What follows is a list of greener products that work for me. I cannot necessarily rate these higher than other green products. I am not a product tester. I typically try more environmentally conscious products until I find a good one and stick with it. I find that all of these products are as good as and many are better than less environmentally conscious major brands. Most also work out to be quite reasonably priced by comparison with mid-level name brand items. Some are cheaper due to being more concentrated.
For me, the first and most obvious concern is about releasing toxins or possible toxins that may or may not cause harm into the environment. Why do so unnecessarily? If we can find products that are friendly to the environment, why take a risk with known and unknown toxins? However, many people are not particularly concerned about the environment. For such people, please read on as you are likely very concerned about your health and that of your children, if you have any.
These products also take a number of health issues into account. For example, parabens are becoming quite controversial. They may have significant health risks. They appear to be similar to estrogen and mimic it so some degree, possibly throwing body chemistry out of balance or increasing risk of breast cancer. Please note that there has not been conclusive proof of this yet. Still, if good products can be found that do not have them, it seems silly not to use the products without parabens.
I also strongly advocate against using antibacterial soaps and other germ killing products around your home. Studies have shown that children who grow up on farms and are exposed to dirt take fewer sick days from school than children who grow up in sterile households. We need our immune systems to be functioning and well exercised a lot more than we need to kill bacteria. Many bacteria are actually beneficial to us. For those that aren’t, we have immune systems that work, or will if we don’t try to get rid of every germ in our daily lives.
Here’s a good article from the Center for Disease Control arguing for cautious use of antibacterial products. It states that they are intended for use in hospitals and the like to protect patients with weakened immune systems. In healthy households, they may harm the immune system and are very likely to create strains of resistant bacteria, rendering them useless where they are needed.
So, avoid the antibacterial hand soap and especially Clorox wipes. I do use bleach, but only very rarely. I can’t remember the last time. Bleach is a highly toxic chemical. I feel confident that its effects on our environment and on our own health will be shown to be far worse than the presence of a few billion microorganisms. The high toxicity of bleach is the reason that it kills everything. This is why it is used to disinfect the outsides of level 4 biohazard suits. It kills everything.
So, here are my own personal recommendations for cleaner, greener, healthier living. If you know of products that you would like to recommend or have additional questions or comments, please reply.
All of these are biodegradable and quite concentrated.
Laundry Detergent – Seventh Generation. This will get your clothes cleaner than most major brands, IMHO, even if using cold water to save energy. Of course, I prefer the free and clear variety. As an aside, please don’t ask me why anyone needs Kosher certified laundry detergent.
Automatic Dishwashing Detergent – Again, Seventh Generation is our choice. At least for washing dishes, I can see why someone would want Kosher certification … if I could see why anyone wanted religion.
Hand Dishwashing Detergent – Ecover. I can’t really say why we like this one better. We’ve been using it for a long time. It works and feels gentle on the hands. I don’t remember if we tried others.
Glass Cleaner – A trick I learned years ago in a deli. This works only for glass that does not have wood or some other surface around that might get ruined by newsprint. Take two pieces of newspaper, curl from the edges ’til you have a ball with one flat side, wet one with clean water and leave the other dry. Wipe with the wet in circular motion. Then dry with the dry in similar motion. Glass will come out clean and streak free. As noted, be careful of newsprint. If you worry about newsprint, two rags, one damp and one dry will work quite well too.
Before I get to specifics, JASON makes the majority of the products I’d recommend in this category. There are only a couple of cases where JASON makes a product and I recommend a different one. In one case, it’s because the JASON product has parabens, which is very odd since most of their products actively advertise that they do not have parabens.
Also note that most of these can be bought online at VitaCost, a site with which we’ve had good luck and low prices. Ordering in bulk to reduce shipping cost per item is probably a good idea.
Dandruff Shampoo – I like Pure and Basic; it’s a very normal seeming shampoo (does not seem like a dandruff shampoo) and very effective. JASON makes a good alternate, though it is thicker, and so thick that it’s a bit hard to get out of the bottle, and smells worse.
Shampoo/Conditioner – JASON makes a variety of normal shampoo and conditioner flavors. They’re all quite good. They seem expensive but are highly concentrated to make up for it. And, the vitacost website above has them for a lot less than our local market. We usually buy the vitamin E and the Biotin and alternate between the two.
Soap – We just tried Dr. Bronner’s and like it so far. Check the date on this post. If I forget to update it and it has been a while, assume I like it and am still using it. Or, feel free to ask for an update. Please note that there is palm oil in this soap. If you’ve been following the issue and are concerned, here is the relevant response we got when we asked the company about it:
Thanks for writing. It is devastating to see the degree to which irresponsible palm harvesting is depleting natural habitats. As you’ve noticed, our bar soaps contain palm oil. However, I am happy to assure you that the palm oil we use is sustainably harvested out of Ghana and South
America. The website for the company through which we buy it is http://www.daabon.com. Please go there to see the extensive certifications that they have for their harvesting practices. We have also achieved certification that these companies are Fair Trade as well.
I hope this helps to alleviate your concerns.
Toothpaste – Tom’s of Maine, the whole care line is quite good.
Moisturizer – JASON, with natural EFA works well for me, even for my dry diabetic feet.
Facial Moisturizers – Earth Sciences almond-aloe SPF15+, I use this instead of aftershave which would dry my face. I also use it as sunscreen for most days when I’m not going to spend hours in the blistering sun, e.g. canoeing. My wife also likes JASON’s night cream with vitamin E.
Sunscreen – JASON Sunbrellas SPF40. This also has at least one ingredient for UVB protection. It’s not greasy and really works. This is what I use on my face and backs of my hands when canoeing. The rest of me is covered with thin light clothing and a wide brimmed hat. Fashionable? No. Comfortable? Yes, much more so than sun on bare skin, even with good sunscreen. One caveat, the UVB protection comes from oxybenzone which may be a chemical with harmful effects. I’m not sure what UVB protection would not be a harmful chemical, perhaps the ones with zinc that leave a heavy white film.
Shaving Cream – I’m trying two of these at the moment. In this case, for some reason JASON still uses parabens in theirs. So I have not tried it. So far, I like Alba Botanica unscented. It’s a little disconcerting that it goes on completely clear and thus gives the appearance of dry shaving. However, it seems to protect my skin better than Edge did. A good alternate is Avalon Organics. This one is not completely clear, but otherwise does not seem quite as good at protecting my skin. Either of these seem as good to me as Edge though. If you want the visual of seeing the cream, go for the Avalon. I’m sticking with the Alba. Note that both of these claim to be more effective when used sparingly. How cool is that? In addition, since these come in plastic tubes, they have no propellants of any kind. The downside is that the come in plastic tubes, always trade-offs.
Antiperspirant – To my knowledge, this does not exist. Blocking the pores requires chemicals. If anyone knows of an antiperspirant that is natural or at least better than the major brands, please let me know. Deodorants do exist for people who don’t sweat so heavily. My wife is trying a couple, including one from JASON.
Paper Goods — Recycled or better
Napkins – Personally, I do not use paper napkins at home. You can buy inexpensive cloth napkins at your local Bed, Bath, and Beyond or Linens and Things, or whatever. Wash them occasionally. They don’t need to come out spotless. Ours almost always seem to come out perfectly clean. We have a set we use for everyday and another for nicer dinners with company. If you have kids, you may need to wash them more often or buy more so that you have enough to last until you do laundry. For adults, they don’t get that dirty that fast.
Paper Towels – This is another product we don’t use at home. A bathroom sponge or old towel are usually fine for any type of mess.
Toilet Paper – We like Marcal Softpac or their newer Sunrise. The former is generally much cheaper, is 100% recycled with 30% post consumer content. The latter is better with double sized rolls 100% recycled paper and a whopping 80% post consumer content. Both feel about the same. The Sunrise is more expensive even allowing for the double sized rolls. Perhaps the price will come down once it’s not a brand new product anymore. Green forest is an acceptable alternative but rips a bit too easily for my taste. They’re priced between the Marcals and have 40% post consumer content.
Tissues – I use Green Forest. These are high quality tissues of 100% recycled paper with 40% post consumer content. I’m considering switching to handkerchiefs but have not done so yet. I worry about wiping my eyes with them after eye drops, when I may want something cleaner than a partially used hankie.
Update: I forgot to mention, please always bring canvas or other reusable bags to the market. We do not need more plastic bags that will last for hundreds of millions of years, even if they do reduce to small bits for most of those hundreds of millions of years, floating around in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, see video and links below.
Trashed: Across the Pacific Ocean, plastics, plastics, everywhere. – Natural History Magazine, the magazine of the American Museum of Natural History.
Continent-size toxic stew of plastic trash fouling swath of Pacific Ocean – San Francisco Chronicle
Lost at Sea: Where Is All the Plastic? – peer reviewed article in Science. I’m not willing to pay for the article. Unless you’re really into plastic, likely you won’t want to either.