Monday, February 18, 2008

It Ain't Easy Being Green

So over the past few years I've slowly begun to go green...not for the right reasons, like caring about the environment or anything, but to satisfy one of my neuroses: I have this thing about efficiency. I can't stand it when things aren't efficient. Once when I was in college (and obsessive about recycling; again, because I can't stand waste) I had a dream about eating paper. I was eating the paper because it was too inefficient to throw it away.

I was home from work today because my kids were both sick. It's a really good thing that I'm not a stay-at-home mom because I ended up buying $75 worth of household cleaner (Xtreme Kleen)from a door-to-door salesman after he drank some of the all-purpose-cleaner to prove to me that it was non-toxic (and biodegradable, and environmentally sound, etc). But I just wanted him to stop drinking the solvent. I had already purchased some Method cleaning supplies thinking that it would be better overall for all of us (including the housecleaners I have) to have more environmentally and theoretically safer products. $75 later, I started doing some research on cleaning products. Here's what I found:

  • Manufacturers of cleaning supplies are not required to divulge their ingredients. This makes it kind of hard to figure out if what you're buying is good for your health or the environment.
  • Biodegradable and environmentally friendly does not equal good for your health. For instance, a lot of biodegradable products (like butyl cellosolve) are fine for the environment but can cause a whole host of problems for humans (like liver and reproductive damage, to name a few). Butyl cellosolve happens to be in many household cleaners, including Xtreme Kleen and other more common brands. Method didn't disclose particulars; their ingredient list says things like "biodegradable solvent". Hm.
  • There are no regulated labels for claims like "environmentally friendly" and other phrases that make things sound like they're good for you / the earth. I bought some "environmentally friendly" laundry detergent and the ingredient list was no different from the Costo Kirkland brand laundry detergent I had purchased previously.

So what's a girl to do? The best thing to do is to live in filth. No, actually, the safest thing to do (which I have yet to do, and maybe I'm willing to risk my health in order to optimize idle time) is to make your own household cleaners. If you're inspired to do this, here's a link. It is a whole lot cheaper, but -- let me know how it goes.

Since I won't be making my own household cleaner in the next couple of hours, I was looking for some easier efficiency projects to concentrate on. A few months ago I already switched out 1 in 3 of our lightbulbs for energy efficient types. Surprisingly, it made a pretty significant dent in our electric bill. More efficient! I stumbled upon my latest idea on the National Geographic Green Guide site. I haven't subscribed yet to the Green Guide because 1) I'm lazy and 2) it seems counterintuitive that I would subscribe to this thing that is printed on paper, but I'm sure I'll get over that. The idea is to stop using paper napkins at dinner. I do happen to have about a thousand cloth napkins that get used about once a year sitting in the linen closet upstairs. I don't know why I never thought to actually just use them. I mean, I have to do laundry anyway, so why not. And I'll argue that I don't have to press them because I'll use up less energy using them wrinkled.