Your Daily Green Bit

Good phthalate news & top green lip balms

Time to phase out phthalates, those toxic tongue-twisters linked to obesity in men and genital abnormalities in  male infants. Recently banned by Congress from children's toys, these hormone disrupting are now, according to a study released today by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) being quietly phased out of cosmetics, too.

The mainstream personal care industry may still be denying the well-documented health problems related to phthalates (like DNA damage in sperm and feminization of the male reproductive system), but it appears that many companies are secretly reformulating, and removing the chemicals from, their perfumes. The CSC, a non-profit environmental health coalition, retested the 12 worst offenders among the 72 products tested for phthalates in their groundbreaking 2002 report, "Not Too Pretty." Based on the results, they're dubbing this new report "A Little Prettier."

In the original tests, these offending 12 contained multiple phthalates, and/or very high levels of diethyl phthalate (DEHP), used to soften vinyl plastic as well as in fragrances. In 2002, "Poison" by Christian Dior was the most contaminated. This year, it's less poisonous, with no detectable levels of phthalates in three out of four bottles tested. Unfortunately, not all is so rosy:  "Charlie," "Wind Song by Prince Matchavelli," and "White Diamonds by Elizabeth Taylor" actually had higher levels of phthalates than in 2002. And, companies still are not legally required to list components of "fragrance" among their ingredients on labels, so consumers remain in the dark.

"The industry is still using DEP and we think they shouldn't be," says CSC spokesperson Stacy Malkan, author of Not Just a Pretty Face (New Society, 2007). "We only tested a small percentage of things on the market but it gives us an indication that the industry seems to have made positive progress." she attributes this to the 2003 European Union ban on two phthalates in personal care products, the 2005 California Safe Cosmetics Act, the 2007 Washington state ban of phthalates in children's products, consumer pressure, and new human studies on the chemicals. Malkan singles out Dr. Shann Swan's research on the correlation between babies' genital deformities and their mother's phthalate exposure levels, and Dr. Russ Hauser's work on phthalates and sperm quality.

Going forward, Malkan wants better news. "There are still huge loopholes in the law that allow companies not to tell us what is in products. There's no reason for products to contain phthalates." 

Now to celebrate with some holiday shopping and lip glossing.

Perfect Stocking and Pocket Stuffers:  Phthalate-free Lip Balms: To keep from licking hormone-disrupters off your winter-cracked lips, choose from this plethora of phthalate-free products, all of which use essential plant oils rather than synthetic "fragrance."

THE BODY SHOP  Hemp Lip Protector
At a recent Jets game (remember the last one they won?), a green guy said it saved his lips from cold wind splice  and the green tube showed off his team spirit. Body Shop is a CSC signatory. $8.

BURTS BEES Beeswax Balms, Lip Shimmers The quickest of comforters:  Burt's clear balm (Natural Products Association certified) and new Rescue Lip Balm, which blocks UV rays with natural titanium dioxide. Burt's has also signed the CSC pledge. $3-5.

DR BRONNER’S Lip Balm This USDA certified organic balm comes in "naked," lemon/lime and ginger phthalate-free flavors. Yum. A CSC signatory. $2.99 

DR. HAUSCHKA Lip Care Stick or Balm One of our top faves. Moisturizes with jojoba wax and carrot and rosehip extracts; $12.95 or $14.50.

OLA HAWAII Tropical Melody Lip Balms (pictured) The islands in winter! Banana, coconut/lemongrass, liliko'i (passion fruit) and mango aromas will warm your lips and  hearts. We can't get enough of 'em. $6. 

ORIGINS Lip Balm Their USDA certified organic stick is pure salve-ation. Completely odorless and taste-free, slicks on effortlessly.

WELEDA Everon Lip Balm
Another top Plenty pick. With shea butter, vanilla and rose. Cheap, creamy, and long-lasting. $3.50-4.99.

It's rare these days to hear good news from anyone fighting the good fight against the countless toxins in our consumer products, which is why the latest results from CSC are such a pleasure. 

by Alexandra Zissu 

Carbon offsets for holiday air travel

Thinking of taking off for the holidays? Only two weeks and two days left until Christmas! If you haven’t bought a ticket already, plummeting oil prices, which have resulted in 50% lower fuel prices, according to the San Jose Mercury, may have you tempted to hop a plane for the trip back home. Airlines and hotels are indeed reducing prices this holiday season—average air ticket prices have declined about $53—so this may be the year to travel, according to CNN. On the down side, most airlines are charging extra for even a single bag--and what about that excess carbon baggage you'd be packing?

A single passenger traveling round trip from New York to L.A. will be responsible for emitting about 1,500 lbs of carbon, on average, according to the TerraPass carbon calculator. Terrapass only looks a a few airlines, but you get the picture. So how can you visit your family without damaging the planet?

1. You can invest in alternative energy and other global warming mitigators by buying carbon offsets.

2. While price is most travellers’ top concern, you can, whenever possible, patronize airlines with good environmental records.

The nonprofit Climate Counts, which ranks companies by their efforts to combat climate change, recently began rating airlines and hotels. Northwest Airlines scored the highest—39 out of 100 points—followed by Southwest Airlines (37), American Airlines (35), and United Airlines (28). 

Carbon offsets can be purchased from companies that use your money to fund renewable energy, such as wind and solar, methane entrapment and energy generation projects, and biofuels. Theoretically, these carbon-reducing projects balance out your carbon-emitting travel.

But before you buy: Worth asking offsetters is how much of your fee goes directly to fund projects, and how much to the companies' own administrative costs.

Worth asking yourself is, are you paying yourself to pollute without guilt, or taking steps to reduce carbon where you can, in home energy consumption, transportation and food and water (non-bottled) choices? After all, every American is responsible, on average, for the release of 26.5 tons of greenhouse gases. You might be able to "offset" your flight without buying offsets!  Calculate your total carbon footrpint on the EPA's site. 

Most third-party carbon offset companies allow you to purchase your offsets at any time, so even if you've already booked your flight, you can still offset your emissions. You can even pick up a few extra credits to offset last  year's vacation. It's retroactive eco-redemption! 

TerraPass offers carbon offset packages for individuals and family units. You can purchase offsets for driving, flying, home energy usage, and combinations of all three. Projects they fund include farm energy, landfill gas capture, and wind energy farms. One year of airplane travel offsets costs about $50.

Vermont-based NativeEnergy sells offsets to individuals and businesses. They fund both biomass projects and transportation efficiency projects. The 6,000 mile round trip from New York to L.A. would cost you $42.

Travelocity allows you to purchase offsets when you book on their site through their Go Zero project. They fund native tree-planting projects through the Conservation Fund. One carbon credit costs about $3 and they offer hotel and flight packages for families and individuals. Enough credits to cover a New York/ California round-trip costs $25, and they'll plant 2 trees.

If you’re planning on traveling internationally, check out Germany-based Atmosfair, Australia-based Climate Friendly, and Switzerland-based Myclimate.

For comparative airfare price shopping, check out Fare Compare.

Travel light! 

By Rachel Brown

Save Brita filters for recycling

Don’t toss your next used-up Brita water filter. Starting in January (yes, 2009 is a mere three weeks away!), Brita will provide recycling of its carbon filters, both pitcher and faucet attachment models—which remove common toxins such as lead—and channel that plastic into groovy new post-consumer products.

In our previous post on recycling water filters, we mentioned that Brita and Pur, the two mainstays of the carafe filter market, did not offer recycling programs. Until now, the only company that did so was Zero Water (wrap the filter in two plastic bags and ship it Attn: Recycling, Zero Technologies, LLC, 4510 Adams Circle Unit F, Bensalem, PA 19020). But thanks to efforts like Take Back the Filter’s petition, starting in early January, Brita will partner with Preserve, the leading maker of 100 percent recycled household products, in taking back their products and taking responsibility for their products’ waste.        

Consumers can drop off old filters and pitchers at participating Whole Foods stores or mail them to the Brita company. Preserve will then recycle the filter—and the box, if you mailed it—into nifty items like toothbrushes, cups and cutting boards. A full list of participating stores, as well as shipping instructions, will be available on in January 2009. You can get the details from Brita here.  

Since Pur still hasn't instituted takebacks for their products, we can give 'em a nudge by emailing them through their website, and asking them to take back their filters.

To top it off:  Drinking tap water is so much better than bottled water that we just have to give you the stats again. The Container Recycling Institute estimates that over 100 billion plastic water bottles—40 million a day—have already been tossed into landfills this year. All of those bottles require more than 17 million barrels of oil annually according to the Earth Policy Institute. If that wasn’t enough to send you back to the tap, the Environmental Working Group recently released a study revealing that some commercial bottled waters are less pure than tap water. EWG found pesticides, disinfectant residue, chlorine, fluoride, and even some bacteria in the 10 major brands they tested, and some water was so contaminated that it violated state laws. Icky! 

Let it never be said that petitions are useless. Thanks to the thousands of consumers who demanded corporate responsibility, we are one step closer to a sustainable society. Have a big glass of filtered water. You deserve it.

by Rachel Brown 

How to find safer, greener toys

Don’t chew on that choo-choo? Easier said than done:  Oral experimentation is a normal part of childhood development that a parent really oughtn't to repress. Today, however, the Ecology Center released its 2nd annual toy guide, which tested 1,500 popular toys and found that 20% contained lead, many at levels exceeding the newly set legal limit. For more info, see

Last year, 1.5 million Thomas and Friends wooden toy trains were recalled for high levels of  lead, and, this year, over a million Mattel toys, including several Fisher Price/ Sesame Street characters (yes, even some Elmos!) were pulled off shelves for lead violations.  Although Congress passed a new toy safety law last summer prohibiting sales of  toys containing lead and hormone-disrupting phthalates, the rules don’t go into effect until February 10, 2009. So toy makers still have plenty of time to liquidate certain products, and consumer advocates are warning shoppers to be especially wary of heavily discounted “sell-offs" for this reason.

Fortunately, there are many safer, greener alternatives, as follows:

*Just in time for the holidays, Toys “R” Us has expanded its line of low-priced “natural wooden toys” for ages 18 months and up, made with wood  certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as coming from well-managed forests.There are five different wooden toys ranging in price from just $7.48 for a natural wood utility truck and $9.99 for a natural wood Shape Sorter to $37.99 for a pickup truck. And, they're packaged using at least “70% post-production recycled cardboard.”

The World Wildlife Fund’s holiday catalog features a "Bucket of Frogs." For a donation of $50, you’ll join their adopt an animal program, and get a wooden bucket made from FSC wood with five brightly colored, plush toy frogs that represent different species from the Amazon rainforest.

It’s worth checking the “green wooden toys” section on For instance, they sell HEROS colorful train sets made from FSC or PEFC certified wood. There are toys Brio, Kapla, Plan, and FAO Schwartz that, while not made from FSC certified wood, use sustainable bamboo and rubber wood.

Holgate toys are all made in the U.S. out of domestic hardwood, some of it FSC-certified, with nontoxic finishes, the company assures.  

IKEA’s nifty hardwood train sets for children 3 and older use eco-friendlier stainless steel and non=PVC (hence phthalate-free) plastic connectors.  Last week, in an interview with Fortune the company president said IKEA is working with World Wildlife Fund to increase certified wood programs in China, Russia and Bulgaria, where it buys most of its wood, and plans to increase  FSC certification to 30% of its wood products.

In response to concerns about tainted toys on store shelves prior to the Feb. 10 deadline,Wal-Mart and Toys R Us have stepped up lead testing, as Consumers Union notes in a report released this week, and promised to phase out toys with phthalates  by Jan. 1. Alas, that's still post-holiday. Another good resource can be your own neighborhood store, like The Playstore, based in Palo Alto, California, which was founded by a group of moms. Playstore supports reforestation projects, and, rather along the lines of FSC, this company takes care to trace  products back to their source and so can tell you a lot about how a toy was made and from what materials. Ask at your small neighborhood toy store and you may learn a lot.

Finally, before you shop, it’s always a good idea to double check the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Toy Recall List before you shop at. Sometimes, even green toys are recalled for safety violations, such as these three wood items being voluntarily recalled from Earth Friendly Toys due to choking hazards.

by  Joyce Newman








Origami for gifts, decor, togetherness

If you stopped out of Black Friday, you may be one of the millions of Americans who waits until the last minute to do their Christmas shopping. Maybe economic woes have you tightening your purse strings, or maybe you just don’t like to shop. Maybe you'd rather spend time with your loved ones, and are looking for an activity other than spending money that will suit people of any skill level or age. No worries—there’s always origami!

 Origami is the Japanese art of folding paper into animals, boxes, insects, and—well, the list goes on. Since you don’t need to cut or glue the paper—just fold—this craft is doable for any age (free-form expressions ought not to be discounted). All you need is a square sheet of paper and the know-how, making this the cheapest gift in your holiday arsenal after pine cones collected from the backyard and covered with glitter. By the way, you could have a decorating station, with glitter and paints, for the fold-challenged.

The right paper, patterned and perfectly square, is available at most bookstores, like Borders and Barnes & Noble, but it’s far better to buy recycled. Savitris sells hand-made recycled paper, and PaperJade has a wide selection of handmade origami paper. You can also create your own folding stock with anything from Netflix envelope flaps to toilet paper, just so long as it’s the same length on all sides. (Exception: origami using dollar bills.) Florist paper and old wrapping paper are excellent because they are easy to fold and already have pretty patterns on them.

The easiest shape to make is the envelope. This saves money on Christmas cards and reduces paper waste, because you can write the message on the paper that becomes the envelope.

The most recognizable, and elegant, shape is the crane (above), another easy pattern, although it doesn’t look it. Cranes are a symbol of peace, and over 10 million origami cranes are donated each year to the Peace Park in Hiroshima, Japan.

Here are directions to folding a butterfly and a little shirt with a dollar bill. Or a bigger bill, if you like. Who knows? A reluctance to unfold the nifty thing may encourage savings.

Origami is great to give and receive. It’s small, attractive, and handmade, and you can make quite a lot of it relatively quickly once you get familiar with the paper and sink into your origami “zone.”  But making a loop with a needle and thread, you can easily convert your paper shapes into buoyant holiday ornaments, too.

Arigato, origami!

By Rachel Brown

Previous Page
Next Page

Issue 25

Sign up for Plenty's Weekly Newsletter