Category Archives: ♥ Eco Tips

Pee in the shower & save the Rainforest!

This brilliant video comes from the Brazilian environmental group, SOS Mata Atlantica, who are encouraging local citizens to save around 4,380 litres (1,157 gallons) of water per household per year simply by having a pee in the shower.  It’s such a straightforward concept but the environmental impact is immense and I truly believe that this easy to implement eco-tip should be followed by everyone, no matter where you happen to live in the world.

Even here in the soggy UK it’s so very important to use our water wisely.  If you were ever wondering about why we need to save water when it seems to fall so abundantly then take a look at the following facts.

  • Due to the size of the UK (fairly small) and the size of the population here (really quite large and growing)  the lack of space for reservoirs means there is less water available per person in the UK than in countries such as sunny Spain & Portugal
  • When water in the reservoirs is running low we “borrow” water from the surrounding rivers, lakes & wetlandS.  This causes the water levels to fall meaning there’s less food for the fish, less room for them to swim in and most vitally, less oxygen for them to breathe – so the fish die.  Numbers of freshwater fish worldwide have almost halved since 1970, purely because of our increased demand for water.
  • Diminished wetlands means that there are not only fewer fish, but fewer water dwelling insects too, meaning there’s less food and natural habitats for a whole range of birds and water dwelling animals such as otters and voles.  Life and death situations happen every day, all because we are so wasteful with our resources.

Water is vital for our existence.  We can live for weeks with no food, but only a couple of days with no water.  That being said, we actually need very little water in order to get by.  All it takes is a couple of litres a day to keep us going.  To maintain hygiene as well that number increases to around 25 litres per person per day, yet in developed countries we actually use around 500-800 litres of precious water every single day.

What makes this even more stupid is that here in the UK all of the water that is piped into our houses is treated before and after it’s used in the home, whether we are drinking it or flushing it down the loo.  And we pay (fairly extortionate) rates for that to happen!   So it makes sense to cut back on what we use just for the selfish reason of saving money.

You don’t just have to pee in the shower; urine can be used all over the place.  Why not have a wee around your plants of an evening?  Not only can this help to keep the neighbourhood cats out of your begonias, but the high levels of phosphate and nitrogen in urine act as an important fertilizer and will actually help your plants grow.   Ideally you should dilute it with water at a ratio of 1:10 to avoid burning your plants.  You can pee on your compost heap to help the process of decomposition along or around your chicken coop to keep the foxes away.  The New York Times has even cited “Yellow as the new Green” with calls for wide-spread use of “urine-diversion” toilets to stop this precious resource from being flushed away.

Urine is sterile and can be used to treat wounds, bites and stings.  It has even been used as a rudimentary gas-mask during World War 1.  During a gas attack men would put urine soaked cloths over their faces as the ammonia in the urine counteracts the effects of the chlorine in the gas.  It doesn’t stop there.  New technology is being developed that could see urine being used as a way to generate fuel for hydrogen powered cars.  It’s a peeing revolution!

Oh, and if this is all a bit much for you, maybe you think peeing in the shower or anywhere else is “DISGUSTING!”  Just remember – If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down.  Simple.


Greener Alternatives That Don’t Cost The Earth – Soap Nuts, The Natural Way to Do Your Washing.

We all know that money doesn’t grow on trees, especially in these tough economic times.  Soap Nuts, however, do and they are an effective and economic alternative to conventional laundry detergents.

After writing about some of the nasties which are lurking in many laundry products, I thought I should take the time to tell you about the awesomeness of Soap Nuts.   Soap Nuts grow on the Soap Berry tree and have been used for centuries in India and Nepal.  Like many plants (such as the chestnut tree & soapwort) they are naturally high in saponins, or soap.

Why would a plant need to produce soap?  Well, the saponins act as a natural defence against fungus, bacteria and pests, helping the tree to grow in less than favourable conditions.  (As an aside you can use them to make your own eco-friendly pesticide sprays, multi-surface cleaners and even head-lice repelling shampoos but more on that later).

So the tree isn’t particularly bothered that its anti-fungal, anti-microbial berries are also incredibly useful for us when it comes to washing our clothes.  It’s got its own reasons for producing them, which we humans have been taking advantage of for centuries in many parts of the world.  The soap is released when the berries are put into warm water, producing mild bubbles which keep even delicate fabrics naturally clean and fresh.

For washing clothes I pop about 6 soapnuts into an old sock and tie a knot at the end so they don’t escape.  I put the sock in with my clothes in the washing machine drum and let them do their stuff.  Washing at 30° is fine for most things.  You get more bubbles at a higher temperature but they won’t last for as many washes.  That’s right, my 6 soapnuts will do at least 3-4 washes which means they cost less than 10p a wash!  Compare that to the prices of a conventional non-bio, even a non-ecofriendly one, and you can see straight away how they benefit your wallet.  Oh, and as they leave your clothes naturally soft there’s no need to use fabric conditioners either which saves you even more money and makes them perfect for washing towels and re-usable nappies too.

So Soap Nuts can save you money on your household expenses, but how are they at saving the planet?

Really rather good, as it goes.  Firstly they grow on trees.  Trees absorb CO² and release oxygen so Soap Nuts are a truly renewable primary resource.  The trees are hardy thanks to their natural defences, and grow well in many tropical climates. They grow to around 20-30 feet and will produce berries for about 90 years providing much needed income to the rural communities that live in these areas.  Local farmers collect the fruits as they fall, dry them in the sunshine using no chemical processing whatsoever, before packing them and shipping them to their destinations.  Try comparing that to the pollution caused by the production processes of the conventional SLS laden washing powders which make huge profits for big multi-national corporations.  I know what I’d rather put in my washing machine, especially as the anti microbial properties of the waste water they produce even helps clean out the drains in an environmentally friendly way.

Soap Nuts are a great alternative to conventional detergents for sufferers of eczema and psoriasis and have actually been used for years in Ayurvedic medicine as a treatment for these conditions.  They are hypo-allergenic which makes them particularly good for people with sensitive skin, especially babies.  The lack of chemicals means that they keep your colours brighter for longer, however don’t expect your whites to come out “Persil White” if you use Soap Nuts on their own – they’re only berries for Pete’s sake!  Not to worry, though.  A teaspoon of Soda Crystals or BioD Nappy Whitener in with your wash will give them a sufficient boost to keep your whites white.  For dark and coloured washes they are perfectly good on their own and are a completely natural and organic detergent which keeps your clothes soft and clean.  And that is why I am nuts about Soap Nuts.

If you’d like to try them for yourself take a look at Living Naturally Soapnuts!


The Hidden Danger in Charity Shop Clothes…

Anyone who knows me knows that when it comes to clothes shopping I’m much more into charity shops than high street shops.  Let’s face it, charity shops are one of the most environmentally friendly sources of clothing you’ll ever come across, and they’re bloody cheap too!  As long as you have a good idea of what clothes suit your body shape and a reasonable knowledge of decent clothing brands you can come home with bundles of lovely new(ish) outfits for under a tenner.   And if they don’t fit quite as you’d like it’s  much easier to get the scissors and unpicker out to remodel them into something more flattering when the garment in question has only cost you a couple of pounds.

Just recently I’ve been running into a spot of bother with some of my charity shop finds.  I bought a gorgeous Wallis jumper for just 99p and (foolishly) decided to wear it that day.  It smelled fresh and clean and I just didn’t think.  Even when the burning rash spread up the left side of my face it didn’t occur to me that my lovely new jumper might be to blame.  I just slapped on some aloe vera gel and let it settle down.  It wasn’t until I put on the jumper a couple of days later (guess what, it still smelled lovely and fresh) and my face flared up again that I made the connection.

The thing is, laundry detergents and fabric conditioners contain some of the most toxic chemicals in the home but for some reason modern thinking (i.e. what the box in the corner of the room tells you) has decided that if your clothes don’t have a strong fragrance then you aren’t clean and acceptable. However there is a vast amount of research which shows that the VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) which make up these products are having a profound effect on health.  In fact, recent studies have shown that the air quality inside the average home is WORSE than it is outside, regardless of whether you live in the countryside or in the heart of the city centre.  Is it any wonder that there’s been a sharp rise in allergies such as eczema and asthma in the last few decades?

Now I’m a smoker, so I’m not going to lecture anyone on the dangers of airborne chemicals.  Life would be pretty boring if we didn’t take some risks, but where the health effects of smoking are well documented, the health risks of fabric conditioners, laundry detergents, air fresheners and cleaning products are nowhere near as widely recognised by the vast majority of people.  The general opinion seems to be that if it’s on the shelves at the supermarket then it must be safe.  Sadly the reality is that detergent manufacturers have no legal obligation to even disclose all the ingredients they but in the box or bottle, let alone test them all and how they react with all the other airborne chemicals which are in the home.  If you look at some of the ingredients that are disclosed, the results are pretty scary.

•    Benzyl acetate: Linked to pancreatic cancer

•    Benzyl Alcohol: Upper respiratory tract irritant

•    Ethanol: On the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Hazardous Waste list and can cause central nervous system disorders

•    A-Terpineol: Can cause respiratory problems, including fatal edema, and central nervous system damage

•    Ethyl Acetate: A narcotic on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list

•    Camphor: Causes central nervous system disorders

•    Chloroform: Neurotoxic, anesthetic and carcinogenic

•    Linalool: A narcotic that causes central nervous system disorders

•    Pentane: A chemical known to be harmful if inhaled

Wow!

Some of the other health effects that come from using these kinds of conditioners and detergents include:

•    Headaches

•    Nausea

•    Vomiting

•    Dizziness

•    Blood pressure reduction

•    Irritation to skin, mucus membranes and respiratory tract

Yet we wear clothes that release these chemicals all day before settling down to sleep on pillows and duvets that are infused with them.  It’s just crazy!  Not to mention the effect these chemicals are having on our waterways and wildlife.  Do you suffer from headaches, fatigue or skin problems?  Maybe you should re-think what you are putting into your washing machine?

As someone who has used only green products for the last decade or so, I realise that I’m probably quite over sensitive to the chemicals found in non-eco brands.  I notice the smell on people in the park, and the next door neighbours washing line regularly has us begrudgingly heading indoors.  Like anything, we get used to what surrounds us so I guess that’s why detergent manufacturers come up with ever more inventive ways to get those fragrances out there.  “Keep your clothes huggably fresh, even after 12 hours” says one well known brand which comes with “state of the art scent release technology”.    I just don’t get it.  They make my eye’s water and my skin flare up and my kids hate them too.

Even after washing again without softener, these chemicals stay in the fabric which makes them even more hazardous for those who have sensitivity to them.  I’ve been known to wash hand-me-down clothes which have been donated to my kids up to four times to get rid of the smell and even then it can malinger.  There are many individuals who have unwittingly put a new brand into their washing machine, discovered they are allergic and then been unable to rinse the fragrance out of their machines and keep suffering from the allergic reaction long after they have stopped using the product.

So what are the alternatives?  BioD is a UK based company which uses only safe and natural ingredients in their products and they’re nowhere near as expensive as Ecover (which isn’t actually as green as they would have you believe).   You can get Eco-Wash Balls from a number of different manufacturers, with varying results its true, but I can vouch for the fact that the one Wikaniko sells works and works well.  Soapnuts are another fantastic detergent.  They are so natural they grow on trees, keep your clothes soft and have the added advantage of being completely compostable once you’ve finished with them.  As for fabric conditioners, I just don’t use them.  I’d much rather smell of nice organic perfume and put pomander bags in my drawers.  Old fashioned I know, but so much nicer than the smell of “Black Diamond & Lotus Flower”.  What does a black diamond even smell like anyway?

Anyway, I’ve learnt my lesson about charity shop clothes.  No matter how much I’m itching to get into my latest treasure, it’s not worth the risk of itching all over and having a rash for the next two weeks.  Won’t stop me charity shopping though, got to love those brand new second hand clothes.


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