How to: Reduce your paper towel usage by 99%

Peeps, listen up. Eliminating (well, almost) paper towels from your house is one of the easiest things you can do to reduce your waste and wastefulness. You do not need paper towels to dry produce, to wipe down kitchen counters, or to wipe up anything. Yes, they are convenient and compostable, but why not use something reusable instead?

Here’s how I did it. I replaced paper towels with a combination of dish towels, bar towels, and rags cut from old shirts. They don’t get gross and smelly because I treat them just like single use paper towels; once they’re dirty, I put them in a mesh laundry bag in the pantry and wash them weekly separately from clothes in hot water. That’s it. 

I have only one roll of paper towels that my parents left behind and the only time I use them is for draining grease off fried food. This occurrence is rare because we kicked the bacon habit, but I did recently discover that cauliflower Parmesan is even better than chicken parm, and yes, I fry it like Cook’s Illustrated recommends. 

Last week's laundry: cloth napkins, cute dish towels, tshirt rags, bar towels, and a washable dust cloth.   

Last week’s laundry: cloth napkins, cute dish towels, tshirt rags, bar towels, and a washable dust cloth.   

Please give it a shot. Next time you want to wipe off the counter or do whatever else people do with paper towels (I don’t even remember anymore!), grab a dish towel rather than a paper towel. Let me know how it goes!

In the news: The Chemical Industry is the New Tobacco

Tyrone Hayes, professor of biology at UC Berkeley.

I’d like to bring to your attention two recent news articles on endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) with a disturbing connection. They’re both great reads, so I’ll try not to spoil them for you.

Endocrine disruptors seem to be in the news every day. (So does reducing our intake of animal products- is this just because I am more conscious of it now?) The USDA released the results of a BPA study last month that led to the headline “Maybe That BPA In Your Canned Food Isn’t So Bad After All” (on NPR, no less, and it’s a terrible article so I won’t even bother to link to it). The flawed study used a species of rat known to be insensitive to estrogen, and on top of that had contaminated controls. You have to have an unexposed population to compare to or else the results are worthless!

Ok, enough rant. The fact I want to make you aware of is that the chemical industry is the new tobacco industry; they’re employing not only the same tactics but also the same people to preserve their economics interests, no matter what the science says. Sounds an awful lot like the history of lead to me. Continue reading

Environmental Book Review: Toms River by Dan Fagin

I’m usually skeptical of pop science journalism, but I decided to give Dan Fagin’s Toms River a go after coming across a grumpy amazon review complaining that it was too scientific.

Toms River is about chemical pollution and its consequences in the coastal New Jersey community of the same name, focusing on a childhood cancer cluster that made big headlines around 2000.  However, this isn’t just the story of evil chemicals that hurt innocent people; Fagin’s narrative, punctuated with historical background on chemical manufacturing, toxicology, epidemiology, and molecular genetics, is organized like a mystery novel but with an unsatisfying, anticlimactic ending.  It’s a true story after all, and the intricacies, flaws, and knowledge gaps in law and science make it almost impossible bring the responsible parties to justice.

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In the News: Target Announces Sustainable Product Standards

Last month, Target announced a new program in which it will rate products based on their transparency, ingredients, and environmental impact.  According to Target’s website, the 100 point system will be implemented first on personal care, beauty, household cleaning, and baby care products.

Given how big of a reach Target has, this is big news: zillions of customers, average Americans (as opposed to the average Whole Foods shopper), with more sustainable and less toxic affordable products at their fingertips.   Continue reading

The Lessons We Need to Learn from Lead (and an environmental book review)

We have been reading a book called Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution for our green chemistry class, and boy is it terrifying.  Authors Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner are historians who have had the privilege of pouring through entire rooms full of internal memos from both the lead and vinyl chloride industries, revealing the despicable ways that each industry has sacrificed the health of humanity and the environment to promote their products.

In this post, I’m going to focus on the story of lead, as an additive in both gasoline and paint.  It’s not a nice one.

Lead is toxic, especially to children, and scientists have known this for more than a century.  By 1915, lead toxicity was established in medical literature, and the largest lead producer in the United States even acknowledged it. Lead was banned in paints around the world (except in America) and safer zinc oxide paints were available by the 1920s.  How then did lead use in paint and gasoline manage to become so widespread in the United States in the 20th century? Continue reading

Safer Cosmetics (Product Review)

I have never worn much makeup compared to most American women, but in January I quit cosmetics almost completely (for a few weeks).  The number of known carcinogens in mainstream makeup is shocking.  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised considering that cosmetics aren’t regulated by the FDA.

I used to wear Clinique. Then I discovered the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database and started to read about the ingredients in my favorite mascara, which has a high hazard rating.  Ugh.

Most of the toxic chemicals in cosmetics are found in many other body products, which I discussed here.  If you’d like to read more about which ingredients to avoid first, check out this list from The Daily Green.

My makeup free weeks in January were a great detox, but I do enjoy funky colored eyeliners, so I decided to hunt for some new makeup and settled on Coastal Classic Creations, touted as the lowest (safest) rated cosmetic company on Skin Deep.   Continue reading

Our First Pittsburgh Sustainability Salon

Two weekends ago, we attended a “sustainability salon” hosted by local green advocate/gardener extraordinare Dr. Maren Cooke.  On her blog, Maren describes sustainability salons as “basically a house party with an environmental theme,” including guest speakers, a potluck meal, interesting conversation, and a little music making.  The theme for this one, the fourteenth, was food: growing, sourcing, local, organic, etc.

I first heard about the sustainability salons through a lab-mate of mine.  I asked for information from Maren’s husband, a professor in the chemistry department here, and he put me in touch.

The salons are held in their house, an interesting and very green building.  Although the front looks like a normal house with an overgrown winterized garden, the main living area is a wide open space constructed from local wood.  The roof of the house is covered in both solar panels and raised-bed vegetable gardens.  We didn’t get to tour the roof because it was snowy, but I hope to see it soon.

Maren’s rooftop garden! Image from marenslist.blogspot.com

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