With an overwhelming variety of health and beauty products to choose from, it’s not always easy to tell which are the best for you and the environment. As good as they may seem, many terms such as “natural” and “hypoallergenic” aren’t subject to substantiation by the Food and Drug Administration. With no set standards, companies may define and use them freely. Deceptive marketing intended to make a product seem more environmentally friendly is known as greenwashing, which can make shopping both difficult and confusing. Here’s how FDA labeling defines some common terms:
Natural or Naturally Derived– There is no definition to use for “natural” and other similar terms. Both naturally occurring and synthetically derived chemicals can be harmful, so labeling as such says nothing of a product’s safeness to humans or the environment.
Hypoallergenic– There are no standards or requirements for a product to be labeled “hypoallergenic.” Free to define the term as they wish, companies may (and do) use the label even if the product contains known allergens.
Organic– The FDA has no legal definition of the term and does not enforce its use. However, any cosmetic or body care product that contains agricultural ingredients must be certified by the National Organic Program to use the term. Products that do not contain agricultural ingredients may use the term without regulation, though they may be certified under private standards.
Earth-Friendly or Eco-Safe– These terms are unregulated by the FDA and USDA, and have no legal basis. Beware of products making these claims without certification under known standards.
Fair Trade– Products that have been certified by Fair Trade USA ensure the producer has been compensated fairly, allowing them to invest in more sustainable practices or purchase higher quality inputs.
So, what should you look for on body product labels? Be wary of goods that make unsubstantiated claims. In fact, many with private certifications meet higher standards than those without. Cosmetics are also commonly tested on animals, so look for labels that state the product was not tested under such conditions, and, in general, avoid ingredients you can’t pronounce. Oil-based soaps are often gentler than those with glycerin, but beware of preservatives in both cases. Parabens, in particular, have been known to be carcinogenic. –Holly Young
Compost is the black gold of home gardening. Farmers have used manure and other decomposing organic material to nourish crops since ancient Mesopotamian times, and for good reason. Not only does it fertilize and condition the soil with high levels of nutrients, but it also aids with erosion control and pest management. By reducing the need for chemical fertilizer inputs and recycling household waste, you’ll also be saving money and benefiting the environment.
When food scraps, plant debris and other organic material are moistened and heaped together, bacteria and other naturally-occurring microorganisms break down the matter into humus rich in readily-available minerals and nutrients. It also has an ideal structure to supplement the soil, as its high porosity means lots of air pockets and good water-retention, and its looseness contributes to wider and deeper root growth, beneficial to both the soil and plants.
With a little help from some hungry microbes, composting for your home garden can be as easy as watching a plant grow… except in this case you’ll be watching them break down. To compost successfully, there are three important factors that may require some practice to properly balance: moisture, heat and aeration.
Begin by collecting food waste and plant debris outside in a bin. If you choose to build your bin from wood or scraps, ensure the pieces are untreated, as chemicals can leech into the compost. A lid can be helpful to keep out excess snow or rain, but is not necessary. Keep in mind that better aeration can be achieved by using a slatted or caged bin with a lot of air exposure. Some larger-scale compost heaps use no bin at all, instead gathering it on concrete and covering with a tarp.
Use equal parts yard debris and food scraps for the best blend of “brown” and “green” materials (such as dried leaves and fresh vegetables, respectively) and pour water over it whenever it appears dry. Damp, but not wet, is ideal. Using a good mix of materials will aid with drainage and speedier decomposition. Turning the pile regularly will also aid with decomposition, and water that drains from the heap can be collected and used as liquid fertilizer. Any temperature above freezing will allow the material to break down, though higher temperatures speed up the process. Finding a good location for the bin with direct sunlight and wind protection can be very helpful for keeping temperatures high.
The compost will be ready to use when it appears dark and crumbly, which can take several months to achieve. If the decomposition process isn’t going as planned, don’t worry: moistening, draining, insulating or rotating the mix can quickly put it right back on track. –Holly Young
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Yesterday we made our monthly visit to Costco (where fuel is usually 10¢ a gallon cheaper than it is at normal gas stations), and decided to go ahead and fill Mary’s car up even though we still had 1/4 of a tank left. Even at their deeply discounted price, the cost around 13 gallons of gas was over $50! Compared to other states, Georgia’s gas prices are actually surprisingly low, but even here they’re expected to rise to $4.50/gallon this summer!
In our current economic times, everyone is looking for ways to save money, but it seems that there are a lot of misconceptions out there about fuel economy. Fortunately, the American government has a website called FuelEconomy.gov, which offers a great overview of the various facts and myths about conserving gas:
• Using Premium Fuel Improves Fuel Economy– Totally false. If you believe this, I know some BP executives who have a story about the Gulf oil spill not impacting wildlife to sell you.
• Vehicles Must Be Warmed Up In Cold Months Before Being Driven– Also not true. The only reason to warm your car up is so you’ll be warm and the windows will defrost. If you really want to conserve energy, use a jacket for the former and a pitcher of hot water on the latter.
• It Takes More Gas To Start A Car Than To Let It Idle– This is one of the biggest misconceptions about fuel economy. Idling uses 1/4 to 1/2 a gallon of gas in an hour, costing a couple of cents per minute. So if you’re stuck in stop-and-go traffic, it’s probably not worth it to stop and restart your car, but if you’re going to be idling for more than a few minutes you probably want to shut it off.
• Aftermarket Additives Can Improve Fuel Economy– There are tons of “miracle products” that make bold claims about improving gas mileage, but both Consumer Reports and the Federal Trade Commission have refuted such claims. The only thing these products do is lighten the load on your wallet.
• Tips That Can Actually Save You Money On Gas– Drive sensibly (aggressive driving lowers gas mileage by 33%), maintain a steady speed via cruise control, remove excess weight (an extra 100 pounds in your trunk reduces your mpg by 2%), use overdrive gears, keep your engine properly tuned, keep tires properly inflated, use your car’s recommended grade of motor oil, and consider upgrading to a hybrid vehicle such as a Prius. If we had a fleet of 50 mpg cars on the road today, we’d save more oil annually than there is in the entire Gulf of Mexico! –Bret Love
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A “fun guy” once told me that mushrooms deserve more than the occasional appearance on a veggie pizza. Ranging in taste from meaty to fruity, mushrooms have endless cooking possibilities. And, better yet, they also have a whole host of associated health benefits.
You may have heard that common mushrooms, including buttons and portobellos, contain natural carcinogenic toxins that require them to be cooked prior to consumption. But there’s good news: There are many varieties of mushrooms which have equally strong anti-cancer properties. Other healing powers of mushrooms include lowering cholesterol, boosting the immune system, controlling blood pressure and reducing inflammation, just to name a few.
However, if you’ve ever purchased exotic varieties at a specialty grocery store or market you’re probably familiar with their high price. But there’s more good news! With a log and less than $10 worth of spores, you can create your very own mushroom farm. Shiitake and oyster are the most common log-cultivated mushroom varieties and make great first-time growing projects the whole family will love.
WHAT YOU’ll NEED:
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For anyone who has ever tried to boil water over a campfire, portable stoves may seem like a convenient luxury employed only by seasoned campers. But did you know that you can make your very own compact stove using only household tools and a couple of tin cans? We recently saw a great video on making your own camping stove from The Outdoor Adventure:
What you’ll need:
• 4” and 3” diameter unopened tin cans • 1/8” and 3/8” drill bits • tin snips • file • drill • can opener
• Begin by removing the lid of the larger can, making sure to preserve the top rim of the lid. This can be accomplished by using the can opener with gears facing downward to cut along the side.
• Center the smaller can on top of the large lid and use a file to score around it where the can will attach (it will likely fit nicely into the grooves of the lid).
• Punch holes along the scored ring on the lid, and use tin snips to cut out the center circle. This ring will attach to the larger can and house the smaller can, so ensure the cut is smooth and even.
• Remove the lid of the smaller can, and with the 1/8″ bit, drill many holes throughout the bottom to allow for ample airflow.
• Use the same bit to drill a ring of holes at the top of the small can, approximately 3/4″ apart.
• Use the 3/8” bit to drill a ring of holes approximately 1” apart on the bottom of the small can and drill a second ring with half as many holes just above that. Drill matching holes in the larger can.
• Slide the lid ring up the smaller can until it rests just above the ring of small holes at the top. Punch four small holes above the ring from the inside out to hold it in place.
• Crimp the top of the larger can inward to support the smaller can, then place the smaller can with attached ring inside it. You now have a personal wood gasifier stove!
• Fill the small can with slender pieces of wood and bark and ignite from the top. This will be sufficient fuel to boil a pot of water, which will take less than 10 minutes with your new stove.
• A third large can with both ends removed can be used as a pot stand. Simply make cuts halfway down the can and bend the flaps outward. –Holly Young
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