This week we discovered that most of us still pitch our used batteries in the trash. The problem? While household batteries make up less than 1 per cent of landfill, they’re responsible for up to 70 per cent of the heavy metals found there — nasty things like cadmium, lead and mercury, a neurotoxin that has made eating more than one serving of tuna a week tantamount to drinking nail polish.
Those are just one of the myriad of toxic substances we stock in our homes. There’s paint, paint thinners, pesticides, even our basic detergents — the things that are supposed to clean our homes!
Many of those bad things end up in the air, water or land, poisoning the wildlife and water supply.
Why would we keep them around — especially when there are non-toxic replacements that are easy to find? Sure, the science still isn't clear as the vast majority of the industrial chemicals on the Canadian market haven't been tested. But why take the chance? My 2-year old might not be hit jay walking across Bloor Street, but...
The Challenge: Get rid of all toxic cleaners in your home.
The Motivation: Indoor air pollution is now worse than the toxic brew you breathe outside. In part, that’s to blame for our skyrocketing rates of asthma and cancer.
There are thousands of industrial chemicals manufactured and sold in Canada, and only a handful have been tested for their health and environmental impacts. Many are in our cleaning products. Tilex Total Bathroom Multipurpose Cleaner, for one, contains 2-Butoxyethanol — a reproductive toxin the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says causes birth defects in animals.
That, like other cleaning products, is made to be dissolved in water and sent down the drain. Hormone-disrupting chemicals from antibacterial soaps and cleaning agents were recently found in San Francisco Bay during a year-long study by the Environmental Working Group, an American non-profit agency. One of the chemicals, triclosan, has been shown to feminize fish. Also, when exposed to sunlight, it converts into a type of dioxin — deadliest pollutant ever made.
Process: Check under your sink and in your laundry room. You’ll find a lot of bottles with a lot of corroded hand symbols, skull and crossbones, and instructions to phone the Poison Control Centre if the product was swallowed. All of those are definitely toxic. Take them all to the nearest hazardous waste depot.
Then, you enter a trickier terrain. Health Canada doesn’t require companies to list ingredients on cleaning products. The assumption is they are used in such low doses, they're not harmful. My approach: Better safe than sorry. If they do have any ingredients listed, the basic rule of thumb is: avoid anything with an ingredient ending in “ene” or “ol”, or with “phenol,” “chlor” or “glycol” in its name. Check out the list of cleaning products typical to most homes the Labour Environmental Alliance Society researched, checking for only eight toxic ingredients. Now imagine: there are more than 23,000 industrial chemicals in Canada, the vast majority of which have never been tested.
Next, go to health food store and stock up on eco-friendly, non-toxic replacements. Any product you have now will have a competitively-priced green equivalent — even toilet bowl cleanser. Even cheaper would be to make your own, by buying the basic all-natural cleaning ingredients: baking soda; baking power; borax; vinegar; and some essential oils. That’s all humans used for centuries before inventing synthetic chemicals, after all.
Cost: Around $60 for new clean products. But would have had to buy replacements at some point anyway. Included in that is cost of green clean guide, like Annie Berthold-Bond’s Clean and Green:The Complete Guide to Nontoxic and Environmentally Safe Housekeeping or the newly-released Green Up Your Cleanup, by Jill Potvin Schoff.
Savings: None — except your family’s health.
-- Catherine Porter