the right thing to do, for the planet: To eat less out-of-season food, even if that means less than a balanced diet, or prioritize healthy whole foods, regardless of their origin, all year round? It's not an easy answer. I'm guessing most people would opt for a middle ground, being sensitive to staying "as local as possible." Which is not local at all this time of year. Sigh.

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Year, New Resolution for This Blog

I admit, I've been a little neglectful lately of my OllieOllieToxinFree friends. It's not been intentional, but I've been busier than usual at home and at work. Yesterday, I renewed my URL (which I'd let lapse and thankfully no one had snapped up) and bought three years of hosting from If I'm going to do this, I'm going to make it legit. Stay tuned, for a new look (most likely, since I won't have this template) and the new live URL. Please keep sending me ideas for topics and thanks for all the support to date!

One post that caught my eye so far this year was on Inhabitots, a favorite blog. They asked folks in their green network to make predictions for 2011. The panel consisted of Inhabitots founder Jill Fehrenbacher; Danielle Friedland, Healthy Child Healthy World; Natalie Zee Drieu, CRAFTZINE; Micaela Preston, Mindful Momma founder; Nick and Kimber Christensen, Little Sapling Toys designers; Mari Richards, Small and Big founder; and Jennifer Chait, Growing a Green Family founder. 

Some of their thoughts:
  • "...more parents will get turned on to the importance of simple, unprocessed food and toxin-free toys for their children, and this consumer demand will finally lead to major change in manufacturing processes."
  • A lot of handmade and DIY solutions (make it, grow it, etc.)
  • "We'll be demanding greener products. We'll be advocating for better school lunches. We'll be rallying against unsafe chemicals."
  • ", less toxic art supplies will be more plentiful and more varied."
  • "2011 is going to be the year we see a shift in parenting values. Values that say it's okay for parents to ease up a bit and allow kids to be kids."
I agree that consumer consciousness is growing, which should mean demand will keep growing. People are starting to think more about what's in their food, in their personal care products and in the air they breathe. Credit is due to movies (Food Inc., King Korn); people (Michael Pollan, Jamie Oliver, Alice Waters, Michelle Obama); grassroots movements (the Slow Food Movement, Edible Schoolyards), research organizations (Healthy Child Healthy World, Environmental Working Group) and the media's willingness to cover these topics.

I think we will see non-toxic products become more mainstream as we find out more about BPA, phthlalates and other neurotoxins and endocrine disruptors. People will continue to spend more of their dollars on healthier products, and the market will keep shifting to meet demand. This will be a slow process, though, nothing breakthrough this year.

Unfortunately, I think we're also going to see more research proving the link between toxic chemicals and illnesses, from cancer to autism to diabetes. I've already seen some incredibly disturbing studies; this might be the year for the smoking gun.