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Why My Purse is Green

Because I believe…

  • the fastest, most effective way to stop polluters is by pressuring them in the marketplace
  • women can be the world’s most powerful economic and environmental force if we intentionally shift our spending to the best green products and services
  • women have the power right now to solve many of our most serious environmental problems by using our green purses to make a difference
  • women must act – intentionally, collectively, and with the full force of our purse power behind us – if we hope to leave our children and grandchildren a better world.
  • « September 2009 | Main | November 2009 »

    October 29, 2009

    Make Your Own "Green" Halloween Face Paint

    Halloween face paint Now that lead has been found in Halloween face paint, the search is on for safer ways to decorate dimples and illuminate eyes. One thing is clear: ONLY face paint of cosmetic grade should be used. Fortunately, many options exist:

    Snazaroo’s 50 colors are water-based, made with materials that meet health and safety standards set both by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Union, and carry a ‘child safety" toy rating. Need sparkle, brushes, sponges or stencils so you don’t turn your princess into a pea pod? Snazaroo sells it all. 

    Lyra Face Paint Pencils are non-toxic and dermatologically tested to maximize safety. Manufactured according to European Standards and certified by the Art and Craft Materials Institute, they come in a set of six easy-to-apply colors (white, yellow, red, blue, green and black).

    Pink Quartz Minerals (featured in photo) is a vegan mineral makeup manufacturer that also offers non-toxic, mineral-based Halloween makeup in a wide variety of colors.

    If you have any doubts about a product you’re considering, check the ingredients against the data base maintained by Environmental Working Group.

    Of course, you can always buy organically-based, paraben- and phthalate-free cosmetics in your grocery or department store. You can even make your own. Here’s a recipe from...

    Continue reading "Make Your Own "Green" Halloween Face Paint " »

    October 23, 2009

    Top Ten Reasons to Take Climate Change Seriously

    Poison ivy Still on the fence about whether climate change matters to you? Here are ten reasons why it should:

    1. Poison Ivy.  Poison ivy leaves have gotten bigger and their toxic oils more potent because the plants are thriving in hotter conditions. As climate change increases, it will be easier to get poison ivy and harder to get rid of the rash once it occurs.

    2. Asthma. In a hotter environment, plants produce more pollen, which makes it more difficult for people with asthma and other respiratory problems to breathe. If you have trouble breathing now, catching your breath in the future could be a real challenge if the planet continues to warm. 

    3. Malaria and Dengue Fever. These deadly illnesses, once restricted to the tropics, are creeping into northern latitudes as disease-bearing mosquitoes migrate north into increasingly warm regions. In this country, states like Florida and Texas are on alert.

    4. Drought. As rain patterns change, many unexpected cities -- like Atlanta! -- find themselves running out of water. Climate change has jeopardized one of our most basic rights - being able to quench our thirst with a cool drink of H20. 

    5. Starvation. People in less developed countries are starving as their agricultural systems shrivel up due to lack of rain. We feel the effects in this country, maybe not in starvation, but certainly in food shortages that result from extreme climate events.

    6. Polar Bears. As arctic ice melts, polar bears are losing the habitat they need to reproduce. They're not the only species endangered by climate change. Here are more.

    7. Hurricanes. Just two words: Hurricane Katrina. Need I say more?

    8. Money. It is costing the global economy trillions of dollars to "fix" the problems caused by climate change. You'll feel the impact on higher taxes that need to be charged to cover these costs as well as in higher prices on the consumer goods you buy.

    9. National Security.  A nation that faces drought, starvation, hurricane damage, food shortages, and a variety of human health problems is at risk for civil unrest and international instability. Don't like the idea of going to war? Support global efforts to control climate change.

    10. Our Kids. Virtually every generation since the beginning of time has left the world better off for the generations that followed. Will we be able to same the same thing about our generation? Not if we leave behind a severely altered global climate that weakens the natural systems upon which all life depends.

    Control Climate Change to Protect the Environment

    350 If we have any hope of protecting the environment and ourselves, we must get climate change under control. The nations of the world are meeting in Copenhagen in December to try to hammer out international agreements to reduce the greenhouse gases that have caused the world's temperatures to soar, endangering the systems upon which all life depends.

    But news reports are discouraging: already, headlines are announcing that major policy shifts are unlikely. We need commitments from every country, but especially the U.S., to reduce our dependence on the fossil fuels whose burning is warming the globe. The worldwide demonstrations tomorrow can show our "leaders" that it's time to follow the will of concerned citizens everywhere, and unite behind concrete plans not simply to slow climate change, but to stop it.

    This morning, I received the following letter from Bill McKibben, the founder of tomorrow's International Day of Climate Action. I reprint it here in the hopes you'll participate.

    Dear Friend,

    Saturday's the day -- October 24, the International Day of Climate Action. So
    join the nearest 350 actionknowing you'll be part of something big.

    Very big, in fact. This campaign has gone viral--there will be over four thousand events taking place simultaneously in over 175 nations. As far as we can tell, you'll be part of the single most widespread day of political action about any issue that our planet has ever seen...


    350 pic 1 There are too many incredible events to list in one place, but here are some of the highlights:

    • In Cambodia, citizens from across the country will gather at the famous Angkor Wat to take a giant 350 action photo.
    • In Hungary, hundreds of bathers will jump into the public baths in Budapest and do a 350 synchronized swimming performance.
    • In the United States, 350 people will dance to Michael Jackson's Thriller in Seattle -- because if we don't stop global warming, we might as well be undead.

    When you're out there marching or rallying, biking or kite-flying, singing or taking part in whatever is going on in your community, take a minute and try to imagine all the other people doing the same kind of things all around the world--every one taking the same basic scientific fact and driving it into the public consciousness.

    350 is the most important number in the world--scientists have told us that it's the most carbon dioxide we can have in the atmosphere, and now we're making sure everyone knows...

    Onwards,

    Bill McKibben

    October 15, 2009

    It's Blog Action Day - So Get a Move On!

    Bad-180-150 In honor of Blog Action Day, I'm getting off my duff and doing a few things to protect the environment and my family that I've been meaning to do for a while now: 

    * I signed up to attend a climate change rally in Washington, D.C. on October 24, Climate Action Day. Want to do the same? Visit 350.org for details.

    * I wrote a letter to Wal-Mart encouraging the company to involve consumers in the new initiative it's launched to establish sustainability standards for manufacturers and vendors it does business with. It matters, because as Wal-Mart goes, so goes the world. Learn more here - and get the link so you can write a letter yourself.

    *  I donated to Alaska Wilderness League, a highly effective non-profit organization working to prevent oil drilling in America's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They need your money. Can you donate, too?

    * I'm tweeting all day about the need to act now to reduce climate change. If I'm not following you, let me know at www.twitter.com/dianemaceachern and www.twitter.com/biggreenpurse.

    What are you doing to take action and make a difference? Let us know!

    October 13, 2009

    We Need Meaningful Standards to Protect the Planet -- and Us, too.

    Skeptical woman We've all seen the product claims that SOUND like they mean environmental protection. But do they?

    * Products labeled "natural" may contain some biological ingredients, but they may also include synthetic dyes and fragrances.

    * "Hypoallergenic" has no medical meaning. The word was invented by advertisers who used it in a cosmetics campaign in 1953.  Says the Food and Drug Administation, "There are no federal standards or definitions that govern the use of the term hypoallergenic. [It] means whatever a particular company wants it to mean."

    * "Biodegradable" should mean that, when a product is exposed to air, moisture, bacteria, or other organisms, it will break down and return to its natural state within a reasonably short time. However, no government entity verifies the accuracy of a biodegradable claim; the term is often used simply to provide a marketing edge to a product that otherwise has no real environmental attributes.

    * "Free range" implies that a meat or poultry product, including eggs, comes from an animal that was raised in the open air or was free to roam. But a vendor can give his livestock as little as five minutes of fresh air and still make the claim. Free range...or free rein to greenwash you, the concerned ecoshopper?

    * "Fragrance-free" suggests a product has no natural perceptible smell; however, synthetic ingredients may have been added to mask odors -- and the dangerous phthalates that create them.

    What's the point of this litany?

    Currently, no government standards define specific "eco" terms like the ones above. Companies are free to use these words to gain a marketing advantage regardless of their accuracy. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) prohibits deceptive advertising and has issued guidelines encouraging manufacturers to substantiate environmental claims, but the agency rarely enforces its own rules.

    This is a problem because consumers who want to protect themselves and the environment are increasingly reading product labels -- and walking away confused. Should they buy the "green" cleaner -- even though the label also says "Warning - Hazardous" because it actually contains toxic chemicals that can irritate the lungs or eyes?  Lipstick promises to make you beautiful. Should you use it, even though it  may contain lead? And what's with those "fuel efficient" hybrids that get less than 20 mpg?

    Greenmoms1 How much easier these choices would be if products were required to meet meaningful standards set by independent third parties, a point Mary Hunt over at In Women We Trust has been arguing for years, and a point being made again this month by the members of the Green Moms Carnival, which Mary is also hosting.

    You could avoid most greenwashing traps and label ambiguities if companies adopted comprehensive standards guaranteeing that their products were fully "sustainable" - that they protected public health and the environment throughout their entire commercial "life cycle." That includes the extraction of raw materials through their manufacture and use to final disposal or reuse in a new product.

    Ideally, such standards would be set at the federal level. But if you've been watching the health care debate, you know how tough passing new regulations can be. That's why there's so much interest in Wal-Mart's recent jump into the sustainability arena. The retail giant is planning to develop a sustainability index against which it will judge the vendors that supply products to its stores.  Want to do business with Wal-Mart? You'll have to be able to vault over their bar.

    How high that bar turns out to be remains to be seen.  Given Wal-Mart's role as the world's retail superpower, the higher we can convince them to set the bar, the better off we'll all be.

    To that end -- and in honor of Blog Action Day -- now would be a good time to contact Wal-Mart and urge the company to set the most meaningful environmental standards possible.


    October 08, 2009

    New Book Highlights Environmental, Health Threats from Toxic Chemicals

    Nena baker Investigative journalist Nena Baker is the author of The Body Toxic: How the Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens Our Health and Well-being (North Point Press/Farrar, Straus and Giroux). I first met Nena when we both spoke at the Women, Health & Environment Conference sponsored by the Heinz Endowment in 2008. Since then, I've been a fan of her investigations into the impact that toxic chemicals have on our bodies as well as the planet. In the first of a two-part article, Nena explains why she tries to avoid one of the most common chemicals you're likely to find in your furniture, television, and kitchen blender.

    Bodytoxic_pbk "Ever since the publication of my book,  The Body Toxic: How the Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens Our Health and Well-being, people ask me what I’ve done in my own life to reduce exposures to toxic chemicals.

    One answer is: I vacuum a lot more. And one family of toxic chemicals is the reason for it. Called polybrominated diphyl ethers, or PBDEs, these toxic flame retardants were – beginning in the 1970s -- added to everything from furniture foam, mattresses, carpet padding and drapery backings, to car interiors, computers, TVs, fax machines and small kitchen appliances. 

    Because of the way PBDEs were blended into foam and plastic – think of a baker stirring chocolate chips into cookie dough – they can easily escape from the materials into which they are mixed. As a result, PBDEs settle in the dust on the floors of our homes, where children and pets spend most of their time. Indeed, researchers believe dust is the primary route of human exposure to PBDEs.

    Based on the findings in animal studies, the EPA classifies PBDEs as a possible human carcinogen. Like other endocrine-disrupting chemicals I write about in The Body Toxic, PBDEs also are suspected of causing an array of negative health effects, including thyroid hormone disruption and permanent learning and memory impairment.

    Because of their widespread use, PBDEs have built up at astonishing rates in the environment and in people. No one can say for certain how PBDEs are affecting humans, young or old. But research led by Dr. Linda Birnbaum, who was recently appointed director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, makes the case that house cats may be sentinels for humans, especially the littlest ones.

    “Think about a cat’s behavior,” said Birnbaum. “They’re on the floor; they’re on the furniture. They get dust on themselves. They ingest it through grooming. Well, little kids are all over the floor and furniture, and they’re frequently mouthing things, including their hands.”


    Read Part 2 of this article.

    Toxic Dust Bunnies: Environmental Health, Safety Threats from PBDEs

    Bodytoxic_pbk Part 2 - by Nena Baker, author, The Body Toxic: How the Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens Our Health and Well-being (North Point Press/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

    "Thirty years ago, about the time that PBDEs were introduced, veterinarians began noticing an uptick in feline hyperthyroidism, the most common endocrine disorder in cats.

    It causes rapid weight loss and leads to secondary problems with the heart and digestive system, greatly diminishing an animal’s quality of life. Notably, the disease is associated with cats who live indoors. Birnbaum and her research team wondered: Could the epidemic of thyroid disease in cats be associated with PBDEs in house dust?

    Their 2007 pilot study showed the PBDE exposures in older cats with hyperthyroidism were three times higher than the levels in younger cats without it. Birnbaum told me that more studies are needed to pin down a correlation between PBDEs and feline hyperthyroidism, but that it makes sense to study chronic PBDE exposure in cats because they share the same environment with humans. Moreover, as the study notes, cats and humans are the only mammals that have a high incidence of hyperthyroidism.

    With some scientists describing PBDEs as the “PCBs of the 21st century,” the makers of PBDEs voluntarily ceased making two of the three commercial mixtures of these flame retardants at the end of 2004. But the most widely produced PBDE – commonly known as “Deca” – continues to be manufactured for use primarily in electronics.  Three states – Washington, Maine and Oregon – have passed Deca bans, and other states are considering them.

    On September 29, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced that PBDEs are among six chemicals the EPA has targeted for priority review and possible regulation. But because of the way all types of PBDEs were used in big-ticket items that consumers keep for years and years, these toxic chemicals will continue to build up in the dust of homes and offices for the foreseeable future.

    So, to minimize toxic dust bunnies in my own home:

    * I vacuum at least twice a week using a machine with a high-quality filter.

    * I also recommend avoiding contact with crumbling old foam from carpet padding, old mattress pads and stuffed furniture.

    * If you can’t replace the items, tightly tape over the tears or rips.

    * Isolate an area when replacing old carpet padding so you don’t spread the dust.

    * When shopping, look for PBDE-free electronics and furniture.

    PBDEs should not be in mattresses, couches and other foam products produced in 2005 or later. However, they are still put into some new electronics. If you’re not sure if a product contains PBDEs, contact the manufacturer and ask.

    Don't miss Part I of this article. For more information, read The Body Toxic by Nena Baker.

    October 05, 2009

    Environmental In-Box: Cast Iron Cookware

        Cast iron pan For top-notch cooking without the worry generated by non-stick cookware, I turn to cast iron. Here's why:

    What I Like:

    * You get "non stick" without the nonsense of PFOA, the nasty chemical that makes Teflon easy to clean but also health threatening.

    *Once cast iron is seasoned (a simple process), it cooks beautifully. I make lots of sticky stuff in my pans, like omelets, sautes, and stir fry. I use just a little bit of oil to lubricate the surface, then gradually heat the pan. It cooks like a dream.

    *The pan can be cleaned with hot water and a scrub brush only. No soap, please - these pans need to remain "seasoned" to work properly, so you never want to try to remove all the oil that bakes into their surface.

    *Finally, cast iron really holds the heat. If I'm cooking a soup or stew, I can turn the heat completely off ten minutes early and the heat in the pot will keep the ingredients bubbling along. That also makes it a great serving dish. You won't have to worry about food cooling down once it's put on the table if you serve it in a cast iron pot. NOTE: If you don't like the black hue of cast iron, you can pay a little more for enamel covered iron ware that will look very pretty on your table.

    The downside? Cast iron is heavy. You'll need two hands and a little bit of muscle to lift a full cast iron pot. I'm no Amazon and I can manage it, so you probably can, too. Also, to avoid rust you should dry cast iron with a towel, rather than let it air dry.

    Product and price comparison:

    Lodge is probably the best-known cast iron manufacturer, as well as the cheapest. Several other brands sell enameled cast iron, including Le Creuset. Staub, and Mario Battali Cookware. Here's what several consumers had to say about the various enameled cast iron lines available. If you don't care about the color of the pans, the most economical choice is the plain cast iron from Lodge. Otherwise, shop sales (or ask for the fancier enameled cast iron for a birthday or holiday gift). NOTE: Scanpan now produces Green Tek, a PFOA-free cookware line it claims is environmentally friendly. This looks promising, but the manufacturer's claims have no third-party validation, and I haven't tried it myself yet. Stay tuned.

     How many purses? 

    Purse Purse Purse Three. No question.

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