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Spring is here, and, for many, that means it’s time for some serious housecleaning. But some of the products we use to make our surfaces shine may cause more harm than good.
For example, many common household cleaning products contain volatile organic compounds, which easily become vapors or gases. They are known to trigger asthma in some people and can also cause headaches and allergic reactions.
When those compounds are used at home, they can accumulate on surfaces. V.O.C. levels are two to five times higher indoors than out, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
When cleaning products are thrown away or washed down the drain, the chemicals they contain, including things like benzene and formaldehyde, which are commonly found in air fresheners, ultimately end up in lakes, rivers and landfills.
Unfortunately, it’s often hard to know what’s in cleaning products because the companies that make them are not required to disclose ingredients. That’s true even for products labeled “green” or “natural.” The Environmental Working Group found that only 7 percent of the 2,000 cleaning products reviewed adequately disclosed ingredients.
So, how can you find out which cleaning products are really green?
Looking for the Environmental Protection Agency Safer Choice label on cleaning supplies is a good first step. The Safer Choice program reviews more than just product ingredients. It also looks at product performance and the sustainability of packaging. Once a product is approved, the E.P.A. conducts regular audits to ensure that standards continue to be upheld.
The Environmental Working Group also rates top green cleaning products.
Another option is to make your own cleaners with everyday household products like white vinegar, baking soda and Castile soap.
Making cleaning supplies “takes two minutes, if that, and it’s incredibly cheap,” said Kathryn Kellogg, the author of “101 Ways to Go Zero Waste.” She said she cleans everything in her home, except the shower, with a spray bottle of vinegar and water. For the shower, she uses baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and liquid soap.
Finally, remember that disposable cleaning supplies like sponges, wipes and mop pads usually end up in landfills. Consider biodegradable sponges or washable, reusable supplies where possible.
Your lungs, your house and your planet may thank you for it.
Calculate Your Plastic Use
How much plastic do you use in your daily life? The answer may surprise you.
The most effective way to deal with the plastics problem in the oceans, many experts say, is to keep the waste from getting into the oceans in the first place. That means government-level action to manage waste and pressure on manufacturers to reclaim waste and to produce materials that degrade harmlessly. But individuals can play a part, too, by reducing their own use of disposable plastics.
That’s where Hanna Pamula comes in. A Ph.D. student in Krakow, Poland, she designed a plastic footprint calculator for Omni Calculator, a Polish start-up. It’s free, and handy for figuring out how your own plastic consumption compares to people around you. (The company has other Ecology Calculators on its website, as well.)
Ms. Pamula said that she designed this calculator “to raise awareness of the plastic pollution and our individual impact.” She said she has been happy to see successful campaigns to use fewer plastic bags and straws, but that further action was needed. “That’s great that we are more and more conscious, but it’s still not enough and more efforts should be made to change our habits and lifestyle,” she said.
It’s a bare-bones tool. The simple questionnaire misses some of the ways we use plastics in our daily lives. Still, it’s eye-opening. When I first took the test a few weeks ago, before exchanging emails with Ms. Pamula, the program told me I go through about 40 pounds of plastic a year. “Not Bad!” the program stated, though it seemed awfully bad to me. That much?
Still, the program provided an upbeat message. It encouraged me to carry on, try to reduce more and become a “low-plastic hero.”
It compared my results to those of Europeans, who toss about 66 pounds per year. I mentioned to Ms. Pamula that it would be nice for users in the United States to see their totals compared to those of their countrymen; the next time I opened the page, the United States comparison point, about 110 pounds, was there.
If only fixing our environmental problems were so simple.
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