Green your home

Sustainable-living advice from the sunny Southwest

Seasoned cast-iron cookware is naturally nonstick.

Seasoned cast-iron cookware is naturally nonstick.

Tips for greener living
As some of you know, I’ve been hanging out in sunny Tucson, Ariz., for the past couple of weeks, where it’s gotten up to 105 degrees, believe it or not (in April!). While here, I’ve found a great natural-foods store, Aqua Vita Natural Food Market (2801 North Country Club Road—worth seeking out if you’re in the Tucson area at some point). I picked up a free publication there the other day, Natural Awakenings, containing an article titled “Green Home Checklist: Room-by-Room Steps We Can Take, Starting Right Now,” by a writer named Crissy Trask. Trask offers useful advice on how to green up the kitchen, bedrooms, laundry room and bathroom in one’s home.

She describes the kitchen as “a hot-spot for waste. … Each year, a typical household discards an estimated 474 pounds of food waste, according to University of Arizona research. … Buying more fresh food than we can eat before the expiration date is up and allowing leftovers to expire in the fridge are culprits.” Solutions? Make menus, avoid impulse buying and compost your food scraps.

Other kitchen advice: Replace disposables such as paper napkins and plastic wrap with cloth napkins and glass food-storage containers; get rid of Teflon-coated cookware, which can give off toxins when overheated or damaged, and replace with cast iron (“properly seasoned cast iron…is naturally nonstick”); buy “high-quality reusable [shopping] bags that will give years of use” instead of “flimsy” reusable bags that will “end up as trash within a few months under normal use.”

A quarter cup of baking soda added to the wash cycle serves as a toxin-free, inexpensive fabric softener.

Next, the bedroom: “Start with a good foundation. Box springs can be constructed of plywood or particleboard, which commonly contain formaldehyde, classified as a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a toxic air-contaminant by the state of California.” Trask advises choosing box springs that are “certified as formaldehyde-free or with low emissions. A platform bed made of Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood, sourced from sustainably managed forests, is a healthy alternative.”

Mattresses, too, are up for scrutiny. “Mattresses are commonly treated with fire-retardant chemicals to comply with U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission rules,” writes Trask. “To avoid toxic chemicals like the hydrocarbon toluene, emitted from mattresses stuffed with polyurethane foam, instead look for untreated, wool-covered mattresses (wool is a natural fire retardant) filled with natural latex or containing a spring system wrapped with organic cotton batting.”

As for washing bed sheets, avoid fabric softeners as they may contain “highly toxic chemicals that latch onto sheets and can be inhaled or absorbed directly through the skin.” Opt instead for a quarter cup of baking soda, added to the wash cycle to soften sheets and other laundry items.

“The smallest room in the house”—the bathroom—“is a disproportionately large contributor to household environmental impacts,” Trask says. “In an average non-conservation-minded American home, 38,000 gallons of water annually go down the drains and toilet.” Her eco-friendly tips include installing ultra-efficient showerheads that use as little as one gallon of water per minute, getting rid of products (such as household cleaners and even toothpaste) containing the antibacterial pesticide triclosan, and replacing toxic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) shower curtains with organic-hemp versions, “the eco-shower-curtain gold standard.”