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Green Purse Alerts!

Why My Purse is Green

Because I believe…

  • the fastest, most effective way to stop polluters is by pressuring them in the marketplace
  • women can be the world’s most powerful economic and environmental force if we intentionally shift our spending to the best green products and services
  • women have the power right now to solve many of our most serious environmental problems by using our green purses to make a difference
  • women must act – intentionally, collectively, and with the full force of our purse power behind us – if we hope to leave our children and grandchildren a better world.
  • July 15, 2010

    DEET-Free Mosquito Repellents That Work

    Summer's not the only thing in full swing right now. If you live anywhere except a desert, you're likely to be plagued by mosquitoes.

    Mosquito 2 Most conventional mosquito repellents contain DEET, a chemical that is toxic to a variety of flying and biting insects and has raised questions about its safety for people. The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) analysed human health consequences from DEET exposure and found that the most problems occurred when DEET was applied in high concentrations and left on the skin rather than washed off.  

    However, the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia recommends consumers choose botanically-based repellents rather than DEET unless they face serious health threats from something like West Nile Virus. Reports the agency, DEET is "a member of the toluene chemical family. Toluene is an organic solvent used in rubber and plastic cements and paint removers. DEET is absorbed through the skin and passes into the blood. The Medical Sciences Bulletin, published by Pharmaceutical Information Associates Ltd. reports, "Up to 56% of DEET applied topically penetrates intact human skin and 17% is absorbed into the bloodstream." Blood concentrations of about 3 mg per litre have been reported several hours after DEET repellent was applied to skin in the prescribed fashion. DEET is also absorbed by the gut." 

    DEET may also negatively impact the central nervous system and cause serious skin rashes, says the association. For all of these reasons, Health Canada has banned products containing a 30% or higher concentration of DEET. Also banned are 2-in-1 products, like sunscreen that includes DEET.

    DEET-Free Alternatives

    Continue reading "DEET-Free Mosquito Repellents That Work" »

    March 07, 2010

    We Don't Wait for Our Child to Get Hit By a Car Before We Tell Her to Look Both Ways When Crossing the Street

    "Look both ways before you cross the street." That's the Precautionary Principle in a nutshell.

    Child crossing street The Precautionary Principle was hammered out at the historic Wisconsin Wingspread conference in 1998 by scientists, researchers, and citizens. The principle is grounded in the simple belief that we should not wait to protect ourselves or the environment until we have absolute proof that certain products or activities can cause us harm.

    To the contrary, the principle declares: "When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken, even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically."

    Industries use scientific uncertainty as a way to avoid cleaning up their act. Companies often magnify the importance of uncertainty to persuade citizens, legislators, and regulators that they, too, should delay action. Think how much farther along we'd be at solving the climate change crisis if the energy industry hadn't fought every proposed carbon dioxide regulation with the cry, "There's not enough proof that CO2 causes global warming!"

    At the same time, budget crunches and competing priorities mean that important studies that could document environmental impacts often are shunted aside. Ironically, the longer we wait to address a problem, the greater the costs become - to the environment, to our health, and to the economy.

    The Precautionary Principle has four tenets.

    1) We -- consumers, governments, manufacturers -- have a duty to respond to early warnings. We must act before harm occurs, not after the fact. We don't wait for our child to get hit by a car to tell her to look both ways when crossing the street. People shouldn't need to contract cancer or asthma to get access to safe ingredients, or for companies to remove products like Bisphenol-A from baby bottles or control the air pollution coming out of cars.

    2) Consumers should not bear the "burden of proof." Under our current system, you and I and, essentially, our environment, have to prove that we've been harmed before the government is willing to intercede on our behalf and before industry is willing to change the way it does business.  Under the Precautionary Principle, manufacturers would need to demonstrate safety.

    Can this approach work for industry? It's taken hold in Europe. Starting with chemicals already known to cause cancer and birth defects, cosmetics companies are being required to reformulate their products to contain safer ingredients. Here in the U.S., the nonprofit Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is urging manufacturers to follow suit. Putting the burden of proof not on you and me but on producers should become the law of the land.

    3) It is our responsibility to explore alternatives to toxic substances and activities. What good does it do us to know, or even suspect, something will harm us if we don't choose a safer alternative? Increasingly, we have real choice in the marketplace: more organic foods, more fuel-efficient vehicles, more recycled products, less plastic, less stuff overall. When we opt for the most environmenally friendly products and services available, we provide powerful incentives to manufacturers to shape up..

    4) The Precautionary Principle requires democratic participation. Companies should not be allowed to decide our fate in their corporate board rooms. It's up to us to provide guidance as well as accountability by participating in public hearings, writing letters to companies, voting on ballot initiatives, electing responsive public officials, and, of course, using our Big Green Purse in the marketplace to favor products that offer us the healthiest, safest options.

    Greenmoms1 In fact, often, our first line of defense is the way we spend our money -- or choose to keep it in our pockets. If you're stymied by all the confusing green labels, start with products that meet independent standards for health and environmental sustainability. For suggestions of products to avoid and choices to make, read this month's Green Mom's Carnival on the relationship between the environment and cancer, hosted by Tiffany at NatureMoms

    (photo credit)

    November 11, 2009

    House Cleaning? Use a Fly Swatter, Not a Sledge Hammer

     Sledgehammer The way we're being told to clean our homes these days, you'd think we were all living in breeding grounds for small pox, typhoid fever, leprosy, or some other awful disease that practically kills on contact.

    We're not.

    We ARE living in a world that we share with billions of "germs," most of which are perfectly harmless. In fact, many doctors believe that living with germs keeps us healthier by helping us build up a resistance to their ill effects. 

    Wve report This perspective seems to be routinely ignored by the cleaning products industry. A report by Women's  Voices for the Earth, a non-profit Montana-based research group, investigates the link between toxic chemicals found in disinfectants and human health. Disinfectant Overkill: How Too Clean May Be Hazardous To Our Health analyzes the impact of "cleansers" that commonly contain chlorine bleach, ammonia, triclosan and other anti-bacterials, ammonium quarternary compounds, and nano-silver. Their conclusion?

    "Some of the most common antimicrobial chemicals used in cleaners could have
    serious health consequences. This is especially true for cleaning workers, young children and women who, despite progress on gender roles, continue to do 70% of housework in the average home."

    Furthermore, "The overuse of antimicrobials contributes to the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which some scientists say could leave the public with fewer tools in the fight against infectious diseases."

    WVE suggests this analogy to understand the impact today's common cleansers have on us and the environment: 

    "Suppose you have a pesky fly in your house. One option is to reach for a flyswatter. Assuming you get a direct hit on the fly, your problem is neatly and efficiently solved. But imagine if all you have handy is a sledgehammer. Again assuming you get a direct hit, you will certainly take care of the problem fly. However, you are likely to put a hole in your wall in the process.

    The sledgehammer might be supremely effective at killing flies, but are the side effects (i.e. holes in your wall) worth it?. The same is true for antimicrobial products; they are often too strong for the average daily need. Occasionally they may be warranted, just as a sledgehammer has its place and purpose. But on a daily basis, simple soap and water or other non-toxic cleaners will do the trick without causing potentially harmful side effects."

    WVE does not argue we should stop cleaning. On the contrary, "Disinfectant Overkill" makes a convincing, science-based case for using safe solutions to keep germs at bay.

    Wondering where to start? These eco-friendly tips will help keep your hands clean.

    These DIY recipes for home cleansers are cheap to make and work effectively on any surface in your home.

    September 18, 2009

    Protecting the Environment is a Health Care Issue

    Sick girl The current debate about health care seems seriously lacking in one important way: there's no focus on the environmental problems that make so many of us sick.

    Just scan the front pages of this week's New York Times if you need to be convinced. "Health Ills Abound as Farm Runoff Fouls Wells," documents instances of children contracting serious ear infections, some requiring surgery, from bathing in polluted water.  "Toxic Waters: Clean Water Laws Are Neglected at a Cost in Suffering" focuses on scabs and rashes being inflicted on children because their tap water contains barium, lead, arsenic and many other toxins that cause cancer and damage the kidneys and nervous system. A Fight Grows Over Labeling on Cleaning Products addresses consumer concerns that the chemicals in common household cleansers are giving people asthma, acne, nervous disorders, and more.

    Maybe it's time fror Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson to put their heads together and realize that America could reduce health care costs significantly if we focused on cleaning up the planet. And get some of those polluters to help foot the bill. The cleaning products industry alone is a $14 billion/yr enterprise.

    September 16, 2009

    Tampons- The Planet's Most Extreme Case of PMS

    Vaginal-hygiene If you’re like most women, you'll use as many as 11,000 tampons during your lifetime. Add to that a couple of thousand pads and panty liners, and the ecological impact of your monthly cycle really starts to add up. Particularly egregious are the plastic applicators that come with some tampons. They can escape from any landfill- or wastebasket, for that matter- and plop down in a lake, river, playground, or just about anywhere else you’d rather not see them. The darn things are so indestructible even a car can run over them and not destroy them.

    Conventional products may contain a mixture of rayon and cotton. Rayon has been implicated in toxic shock syndrome, particularly for superabsorbent tampons. Cotton is highly pesticide-intensive; 25 percent of pesticides used globally are devoted to growing cotton. To look as white as possible, conventional pads and tampons are usually bleached with chlorine, a process that can create dioxin, a known carcinogen.

    Tampons, pads, and panty liners made from organic cotton are becoming increasingly available online and in the marketplace. If you’re going to use conventional products, choose those sold in the simplest packaging.


    Continue reading "Tampons- The Planet's Most Extreme Case of PMS" »

    June 22, 2009

    Environmental In-Box: Marmoleum, the Eco-Friendly Flooring

    When it comes to choosing flooring for your home, you might not even know eco-friendly options exist.  But for over 100 years, Forbo has been manufacturing Marmoleum, an all natural linoleum. Katie Kelleher reports:

    What is it? Marmoleum is made into flooring sheets or tiles from a compound of linseed oil, rosins, cork flour, limestone and wood flour that’s adhered to a nontoxic jute backing.  These ingredients create a tough environmentally-friendly product that becomes harder and more durable over time.  Naturally occurring anti-bacteria and anti-static properties are added to the mix to help the flooring resist dust and inhibit the growth of germs that cause disease.  You can buy it online or find a local distributor by entering your location information into the website.

    Marmoleum_click_178x124 What I like:  Forbo sought to minimize its environmental impact long before it was trendy, and has the third-party certifications to prove it.  Marmoelum has received a Platinum certification from the SMART Sustainable Products Standard.  It has also been certified under the ISO 14001, a global environmental management standard for sustainable practices.  Additionally, Marmoleum’s health and wellness claims have been certified by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. No greenwashing here.

     Plus, Marmoleum is a cinch to clean. Stains do not penetrate Marmoleum due to its Topshield protective layer; it is best cleaned by vacuuming, sweeping, or using a mop and the company cleaning solution.

    Marmoleum Click offers consumers design flexibility, additional health benefits, and money-saving benefits, too: the flooring “clicks” together in a fit that requires no adhesives that can emit nasty fumes   With its 24 color choices and many design possibilities, Marmoleum is equally appropriate for residential or corporate settings.(It was installed in our company kitchen when the offices were renovated.) The website's Marmoleum Click Floorplanner lets you create a virtual room, including furniture, to test out your favorite floor design. 

    Also, the flooring is comfortable to walk on, thanks to the softening effect of the natural jute fiber backing.  Marmoleum Click can last upwards of 30 years without being replaced. 

    What could be improved? Because Marmoleum is made from natural ingredients, the color of the floor may vary from the sample or could change over time.  Also, the flooring cannot currently be recycled once it's been used. On the plus side, it will decompose in a landfill without releasing harmful chemicals into the ground, water or air. Also, the company strives to maximize materials recycling during manufacturing to minimize waste.

    Continue reading "Environmental In-Box: Marmoleum, the Eco-Friendly Flooring" »

    June 16, 2009

    Stinky or Sweet? Dealing With the Pits

    Guys worry just as much as women do about B.O. Surprisingly, far less attention has been paid to “green” and healthy deodorants for the men in our lives than for ourselves. Safe deodorants are important regardless of gender. Parabens, a preservative used to keep some deodorants fresh, increasingly are showing up in breast tumor tissue. Synthetic fragrances, especially those in spray-on deodorants, can increase the incidence of acne, headaches, and respiratory problems. Aluminum, another ingredient common in conventional anti-perspirants, has been linked to Alzheimer’s Disease and painful swelling (per an interview with senior analyst Sean Gray at Environmental Working Group. Conventional deodorants may also contain phthalates, which are considered a reproductive toxin in the state of California.

    Safer products for women have been around for years, primarily in response to their strong consumer demand. Guys can have a similar impact on manufacturers, by choosing the safest products available. These deodorant options, all of which are highly rated for health and safety by Environmental Working Group, are a good place to start:

    Crystal Crystal deodorant:   This clear, rock-like product uses mineral salts to reduce the bacteria that cause body odor.   Just moisten the crystal and rub it under your arm; it dries immediately.  The line has a product specifically for men. Added  Benefit: the Crystal company is the top rated natural or conventional deodorant according to the analysis of Environmental Working Group. The company also supports "The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics" and pledges that any products it makes will "meet the standards and deadlines set by the European Union Directive 76/768/eeC to be free of chemicals that are known or strongly suspected of causing cancer, mutation or birth defects." Here’s some additional useful background on crystal deodorants.

    Tom’s of Maine Unscented Deodorant stick: makes four different deodorants from ingredients like hops, chamomile, and lemongrass.  You can purchase the deodorant fragrance-free, or scented with calendula, woodspice, or honeysuckle rose.  Tom’s is  available at most grocery and drug stores, including  Rite Aid and Walgreens, but can also be purchased online.

    Aubrey Organics uses herbal extracts and vitamin E in their Men’s Stock Natural Dry Herbal Pine deodorant.   The deodorant comes in spray form (but not an aerosol can) and can be purchased directly from the company's website as well as in natural foods and Whole Foods stores.

    Want more information on safe personal care products? Here you go.

    (Research by Katie Kelleher)

    June 15, 2009

    "Green" Shampoos and Lotions for Guys

    When it comes to shampoos and lotions, guys need to pay attention to the same health, safety and environmental issues as we girls do.  Personal care products often contain synthetic fragrances, phthalates, parabens, and antibacterial agents. All have been linked to health problems ranging from increased respiratory illness and reproductive failure to breast cancer and antibiotic resistance. Additionally, many name brand soaps and shampoos contain sodium laureth sulfate (SLS) or sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES), concoctions that can increase the frequency of canker sores and irritate the skin. Scientists are concerned that both  SLS and SLES  have been found to harbor very low levels of 1,4-dioxane, a human carcinogen. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration encourages manufacturers to remove 1,4-dioxane, but it is not required by law.

    Carrots The way you spend your money is your first line of defense against products like these that could pose a threat. Using your consumer clout also sends a clear message to manufacturers to clean up the ingredients they want you to buy. The following lotions, soaps and shampoos give you some greener, safer options to choose from – and dangle a bright green “carrot” in front of businesses to encourage them to be better:


    Anthony Logistics for Men Glycerin Hand & Body Lotion:  This fragrance-free lotion is made with sea kelp, shea butter, aloe vera, glycerin, chamomile, and vitamins A, B5, C, and E.  It is available at Nordstrom, Bath & Body Works, and Sephora or via the Anthony Logistics website. $10. 

    WildWays Studio Hand Balm Just for Men: This sandalwood-scented hand and body lotion contains water, cold-pressed oils (hazelnut, coconut, avocado, and wheat germ), shea butter, aloe vera, vitamin E, verbena, beeswax, and sandalwood essential oil.  Available through the WildWays website for $10.

    Aubrey mens Aubrey Organics Ultimate Moist Unscented Hand & Body Lotion: Coconut, macadamia nut, and sunflower oils give this lotion its moisturizing oomph. Their “Men’s Stock” Daily Moisturizer mixes aloe vera and calendula oil with other plant-based ingredients to moisturize. Aubrey Organics has signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics.


    Tom’s of Maine: Several of Tom's “body” bars do double duty as moisturizers and deodorizers. A moisturizing body wash does the job in the shower. Tom’s of Maine is widely available in conventional grocery and drug stores.

    Zum soap Zum Soaps: You might be inclined to eat this soap rather than wash with it, once you get a load of the delicious ingredients it's made with (hint: olive oil, goat’s milk, honey, rosemary…). If your store doesn’t stock it (see left), ask for it. 

    Vermont Soap Works:  These full-bodied soap bars are infused with organic oils like palm, coconut, olive, and orange, then scented with peppermint, hemp and woodspice.


    Aubrey Organics: Aubrey’s Men’s Stock Ginseng Biotin shampoo consists primarily of certified organic plant-based compounds that are not tested on animals. Available online, in natural foods stores, at Whole Foods markets, at the Vitamin Shoppe, and General Nutrition Centers.

    Ahava Mineral Shampoo for Men:  This Isreali company utilizes the
    mineral salts of the Dead Sea in its cosmetic line.  Oil free, alcohol free, hypoallergenic, and not tested on animals, the mineral compound are mixed with gingko and ginseng.  The shampoo is also said to have anti-dandruff properties.  It is available at Bath & Body Works or through Ahava’s website.

    Gaia Made for Men Shampoo:  This shampoo is low-foaming, vegan, cruelty -ree and made without soap, sulfates, mineral oils, petrochemicals, parabens, propylene glycol, or artificial fragrances.  It is scented with a blend of certified organic orange, certified organic chamomile, certified organic spearmint, and certified organic aloe vera.

    Whole foods premium body care logo NOTE: Whole Foods Market is working with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and Teens for Safe Cosmetics to create a “Whole Body Premium Standard” to ensure the safety of personal care products. To date, Whole Foods has identified more than 300 ingredients unacceptable for Premium Body Care. These include parabens, polypropylene and polyethylene glycols, and sodium lauryl and laureth sulfates. Look for the Whole Foods Premium Body Care Logo when you shop.

    Research by Katie Kelleher

    Environmental In-Box: Planet Matters Water Filtration Bottle

    What's stopping you from using a reusable water bottle? Worries that tap water isn't safe to drink? The inconvenience of carrying around a clumsy bottle that doesn't fit in your purse, briefcase, or cup holder? Concerns about BPA in plastic water bottles?

    Planet matters bottle Planet Matters claims it tackles all three issues head on with its water filtration bottle. Big Green Purse intern Rachel Haas took at look at the product claims, compared it to similar bottles, and wrote this review.

    What Is It? Planet Matters uses a unique water filtration system to provide clean water that is affordable, convenient, and safe to drink.  In addition to reuseable water bottles, the company produces canteens, water pitchers, water pumps, water bags, emergency packs, in-line filters, and replacement filters.The reuseable products are designed to replace throwaway plastic water bottles. Throwaway plastic bottles have become the bane of the environment as well as our pocket books, given that they are made from scarce petroleum, do not biodegrade, and cost many times more than tap water.  

    The Product:  Planet Matters uses an Ionic Absorption Micron Filter to remove up to 99.99% of the contaminants and pollutants found in fresh water—including giardia, cryptosporidium, DDT, and heavy metals like cadmium and lead. One 18-oz water filtrtion bottle can clean up to 50 gallons of water before the filter needs to be replaced. The bottle itself is BPA-free and made of #4 low density polyethylene, so it will not leach Bisphenol-A into your drink

    What I like:  The bottle easily fits in your hand or in the cup holders in your car. If you are on the go, the hand strap is convenient to wear on your wrist or tie on your big green purse. The water flows through the cap easily and tastes great. Because it is so portable, I can drink filtered water anywhere at anytime. I also love the design—the green insulator sleeve on the bottle is attractive and makes it easy to grip. 

    What could improve: A cap on the bottle protects the items in my purse or bag from getting wet and keeps the bottle free of dirt and other contaminants. However, the bottle spout closes too easily—I had trouble consistently keeping it open when I was drinking water. A minor design improvement could fix this with no impact on performance, I'm sure. Also, it's not clear that Planet Matters has set up a system to recycle its filters. Thanks to consumer demand led by Beth Terry at, consumers can recycle the filters they use in Brita water pitchers with Preserve, a company that turns them into toothbrushes, table ware, and kitchen appliances. Contact Planet Matters to encourage them to set up a similar filter recycling program.

    Continue reading "Environmental In-Box: Planet Matters Water Filtration Bottle" »

    June 09, 2009

    Think you can't afford 'green' nail polish? Wrong!

    Nail polish Put another nail in the coffin of the ‘green costs too much money’ myth. At least when it comes to nail polish (the kind on your fingers and toes, not in your tool box), buying the most eco-friendly brands costs you far less than the conventional  -- and more polluting -- options.

    Plus: Not only does buying eco-friendly nail polish save you money, it reduces your exposure to harmful chemicals.  A recent study by The National Healthy Nail Salon Alliance  reports 74% of popular nail care companies no longer use the “toxic trio” of toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate, dangerous compounds linked to health problems such as asthma, cancer, and reproductive problems. 

    The good news is that you will likely find your favorite drug store brand among the 18 options that are “three free.”  L’Oreal, Orly, Revlon, and Sally Hansen all have eliminated these harmful chemicals from their ingredients.  Where does the cost savings come into play?  The safer, widely available brands retail for an average of about $5 per bottle.  The five brands that were not yet “three free” or did not respond to the survey, including Essie and Yves Saint Laurent, average closer to $9 per bottle. 

    While exposure to toxins in nail polish may vary, it is both safer and more environmentally friendly to avoid products containing these harmful chemicals.  In fact, many companies are already producing organic and phthalate free cosmetics.  If safer options exist AND are more wallet-friendly, why buy the harmful brands?  

    For those of you who have already joined our One in a Million campaign, add nail polish to your list of products to look for.  Interested in becoming involved?  Sign up today

    Don’t stop there - contact Essie  and Creative Nail Design and ask them why in the world they’re still producing toxic nail polishes when they are aware of the harm they're potentially causing their consumers.

    (Thanks to Katie Kelleher for researching and writing this post!)

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