Tips on buying eco-friendly household items

June 23, 2015

Before reaching automatically for the product you always buy, arm yourself with information about problem ingredients and healthy alternatives. You may be surprised to learn that earth-wise choices are often the most cost-effective.

Tips on buying eco-friendly household items

1. Buying cleaning products

Household cleaning and laundry products contain a huge array of synthetic chemicals, some of which are harmful to both humans and the environment.

  • All-purpose cleaners: Try to buy fewer cleaning products. One simple earth-wise, all-purpose cleaner, whether home-made or a commercial product, is really all you need to do the vast majority of household cleaning jobs.
  • Phosphate-free detergents: Choose unperfumed, phosphate-free or low-phosphate laundry powders and liquids.
  • Biodegradable products: Try to use only products that are 80 to 100 per cent biodegradable and free from phosphates, petrochemicals, optical brighteners (or fluorescers), enzymes, chlorine and caustic soda (sodium hydroxide).
  • Products with warnings: Many products do not carry a full ingredients list, but they are required by law to carry warnings if they are hazardous or poisonous. Avoid products that carry such warnings. If they're toxic enough to poison or burn you, they're best left on the shelf. (The exception is borax: though poisonous if ingested in large amounts, it still has a valuable place in an earth-wise cleaning kit.)
  • Eco-friendly labels: Look for labels that indicate that a product is eco-friendly, but read such labels critically – 'natural', 'organic' and 'biodegradable' are often used in very loose ways and may not mean much. For example, almost everything will break down (biodegrade) eventually: you need to know that it will do so in a matter of weeks rather than decades!
  • Packaging: Think about how the cleaning products you buy are packaged: can you get them in a larger size or in bulk? In a concentrated form? In a recycled container?

2. Buying aluminum foil

  • The production of aluminum requires large amounts of energy and aluminum never breaks down.
  • Try to use aluminum foil sheets and containers sparingly, reusing and recycling whenever possible. Recycling aluminum uses just five per cent of the energy used in producing new aluminum.

3. Buying batteries

  • Next time you need to replace batteries, consider rechargeable nickel metal hydride (NIMH) models.
  • These require a charger unit and cost about three times as much as standard alkaline batteries, but can be recharged more than 500 times, making them much more economical in the long run.
  • And, with some models, recharging takes only 15 minutes, which is usually quicker than going to the store!
  • What's more, you'll help to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.

4. Buying garbage bags

  • Instead of reaching for standard plastic garbage bags, read the labels carefully and choose biodegradable bags instead.
  • Slightly more expensive plastic bags, made primarily from starches derived from plants such as corn and potato, will biodegrade in about three months.

5. Buying light bulbs

  • Both incandescent and halogen lights are inefficient, wasting most of their energy as heat.
  • Try to replace as many incandescent globes and halogen lamps as you can with compact fluorescent bulbs. These cost more initially, but last up to 15 times longer and use up to 80 per cent less energy. They come in various shapes and sizes.

6. Buying smoke detectors

  • Although smoke detectors contain tiny amounts of radioactive material, the benefits of having an alarm far outweigh the almost negligible risk of direct radiation.
  • A more important factor is the safe disposal of a disused smoke alarm, since the radioactive material has a very long half-life and could conceivably leach into a landfill.
  • Consider buying a photo-electronic alarm. These contain no radioactive material, but are more expensive.
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