The story of my family’s environmental clean-up began in August of 2007 when I was jolted into action by a realization that the behavior of each individual does matter and that I was definitely leaving too heavy a footprint on our fragile planet. As the primary “consumer” for our family of five, it was obvious to me that if we were to contribute to a healthier existence, the momentum had build from me.
So the first steps I took were directly reflective of advice I read in several Green Living books and Web sites. I made many of the obvious lifestyle changes in our household that included:
• Installing compact fluorescent light bulbs throughout our house
• Setting up a compost in our kitchen
• Stashing canvas grocery bags in our cars and my pocketbook
• Requesting monthly eBills to be paid online
• Buying stainless steel Sigg water bottles for everyone in our family
• Replacing old towels and sheets with organic cotton options
• Changing my dry cleaner (after 14 years!) to SFGreenClean
• Signing up for PG&E’s ClimateSmart program
• Adding recycled Seventh Generation toilet paper and tissue to our bathrooms
• Eliminating junk mail by registering at opt-out sites online
• Adding Brita water pitchers to our refrigerator
• Shopping at Staples for recycled paper and office supplies
• Buying carbon offsets for our plane travel
• Shopping at businesses that feature fair trade and eco-friendly suppliers
• Creating a hazardous waste collection area in my garage
• Ordering weekly delivery of fruits and vegetables from a local farm
• Remembering to walk whenever possible
These were all very easy first steps that caused zero disruption to the quality of our lives. But by October, my greening effort began to expand as I learned more and more about the many potential hazards that are associated with the chemicals we breathe, touch, eat and wear every day. The science of endocrine disruption jolted me into action, and the more I understood about how chemicals in our water, food, breast milk, toys, fabrics and air may be impacting human health as well as our natural environment, the more committed I became to eliminating as many potential dangers as possible from our daily routine.
In order to create what I perceived as a safer environment, I focused on minimizing phthalate and Bisphenol-A exposures from plastics; Teflon emissions from non-stick pans; endocrine disruption from estrogenic personal care and household cleaning products; pesticide exposure from non-organically grown food; and synthetic hormones and antibiotics from unsafe dairy products. Specifically I have:
• Collected boxes of plastic baby bottles, sippy cups, plates, bowls, forks, spoons and toys
• Replaced all plastic spatulas with wooden or metal utensils
• Discarded our Nalgene and other plastic sports bottles
• Cleared my kitchen of non-stick pans
• Committed to buying ONLY organic food whenever possible
• Eliminated processed salad dressings, syrups, crackers, granola bars, pasta sauce, breakfast cereal and juices from our shelves to avoid GMO-laden high fructose syrup additives
• Swapped out the Splenda for Stevia to dodge Aspartame
• Stopped stockpiling Diet Coke (the hardest habit for me to break!)
• Cleared suspect cleaning products and replaced them with earth-friendly options
• Changed our laundry soaps, stain removers and dryer sheets
• Purchased a new HEPA-filter vacuum
• Replaced the vinyl shower curtain with a fabric option
• Discarded all soft plastic bath toys, including the rubber duckie collection
And perhaps most importantly, I have worked hard to move us in a healthier direction by switching to personal care products and cosmetics that do not contain parabens, sodium laureth sulfates, synthetic fragrance, petrochemical derivatives and other unhealthy additions, especially those that are banned in the European Union or that have a high hazard rating on the Environmental Working Group’s www.costmeticsdatabase.com Web site. So I also:
• Changed deodorants to avoid aluminum, fragrance and parabens
• Tossed all toothpastes containing saccharine and sodium laureth sulfate
• Eliminated all but organic soaps, shampoos, conditioners and sunscreens
• Stocked the nursery with organic diaper balm along with chlorine-free wipes and diapers
• Raided my daughter’s dress-up corner to toss out my hand-me-down make-up
• Instigated a ruthless review of my entire cosmetic collection
• Parted with expensive skincare regimes from my dermatologist and aesthetician
• Purchased toothbrushes made out of recycled yogurt cups for everyone in the family
No question, this is a work in progress. And as the months pass, the cleaner choices no longer feel alternative. They have become our fresher lifestyle, and one that does not reflect loss or sacrifice, but rather empowerment and freedom. I no longer feel at the mercy of masterful marketers and I am no longer drawn to constant acquisition of unnecessary, and unhealthy, additions to my medicine cabinets. The investment to make the shift, and to find products we all liked took a small bite out of our family budget. But once in place, the new system saves countless dollars as our approach is happily minimal and our sourcing has stepped away from the sleek counters of department stores, to the groovy aisles of Rainbow Grocery.
This is just a small snapshot of our family’s newfound approach to greener living. All items you see in the small photo below were on our shelves and are now in a box in my garage, awaiting a trip to the toxic waste disposal facility. And we walk the talk in many other ways. For example, I found my 8-year-old showering in the dark the other day because she thought it might be a waste to turn on a light just for her!
But the biggest aha for me became clear after I heard about a lesson that my son’s Kindergarten teacher, Athena Benevento, presented to his class last week. She explained to those young boys that “what we want is very different from what we need,” and I felt like her perspective was entirely reflective of the many epiphanies I have undergone during this process of clearing through the clutter of unnecessary and unhealthy items in our daily routine.
So much of what we consume, especially in our American culture, is driven by that insatiable “want” for more, more, more. But if we could all focus a little more on what we truly need, and then commit to buying goods and services that are healthier for us, as well as our planet, that behavior will contribute to essential and successful change. With a clearer focus on what we really need, I am confident that my footprint is growing lighter and hopefully the path I have now chosen will be a better one for us all!