Over the years I have become convinced that the vast majority of people are well intentioned about being eco-friendly, natural consumers, both for the sake of their families and the environment.
The obstacles keeping them from making eco-friendly consumer choices are usually lack of time to do the research, not knowing where to find the research to begin with, and the lack of convenient access to the products.
In response to this awareness I thought it might be helpful to tell you how I manage to live this lifestyle in my everyday life. Here are my tips about how I buy clothes, food, personal care products and furnishings; manage cleaning and pest control; and take care of my pets.
1. Natural Clothing
Fibers made from animals and insects include wool, silk, mohair, cashmere, camel hair and angora. Animal fibers usually have attributes not found in manmade or plant fibers. For example, a sheep’s wool fleece is designed to wick perspiration from the animal, thereby helping to regulate its body temperature, and wool provides the same benefit as human clothing or bedding.
Plant fibers include cotton, hemp, linen, jute, kenaf, and ramie. Plant fibers breathe, enabling the release of perspiration through natural fiber clothing. Plant fibers also usually are very good at absorbing moisture. Linen tea towels are excellent for drying dishes for this reason, for example.
Read labels to find clothing made of 100 percent natural fibers such as from those mentioned above. Common names of synthetic fabrics are polyester, acetate and nylon. Rayon is a manmade fabric made of natural materials, but the widespread practice in gathering the fiber is to use virgin tree pulp, which is not sustainable.
2. Natural Food
Read labels. Look for food words you recognize, and always opt for the product that that has the fewest unrecognizable words. This rule of thumb may seem simplistic, but it works, since food manufacturers do not translate commonly known food names into a chemical name on packages. The spice turmeric is called turmeric and is a welcome natural yellow dye substitute to find on a label instead of an FD&C dye.
3. Natural Personal Care
Just because a personal care product is sold in a natural foods store doesn’t mean that it is a product made of natural materials. (This scenario doesn’t apply to cleaning products as those found in natural food stores are usually genuinely green products.) The rule of thumb for finding natural personal care products is the same as for food: Read the labels for ingredients you recognize as being real, and buy those. Aubrey Organics and Weleda are two brands that are genuinely natural.
4. Natural Cleaning
Health food stores are also very good sources of green cleaning products. Get to know some of the brands found there (Seventh Generation, Ecover) and then search them out in bigger supermarkets, or ask your supermarkets to begin to carry the brands. Mix and match green cleaning products with simple do-it-yourself formulas using kitchen cupboard ingredients.
Click here for a collection of my favorite formulas.
5. Natural Pest Control and Repellents
Most people don’t realize that if a pesticide is registered by the Environmental Protection Agency, it means that it has been approved by the EPA to be effective. The registration does not mean that the product has been approved to be safe. Many pesticides are highly neurotoxic, and all are designed to kill. Choose natural and preventative alternatives instead. Here are some excellent resources for alternatives to pesticides:
- The Bio Integral Resource Center
- Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides
- Beyond Pesticides
- National Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides
6. Natural Bedding
You can readily buy sheets, mattresses, comforters, and blankets made of natural materials. Organic wool and cotton mattresses are highly recommended to avoid sleeping on mattresses made of synthetic ingredients including formaldehyde, biocides, stain protectants, fire retardants, and materials containing neurotoxins. In general, my experience is that it is hard to find a wide range of organic natural fiber bedding locally, so instead I tend to buy these products online or through catalogs. A good resource for finding current natural bedding companies is Natural Home and Organic Style magazines.
7. Natural Furnishings
All the same suggestions apply to natural furnishings as they did to bedding in regards to cushions and fiber-based furnishings. Additionally, look to natural carpets and carpet backing, wood furniture that has been finished with natural sealants, and avoid pressed wood furniture because it contains formaldehyde. My experience is that online and catalog shopping provides the widest selection. A good resource for recommended products is The Green Guide.
8. Natural Renovating and Building Supplies
Every time you renovate, paint, or build, choose the least toxic, most natural, inert materials. One online store that is an excellent resorce is The Environmental Home Center. Another is NEEDS. A good resource for finding recommended brands is The Green Guide.
9. Natural Pet Care
My rules of thumb for pet care is to never use synthetic pesticides of any kind, give them food that doesn’t contain animal byproducts, and to use natural shampoos.
10. Natural Consumer Choices General
Always choose the most natural, inert ingredients, and read labels. I’ve found that even products for teens, such as cosmetics, usually have at least one more natural version.
Always look to label’s signal words, and don’t buy anything with a label stronger than the word caution.