Monday, June 18, 2012

Eco-friendly lawn care

If hand-powered tools are too much for you to manage, cordless, Energy Star-certified tools are the next best thing.

Early in the season we’re always gung-ho with the loppers and garden shears. We have been happy to trim shrubs, clip tall weeds beside our stream and cut the high grass growing along the edge of the deck, all by hand using nothing but the most basic tools and elbow grease.
But after years of by-hand gardening in a fairly large yard using shears that never held an edge, left shrubs a little shaggy looking and made my wrists ache, we decided enough is enough and invested in a weed whacker and hedge trimmer.
Elbow grease is of course the greenest route to lawn care, but if it’s too daunting or too much work and you want powered yard tools, the next best choice is cordless instead of gas powered. We switched to a cordless lawn mower three summers ago and have been very pleased with our choice. There is a great variety of cordless tools available, with good battery life, easy recharging and no extension cord to haul around.
Cordless tools are 90% less polluting that the standard two-stroke engine and at least 20% more efficient than a four-stroke engine.  (If you mix oil and gas together to run your lawn mower, it’s a two-stroke engine. If your oil and gas is separate, it’s a four-stroke.)
If you need more convincing to move away from gas-powered lawn care tools (including mowers) consider this: according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a new gas powered mower pollutes as much in an hour of mowing as 8 new cars driving on the highway for an hour (two-stroke engine). And there are ground level emissions that you’re inhaling as you mow or trim. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one gas mower spews 120 lbs. of CO2 and other pollutants into the air every year. There is no data for other gas-powered lawn care tools. With smaller engines the emissions are lower but add up over the growing season nonetheless.
Another reason to switch from gas-powered: the EPA also estimates that over 17 million gallons of fuel (mostly gasoline) is spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment. These spills work their way into groundwater and also emit volatile organic compounds that are harmful if inhaled.
An often overlooked perk of cordless lawn care equipment is the peace and quiet of yard work. While battery operated equipment isn’t quite early-morning quiet, it is quieter than your regular gas-powered equipment.
If you’re looking for cordless equipment choose Energy Star certified models. To receive the certification, lawn mowers, string trimmers, shears, and other cordless yard care tools must use at least 35% less energy than non-certified models, a requirement set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Our mower is Earthwise brand from Kent and our new trimmers are Ryobi from Home Depot (an Eco Option). Canadian Tire carries a selection of tools as does Home Hardware so you won’t have to go out of your way to make an eco-friendly choice. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Safe & effective sunscreen

I bet there were a lot of sunburns as a result of our beautiful Victoria Day weekend. Sometimes it takes a few sunny days to get back into the habit of wearing sunscreen and safely enjoying summer-like weather.  We had to dig around for last summer’s sunscreen leftovers and rummage in the basement for sun hats. In the end we had what we needed to safely enjoy the sunny weekend but this week we were back to square one researching sunscreen for this summer.
Fortunately Environmental Working Group (EWG) has just released its latest sunscreen report, making it easy to search out the safest and most effective sunscreens available this year.  
But before you run to the drugstore (or download EWG’s sunscreen app) remember there’s more to sun safety than just wearing sunscreen. The first line of defense is to cover up with wide-brimmed hats and light coloured clothing. Finding shade and staying out of the noontime sun are important too but easier said than done on sunny weekends during our too-short summers.
Sunscreen should be your last line of defense for a couple of reasons. First, it appears that there is no consensus on whether or not sunscreen actually reduces incidences of melanoma, and many sunscreens are much less effective than they claim. That’s no reason to stop using it though, just a reminder that you need to do your research before stocking up for the summer.
Based on its research EWG found that a lot of sunscreens on the shelf exaggerate claims of UV protection and many are unstable, breaking down in sunlight.
As well, there is no evidence that sunscreens with SPF ratings higher than 50 are any more effective but they do carry a higher concentration of chemicals that soak into your skin. The US FDA is considering prohibiting the sale of these products because those who use them tend to stay in the sun longer. They may not burn but their skin is damaged in other ways.
Some sunscreen ingredients react to the sun’s rays, making them more toxic. Retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A, can actually promote the development of tumours.  
Based on EWG’s research, mineral-based sunscreens offer the safest and best protection. They are stable in sunlight and don’t penetrate the skin. If you can’t find mineral-based sunscreen or prefer a formula that’s easier to apply EWG recommends choosing sunscreens with avobenzone (3 percent for the best UVA protection) and without the hormone disrupter oxybenzone. Confusing but just remember “oxy” is bad.  
A few more tips:
Avoid spray on or powder sunscreens since they coat your lungs and your skin, and don’t buy sunscreen with added insect repellant. This year we’ll be buying Green Beaver mineral-based sunscreen and Coppertone Kids Pure and Simple (if I can find it). Coppertone Sensitive Skin sunscreens get a good rating as well, but the other Coppertone products don’t.

View the full report at