It started out as wee little list of conventional fashion, beauty and lifestyle suckies that our editors kept for their own reference while writing EcoStiletto articles about eco-fashion, beauty and lifestyle.
Then we started inventing our own suckies—i.e.“sustainabully,” a person who makes others feel guilty for perceived eco-sins—and slipping them in. Once we added the information we’d researched for articles—like the amount of pesticides that go into conventional cotton production, why hemp t-shirts might just save the world and how to figure out if your moisturizer can cause cancer—The Big List got so behemoth that we built a website around it. Yup, that was the beginning of EcoStiletto.
Welcome to The Big List of Things That Suck. But be prepared. It’s kinda scary.
(BIG, FAT) CARBON FOOTPRINTS
A carbon footprint is the measure of the impact that a person or business has on the environment, specifically in terms of climate change, as measured in kilograms of carbon dioxide. It’s also probably the most over-used term in recent history.
Where to find it: Calculate at CarbonFund.org.
Suck less: Reduce, reuse and recycle. Buying carbon offsets—one equals the reduction of one metric ton of CO2—by investing in wind or solar powered industry doesn’t suck, but it doesn’t solve the problem, either. See AIR TRAVEL.
1,4-DIOXANE AND SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE
1,4 Dioxane is a human and animal carcinogenic and a nasty byproduct of processing harsh petro-chemicals with ethylene oxide to make them less harsh. Got sodium lauryl sulfate? Ethyoxylate it and you get sodium laureth—the “eth” indicates the process.
Where to find it: In personal care products that suds up like shampoo, bubble bath and liquid soap.
Suck less: Truly natural products rely on sudsors such as sodium coco sulfate, which is derived from coconuts, not oil. See SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE.
Federal subsidies on things like soybeans and corn—used in cheap feed for livestock and high-fructose corn syrup, respectively—means that we produce pesticide-laden mono-crops, which benefit the big corporations that produce packaged food but don’t do much for our environment, or our health. According to the House Appropriations Committee, in 2009 mandatory spending on farm subsidies was $7.5 billion, compared with $15 million for organic and local food-growing programs.
Where to find it: The Heartland. And the whole land.
Suck less: The bad news is that most of us are carrying around a whole lotta toxins from chemically grown and processed foods, and these have been linked to health problems. The good news is studies have shown that eating organic for just one week can eliminate many of them. When it comes to organics, look for meat, milk products and delicate fruits like strawberries and peaches, which are typically heavily sprayed: Just one tiny blueberry can contain 48 different pesticides!
If you can’t find organic, opt for conventional fruits and veggies that you can peel, such as oranges, watermelon, eggplant, avocados, corn, sweet peas and cabbage. Remove the outer skin, husk or leaves and you’re removing a significant amount of pesticide contamination. See FACTORY FARMING.
Everyone knows that air travel is bad, bad, bad for the environment. But according the International Air Travel Association, which downplays global warming under the header of “Scientific Uncertainties,” aviation is responsible for a mere two percent of global carbon emissions, and 12 percent of carbon emissions from transport—as opposed to 74% from cars and trucks on the road.
Seems reassuring, doesn’t it? Kinda makes you want to hop the next flight to anywhere, right? But think about this: The global warming issues associated with aviation are alarming not simply because of the carbon dioxide (plus nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide) emissions, but because at the height that they are, um, emitted, they have twice the effect on global warming that they do at ground level. So one jaunt across the Atlantic can produce as much ozone-depleting pollution as the average driver does in a year. Compound that with the fact that the average number of people flying is expected to double over the next 15 years, and Houston, we’ve got a problem.
Where to find it: Look up.
Suck less: If you absolutely, positively have to be there overnight, online resources like Carbon Fund let you calculate the environmental impact of your life—including travel—and then buy offsets to counteract it. Where does the money go? To green energy projects like solar fields and wind farms.
Similarly, the air travel carbon footprint calculator from carbon-offsetter TerraPass takes into account specific airlines and routes, so you can figure out which airline offers the lowest carbon flight on any route before you book your travel, then determine how your choice of economy, business or first-class affects the footprint of your flight. Plus, you can specify direct versus connecting flights, so the impact of additional take-offs and landings can be factored in. See CARBON FOOTPRINT. Boy voyage!
A 1993 World Health Organization “Public Health Report” cited autopsies which found high concentrations of aluminum in the brains of those afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.
Where to find it: Antiperspirants.
Suck less: Natural deodorants made with baking soda, which controls stinky bacteria. You can even use an old powder brush to dust the stuff directly to your pits. Works great, costs pennies. See ANTIPERSPIRANTS.
As many as 115 million animals are experimented on and killed in laboratories in the U.S. every year. Much of the experimentation remains ethically and scientifically questionable. Such testing calls into question the potential hazards to human beings, wildlife and the environment.
Where to find it: From cosmetics to medicines, animal testing is a routine part of a product development process.
Suck less: Look for beauty products that are labeled “cruelty free” or picture a cartoon bunny, which indicates no animal testing went into their development. P.S. “Vegan” products are not animal tested and contain no animal ingredients such as honey or milk, but they aren’t organic unless they say so.
Antibacterials interfere with testosterone production and have been detected in breast milk; overuse prevents them from working when they’re really needed, such as to fight things like E. coli and Salmonella bacteria.
Where to find them: Antibacterial soaps and sprays.
Suck less: Studies have shown that hot water and soap work just as well (or better) to fight germs and don’t mess with us, or the ecosystem.
When it comes to underarms, it’s important to understand one essential distinction: Deodorants stop odor. Antiperspirants stop sweating. Stopping that sweat with chemical compounds like aluminum can affect the lymph system and compromise the immune system. Yes, it’s controversial, but scientists have suggested that the chemicals in antiperspirants may account for the dramatic rise in breast cancer in recent years.
Where to find them: Sniff around.
Suck less: Even if conventional medicine says they’re safe, why apply chemicals in such a sensitive area when natural alternatives do the job as well—or better? Today’s eco-deos call on mineral salts to balance pH and reduce bacterial growth and are infused with herbs like aloe, coriander and lichen, which have powerful, natural antiperspirant qualities. See ALUMINUM.
ARTIFICIAL FOOD COLORING
Yellow 5, Red 40, and six other widely used artificial colorings found in sugary cereals, candies, sodas and snack foods have been linked to hyperactivity and behavior problems in children and should be prohibited from use in foods, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Where to find them: Don’t just think they stop at candy: More than a dozen varieties of lunch meats contain artificial food dyes.
Suck less: Read your labels! Or, if you want a cheat sheet, look for USDA Certified Organics, which eliminate chemical ingredients in one fell swoop.
Despite the fact that some landscape designers tout it as eco-friendly because it uses no water, we just can’t get behind fake grass, especially since AstroTurf settled a lawsuit in August, 2009 and admitted that its artificial turf contains harmful levels of lead.
Where to find it: Look around—see that stuff that looks too green to be true? It probably is.
Suck less: New seeds like Eco-Lawn are low water and slow-grow—water and trim just once a month.
BISPHENOL A (BPA)
BPA became a parent’s worst nightmare in May 2008 when the FDA acknowledged that this chemical—used to make hard plastic—was detected in urine of 93 percent of the population, including infants. A hormone disruptor, BPA mimics estrogen and has been blamed for growing public-health problems such as obesity, early onset puberty in girls, small testicular size in boys and breast cancer in women.
Where to find it: Everything from baby bottles to sippy cups—it migrates from the container into the substance inside.
Suck less: Look for plastics that say “BPA-free.”
Bottled water may be convenient, but it’s not exactly safe. Most plastic bottles contain that pesky toxic chemical BPA, which leaches into the water you drink. Plus, you may think it’s cleaner, but bottled water has tested positive for lead, copper, chlorine, mercury and—ick—giardia.
Where to find it: Where you used to find water fountains.
Suck less: A better bet is filtered tap water—even a pitcher filter will do—and a stainless steel reusable water bottle for when you’re on-the-go. Plus, avoiding bottled water can save the average family $50 per month! See PLASTIC BOTTLES and BPA.
Cadmium is a carcinogenic metal that’s been linked to kidney and liver damage; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rank it as the world’s seventh most hazardous substance. In 2010, 12 million potentially toxic “Shrek” drinking glasses were recalled by McDonald’s; Fiona and Donkey were illustrated with cadmium-laced paint.
Where to find it: China is one of the world’s leading producers of the metals and probably produced the toxic paint, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Suck less: If it looks too good—or cheap, or plentiful—to be true, it probably is. Buy smaller quantities of locally made goods, just to be on the safe side.
Forget vintage. These days it seems that newly minted cashmere is everywhere: Americans bought 10.5 million sweaters in 2005—15 times more than 10 years prior, according to the Seattle Times, which asserts that the increase in cashmere production, primarily in China, is wreaking environmental havoc. As the herds of cashmere-producing goats grow, the grasslands are disappearing, leading to dust storms and a “plume of pollution” that reaches as far as Washington state.
Where you find it: Everywhere from Sam’s Club to Club Monaco.
Suck less: Vintage, upcycled vintage by designers like Deborah Lindquist, or Mongolian cashmere cultivated by traditional nomadic herders who laugh in the face of over-production. Mongolian cashmere is ridiculously soft yet incredibly durable—which will become immeasurably important when you watch that cheap cashmere wrap from Target start to pill up and lose its shape after one washing. See WOOL.
Also known as pheremones and not necessarily generated from cats, sexually-attractive hormones derived from animal urine have been added to perfumes on the theory that if the chemical reaction they cause works in animals, it will also work for us. Which makes sense if you find yourself inexplicably attracted to cat piss.
Where you find it: Perfumes, typically synthetic.
Suck less: Vegan perfumes created from steam-distilled plants and flowers smell amazing and you won’t have cats following you down the alley trying to hump your leg. Unless you’re into that. See PERFUME and FRAGRANCE.
here’s the dirty little secret behind mass-produced candy: According to CNN, as many as 200,000 children work the cocoa fields of Africa’s Ivory Coast, many against their will. On the sugar side, massive amounts of herbicides and pesticides are routinely sprayed on sugar cane crops, which are burned after harvest, leading to ground, water and air pollution. Not so sweet.
Where you find it: Hidden in your desk drawer.
Suck less: Thankfully, fair trade certified cacao and sugar are slowly but surely making their way into our markets. But what does fair trade really mean? In a nutshell: The manufacturers of fair trade sugar, chocolate and other products typically work in third-world countries to forge economic partnerships that can alleviate poverty, reduce inequality, and create opportunities for farmers and artists—especially women, who produce 76% of fair trade goods. These businesses combat human trafficking by creating opportunities for parents, so that they don’t resort to selling their children or their children’s labor. See SUGAR, FAKE.
Mother doesn’t necessarily know best. Most of us clean our houses with the products that we remember from childhood—if it was good enough for mom, it’s good enough for us. But the chemicals in those products have been linked to illnesses like asthma and allergies, among other nasties too numerous to mention.
Where to find them: Under your sink.
Suck less: Simple, chemical-free formulas based on tried-and-true cleaners like baking soda and vinegar (you can even make your own for pennies). These are the cleaners your grandmother probably used. Maybe Mom should have listened to her!
In several studies, the Environmental Protection Agency—not the most alarmist organization—found that the air inside the typical American home is actually dirtier than the air outside because of chemicals in our household cleaners and furnishings.
Where to find them: Buildings.
Suck less: Open up! Even just 10 minutes a day can make a difference to your indoor air quality. See VOCs.
Coal tar, found in dyes such as FD&C Blue 1 and FD&C Green 3 are known carcinogens (or cancer-causing) agents. Less than 10 percent of the chemicals and dyes applied to cotton actually change the color the fabric; the rest are absorbed into the ecosystem and—eventually—our bodies. Gives feeling blue a whole new meaning.
Where to find it: FD&C Blue 1 in toothpaste; FD&C Green 3 in mouthwash.
Suck less: Look for oral care products that list ingredients identified by name.
According to the EPA, five of the top nine pesticides used in conventional cotton production in the United States (including cyanide, propargite and trifluralin) are known cancer-causing chemicals. Cotton eats up 25% of the world’s insecticides and 10% of its pesticides; it takes one-third of a pound of pesticide to make one conventional t-shirt, and two-thirds to make a pair of jeans.
Where to find it: It’s the fabric of our lives.
Suck less: Organic cotton that’s grown, processed and produced without pesticides and other toxins is just as soft, wearable and durable as its chemical-laden cousin.
When it’s not chemically processed, bamboo fabric is sustainably grown, completely biodegradable, naturally pest- and insect-resistant; bamboo plants absorbs 400 percent more greenhouse gases and produce 35 percent more oxygen than trees (say that 10 times fast and I’ll give you a quarter).
Super-soft tencel—soon to be known as “e-calyptus”—is sustainably produced from sustainably harvested wood pulp. See NYLON and POLYESTER, CASHMERE and WOOL.
Not to scare you or anything, but we absorb 60 percent of what we put onto our skin. And, according to the Organic Consumers Association, the average woman
absorbs five pounds of toxic chemicals each year just from her beauty products. With that in mind, flip over your favorite concealer and take a look at the laundry list of unpronounceable ingredients like DEA—also known as diethanolamine (say that five times fast)—which disrupts hormones and can lead to birth defects.
These chemicals enter your body where they interact with the hundreds of other chemicals contained in the plethora of beauty products that you slather on each day.
Where to find it: Conventional beauty products.
Suck less: Read your labels, and look for “USDA Certified Organic” and “ECOCERT,” which means a product is government certified as 95 percent food-grade organic—zero chemicals or synthetics in it manufacturing or ingredients—in America and Europe, respectively. See ORGANIC (NOT).
DISPOSABLE PLATES, CUPS & CUTLERY, ESPECIALLY STYROFOAM
Besides the fact that so-called “disposable” Styrofoam and plastic tableware sit in the landfill forever, according to the EPA, carcinogenic polystyrene—which makes Styrofoam—is the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste. Want a side of cancer with that shake?
Where to find it: Take out.
Suck less: Look for compostable disposables made from veggies like potatoes—no, they won’t melt under your stir-fry.
Most dry cleaners use the toxic chemical perchloroethylene—also known as tetrachloroethylene—to clean clothes. Classified as a hazardous air contaminant by the EPA, perc can also contaminate drinking water when it gets into the water table and has been identified as cancer-causing by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, among other organizations. Perc has also been linked to skin irritations, which is great to know when you break out in a gnarly rash after wearing your freshly-cleaned dress.
Where to find them: In your ‘hood.
Suck less: Many fabrics can be hand-washed in cold water and air dried rather than dry cleaned. If you have to go dry, look for “environmentally friendly” cleaners that use non-toxic soaps instead of chemicals to clean clothes. Finally, if you can, opt out of the plastic bag—or at least bring it back to for the cleaner to recycle.
Newsflash: The words “eco” and “natural” are totally unregulated: They can mean that a product contains plant-derived ingredients and is cruelty- and preservative-free, but because they’re simply descriptives, they could also mean the manufacturer just threw these words on the label to make a sale.
Where to find them: Packaging, especially personal care products.
Suck less: Know your options. See ORGANIC (NOT) and LABELS THAT LIE.
v. The act of repeatedly emailing the same thing repeatedly and/or to different email addresses for the same person. “Sustainabully, stop emauling me!” Yes, I made that up.
Where to find it: In your in-box(es).
Suck less: Just take no for an answer. Or a maybe. See TWITTAHOLIC.
Raising animals for food requires massive amounts of land, food, energy, and water, and the byproducts of animal agriculture pollute our air and waterways. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that roughly 80 percent of ammonia emissions in the U.S. come from animal waste and that the agricultural runoff caused by the three trillion pounds of animal waste produced each year is the number one source of pollution in our waterways. Moo.
Where to find it: Supermarkets.
Suck less: Reduce your meat intake by embracing programs like “meatless Mondays” or “weekday vegetarianism.” When you do buy meat, look for free range organic options that typically come from more responsibly managed farms. See AGRIBUSINESS and LEATHER.
FAKE ‘N BAKE
So-called “tanning pills” typically contain canthaxanthin, which can cause eye damage and liver injury, while plenty of “safe” sugar-based sunless tanning creams are still chock full of parabens, propylene glycol—also known as antifreeze—and artificial fragrance.
Where to find it: Tanning pills and creams.
Suck less: Try a chemical-free mineral bronzer, baby. See PROPYLENE GLYCOL.
So-called “fast fashion” has outsourced our $3 trillion a year apparel industry to countries like China, which exports ridiculous amounts of pollution—along with “disposable” clothing—to the United States. According to the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act, the United States has established a $35 billion trade deficit with China by buying goods despite the fact that the country undervalues its currency, underpays its workers and utilizes the least expensive (and most toxic) means of production in order to provide the American consumer cheap and disposable goods. Why does this matter? Economically, it’s bad business: U.S. government statistics show that since 2002, China’s textile and apparel imports to the U.S. have increased 263 percent while the textile sector in the U.S. lost 433,000 jobs.
Environmentally, it’s worse. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, when it comes to environmental pollutants in our air and water, the United States is directly in China’s line of fire. “Scientists estimate that thirty percent of California’s particulate air pollution comes from across the Pacific,” said Linda Greer, director of the Health Program at NRDC and creator of its Clean by Design program, in a recent video. “China’s textile industry’s contribution to this soot is more than three billion tons per year [causing] cities across America to be in violation of air quality standards. In addition, “more than half the mercury contaminating the fish that we catch off our shores and in our freshwater lakes comes from China,” she said. When it comes to the environmental impact of our biggest trade partner, “America is, unfortunately, downwind.”
Where to find it: Your closet.
Suck less: If you’re buying new, look for fair trade, sustainable frocks and frivolities that actually support the workers that make them—and don’t pollute the communities in which they were made. We also are interested to see what impact Clean by Design has on participating companies like Walmart, H&M, Gap, Levi and Nike. Clean by Design has set its sights on cleaning up the Chinese textile and apparel industry by establishing business practices that reduce water pollution and energy use to help plants run more efficiently. The logic behind this program, as well as the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act, is that if multi-national companies like these won’t pull out, then manufacturing in China must become more like that which takes place in the United States, with accurate currency valuation, fair wages for workers and environmentally conscious manufacturing. By enforcing these practices, the cost of doing business in China becomes more competitive. And manufacturing starts to come home. Sounds good to us.
Faux fur is made from non-biodegradable, petro-chemically based synthetics like acrylic, nylon and polyester; their production creates chemical runoff that pollutes our oceans, rivers and water table.
Where to find it: Collars, jackets, pillows and throws.
Suck less: Some eco-designers such as Loyale work with a lambskin-like pelt from organic cotton. But do you really want that $400 coat sprayed red because someone mistook it for the real thing?
FEMININE HYGIENE PRODUCTS (SINGLE-USE)
American women throw away 60 million disposable feminine hygiene products each year. The average American women will use between 10,000 and 15,000 disposable pads, tampons and applicators in a lifetime. 13.5 billion pads and 6.5 billion tampons ended up in landfills in 1998, according to waste consultants Franklin Associates, where they take 500 years to decompose. Tampon applicators make up 2.2 percent of trash collected between 2001 and 2006 by The Ocean Conservancy—more than syringes, condoms and plastic six-pack rings combined.
Where to find them: Under the sink or in your purse.
Suck less: Reusable cups and pads have come a long way, baby.
Flame-retardants found in most mattresses have been linked to autism and ADD, among other things. Yet we find them in crib mattresses where infants sleep about 15 hours a day.
Where to find them: See that tag that says you can’t remove it under penalty of death? That means there’s a flame retardant in the mix.
Suck less: Yes, eco-friendly mattresses made from organic materials like wool or latex can be expensive. In lieu of a full-on mattress overhaul, get a thick organic mattress pad to reduce your exposure. See POLYURETHANE FOAM.
Formaldehyde has been linked to immune-system toxicity, respiratory irritation and cancer; it can be produced from the breakdown of diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea and quaternium compounds.
And speaking of formaldehyde, many common chemical preservatives release the stuff over time, so also avoid the words QUATERNIUM-15, DMDM HYDANTOIN, IMIDAZOLIDINYL UREA and DIAZOLIDINYL UREA on your labels—all roads lead to the ‘hyde.
Where to find it: Eyelash adhesive, nail polish and hair dyes.
Suck less: Try a pre-mascara lash conditioner from one of the best-selling eco-beauty brands: They look like white mascara and slick on without clumping, building lash thickness and length at the ends. Cover the white with your mascara color of choice for super-thick lashes without falsies. See NAIL POLISH, MASCARA and HAIR DYE for more.
During the natural-gas drilling known as “fracking,” chemicals, water and sand are injected into the earth in order to create enough pressure to crack open rocks and release oil or natural gas. The nearly 600 chemicals used in fracking include known carcinogens such as benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene, among others, which can leach into drinking water. However, natural gas and oil companies, which aren’t held accountable to the Safe Drinking Water Act, don’t have to disclose the chemicals that they use. These chemicals have been linked to neurological disorders, birth defects and cancer, among other significant problems, as a result of the practice. It’s some serious shit.
Where to find it: Everywhere, but there are also coalitions of concerned citizens trying to get fracking operations out of their communities.
Suck less: Join Food And Water Watch for updates.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, more than 95 percent of the chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum, including toxins that have been linked to allergic reactions, among other things. More and more people are claiming “fragrance sensitivity” responsible for migraines, sinus attacks and more, yet since the industry is self-regulating, there’s no hard data calculating this cause-and-effect.
May 2012 Update: Can perfume make you fat? A recent study published by Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center linked phthalate exposure through fragrance in personal care products with obesity.
Where to find it: There are over 5,000 different fragrances used in household products like shampoo, laundry soap, cleaners and even foods.
Suck less: If you see the word “fragrance” on a label, put that baby back on the shelf. See PERFUME.
In addition to the horrors of killing animals for their fur, according to the Humane Society animal pelts destined to become fur coats, blankets and more are treated with formaldehyde, chromium and napthalene—all toxic, all the time. Fur is so not pretty.
Where to find it: Significantly more expensive collars, jackets, pillows and throws.
Suck less: Just say no—even wearing vintage fur promotes an industry that was built around death. Do good by donating furs you already own to Humane Society of the United State’s Coats for Cubs program, where your old coat can become a mother surrogate for an orphaned animal.
GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS (GMOs)
According to Wikipedia, a genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically engineered organism (GEO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques, which is how you get things like golden rice fortified with vitamin A, pesticide-producing corn and “terminator” seeds that force farmers to buy new seeds yearly from Monsanto, which produces the majority of genetically modified seeds and crops in the world. Proponents—including the U.S. government—say they’re harmless, but opponents point to studies which linked so-called “Frankenfoods” to cancer, food allergies, learning disabilities, birth defects and sterility.
Where to find them: A full 85% of U.S. corn production is genetically modified; the same can be said for soy (91%), cotton (91%), canola (85%) and sugar beets (95%), not to mention the milk, meat and eggs from animals which are feed genetically modified feed. GMOs are not required to be identified on food labels.
Suck less: USDA Certified Organics contain no GMOs. Not now, not ever.
Gold is mined with super-toxic cyanide; its mining produces a huge amount of waste. According to the No Dirty Gold campaign, in the two-week period leading up to Valentine’s Day in 2005, American sales of gold jewelry caused 34 million metric tons of waste. Way to say I love you, people.
Where to find it: On your finger.
Suck less: Recycled metals are now relatively easy for jewelry designers to access—at a comparable price to new metals. Look for designers like Melissa Joy Manning who consistently work in recycled metals.
According to Wikipedia, greenwashing is deceptive use of green marketing to make products and policies look more environmentally friendly than they are. Think “organic” lotion made with essential oils—and parabens. Just because it says “natural” on the label doesn’t mean it’s chemical free.
Where to find it: Front-of-packaging labels.
Suck less: Obviously, it would be better for all of us if we could check our critical thinking at the drugstore door and trust that a label declaring something’s “natural” really does mean it is. But until beauty gets better regulated, you still need to do a little bit of homework to make sure your products are safe—by your standards. Read your labels, and look for “USDA Certified Organic” and “ECOCERT,” which means a product is government certified as 95 percent food-grade organic—zero chemicals or synthetics in it manufacturing or ingredients—in America and Europe, respectively. See LABELS THAT LIE.
Most conventional hair dyes contain ammonia, parabens, sulfates, and 1,4-Dioxane, among other known cancer-causing chemicals.
Where to find it: Both professional and at-home hair coloring products.
Suck less: Ask (or look) for low-ammonia or no-ammonia products; typically these contain less of the other suckies, too. And make sure you color with the windows wide open—both for you and your stylist. See P-PHENYLENEDIAMINE.
HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP
Nutritionists contend that consuming high-fructose corn syrup causes weight gain by interfering with the body’s natural ability to suppress hunger feelings. Of course, the high fructose corn syrup lobby contends that the substance is completely safe, but you can’t argue the evidence: 1. Currently, 64.5 percent of adults over the age of 20 are overweight, 30.5 percent are obese and 4.7 percent are severely obese. 2. Over the past 16 years, the amount of sugar in American diets has increased by 28 percent, with about a third of it coming from soft drinks.
Where to find it: A single 12-ounce can of soda has around 13 teaspoons of sugar, usually in the form of high-fructose corn syrup.
Suck less: Pass the water, please! See SWEETENERS, FAKE.
Hydroquinone has been linked to cancer and neurotoxicity; it’s toxic to the immune system, a known skin irritant and allergen, an endocrine disruptor, classified as an air pollutant and pesticide by the EPA, and so much more. And although it’s used for skin lightening, it also has the unfortunate side effect of making the skin hyper-sensitive to the sun, so that the minute you go outside without the kind of head-to-toe, sun-shielding getup last spotted on Madonna, the spots come back.
Where to find it: Cosmetic skin lighteners.
Suck less: Most women have had a run in with what the white coats call “melasma” or “hyper pigmentation,” a fancy-nancy name for those weird extra-tan spots you get on your forehead, lips and (sometimes) cheeks from pregnancy, birth control pills or just plain living your life without spending each sunny day under a hat as big as an umbrella.
Look for beauty products that contain botanically derived lightening agents like lemon peel and licorice extract, which reduce hyper-pigmentation by inhibiting the enzyme that makes the skin overproduce the pigment in the first place.
LABELS THAT LIE
Just because your concealer says it’s “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s chemical free. In 2007, Kline and Company released the “Natural Personal Care: Competitive Brand Assessment and Ingredient Analysis” report, profiling 26 brands and finding that half of the brands positioned as “natural” actually contain mostly synthetic ingredients such as parabens, propylene glycol, phthalates, petrolatum, chemical sunscreens, silicones and surfactants such as sodium lauryl sulfate. Shocker.
Where to find it: Front of the box (or bottle).
Suck less: Turn the box (or bottle) over and look for ingredients that you can pronounce: Multi-syllabic petrochemicals are far from natural. See GREENWASH, ORGANIC (NOT), ECO (ISH) and PARABENS.
Because of over-exposure, latex allergies are nearing epidemic levels: According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, between one and six percent of the population is allergic to the stuff, which can cause skin irritations, rashes, and more.
Where to find it: Swimsuits.
Suck less: Organic cotton swimsuits. See LYCRA.
LAUNDRY PRODUCTS, CONVENTIONAL
Most dryer sheets are made from synthetic, non-biodegradable material coated with tallow derived from cow fat.
Most conventional laundry detergents contain environmental pollutants like phosphates, as well as optical whitening agents, which are basically synthetics that attach themselves to the fabric during washing and produce an optical illusion that makes it seem whiter than it really is.
Not to mention the heavy synthetic—and highly allergenic—fragrances that perfume most conventional laundry products.
Where to find them: The laundry room.
Suck less: Many phosphate-free laundry products typically eschew the other ickies as well, and work just as well (or better) than conventional brands—make sure you read your labels to avoid greenwashing your washing. See FRAGRANCE, NPE, PHOSPHATES and BLEACH.
Lead is a neurotoxin, which basically means it messes up your brain. This sneaky little substance shook up the beauty industry in 2007 when the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics released an aptly-named “Poison Kiss” report alleging 61 percent of brand-name lipsticks contain lead in excess of .1 parts per million, the FDA’s limit for lead in candy. And here’s the kicker: The average woman eats about nine pounds of lipstick over the course of her lifetime—just by licking her lips.
Where to find it: Type your brand of red lipstick into the EWG Skin Deep Database, a handy-dandy online tool where you can plug in the names of your beauty products and find out whether or not they’re going to kill you, and see what you turn up.
Suck less: Look for lipsticks that say they’re lead free, then check their formulations before you buy. See GREENWASHING.
Leather requires an estimated 225 toxic chemicals in its tanning process and is a by-product of the meat industry, to which we donate 25% of our world’s land surface, one-third of our grain, and a majority of our carbon emissions. (According to a 2009 Worldwatch Institute study, meat production accounts for 51 percent of our green house gas emissions—that’s at least double that of cars.) Plus, a full 37% of human-induced methane emissions come from livestock. So maybe this entry should read “meat.”
Where to find it: Your shoes, bag and jacket.
Suck less: If you absolutely have to go for leather, look for the kind that’s tanned without heavy metals like chrome. See FACTORY FARMING.
A chemically derived alternative to latex, Lycra (also known as “elastane” in Europe) has been linked to dermatitis, skin irritations and rashes.
Where to find it: Jeggings and anything that has to stretch for you to get it on.
Suck less: Clothes that fit. See LATEX.
Do you really want to eat something made from animal hooves?
Where to find it: On the end of your stick.
Suck less: Try vegan marshmallows—your taste buds will never know the difference.
Where can you find the most toxic non-radioactive element on Earth? In your sushi. Coal-powered electricity plants release mercury into our rivers and oceans where fish eat it; then we eat the fish.
During the two-to-three month period that mercury stays in our bodies it can affect sensory perception, memory and motor skills. High levels of mercury can damage the brain, heart, kidney, lungs and immune system. Serious mercury poisoning can result in mental retardation, cerebral palsy and dementia.
Kinda makes you want to rethink that yellowtail, doesn’t it?
Where to find it: According to the EPA, all fish now contain mercury, but these contain the highest concentrations: tuna, shark, swordfish, mackerel and tilefish. Lowest? Shrimp, salmon, pollock and catfish.
Suck less: Avoid the worst offenders, especially if you’re pregnant or nursing.
MICROWAVING IN PLASTIC
Please don’t microwave food in plastic containers. Yes, it’s quick and easy, but it also speeds up the migration of cancer-causing and hormone-disrupting BPA chemicals into your food. Yummy.
Where to find it: TV dinners; lazy cooks.
Suck less: Glass or dishware is safest for storing and heating food. See BPA.
Monosodium glutamate aka MSG might not be listed on the label, but that doesn’t stop manufacturers from putting it into your food. According to Earth Clinic, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed pea protein, carrageenan, sodium caseinate all contain or can create highly-allergic free glutamic acid (MSG) during manufacturing.
Where to find it: Packaged foods.
Suck less: Eat fresh!
Nail polish contains formaldehyde, toluene and/or (DBP) phthalate, three chemicals that are on California’s Prop 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. Toulene has been linked to birth defects in lab animals, formaldehyde is a carcinogen and air pollutant and (DBT) phthalate is linked to hormone disruption.
Where to find it: In the bathroom or, if you’re old school, the fridge.
Suck less: Look for polishes that are free of these big-three chems. But don’t throw those old polish bottles in the trash; even so-called “non-toxic” big-three free polishes should be disposed of as hazardous waste according to Earth911.com.
NANOPARTICLES, NANOMATERIALS and NANOTECHNOLOGY
Nano is a big buzzword in beauty, especially in sunscreens where this emerging technology has allowed scientists to break down ingredients—like zinc or titanium dioxide—into tiny particles. Problem is, these nanoparticles are so small that they can penetrate cell walls, including organ tissues. Researchers recently found that inhalation of carbon nanotubes led to mesothelioma—the same kind of cancer linked to asbestos. While the U.S. may turn a blind eye to potential dangers of nanotechnology, the E.U. is currently reviewing the risks of nanomaterials in cosmetics, especially sunscreens. Stay tuned.
Where to find them: Sunscreens; beauty products.
Suck less: No more nano, unless you’re talking components that are safe to ingest—even then, it’s iffy. See SUNSCREENS.
NYLON and POLYESTER
Unlike materials made from plants (cotton) or animal products (wool), nylon and polyester are made from petrochemicals. Why do they suck? Besides the oil factor, they aren’t biodegradable, which means once you and the thrift store are done with that sweet ‘70s pantsuit, it will live in the landfill forever. Plus, nylon manufacture creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas three hundred times more potent than carbon dioxide. And making polyester uses large amounts of water for cooling, along with lubricants, which can become a source of contamination. Both processes are energy-hungry, leaving ecoistas to charge them unsustainable on two counts.
Where to find them: Faux silks, satins and that aforementioned pantsuit.
Suck less: Ahimsa, also known as “peace silk,” is created when the worm is allowed to live out its lifecycle, rather than killed to extract the silk inside its cocoon. Groovy. Then there’s hemp silk, which is made from silk blended with one of the most sustainable fabrics on the planet to create a fabric that looks and feels like luxurious dupioni silk.
Hemp is a naturally insect-resistant, anti-microbial crop that requires no herbicides, pesticides or chemical fertilizers to produce. If the 1.4 billion cotton t-shirts sold in American each year were replaced with hemp tees, the energy savings would equal 3.5 billion gigajoules and the water savings would equal 1.3 trillion gallons—enough water for half the U.S. population for an entire year. See COTTON, CASHMERE and WOOL.
The increased use of synthetic chemicals between 1930 and 2000 directly correlates with the rise of obesity in adults. Coincidink? We don’t think so. There’s even a new word for these obesity-promoting chemicals: Obesogens. Yes, really.
Including pesticides, preservatives, parabens, hormones, Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, obesogens are endocrine disruptors—chemicals that mimic hormones and mess up the physiologic function of these hormones—that reprogram your metabolism to build and store fat. Obesogens are stored in your fatty tissues; once you start to lose weight—surprise!—they’re released into your bloodstream, fooling your body into hoarding calories instead of burning them. Sounds like a recipe for an overweight world.
Where to find them: Conventional (especially processed) foods, plastics, conventional beauty products.
Suck less: Reduce your exposure by eating organic, using natural household cleaners, storing food in glass containers rather than plastic, avoiding styrofoam, and nixing high-fructose corn syrup.
The word is defined by the Random House Dictionary as “noting or pertaining to a class of chemical compounds that formerly comprised only those existing in or derived from plants or animals, but that now includes all other compounds of carbon.” Simply put: “Organic” material comes from formerly living substances and is not necessarily good for you. Think motor oil. Organic, yes. USDA Certified Organic, no.
Where to find it: On labels from here to Whole Foods; this word is totally unregulated.
Suck less: Get products that walk the talk, by looking for labels like USDA 100% Organic, which means that every single ingredient in the product is organically grown: No pesticides, antibiotics, chemical fertilizers, bio-engineered, synthetic growth hormones or irradiated ingredients. USDA Certified Organic products contain at least 95 percent organically grown ingredients. EcoCert also contain at least 95 percent, as certified by an independent European agency.
A 2008 Centers for Disease control study linked the ubiquitous oxybenzone to cell damage, hormone disruption and allergies. Plus, chemical ingredients like these have also been proven ineffective, acting less as skin protectors, but more as simply pore-clogging goop.
Where to find it: 60% of sunscreens.
Suck Less: Look for broad-spectrum lotion contains the mineral oxides of zinc and titanium, both of which score a low hazard risk on the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database. See SUNSCREEN.
Also known as 1,4-Benzenediamine, p-Phenyldiamine and 4-Phenylenediamine, P-P can cause severe allergic reactions, lung irritation and damage to the nervous system.
Where to find it: Conventional hair dyes.
Suck less: Neurotoxicity. So not what you want out of your new ‘do. See HAIR DYE.
Parabens are a common preservative found in most conventional beauty and personal care products; look for the words “methyl-,” “ethyl-” “propyl-” “butyl-” and “isobutyl.” They have been linked to breast cancer and reproductive disorders. The word “paraben” is an excellent red flag: If you see it on a label, chances are good that more chemicals will follow.
Where to find them: Flip over your concealer, lotion, eye cream—betcha get the ‘bens.
Suck less: Don’t buy it! It may seem like a little thing to buy a paraben-free moisturizer, but each decision you make adds up to affect your carbon footprint. Buy a sustainable product and not only do you stop chemicals from going onto your body and into the ecosystem, you take a dollar from a conventional company and give it to a green company, thus tilting the economic balance in favor of sustainably-minded businesses. Your green beauty buy may seem small, but stack it up with the hundreds of purchases you make each year and the thousands made by the friends whom you talk to about what you buy—Get the picture? It’s like that old Faberge commercial: “She’ll tell two friends, and she’ll tell two friends”—it all adds up. SEE CARBON FOOTPRINT.
A recent study by the Environmental Working Group and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics analyzed 17 of the market’s most popular perfumes and found that they contain, on average, 14 hazardous chemicals that aren’t listed on their labels. These chemicals can cause allergic reactions, reproductive damage and hormone disruption.
Where to find it: Unless you’re buying eco-friendly products, synthetic perfume is in everything from your detergent to your deodorant.
Suck less: Truly natural perfumes made from organic essential oils from master perfumers like Alexandra Balahoutis at Strange Invisible Perfumes. Considering an OTC version? Check it out at EWG first. See PHTHALATES and FRAGRANCE.
PETROLEUM (IN BEAUTY PRODUCTS)
Petroleum is a possible human carcinogen found in American-made personal care products under the name “liquid paraffin.” (In Europe, its use is banned in these products.) Petroleum—and its derivatives petrolatum, mineral oil and paraffin—is the old-school go-to for an ingredient that softens skin; unfortunately, it’s also derived from fossil fuels. Why worry about the fuel consumption of your car only to turn around and slap the stuff on your skin?
Where to find it: The eponymous jelly; your grandmother’s cold cream.
Suck less: Skip it. In this case grandma doesn’t know best.
As people become more aware of the dangers of parabens, the beauty industry rushes in with replacements. An aromatic ether alcohol, phenoxyethanol is a preservative that begins as phenol, a toxic white crystalline powder that is created from carcinogenic benzene, then treated with ethylene oxide (another known carcinogen). It can cause damaging effects on the brain and nervous system, even at moderate concentration that are swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
Where to find it: Beauty products.
Suck less: Veggie-based preservatives like ethylhexlglycerin. Sounds scary, but it’s totally safe.
As people become more aware of the dangers of parabens, the beauty industry rushes in with replacements. An aromatic ether alcohol, phenoxyethanol is a preservative that begins as phenol, a toxic white crystalline powder that is created from carcinogenic benzene, then treated with ethylene oxide (another known carcinogen). It can cause damaging effects on the brain and nervous system, even at moderate concentration that are swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
Where to find it: Beauty products.
Suck less: Veggie-based preservatives like ethylhexlglycerin. Sounds scary, but it’s totally safe.
Phthalates are reproductive toxins that can affect the development of children, yet are so prevalent that repeated studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found them in the urine of nearly every subject they tested.
Where to find it: Unfortunately, phthalates aren’t always included ingredient lists; typically they’re referred to as “fragrance” in perfume, hair spray and deodorant and really mean things like diethyl phthalate, which has been linked to developmental toxicity, reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, allergies and immunotoxicity.
Suck less: Avoid anything that lists the word “fragrance” or “perfume” unless you know for sure it’s natural. See PERFUME and FRAGRANCE. (Duh.)
PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES
Many companies that position themselves as using sustainable materials obtain them from locations outside the U.S., ship them to another location to process, and then back to the U.S. for sale. A good example is wood from South America that’s shipped to Asia for production and then back to the U.S. for sale. So while this wood may be identified as “sustainable,” the process to turn it into products most definitely is not.
Where to find it: Ikea.
Suck less: Think global; buy local. See AIR TRAVEL.
Plastic bags don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade, which means they break into tiny toxic bits that pollute our oceans. Meanwhile, the average American tosses more than 300 plastic bags each year which has resulted in a plastic bag cemetery the size of two Texases floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Where to find them: In your hand.
Suck less: BYOB, baby! Eschew a shopping bag (paper and plastic) and fold up a reusable bag to stash in your purse instead. Just make sure it’s big enough for groceries and/or a pair of shoes.
Plastic bottles take half a million years to biodegrade, yet Americans guzzled the contents of 200 billion bottles and cans in 2006 (more than double what we consumed in 1976). At the same time, recycling rates have plummeted from 48 percent in 1970 to just 33 percent in the last decade.
Where to find them: Every time you’re offered water.
Suck less: Try a refillable bottle or—egads!—filling a glass from the tap. Filtered tap water is way safer than bottled. See BOTTLED WATER.
Polyurethane foam is likely to contain flame retardants. The two major flame retardants used in furniture foam at high levels are Firemaster 550, a mixture of toxic and untested flame retardants, and chlorinated Tris, which was banned from kids’ pajamas in the ‘70s because it causes cancer, yet manufacturers are encouraged to use it in the furniture that they sleep on.
Where to find it: Conventionally upholstered furniture.
Suck less: Eco-furniture, which avoids flame retardants like the plague that they are. See FLAME RETARDENTS.
POLYVINYL CHLORIDE (PVC)
PVC causes environmental damage both through its production and disposal, according to the non-profit Californians Against Waste. The toxic plastic contains lead and cadmium, which are known to cause health issues, leaches dioxin (a known carcinogen) and contains phthalates, which pollutes the environment and pose a serious human health hazard.
Where to find it: In the landfill. Because it’s non-recyclable yet virtually indistinguishable from other, non-toxic plastics such as PET, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that 32 percent of the waste in landfills is made up of PVC containers and discarded packaging. Just one PVC bottle can render a batch of 1,000 PET bottles unsuitable for high-end recycling use, costing recyclers thousands of dollars and insurmountable damage to the planet.
Suck less: Anything but. See YOGA MAT, CADMIUM, PHTHALATES and DIOXIN.
Commonly found in our cosmetics, propylene glycol is a form of mineral oil also used in industrial antifreeze. It serves as a humectant in beauty products, helping retain moisture content and preventing products from drying out. Unfortunately, The Material Safety Data Sheet reports that contact with propylene glycol has been linked to liver abnormalities and kidney damage. There goes that 50-year shelf life.
Where to find it: Hair care products, automatic brake and hydraulic fluid, antifreeze.
Suck less: Naturally-fermented sodium hyaluronate.
Icky-sticky table salt is rock or ocean salt that’s mined, heat blasted, chemically treated and fortified with iodine until it’s devoid of all essential minerals and nutrients.
Where to find it: On the table.
Suck less: Look for organic, artisan salts. We love Himalayan Pink, which is packed with 84 trace elements and minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper and iron. Straight from the nose-bleeding altitudes of the world’s highest peaks, the 250-million-year-old salt has been used for centuries as a folk remedy for a plethora of health issues including stimulating circulation, lowering blood pressure and removing toxins such as heavy metals from the body.
When we wear shoes inside, we track pesticides, insecticides and dirt into our homes.
Where to find them: On your feet.
Suck less: Mr. Rogers was right: Taking off your shoes reduces exposure by a full 85%. Worried about offending guests? Just keep a few pairs by the door and take yours off when enter; they’ll get the picture, and if they don’t it’s up to you if you want to boot ‘em back to The Neighborhood.
Showerheads installed before 1992 can pump as much as eight gallons of water per minute; new low flow showerheads are easy to swap out, emit less than two gallons of water per minute and feel just as fabulous.
Where to find them: The old one in your bathroom; a new low-flow at any hardware store.
Suck less: Take a navy shower: Get wet, turn off the tap, lather up, turn on the tap, rinse off. Especially fun in the summer (or with a friend). And finally, the average shower uses about four gallons of water; the average bath uses 50—so even if you’re a showeraholic, it’s still better than a bath.
SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE
Used in beauty and oral care products to create suds and foam, this harsh chemical can cause immune system damage and allergic reactions, as well as skin, eye and mouth irritation; its manufacturing results in the release of carcinogenic nitrosamines. The Journal of the American College of Toxicology determined that the ingredient has a “degenerative effect on cell membranes” and that even at low levels of concentration, skin penetration occurs. Studies have found that topical application of SLS can lead to traces of the stuff in internal organs. And it doesn’t just stop at your skin: Those suds wash down the drain, into the water system and up the food chain. That means that fish you’re eating could contain the same SLS that you (or your neighbor) shampooed with. Yum.
Where to find it: We’ve all read about the shampoo connection, but did you know SLS is also in used in oral care products like toothpastes and mouthwash?
Suck less: Surfactants made from natural ingredients; see 1,4-DIOXANE and SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE.
Saccharine is a coal tar derivative that causes cancer in lab rats. Sucralose (read: Splenda) is sugar on crack. Aspartamane? Let’s not even go there.
Where to find it: Diet drinks, bars, cookies, ice cream—pretty much everything that we want and think we shouldn’t be allowed to have.
Suck less: Organic agave and stevia have lower glycemic indexes than most sweeteners, making them less likely to raise your blood sugar or insulin levels without giving you a sugar crash. Plus, when you’re using these chem-free sweeteners, typically you’re using less.
Chemical sunscreens like PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) and oxybenzone are absorbed into the bloodstream, break down in the sun and offer far less protection than their labels declare, according to the Environmental Working Group.
Where to find them: On the beach; at the pool.
Suck less: Zinc (best) and titanium dioxide (better) provide a physical barrier to the sun, and no longer leave you with big white splotches on your nose. See NANO.
n. A person who makes others feel guilty for perceived eco-sins; (s)he’s holier than thou and probably drives a Prius. Yes, I made that up.
Where to find them: On Treehugger’s comments page.
Suck less: Can’t we all just get a long? Pointing fingers has done as much a disservice to the environmental movement as greenwashing. “Sustainability,” now that’s a word you can get behind: According to a definition by the United National General Assembly in 1987, means that it “meets the needs of the present, without undermining future generations to meet their needs.” Cool.
The opposite of a sustainabully is someone who gets excited—and gets others excited without making them feel guilty—about things made under the auspices of the “cradle to cradle” philosophy. This is the concept that when you throw something away there really is no “away.” Say, whut? Bear with me: Here’s how it works. Because the Earth is a contained system, nothing that we create can really, truly be disposed of; it just becomes waste if it can’t be reused. “Cradle-to-cradle” challenges manufacturers to make products in a way that they can perpetually be reused or repurposed, therefore creating new “cradles” each time we find a new use.
This is an extremely poor paraphrasing of the 2002 book by William McDonough and Michael Braungart; if you really want to know what it’s all about, read Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, which you can buy used (hence, a new cradle) at Amazon.
Totally overwhelmed with work and obligations: Swamped + tramped = swampled.
Where to find it: Updating The Big List of Things That Suck. Yes, I made that up, too.
Suck less: Yoga, with eco-friendly gear. See YOGA MAT.
When a pan is heated to high temperatures—like to make those quesadillas you’re craving right about now—non-stock coatings such as Teflon break apart into potentially carcinogenic substances that definitely don’t add flava.
Where to find it: Eggs that slide off the pan.
Suck less: Make your cook wear stainless steel, iron or copper coated—even if it means losing the 12-piece set and opting for a smaller number of new pots and pans.
Thimerosal is a preservative derived from mercury, which can cause brain damage at low levels.
Where to find it: Some conventional mascaras.
Suck less: Put eco-friendly mascara to the “Beaches” test. They work just as well—or better—than the conventional stuff, plus no raccoon eyes. See MERCURY.
Conventional toilets use two gallons of water every time they flush. Imagine how much water’s wasted when all those self-flushing toilets sense the absence of phantom asses.
Where to find it: New public bathrooms, even in schools.
Suck less: Use a sticky note or piece of table to disable the sensor—it’s typically located behind the bowl, where you would reach to flush. Then if it’s yellow, it’s mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.
The EPA estimates that nearly 75% of our trash is recyclable and/or compostable, yet we send nearly 70% of it to the landfill.
Where to find it: Under the sink.
Suck less: You may be an old pro at bottles and cans, but in the bathroom, for example, many people who religiously separate their cans and bottles from the rest of their trash stop short at recycling the containers that hold their beauty products.
You can recycle toilet paper rolls and empty tissue boxes, shampoo and conditioner bottles. Razors and toothbrushes are typically not recyclable, but there is are brands made from recycled plastic with built-in recycling programs that practically do it for you.
When it comes to closet cleaning, don’t toss out that old shirt! Textiles account for nearly four million tons of solid waste every year, or four percent of the content of our landfills. Donate it to charity, turn it into a rag, or use a sewing machine to upcycle (like recycling, only better) it into something completely eco-fabulous.
Your office batteries and ink cartridges can be recycled, but you can’t just dump them in your blue bin; find out where to drop them off at Earth911. Office equipment like phones and computers can also be recycled through general electronics collections at places like the Goodwill.
Still confused by basic recycling? Flip over any plastic container and check out the triangular arrows on the bottom. That’s the “chasing arrow” symbol, and the number in the middle indicates the type of plastic the container is made from. Typically, numbers one and two are the most widely recyclable plastics, but there are exceptions: For example, one through seven are recyclable in the City of Phoenix, but in Scottsdale (a suburb of Phoenix), they only take one (polyethylene terephthalate or PET, used for soda bottles) and two (high-density polyethylene or HDPE, used for milk and detergent bottles). Some recycling programs even take Styrofoam; again Earth911 is your new best friend for finding out more on what’s blue-bin worthy in your ‘hood.
Finally, a word about composting. Keep a bowl for veggie scraps next to the sink and you can cut down your kitchen trash by 50%. And here’s the kicker: Even if you never add worms and don’t think about it except to dump your wilted lettuce in there every few days, about once a year you can pull compost out of the bottom and score yourself the most kick-ass garden in town. You don’t even have to turn it. C’mon, it can’t get easier. Seriously.
n. A constant tweeter, the twittaholic exhibits violent behavior when separated from his or her computer and/or cell. Made that one up, too.
Where to find them: On Facebook, weirdly.
Suck less: Log off. “You twittaholic, I don’t care what kind of aioli is on your veggie burger!” See EMAUL and SUSTAINABULLY.
Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are widely used as ingredients in household products. Products release VOCs into the environment, where they can damage soil and groundwater. Vapors of VOCs escaping into the air contribute to air pollution, are potentially carcinogenic and lead to stratospheric ozone depletion, i.e. the Greenhouse Effect.
Where to find them: Paints, varnishes and waxes; furniture and carpets.
Suck less: Zero VOC paints are now easy to find: Most major paint lines now have zero VOC versions of their most popular shades. If you can’t afford environmentally friendly furniture, try buying second hand gear. Over time, most VOCs are released—“off-gassed”—into the environment to a point where they’re not as dangerous to you and your family.
Oh we could go on and on, but we’ll leave that to you. Got more suckies to add? Email us at email@example.com.