Monday, May 25, 2009

Non-toxic kitchen disinfecting

A couple of months ago I was chatting with some other moms and somehow we got talking about green cleaning. They asked if it was possible to disinfect your kitchen – think chicken juice and blood from raw meat – using non-toxic cleaners.

Since we’re officially into the grilling season I think we can all use some eco-friendly tips for safely handling raw meat and fish. These tips will help you with general kitchen disinfecting and year-round food safety.

Sometimes I think that bottles of plain old white vinegar should sport brilliant red capes and a big “S” on the label because it really is a household and environmental superman. But little did I know that hydrogen peroxide is the real hero when it comes to obliterating bacteria. (Remember pouring it on cuts and watching it bubble away the germs?) When used together, vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are unstoppable (but utterly harmless to people and the environment).

Here’s why: when exposed to heat, light or organic material, hydrogen peroxide turns into pure water and oxygen. As it turns out, pure oxygen is toxic to microorganisms. I’m not into mini chemistry lessons but I want to make sure you believe me. In any case, when hydrogen peroxide teams up with vinegar it works ten times better.

What does all of this mean to you and your kitchen? It’s an easy, non-toxic way to deal with invisible bacteria that make thousands of people sick every year.

I have mentioned before that my favourite go-to book for cleaning is Organic Housekeeping buy Ellen Sandbeck. In it she recommends using vinegar and hydrogen peroxide in a “dual spray” system on food, utensils, countertops, cutting surfaces. You name it. Her system is so simple that you’ll be tossing (in a safe way of course) those harsh and toxic kitchen cleaners:

1. Buy two spray bottles, one dark or at least opaque.
2. Buy a big bottle of consumer strength hydrogen peroxide (3%), and a big bottle of distilled white vinegar.
3. Fill the dark spray bottle with hydrogen peroxide (it’s degraded by light).
4. Fill the other with vinegar.
5. Spray with abandon, (first with the vinegar, then the peroxide.)

You can even spray the food directly, which is quite handy for lettuce and other foods that won’t be cooked. But don’t spray marble or limestone countertops (it my damage them).

I keep my bottles filled and under the sink. I clean up in my usual way with hot soapy water but then I give everything a final spritz. For the first time ever I’m fearless around raw chicken.

This isn’t an excuse for carelessness in the kitchen though. Be sure to keep raw meat and fish well away from other food to reduce the chance of cross contamination. Clean quickly and thoroughly and put your dishcloth right in the wash.

This blog was previously published in KV Style (

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Aspire to a truly "green" lawn

I believe that people can get addicted to their lawns. Why else would anyone want to spray chemical concoctions in their yards during the only time of the year that we lounge about on our lawns?

Even walking past a yard posted with chemical spray warnings stresses me out. It’s as bad as secondhand smoke (and possibly worse).

There’s a good reason why the Canadian Cancer Society is a cheerleader for the ban on cosmetic pesticides. There are mountains of data implicating repeated exposure to pesticides in everything from brain and lung cancer, to kidney damage, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, reproductive disorders, and increased rates of childhood leukemia. Dozens of physician’s groups endorse bans, and two provinces have legislated bans. I’m still waiting for my provincial government to make a decision.

Even though my family and I have a relaxed approach to our lawn (that's an understatement), I can appreciate that many people love the look of a lawn that’s lush and green. If you fit into that category, don’t feel that your only option is chemical. You can create a lush beautiful lawn that’s fit for rolling on, using an all-natural regime.
1. Once a year top-dress your lawn with compost and over-seed with hardy grass varieties that thrive in our climate. I’m partial to clover (it’s soft underfoot).
2. Feed your lawn twice a year, and make sure you choose an all-natural fertilizer. There are so many to choose from that you don’t need to resort to petroleum-based chemicals. Read labels (good luck) or visit Halifax Seed for recommendations.
3. Let your lawn nourish itself by leaving grass clippings to compost.
4. To figure out what your lawn needs, have the soil analyzed (or do it yourself with a kit from Halifax Seed). Healthy soil should have a pH of 6 to 7. Adding the right nutrients to the soil will encourage micro-organisms to develop. They help to keep your lawn healthy and ward off pests. Chemical lawn treatments kill off these micro-organisms and leave your lawn more vulnerable.
5. Don’t mow too short. To help your lawn hold moisture be careful not to clip it below 2.5- 3 inches high. This is important to establishing and maintaining deep, healthy roots and will help your lawn squeeze out weeds.
6. During dry periods water your lawn deeply. Water long enough to fill a tuna can (about an inch of water). Water in the early morning or evening to limit evaporation.
7. If you have any bare spots top-dress and over-seed them so weeds don’t get there first.
8. If weeds really bother you dig some of them by hand (or pay the neighbours’ kids to do it for you).

Whether you’re obsessed with your grass or just hope for a half decent lawn each summer, keep in mind that your sanity isn’t the only health issue to consider when it comes to lawn care. Choosing chemical-free alternatives will keep us all a lot healthier.

This blog was previously published in KV Style (

Monday, May 11, 2009

Why bottled water isn't so great after all

At first glance bottled water seems like the ideal thing. What could be better than weaning more people off of pop and other unhealthy drinks? And getting us to drink more water is great for our health. Yes, but there is so much more to bottled water than meets the eye. When you consider that most of us have easy access to safe drinking water right out of our tap, the environmental toll of bottled water (which is huge) seems so pointless.

Consider this:

More than 40% of bottled water is just tap water anyway. (Coca-Cola’s Dasani brand comes out of taps in Calgary and Brampton.)

It takes about 250 ml of oil to produce one litre of bottled water. That includes the oil used to make the plastic bottle and gas to ship the filled bottle halfway across the country. When you factor in processing, it takes about three litres of water to make one litre of bottled water.

The explosion in popularity of bottled water has caused an explosion of sorts in the landfill. Less than 25% of water bottles end up being recycled. Millions and millions go in the trash.

Disposable plastic water bottles are not meant for multiple uses. They’re made with #1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is fine for a single use, but reuse can lead to bacterial growth and leaching of chemicals.

Have you noticed that water cooler bottles are made with #7 plastic? That’s the plastic that contains Bisphenol A, the hormone disruptor that has been banned from use in baby bottles.
And one more thing, for those of us who pay for municipal water, a litre of bottled water is about 3,000 times more expensive than a litre of tap water.

There are more than enough reasons to stop buying bottled water. So where do you begin?
Fill water bottles at home before you head out on a road trip or even if you’re just out and about for the afternoon. Make sure you have enough bottles for everyone in your family (and maybe a couple of extras).

Bring an empty bottle with you when you travel. Even when I travel for work I pack a water bottle that I fill from the bathroom tap in my hotel room. That way I’m not buying the expensive bottle of water in the room and can steer clear of plastic.

Buy a carbon filter for your kitchen tap if you don’t like the taste of your tap water. Or buy a filter jug to keep in your fridge.

At restaurants ask for tap water if they offer bottled water.

Convenience is a matter of perspective. In my opinion it’s easier and more eco-friendly and definitely cheaper to take full advantage of the safe drinking water from the kitchen tap.

This article was previously published in KV Style (

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Breaking the bag habit

Up until recently I thought that “compostable” and “biodegradable” meant pretty much the same thing and was delighted to see biodegradable bags popping up at various retailers. As it turns out these bags aren’t great after all. In fact they’re a full step backwards – a bit of a hoax courtesy of the bio-bag manufacturers. These biodegradable bags (marked Degradable, Biodegradable or Oxo-biodegradable) aren’t suitable for the blue bins or the compost bin.

They can’t go in the blue bins since they can cause items made from recycled plastic, like “wood” decking, to degrade. And they’re no better in the compost pile since all they do is break down into tiny bits of plastic. So it turns out the trash is the only place for them.

To minimize the confusion, biodegradable bags that you line your compost bin with must also be marked compostable.

Recycling is great but avoidance is better…
If you’re not in the habit of bringing your own bags to the grocery store, that’s the best place to start. It’s the simplest too. Just leave a pile of bags in your car and try to remember to bring them into the store with you.

If you’re already into the grocery store routine here are a few more ways to break the bag habit:
· When you buy something say no to a bag. Can the item fit in your purse or can you carry it home/to the car without a bag?

· If you have a few items and one is really big, ask the clerk to put the smaller items in a small bag and just carry the larger item.

· Better yet keep a bag in your purse (or coat pocket). My favourite birthday gift last year was an Envirosax reusable shopping bag ( It’s a sturdy polyester bag that folds up into nothing but fits just about anything. These bags are chic, cheery and surprisingly strong (they can carry up to 44 pounds of stuff). Plus they’re waterproof. Cost: $8.99.

· I discovered a local woman who makes a great variety of reusable bags, including produce bags (so you don’t have to use the plastic bags on a roll) and reusable snack bags. To find out more visit

Using plastic bags is a habit but so is not using plastic bags. To live a little greener it’s just a matter of swapping one habit for another.

A version of this article was previously published in KV Style (