Soapnuts – The Way Forward For Green Cleaning

Cleaning may not be the most popular activity which we can do at home, but it’s a fact of life and can’t be avoided. Take a wander through any local superstore and it’s obvious that housework is big business. Every aisle in the store is crammed full of cleaning products promising to make your surfaces shiny, take out the work involved with getting things looking sparkly again, and reducing the time and effort spent indoors scrubbing sinks and bathrooms to get the restored to their former glory.

The issue with cleaning from a green perspective is that, the tougher a product is on grease, limescale or general dirt, the more likely it is to be packed with harmful chemicals which have a detrimental effect on the environment. More and more people are shying away from using conventional cleaning products such as bleach, understanding that they carry an associated tax upon the environment.

Soapnuts

Enter a great product for cleaning – soapnuts. These natural, environmentally friendly and economical little nuts can be used for a myriad different cleaning tasks, and are wholly natural. Made from the dried fruit of Rittha tree (found in India and the lower forests of Nepal), the nuts are used for everything from washing clothes, making shampoo, and the creation of a number of cleaning products including detergent.

Soapnuts work because the shell of the nut contains saponin, which is released when the nut comes in to contact with water. They are already used extensively in a number of areas as a primary cleaning agent, and the trend is now extending to Western areas as people realise the benefits of these all-purpose natural cleaning superstars.

Soapnuts can be used for the following cleaning tasks:
• Laundry: Soapnuts can be used in the washing machine – just ass a handful to yoru wash in a sock, and let them do the job of your usual detergent (check out our review of soapnuts here)

• Liquid Soap: Boil up some soapnuts and use the water as a conventional detergent

• Pet shampoo: Wash your pets with a mild solution of soapnut liquid to prevent parasites and keep them clean

• Household cleaning: use for window cleaning, bathrooms and kitchens – a soapnut solution can be used as a replacement for expensive and harmful bleaches and limescale removers

• Washing the car: Add some nuts to a bucket of warm water, and you’re ready to go

• Brightening jewellery: Soak items in the soapnut water solution and rub dry to a high sparkle

• Insect repellant: Use soapnut solution to repel insects, and protect plants and bushes from insects by spraying them with a weak soapnut solution.

As a completely renewable and biodegradable product, soapnuts can be composted once they have reached the end of their life in your cleaning cupboard. They are allergy-free, and great for cleaning around babies and small children, and for people with sensitive skin.

Just 1kg of soapnuts can be used for up to 100 loads of laundry, saving around fifty percent from your regular laundry bill. Using these innovative little nuts supports people growing them in regions who depend upon the income to survive, meaning that you have no real excuse for not letting these little miracles in to your home! You can purchase soapnuts for around £7.00 ($14.00) in most home and garden retail outlets. Find out more, here.

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Re-light My (Eco-friendly) Fire

As the winter nights draw in, there’s nothing more appealing that curling up with a glass of wine by a roaring log fire. Except of course for the fact that log or coal fires use up valuable natural resources and fossil fuels and damage our environment. But if the idea of cuddling up next to your loved one opposite a piping hot radiator dampens your enthusiasm somewhat, fear not.

Thankfully, recent developments in the bio-fuels market have enabled fireplace manufacturers to develop credible ‘real-flame’ solutions to meet all your romantic log fire needs. Using a pure plant derivative (bio-ethanol), designers can now offer flame-effect fires which will warm the eco-homes of the future.

Flaming hot
Bio-fires offer an interesting green alternative to natural coal, peat, log or gel fires. The denatured ethanol which is used to fuel the fire is smokeless and odourless, making it ideal for a wide range of homes and outdoor spaces. The smokeless quality of bio-fuel also means that no chimney is required, thus making installation quick and easy.

Most bio-fuelled fires allow the ethanol to be sprayed onto a porous block at the centre of the fire. When lit, the ethanol produces a stable flame, with the porous block delivering a steady release of ethanol fuel. The flames are usually extinguished through a remote sliding system on the side of the unit, to maximise user safety.

These environmentally friendly eco-fires also provide up to six hours of burn time, leading a number of manufacturers to claim that bio-fuelled fires are more economical and deliver better overall heat performance than the earlier brands of gel fires. The fireplaces themselves are largely indistinguishable from gas fires, and leave no residue. Bio-fires also emit about the same amount of heat as ordinary electric fires – and yet they’re fuelled entirely by renewable resources.

Style and substance
Manufacturers have not compromised on the design front either. Many suppliers offer a wide range of bio-fire styles and sizes to suit homes and gardens of all shapes and sizes. From contemporary free-standing fires to more traditional fireplace inserts, alongside bespoke or custom made bio-fires for more unusual spaces – including, wait for it, swimming pools – there really is a bio-fire for everyone.

Bio-fires are clearly an innovative eco-solution for 21st century living, providing a fantastic alternative to the traditional log fire. And with average prices ranging from $800-2000 they’re competitively priced. The bio-fire is clearly a great investment for both the environmentally conscious and the hopeless romantics among us! Time to uncork that bottle…

Retro Cleaning – Some Useful Tips

These days, more and more products are available to apparently make our lives easier, do laundry quicker, faster and better. The problem is, convenience is great but the chemicals we use are not good for the environment.

Our previous generations used only a handful of products to do all the jobs we do today, but there’s value in looking back at what used to be done, and learning from the past. In tougher times of old, people sought out products that were cheap, effective and harmless.

So, here are a few green tips taken from my grandmother’s handbook on cheap, world-friendly ways to get things done…

Washing dishes

Instead of using washing-up liquid, why not try using a tablespoon of Borax in a sinkful of water– for very greasy dishes; maybe add a little washing-up liquid as well. Use a tablespoon of Borax in the rinsing water for glassware to prevent water streaks.

Borax was discovered over 4000 years ago, and is usually found deep within the ground, although it has been mined near the surface in Death Valley, California since the 1800s. Although it has numerous industrial uses, in the home borax is used as a natural laundry booster, multipurpose cleaner, fungicide, preservative, insecticide, herbicide, disinfectant and dessicant.

One of the beauties of Borax is that it can happily mix in with other household cleaning agents, and is really effective.

Cleaning pans

A strong solution of soda crystals is very effective for removing burnt-on grease and food from pans, dishes and grill pans. Soak stubborn debris overnight. Soda crystals are not suitable for aluminum pans, so it’s best to revert back to Borax for tough stains on this kind of metal. Sprinkle Borax on pots and pans and rub with a damp dishcloth – and don’t worry about scratching because Borax is not abrasive. Rinse items thoroughly.

Automatic dishwashing

Make your own automatic dishwasher powder by mixing a tablespoon each of Borax and bicarbonate of soda. Some people suggest it’s a good idea to use white vinegar in place of rinse aid, although this should only be done now and again. To clean the dishwasher, remove the filter and clean with liquid soda crystals, then clean the machine inside with white vinegar.

Cookers and worktops

Grease and burnt on food are easily ‘dissolved’ by liquid soda crystals – leave to soak for a few minutes on stubborn marks and dirt.

Cups and teapots

Tannin stains can be easily removed by leaving a regular solution of soda crystals to soak for one hour, or overnight. Then simply wipe away the film with a cloth and rinse with clean water. An alternative quick, effective method of removing stubborn stains from tea and coffee cups is to apply equal parts of white vinegar and salt into a paste and wipe around the cup with a cloth, and then rinse thoroughly.

Getting Green With Transport

In the US, possibly more than in any other country, we love our cars. The space between places means that we rely upon driving to get us from one place to another and it’s difficult to find alternative modes of transport for when time is short and distances are long!

Obviously, choosing to travel on foot or by bicycle is a great way to reduce your individual impact on the environment. The thing is, we’re not in to preaching and understand you can’t simply stop using your car. Trains and other public transport are great, but they’re not always convenient, especially if you have a family with children and don’t want to be tied down to specific times.

Whether we like it or not, cars are here to stay. Even if you are a dedicated car driver, there are a number of ways to reduce your carbon emissions and make your transportation a bit greener. As with any environmental action, taking control of our individual impact on the world around us can make a huge difference.

Cars

Do you have to drive?

 Before getting in your car, consider whether you could reach your destination by another means. Walking regularly can reduce your risk of heart problems and other illnesses, as well as making you fitter. Identify your most common destinations, and investigate whether you could get there by bus, train, bike, or walking. A study carried out found that on average, people overestimate the time that journeys by public transport will take by more than 80% and underestimate the time that car journeys will take by 18%. Is it really quicker to drive? Travel to work or school by public transport, walking, or cycling once a week. You might find that you enjoy it!

How to cut emissions when using your car

The following tips have been pulled together to give you an overview of how to be more green about your transport, so you can arrive at your destination feeling a bit smug about how you got there…

Investigate the possibility of car sharing. You can register for car-sharing by going online and seeking out other people who regularly go to the same destination as you. By sharing with just one other person, you could half your costs of driving.

When you’re driving, get rid of any surplus weight, such as roof bars or bike racks. This makes your journey a little cheaper and also cuts down on emissions by losing the excess weight your car has to pull along.

Use air conditioning carefully, as this increases fuel consumption by 15% – by cutting it down where you can and opening the windows, you cut fuel costs and assist to reduce your emissions. When you are driving, try to change into a higher gear as soon as possible, to reduce the impact on your engine and cut costs. Accelerate and brake as slowly and smoothly as possible, so that you use less fuel and drive with awareness of the environment.

If you drive at slower speeds, you can reduce your emissions significantly. Obviously, the faster you go, the more gas you use!

Have your car serviced regularly – an incorrectly adjusted carburetor can waste up to 25% of fuel. Incorrect tyre pressure can increase fuel consumption too. Switch off your engine at short stops when you are idling for more than a minute, to save on fuel costs.

All these things can support you to make your mark on environmental change and get you to make a real difference on a personal level when considering your impact on the environment. If each one of us makes these small changes, imagine the collective impact we could have on reaching our targets!

Dish Detergent Gains Credibility Through Oil Crisis

The makers of Dawn liquid dish detergent are benefiting from the increased publicity generated through the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. In a coincidental ad campaign before the disaster, Proctor & Gamble, who manufacture Dawn, started advertising the fact that the detergent is used to clean mammals and birds harmed by oil spills. While Procter & Gamble do not have the best environmental track record, it seems that Dawn has brought them some credibility in the field of environmental safety.

Dawn

The detergent is the preferred soap for nonprofit organisations that clean wildlife to rescue them from disasters, and the ad campaign highlighted this fact before the Deepwater Horizon spill. The ad showed baby otters and ducklings emerging from a bubble bath of Dawn, saved from oil damage.

An ironic product placement for Proctor & Gamble

The product placement for Dawn has made the marketeers of the product uncomfortable, as they are now unintentionally being linked to the crisis.

The number of damaged birds collected by the federal authorities has reached nearly 1,400. As live birds are brought to be cleaned, cameras show images of Dawn bottles in the background being used to wash the birds.

Dawn, which has sent 7,000 bottles of the detergent to the gulf at no charge, and plans to send 5,000 more, has not directly used the disaster to profit, and feels uncomfortable with the turn of events which placed the product at the forefront of environmental news.

The International Bird Rescue Research Center is currently helping nearly 30 birds a day that arrive to be cleaned in Fort Jackson, La. The oil covering them is rubbed with a chemical pretreatment, and then washed with Dawn in sinks in an open warehouse. The process is helping the birds to shake off the oil that is threatening their survival. Once the birds have been cleaned, they are released back to gulf beach areas that are as yet unaffected by the oil spill.

Taking small steps to help in an unimaginable crisis

The Bird Rescue Research Center was founded after two oil tankers collided in San Francisco Bay in 1971 and 7,000 birds were covered in oil. They began using Dawn detergent 1978 as the best product for the job. In recent years, Dawn has started raising money for the center and is on track for $500,000 by the end of the month.

Jay Holcomb, the executive director of the center, acknowledged that it was unclear what happens after the birds were released again, stating that “it is like a Band-Aid to a gunshot wound to the heart,” when we consider the ongoing survival of the birds and mammals in the wake of the oil spill.

Toxic America – A CNN Two Night Special

On June 2nd and 3rd in the US, CNN has a special series on shows on “Toxic America“. Hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta,the first night, dubbed Toxic Towns USA, focusing on CNN’s year-long investigation into the residents of Mosseville, Louisiana, who for decades have claimed that toxic chemicals in the air have been making them sick. The second night, Toxic Childhood, delves into effects of unseen chemicals on ALL of us, particularly how much of these toxins are being passed onto the babies of pregnant women.

There are more details on the website, but a few of the show’s findings:
– Exposure to car and truck exhaust in the womb has been shown to result in lower IQ at age five.
– Babies enter the world with more than 200 dangerous chemicals in their blood (!), including flame retardants, dioxins, substances in non-stick coatings like Teflon and hormone-like compounds found in plastic.
– Out of the 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States, the EPA has only tested about 200 and only banned five.

There are some promo clips on their YouTube channel (which I can’t embed here, sorry!), but it looks very interesting!

Where To Recycle Electronics

It’s often difficult to know what to do with electronics, and some places charge for recycling electronics (I’m looking at you my local EDCO for desktop computers). So to help in trying to find places that recycle electronics for free, Consumer Reports has published a great article.

Recycling electronics

Conveniently called “Where to recycle electronics, free” the article includes some compelling reasons to recycle (e.g., The cathode-ray tube in old-style TVs and computer monitors contains 4 to 8 pounds of lead, a neurotoxin), as well as a list of companies that help you recycle (via drop off centers, mail in programs, etc) AND links to public programs.

Take a look here.