Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Creating a healthy home - looking for alternatives to plastic!

A friend recently dropped off a book she insisted I should read.  She had initially taken it out from the library, but was so drawn in that she needed to purchase a copy for herself before she was even done reading it.  I'm sure many of you have come across this title and subject already - I had seen the book Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the toxic chemistry of everyday life affects our health - but I had not yet picked it up to read it.  I generally felt that our family is quite aware of keeping toxins and chemicals out of our household, and this book would not reveal much new information.  However, reading just the first chapter made me re-evaluate this thought, as I started to go over a list in my mind of all the subtle ways toxins creep into even the most eco-minded lifestyle.  First of all plastics (toothpaste tubes, rice milk cartons, tofu and tempeh wrapped in plastic, almost any packaging on newly purchased items, shampoo bottles, children's toys, winter snow suits, shower curtains)...then chemicals (furniture, virtually any new clothing, carpets, car interiors, plush toys).   It has been said that in an average day in North America we are exposed to over 450 toxins, just by eating 3 meals and going back and forth to work.  Of course, all these toxins all build up over time in our bodies to cause a myriad of health problems.

So, how to limit the exposure, especially in our homes?  It seems like you need to start with a serious purge in our homes of many familiar items, and then constant vigilence - difficult to do, and certainly not everyone has the budget to purchase all organic or so-called "eco" home products.  However, by minimizing the prevalence of plastics and toxins in our home we can actually save money, because one easy way to do this is by buying less (especially new items), reusing things or purchasing second hand, and making things ourselves with natural materials.

Here are a few simple ideas on how to reduce the amount of plastics coming into the home.
a) milks, yogurts - buy in glass jars
b) freezer bags - freeze food in glass jars, or can/preserve it in glass jars to avoid longterm freezer storage
c) produce bags - avoid those flimsy plastic produce bags at the grocery store by bringing your own cotton reusable produce bags
d) shower curtains - use natural materials like cotton, or hemp which is naturally anti-microbial
e) toothpaste tubes - a simple and effective toothpaste can be mixed in a glass jar using baking soda and a few drops of pepppermint essential oil or tea tree oil
f) dish and laundry detergents - purchase in bulk and store in glass jars
g) cleaning agents - use baking soda, lemon, and vinegar for effective (and cheap) cleaning
h) bread bags - store bread in old fashioned bread boxes, paper bags, or ceramic containers with lids
i) tupperware, ziploc bags and plastic food wrap - use cloth bags, glass jars, ceramic dishes to store food
j) diapers and disposable wipes - use cloth diapers made of wool, cotton or hemp, and reusable cloth wipes and natural sprays
k) tea and coffee packaging - use loose-leaf tea, or your own garden variety, and purchase coffee in bulk and store in glass jar
l) dishes and glasses - purge your cupboard of any plastics and scour thrift stores for glass cups, ceramic, stainless steel, and wooden dishes/bowls
m) bedding - if you can spend the money, do it here - we average about 1/3 of our lives sleeping, so healthful bedding is important!  use natural materials in bedding, mattresses, blankets like cotton, natural fibres, wool filling
n) clothing - try for all natural materials, or at least non-new clothing items (to avoid exposure to chemicals that treat new clothing)
o) house paints - by now there are lots of non-toxic, non VOC paints at every paint store, and at reasonable prices so these are an obvious choice
p) kid's toys - go for used, or non-toxic, all natural toys (wood, cloth, wool)
q) shampoos - make your own, use shampoo soap bars, or apple cider vinegar rinses rather than plastic bottles
r) food - to minimize plastic packaging when buying food, try to purchase in bulk (bulk flours, beans and grains usually come in brown paper bags), whole foods (e.g. produce at the market or grocery store, CSA, or home-grown), or in glass containers that are refillable (e.g. nut butters, honey, syrup, apple cider, milk, yogurt)


  1. An excellent book! I am just reading it myself, as well. The Canadian perspective and content is particularly interesting. Thank you for the additional list of suggestions you include here.

  2. Some good ideas here, Karin. I have been a plastic hater for years, but I find it very tough to avoid completely. I did want to point out a few things, however.

    Toothpaste: Yes, we have tried using the diluted baking soda recipe, and it does work well, but you have to be careful about using it for everyday use. It seems to wear the enamel off of your teeth a bit, so it's a good idea to alternated it with something else.

    Shampoo: An even better idea is to not use any shampoo at all. I haven't used it for years. If you let your hair take care of itself, and don't use soap to wash away the natural oils, eventually your hair gets used to it and doesn't need it. Although there is a breaking-in period when your hair may be a bit greasy for a few weeks.

    Toys: This is a tough one for older kids. We started out by having only wood or natural material toys in our home when the boys were young. But it gets harder and harder to find appropriate toys for older kids that aren't plastic.

  3. Even if you can't attack everything at once, the book shows how dramatically you can affect toxin levels by doing even a few simple things, like making sure there's no teflon in the house, or knowing which plastics are the worst.
    Once you start thinking about it,it is amazing to realize how we actually live in a bath of petrochemicals.

  4. Thanks for a great reminder post. I agree with Brendan on the older kids toys; it is very difficult to find non-plastic toys. I am going to look into the toothpaste, as that seems doable. This is sort of silly, but I save all the plastic bags I do end up with and use them to clean up after the dog.