Tuesday, November 20, 2007

12 Tips To Make Your Bathroom More Eco-Friendly

Try out a few of the ideas below to help lighten your ecological footprint. The tips highlighted in green will refer you back to earlier blog posts that offer specific product suggestions and details on the benefits of making such changes.

Paper Products

1) Toilet Paper and Paper Towel - Use chlorine-free recycled paper products with high post-consumer content. Businesses should consider investing in an automated hand-dryer.
2) The Trash – Buy biodegradable trash bags. If there is space, have two trash bins, one for recyclable paper products and another for feminine products and other wastes.

3) Toilet – If you do not already own a low flush toilet install a water displacement device (try adding a half-gallon plastic bottle filled with sand to your toilet’s tank). Consider purchasing a dual flush toilet or a waterless, composting toilet.
4) Sink – Install a faucet attachment to either lower the gallon per minute flow or to convert your faucet into an automatic faucet that is sensor activated.
5) Shower – Choose a water-efficient showerhead that has a low gallon per minute flow.

6) Cleaning Products – Use non-toxic, biodegradable cleaning products such as Method, Seventh Generation and Planet. For hand soap, check out Just Soap’s natural, biodegradable soaps that are blended by human-powered bicycles.
7) Air Ventilation – Keep your indoor air quality at a healthy level by making sure your bathroom fan is fully functioning.

8) Light Bulbs – Natural lighting is always best but if that’s not an option, light your bathroom with LED lights. They last long, use less energy (even less than compact fluorescent light bulbs), and save you money.

9) Paint - Use low or zero-VOC paint to reduce indoor air pollution.
10) Rugs - Add to the comfort of your bathroom and purchase a rug made from bamboo, a fast growing, viable alternative to wood.

Connection to Nature
11) Plants – Nice for aesthetics and helps connect people back to nature (bromeliads, philodendrons, orchids, ferns)
12) Reminder Sign – Post a sign to remind people who use your bathroom to conserve water and paper resources.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Plants - The Natural Air Filter

Add a plant to your bathroom to help filter the air of harmful VOC's (volatile organic compounds) such as benzene and other pollutants like formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and carbon monoxide that cause eye and throat irritation, headaches and nausea (a.k.a. sick building syndrome) and are suspected of causing cancer. VOC's are emitted by many household products including carpets, furniture, printers, paints, and cleaning products. Many years ago NASA conducted a 2-year study on indoor air quality and found that plants are incredibly effective at absorbing these contaminants from the air. Check out NASA's list of recommended air-purifying house plants.

As for choosing a plant to put in your bathroom, you need a plant that can handle moisture and survive with little light. I talked to my plant expert friend, Eric Klein, and he recommends buying a bromeliad for your bathroom. Bromeliads are native to tropical rain forests and needless to say thrive in humidity and dark spaces. According to Eric philodendrons, orchids, and some varieties of the fern could also work well in the bathroom. If you're looking for a specific plant recommendation check out apartment therapy's list of top ten bathroom plants.

In addition to their health benefits, plants also make bathrooms more aesthetically pleasing and help connect us back to nature. With nature on your mind, you'll be more mindful of the resources you're using - at least while you're in the bathroom!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Improve The Air You Breathe

According to the EPA Americans spend approximately 90% of their time indoors. Unfortunately, the quality of this indoor air can actually be more polluted than the outside air and cause health problems including headaches, dizziness, irritation, asthma, and other allergy-like symptoms.

However, your indoor air quality (IAQ) can be improved not only by choosing non-toxic, biodegradable cleaning products (see previous blog posting), but also by keeping your bathroom well ventilated. A properly working bathroom fan will help control moisture, prevent the growth of mold and mildew (which aggravate asthma and allergies), and remove unpleasant odors and other pollutants.

If you’re looking to purchase a new fan check out ENERGY STAR’s bathroom ventilation fan. It has a built-in light, uses 70% less energy than standard fans and is relatively quiet. This is an especially great product for small businesses whose fans are continually running. It can help save up to $75 each year – visit ENERGY STAR’s website to read about success stories.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Stop the Spread of Germs

Quick tip for business owners: Make sure your bathroom has a hook for people to hang their purses or coats. If this isn’t available people will set their possessions on the ground without considering/realizing how dirty the floor is. A simple hook will cut down on the spread of germs and will keep your customers healthy and returning to your store or restaurant.

Scrub-A-Dub-Dub – Responsible Cleaning

Bathrooms are full of germs! That’s why they are an important space to keep clean. Unfortunately many of the cleaning products we use contain toxic chemicals which have unknown health consequences and pollute the environment when they are manufactured and disposed of.

So what can you do to protect your health and the environment? Choose trusted, non-toxic, biodegradable cleaning products like Method, Seventh Generation, Planet. I’ve used all of these products and have been satisfied with their cleaning ability. You can buy them from many locations including Whole Foods and Target. Their cost is usually slightly more expensive than regular (and toxic) cleaning products.

A note about what it means to be biodegradable. When disposed of a biodegradable product will break down safely and relatively quickly into simple substances like carbon dioxide, basic minerals and water. These natural materials then integrate back into the environment.

If you’re considering any other type of cleaning product, check that the product has been certified by Green Seal or Scientific Certification Systems (SCS). This will ensure that the product you are choosing has been scientifically analyzed and identified as environmentally responsible. If you know of any other well respected green certification companies add a comment.

If you’d rather not spend the additional money on these cleaning products, why not make your own? Check out EarthEasy’s great list of homemade cleaning recipes that (generally) use safe, natural ingredients.

Here are some bathroom related cleaning recipes directly from their website:

All-Purpose Cleaner: Mix 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup baking soda (or 2 teaspoons borax) into 1/2 gallon (2 liters) water. Store and keep. Use for removal of water deposit stains on shower stall panels, bathroom chrome fixtures, windows, bathroom mirrors, etc.

Air Freshener: Set out a dish of baking soda or vinegar with lemon juice to absorb odors. Having plants in the bathroom can also help reduce odors.

Bathroom Mold: Mold in bathroom tile grout is a common problem and can be a health concern. Mix one part hydrogen peroxide (3%) with two parts water in a spray bottle and spray on areas with mold. Wait at least one hour before rinsing or using shower.

Drain Cleaner: Pour about 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain, then 1/2 cup vinegar. The resulting chemical reaction can break fatty acids down into soap and glycerine, allowing the clog to wash down the drain. After 15 minutes, pour in boiling water to clear residue. Caution: only use this method with metal plumbing. Plastic pipes can melt if excess boiling water is used. Also, do not use this method after trying a commercial drain opener--the vinegar can react with the drain opener to create dangerous fumes.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner: Mix 1/4 cup baking soda and 1 cup vinegar, pour into basin and let it set for a few minutes. Scrub with brush and rinse. A mixture of borax (2 parts) and lemon juice (one part) will also work.

Tub and Tile Cleaner: For simple cleaning, rub in baking soda with a damp sponge and rinse with fresh water. For tougher jobs, wipe surfaces with vinegar first and follow with baking soda as a scouring powder. (Vinegar can break down tile grout, so use sparingly.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

It's Just Soap

Just Soap makes biodegradable, handmade soap that is blended by bicycle. After all the ingredients are brought together, a human-powered bicycle efficiently does all of the mixing working until the ingredients begin to thicken. The mixture is poured into wooden frames, then cut and left to cure for over 2 months.

Because the mixing process is powered by bicycles, the production cost is low. As a result it’s only $3 per bar! It’s also packaged with recycled material.

Water Usage & The Sink

Have you ever stopped to think about what happens to all the clean water that goes down your drain when you wash your hands or brush your teeth? It unfortunately (and unnecessarily) ends up mixing with raw sewage and becomes contaminated. This newly contaminated liquid/sludge then makes its way to either a waste treatment plant or septic tank. We often forget that water is a precious resource that gives us life - try to stay mindful of where your water is going while running water – turn it off when your toothbrush or hands are not under the faucet.

How many gallons per minute (GPM) does your faucet release? You can usually find out by looking along the rim of your faucet where the water comes out. Sinks typically use about 2.2 gallons of water per minute and if you’re not careful you can easily use over 4 gallons every time you brush your teeth.

Green Sink Products & Ideas

1) Faucet Attachments: easy ways to reduce your sink's GPM
a. Attach the Sink Faucet Aerator to your sink to reduce your GPM to 0.50. You just twist it onto your faucet. It only costs $1.50.
b. The EZ Faucet sink attachment is a touch-free infrared sensor faucet adaptor. Your sink will turn on and off automatically when an object triggers the sensor. And as a nice side bonus it helps reduce germs from spreading. Cost is $60. But it will eventually pay for itself because this is a great way to reduce your water bill! Or consider the Miscea touch-free sink which can release soap as you wash.
c. Conserve energy and water with the Solis Faucet, a sensor activated, solar-powered faucet that uses 0.50 gallons per minute.

2) Toilet Lid Sink: Use the clean water from the tank in your toilet to wash your hands. This space saving product from Gaiam has a built in soap dish and an automatic shut off system. Installation is easy and the cost is $90. It’s a pretty neat product and will certainly become a popular conversation topic if you get one.

3) Check for leaks: If you’re not careful a leaky faucet can easily waste 20 gallons of water per day. Keep your sink maintained and make sure your washers are nice and tight.

Water Usage & The Toilet

According to the United States Geological Survey, each person uses approximately 80 to 100 gallons of water at home per day. Surprisingly, the largest use of household water goes to flush the toilet. On average individuals flush toilets 5 times per day and this can add up to over 25% of total water use in the home. Older toilets use between 3 and 5 gallons of clean water per flush while newer toilets (1992 and later) can use around 1.6 gallons per flush. You can check to see how much your toilet uses by lifting off the toilet tank and checking the GPF (gallons per flush).

Toilet Tidbits
from IdeaBites.com
•Americans flush 4.8 billion gallons of water down the toilet every day. Pre-1950, toilets used 7+ gallons per flush; by 1980, it was 3.5. By law, new toilets use 1.6 gallons or less.
•Replacing an old toilet with a new low-flow john gives water bill savings of $46/year - you'll make back the cash in 5 years.

Toilet Products
Consider using one of the following water saving techniques or new toilet products in your bathroom. You’ll be saving money, energy, the environment, and you’ll be addressing water shortage concerns.

1) Water saving devices: cheap ways to convert any toilet to a low flush toilet.
a. Water Displacement Device – buy a water displacement bag from your local hardware store or add a half-gallon plastic bottle filled with sand or pebbles to your toilet tank. This will save you at least a half-gallon per flush and the savings will quickly add up. Note that this tip is not recommended for low flush 1.6 gallon toilets.
b. Toilet Tank Flapper Flush Device – cut down water use by 50% every time you flush. The device costs only $5 and is recommended for 3.5 gallon toilets.
c. Fill Cycle Diverter – saves 1/2 gallon of water per flush and costs $1. Both the tank and the bowl of a toilet need to be refilled when a toilet is flushed. On many toilet designs, the bowl will fill sooner than the tank, and, as a result, water will continue to run into the bowl until the tank is full. This wastes water. The fill cycle diverter is designed to direct more water to the tank and less to the bowl during refill so both the tank and the bowl finish filling at the same time.

2) Check for leaks: Add 10 drops of food coloring to your toilet tank and wait 10 minutes. If the color appears in the bowl, your toilet has a leak.

3) Low flush toilets: Toilets in the US are now required by law to use 1.6 gallons per flush or less (and fortunately the American Water Works Research Association has found that additional flushes are not needed to flush these low flush toilets). You can check out reviews of low flush toilets by plumber Terry Love. His favorite is the UltraMax by Toto.

4) Dual flush toilets: If you’ve ever been to Europe you’ve certainly used a dual flush toilet. These toilets can help save even more water than the low flush toilet with their two button system – one button uses 1.6 gallons and the other uses 0.8 gallons (for “number 1”). Check out the Caroma Dual Flush Toilet.

5) Waterless, composting toilet: Composting toilets can be both clean and sanitary. As an additional benefit they make free, homemade fertilizer for your garden! Check out the Envirolet composting toilet. I'll be adding a post focused on composting toilets in the near future.

6) Greywater systems: Use water from your sink or shower to flush your toilet. This bullet also deserves its own post (which you can expect soon) but for now check out this article posted on Treehugger.com that reviews a product called The Aqus.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

What Does Your Toothbrush Have In Common With A Yogurt Container?

This question isn't actually that random. At SF's GreenFest this weekend I discovered a recycled toothbrush made from recycled yogurt containers (mostly from Stonyfield Farm). What a neat idea! The product is called Preserve and you can pick them up at Whole Foods. At the festival it cost me $2.50 which seems to be a reasonable price.


Some of you may be feeling skeptical about the recycling process. If you are you should definitely do more research and please check out Wikipedia’s article on paper recycling to learn about the rationale behind it.

Or for the daring type you could try completely eliminating paper from your bathroom instead. I was at San Francisco's Green Fest this weekend and walked by a Bidet-O-Matic demonstration (fortunately, no people were involved). It's a cordless, non electric device that you can simply attach to your toilet. Now you don't need to use toilet paper anymore and (if you wish) you don't even have to wash your hands.

Paper Products: Toilet Paper & Paper Towel

Looking for an easy first step to make your bathroom more eco-friendly? Try replacing your toilet paper and paper towel (if you’re not using a cloth towel) with recycled paper. Look for products that meet the following criteria:

1. High post-consumer content (meaning recycled paper previously used by consumers). Look for products with 80% post-consumer content or higher.

2. Chlorine free bleaching process. Many companies bleach their paper products with chlorine to make their paper nice and white. This unfortunately releases harmful chemicals into the air and water which impacts the environment (including you)! Purchase products labeled with TCF (totally chlorine free), PCF (processed chlorine free) or ECF (elemental chlorine free).

Products To Try: Check out the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Shoppers Guide to Home Tissue Products. They’ve compared brands offering facial tissue, toilet paper, paper towels, and napkins.

I’ve recently switch to recycled toilet paper and plan to try out the brands listed in the NRDC’s guide (I’ll provide a review once I get through a few of them). I’m on my first pack of Seventh Generation toilet paper and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how soft it is! I used to be a regular user of Charmin and I had a hard time with the idea of giving it up. But I did and I have no regrets.

But Why Bother? Here’s how making this change will impact the environment, the people around you, and your wallet:

Environmental Impact: The paper products we use in the bathroom on a daily basis are filling our landfills and destroying millions of trees and animal habitats. Using recycled products uses less energy and water and helps save trees. According to the NRDC if every household in the US replaced one 500 sheet roll of virgin fiber toilet paper (a.k.a. toilet paper made without recycled contents) with 100% recycled ones we could save 423,900 trees. And if we all replaced one roll of virgin fiber paper towel (70 sheets) with 100% recycled ones we could save 544,000 trees.

Social Impact: According to Seventh Generation, a company that specializes in creating non-toxic household products, “bleaching paper with chlorine creates dangerous toxins such as dioxins, furans and other organochlorines. Once loose in the environment, these chemicals accumulate in both people and animals. Hundreds of studies have shown a direct link between dioxin exposure and cancer, birth defects and developmental and reproductive disorders.” Message to you: Don’t expose your family, friends or customers to the harmful toxins that are potentially released by chlorine-bleached paper. Use chlorine-free products whenever possible.

Economic Impact: Recycled toilet paper is NOT necessarily more expensive. I’ve seen 4-roll packs of recycled toilet paper cost anywhere between $1.99 and $4.00 depending on the brand and store. At Safeway 4 rolls of Quilted Northern will cost you $2.89. I’ll be doing more research here and provide you with a better comparison soon.