Around the kitchen

by wonderfullyrich on September 12, 2007

I recently read a thing about plastic bags which I sent to some of you indicating how long some of these bloody plastic bags last. It inspired me to go back and find some solutions for house hold stuff that is more compostable and environmentally friendly. I figured I’d see if I couldn’t get a bunch of biodegradable bags, eco-friendly dish soap, water friendly drain cleaner, and some other random kitchen stuff. I’m focusing on amazon as they have free shipping on orders over $25 (on items in there warehouse). I realize it doesn’t make sense to have it shipped as I’m expending fuel, but the demand for this has to go up before I can get it at my local grocery store. (I might tell them about it). Unfortunately the whole amazon thing didn’t work out as much as i’d like so I’m buying in a fair amount of bulk from other places to make this worth while (and with 8 people in a house I think we can pull it off).

On soap:
To preface, soap is a necessary part of modern life. Virus, bacteria, as well as toxins cling to the skin because how oil and water each love to adhere to itself, our skin, and everything else. Unfortunately oil and water don’t mix so although both are on you, in order to get water to drag oil off we need something that will be the tow rope between them. Soap does this nicely and with a minimum of fuss. If any of you have ever seen Fight Club you know soap can be simply made with lye and fat so it’s been around for quite some time. The kicker is that once you’ve picked oil up with water, you need to break that rope again to have clean water. So when you use synthetic chemical soaps, which is sort of like plastic in that it takes forever to break down, it’s going to be a bitch to get it to let go when they clean the water (if it does). If you add anti-bacterial soap to it, then you are leaving the bacteria contact time to evolve immunity to it. It’s sort of like giving a brand new nuclear missile to the Chinese, they’ll reverse engineer it before you could ever realize your mistake. All of this is a good reason to use less soap and perhaps use things like alcohol which evaporate so quickly that it doesn’t enter the water ecology. However, even with that said, far more important than the choice of soap is the consistent, thorough handwashing you do everyday. (don’t over do it either as eczema can be cause by OCD hand washing too)

With that in mind, I found Dishmate and Seventh Generation both seem to have some good biodegradable dish soaps out there. I did a little research behind Seventh Generation as I was curious how ecologically friendly they really were and came up fairly impressed, especially after I read an article by their CEO who talked with the CEO of Walmart convincing them to do some good change. We use Dishmate at FCNL and it’s not the greatest stuff in the world unfortunately. It does work, but it’s not as effective as some soaps, so I’ll try Seventh Generation and hope they’ve got a better eco-friendly grease fighting formula.

I also went hunting for a foaming soap dispenser that was not anti-bacterial (triclosan, or the stuff in anti-bacterial soap, is a bad idea as it has been known to cause eczema too), I didn’t come up with anything. Just to clean up, foaming soap is a good idea for two reasons: It improves sanitation by providing better lathering and improved distribution and improves conservation both of your pocket book (buying less soap) and of the environment (less goes into the water system). Vermont soap has a good set, but I’m looking for something that is scentless too. I guess I’ll have to wait on this for a time and find some foamers that are reliable and just put regular soap in them (1 tablespoon soap to 4 tablespoons of water).

On Drain cleaner:
I wasn’t sure about Drano so I went hunting and found out some interesting facts. Most types of Drano are actually just soda ash or lye, both of which are naturally occurring and although they burn organic matter fairly well (including skin, eyes, nose, throat), that’s actually a good thing as it’s what blows through your clog. What’s not so good about it is where and how they mine both, but it’s good to know that it actually breaks down and isn’t extremely bad for the water systems. In lieu of this though, I learned you can actually prevent this by maintaining pipes. You can use vinegar for virtually everything in the kitchen (or some people would have you believe this) including cleaning out drains. Remember the paper-mache volcano you made in elementary school, you can do the same with your drains and it will help clear it out. 1/2 cup of baking soda, 1/2 cup of vinegar, cover tightly and let set 30 mins, followed by a large amount of boiling water. Beyond this you can also use some bacterial methods, which eat the soap and oil I was talking about earlier and let’s loose the water and isn’t a bad option either.

Now on to Plastic bag replacements:
Arguably the dumbest thing we could have invented is the plastic bag.

“Plastic doesn’t biodegrade. That means unless they’ve been incinerated — a noxious proposition — every plastic bag you’ve ever used in your entire life, including all those bags that the newspaper arrives in on your doorstep, even on cloudless days when there isn’t a sliver of a chance of rain, still exists in some form, even fragmented bits , and will exist long after you’re dead.” — Plastic Bags are killing us, Katharine Mieszkowski

It’s hard because plastics in general are extremely convenient, but I don’t think we all realize how inconvenient that short simplicity is in the long run. The CDC has been doing regular blood test (aka biomonitoring) on the US population since the 1960 and has found that recently, although lead levels have gone down, a new batch of chemical are increasing in our children, namely dioxin, PCBs and phthalates the latter of which are found in some plastic wrap, soft plastics, plastic toys, and plastic medical equipment. Now this isn’t as bad as it sounds as not all plastics will leech, the hard part is figuring out which will and which won’t. For me, this chance of leeching coupled with the fact that plastic hangs around forever make it a simple choice to weed out as much plastic as is possible from my life.

So the easy investment is to get the canvas bags and stick them all over the place so you can use them instead of the plastic bags when you stop into the market. I might add that if you have a personal relationship with a store that uses plastics for it’s carry-outs, bags, utensil, or etc. there are several places to get eco-plastic in bulk that are both bio-degradable and fairly inexpensive which you could recommend to them. Next up were the garbage bags, dog poop bags, sandwich bags, and random other storage bags. The hard part is these need to be both bio-degradable and coherent enough to seal in freshness (or unseemly odors). I found bio-bags and some cellulose bags which aren’t zip-top, but might do the trick in the interim while companies jump on this bandwagon. (For amusement read this article on how Ziploc label their bags biodegradable when they were a Dow company). I don’t think this is a good idea, but also has a recycled plastic bag out there (they are still going to last forever even if
they are recycled once).

This isn’t a zero-waste life, but I though that you might all like some concrete methods to stay healthy and green. Opinions, thoughts, and rants welcome.

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