Baking Soda: Clean for the Environment, the Kitchen, the Bathroom, and You

alternative-cleaning-and-cosmetic-suppliesBaking Soda is an excellent alternative to most cleaning and hygienic products which contain toxic chemicals which are harmful to the people who use them as well as the environment. Concern about the damaging chemicals in cleaning and hygienic products has been recently justified by frightening revelations such as triclosan being found in dolphins and paraben being linked to cancerous tumors. 

Parabens are a man-made chemical preservative which is cheap to produce and can be found in almost all shampoos, moisturizers, gels, lubricants, toothpaste and food additives. Parabens are particularly dangerous to women, as they can mimic the hormone estrogen. Parabens have been found in tumors removed from breast cancer patients. It is likely that parabens also damage to reproductive systems of males, in the July 2002 Archives of Toxicology a study was published by Dr. S. Oishi of the Tokyo Metropolitan Research Laboratory of Public Health, which showed a causal relationship between parabens and adverse effects to the male reproductive system in newborn male mammals.

Triclosan is an antibacterial agent commonly found in cleaning products like dish detergent. A 2005 study published in Environmental Pollution documents how blood samples taken from bottlenose dolphins in South Carolina and Florida showed that an average of 27 percent of the animals from various locations in both states contained triclosan. The presence of triclosan signals that not only has the health of the dolphins been affected, but also the water has been contaminated. So every time we wash our hands, dishes, and clothes triclosan is entering the wastewater and residual remains of triclosan leak into rivers and estuaries despite the water treatment process.

Fortunately, baking soda, known scientifically as sodium bicarbonate, is a multifaceted, multipurpose substance, which can clean and deodorize your home and your body without damaging your health or the health of the environment. Baking soda regulates pH and when baking soda encounters either an overly acidic or overly alkaline-based substance baking soda’s natural reaction is to neutralize that pH. Beyond that, baking soda also acts as a buffer by preventing further changes in pH balance. Baking soda’s dual properties of buffering and neutralizing make it a sustainable product with many helpful uses.

In your home, baking soda can be used to clean the toilet, the walls, mirrors, countertops, and other surfaces. By using baking soda in your toilet you can improve the flow of your whole septic system. Baking soda removes grease from dishes, can dry wet furniture and carpet, remove scratches and marks from floors and walls, and can be combined with water to polish chrome and stainless steel. Baking soda can also clean appliances like microwaves and coffee pots and has the ability to clean and unclog your drains and stoves (it can unclog gas stoves!). Baking soda can also deodorize and clean your trashcan, cat’s liter box, cutting board, drain, dishwasher, lunch boxes, dishrags, ashtray, refrigerator, carpets, cars, footwear and even stuffed animals. You can even make fresh cut flowers last longer by adding a teaspoon of baking soda to the vase.

Baking soda is also incredibly helpful to aiding you in hygienic needs. For instance, you can apply baking soda to your underarms with a powder puff to act as deodorant, which cuts back on the use of harmful parabens and can prevent more plastic waste from being put in landfills. Baking soda can be used to make toothpaste when mixed with a half a teaspoon of peroxide paste. You can use baking soda to scrub your body and face. If you add it to a bath it will soften your skin. Baking soda can be used for fresh breath or canker sores if you gargle with it using a mixture of water. Baking soda can even be used to alleviate pain from insect bites, sunburn, diaper rash, poison ivy rashes, windburns, and jellyfish stings. If added to a vaporizer or humidifying, baking soda can relieve a stuffy nose.

Other helpful uses include washing vegetables and fruit with baking soda and water. If you are a hunter you can remove the gamey taste from your food using baking soda. If you sprinkle your tomato plants with a little baking soda it will sweeten the tomatoes produces. If you sprinkle soil in your garden with baking soda it will repel rabbits and can be used in your home as well to repel cockroaches and ants. If applied to a windshield it will repel rain.. You can even create modeling clay with baking soda by mixing it with 1 ¼ cup water and 1 cup cornstarch.

All of these helpful tips and more can be found at care2.com,where Melissa Breyer has compiled a through list, as well as on lifehackery.com. To encourage a stricter labeling process on items such as cosmetics that contain harmful toxins, sign this petition on ForceChange.com.

Photo credit: maine.gov/spo/recycle/images/clipart/hhw/vinegar.gif

Water Wars: Scarcity and Sustainability

water-scarcity-sustainabilityObviously life does not exist without water. In the coming years water rights, water scarcity, and lack of potable water will become pressing issues for not only humankind, but for all living entities including plants, animals, etc. The Water Project is a charity organization dedicated to finding solutions to the world’s problematic lack of potable water and they report that nearly a billion people suffer because they have little to no access to clean drinking water. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization reports that water use has grown at more than twice the rate of population growth, meaning that people are using more water now than ever before. Clearly, this is a large and complex problem that will take extensive efforts on global, national, and local levels.

A central problem that contributes to the unequal distribution of water throughout the world is “virtual water.” Virtual water is water that is used to produce a product or good and by no means is virtual water used in a sustainable matter. A study performed from 1995-2006 by scientists at the University of Twente in the Netherlands was published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science and the study shows that virtual water accounts for more than 22 percent of water consumed worldwide. The study hopes to raise awareness in national governments worldwide in order to provoke conscious and conscientious efforts to make water usage as sustainable and non-pollutant as possible. The following graphic provided by The New York Times depicts how some countries (in green shades) are exporting virtual water and how other countries are importing virtual water to produce goods (in shades of red).

Photo credit: graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2012/02/15/business/map2/map2-blog480.jpg

Of that virtual water, 92 percent is used globally for agriculture. Cereal grains like wheat, rice, and corn consume 27 percent, meat production takes up another 22 percent, and dairy clocks in at 7 percent of that usage. Overall, virtual water accounts for one fifth of the water consumed globally, meaning water has become a valuable commodity as well as a necessity. By tracking where virtual water goes the study shows how some countries are utterly dependant on foreign water supplies. The dependant countries include North Africa, the Middle East, Mexico, Europe, Japan, and South Korea. Another problem that exportation of water creates is that the exported goods and water polluted ground and surface water more heavily than domestic goods. The study shows that Central and Southwest Asia and North Africa have the most unsustainable water usage.

Beyond depicting how water is imported and exported and to what end, the study also shows who uses the most water. There is a large disparity in the amount the United States uses when compared to its population. For instance, the United States is the third largest consumer of freshwater, despite the fact that it is populated by only 5 percent of the world’s population. Only China and India, the most densely populated countries in the world, surpass the United States in water consumption. The most disturbing fact is that the United States per capita consumes 2,842 cubic meters a year, whereas China and India consume 1,089 meters and 1,071 meters respectively. The study attributes this difference to the amount of beef Americans consume, which is relatively high when compared with other similar industrialized nations like Britain. Producing beef is incredibly water intensive.

The Twente study shows that water is an essential part of today’s economy, not to mention all life on earth. Therefore the importance of clean, potable drinking water cannot be emphasized enough. In order to reverse the inequality in water distribution and help keep water a sustainably used resource you can support groups like The Water Project or Global Water which work to create safe drinking water and maintain responsibility in water usage around the world.

Photo credit: cityofyukonok.gov/sites/yukon/uploads/images/Emergency_Management/Bottledwater2.jpg

 

Worldwide Alternatives to Pesticides and Fertilizers

selva-negra-pesticides-fertilizers-alternatives-globallyThere is a common myth that genetically modified crops are more effective at feeding large populations. Yet there is just no evidence that GM crops are more effective than organic crops at yielding large harvests. GM crops are certainly not more sustainable or safer, so why is there an undercurrent of support for using these crops in developing countries?

One of the main justifications behind genetically modifying organisms is their potential to supposedly end world hunger. The appeal behind such a claim is obvious; GMOs will end world hunger.  Not only has this claim been proven untrue, there is no evidence that organic farming can’t do the same.  Since GMO technology first came to be in the 1970s the world has not seen an end to its hunger problems. In fact, the World Health Organization states that today hunger is the single gravest threat to the world’s public health.

While GM crops may have a role in a more sustainable future, the corporations behind their development are not partaking in sustainable practices. Presently, Monsanto is trying to make farmers in the developing world dependant on their seeds, herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. Monsanto’s products are dangerous to the environment and the Union of Concerned Scientists will vouch for how they fail at environmental responsibility. Check out these eight reasons Monsanto is unsustainable.

Increasingly, insects are becoming genetically resistant to pesticides. Resistance dulls the overall effectiveness of pesticides while the dangers of pesticides remain in food and in water run-off.  Instead of inundating GM crops with the artificial fertilizers that they are entirely dependant upon, many have found alternative solutions to pest problems. There is no reason to continue using fertilizers that are toxic to the environment and pesticides that insects are becoming resistant to, all at the cost of our health and the health of the environment. There are sustainable, organic alternatives to pesticides and fertilizers that are healthier and safer for both humans and the environment. 

For example, a major pest in most parts of Africa is the stem borer. Stem borers are moth larvae that feed on corn and dramatically reduce crop yields. During the 1990s a collaborative effort by Kenyan and British scientists generated a solution to these insects: the push-pull system. Push-pull is an integrated pest management (IPM) approach that uses permaculture to prevent stem borer damage. By planting corn alongside two other crops stem borer damage was greatly reduced. A wild perennial called Napier grass acts as the “pull,” because it attracts the stem borer moths to lay eggs and then produces a sticky gum that traps the larvae. The silverleaf desmodium acts as the “push,” because it repels the moths and attracts their natural predators.  Silverleaf desmodium also kills striga, which is a parasitic witchweed that reduces corn yields. More so, silverleaf desmodium is leguminous, meaning it converts nitrogen from the air into the kind of nitrogen required for functioning plants. Leguminous plants also improve soil fertility, so the push-pull is a win-win.

In India, there has been a resurgence of a traditional technique called Panchakavya. Panchakavya consists of a mixture of five cow products: cow dung, urine, milk, curd, and ghee. The mixture depends on a proper ratio of each as well as yeast (to provoke fermentation) bananas, groundnut cake, and the water of tender coconut. Panchakavya acts as a natural pesticide and growth promoter, eliminating the need for artificial fertilizers and pesticides. Another non-pesticidal management strategy (NPM) used in India is neem. Neem is tree and its seeds are ground into powder, soaked overnight in water, and then sprayed on a crop. Neem’s effectiveness can easily wane, so spraying must happen at least every ten days. Neem does not kill insects, but acts as anti-feedant, repellant, and egg-laying deterrent.

In South America pheromone-baiting traps have effectively targeted the boll weevil. The boll weevil feeds strictly on the cotton plant and four or five generations may breed each season. After years of treating the boll weevil with government instituted pesticide spray programs, nonchemical solutions have been found to be effective. Alongside pheromone-baiting traps, the practice of clean culture has also proven successful. Clean culture is a process that carefully removes old cotton stalks so boll weevils have nowhere to hibernate during the winter.

Another technique used in Mexico and Africa is a process by which male insects become sterile. The process involves the introduction of factory-sterilized insects into the natural population. The insects are exposed to a small amount of gamma radiation to make them sterile, but not enough to damage their physical abilities. This process was carried out on the screwworm fly in Mexico during the late 1980s and was also used in Africa on the tsetse fly.

Growing food organically prevents the toxic run-off fertilizers produce. Fertilizers are also made by an energy-intensive process, which produces emissions that contribute to ozone depletion. To support organic farming in the developing world you can get involved with groups like the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). To learn more, check out their website.

Photo credit: earthdata.nasa.gov/featured-stories/featured-research/scorecard-environment