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Reducing My Ecological Footprint?

Several years I saw a wonderful  slide show on eco-friendly homes.  The presentation included photo after photo of beautiful, completely self-sustaining homes, designed to maximize efficiency and minimize their ecological footprint (try this quiz to find out what your footprint is!).  Some of these houses were completely off-grid, while others where still hooked up to the system, but in order to feed in, rather than draw off, electricity.  I have to say I was deeply inspired and promised myself that one day I would live in such a home.  Complete, of course, with an organic garden, hen house, pasture fields for sheep and a root cellar!

I am still a few years yet from realizing this ideal.  In the meantime I have been looking for ways to reduce my impact on the environment in my current house.  Food has been the biggest focus this past year, but it is not the only thing I am doing.  I have also turned my home into as non-toxic a zone as I possibly can.  This has involved eliminating all chemical cleaners, pesticides and even many of my standard cosmetic products.  Now I use baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice for most of my cleaning.  I still use dish and laundry soap, but a biodegradable version.  And I have been experimenting with flower essences for deterring bugs.

Not surprisingly, not all “green” products are the same.  Some “enviro-” soaps are made by the chemical companies, which are trying to profit from our new environmental consciousness.  Others are made by companies focused on alternative options.  I’ve been debating which is better to support: the chemical companies’ efforts to become greener, or the independent alternatives.  To date, I have been buying my soaps at Loblaws.

Yesterday I decided to give the latter a try and purchased a “new” cleaning “system” (yes, this smacks of consumerism, I know!): Eco-Pioneer.  This system is based on the traditional cleaning supplies used prior to the introduction of commercial cleaners in the 1940s: Baking Soda, Washing Soda, Borax, and Soap Flakes.  The Eco-Pioneer system in packaged in recycled cardboard boxes printed with vegetable dye ink, and sold through Puresource Inc. in Guelph.  I purchased it at Homeopathy London, along with a little booklet of “Tread Lightly” cleaning recipes so I’ll know what to do with my new purchases. 

The “system” was surprisingly expensive – about $35 if you buy all four boxes.  I opted out of the baking soda as I already have plenty.  But a large jug of biodegradable laundry soap is $20, which this replaces along with a lot of other cleaners, so hopefully it will all come out in the wash (so to speak).  I was mostly inspired to try this system because of Borax, which apparently does a better job than bleach but is much less harmful to the environment.  I have still been using bleach from time to time, but have been feeling uncomfortable about it. 

One downside to using these gentler cleaners is that they require a lot more elbow grease.  Scrubbing my tub with baking soda, instead of Comet, is quite the work-out, let me tell you!   But when one of my pets dives into the cupboard under my sink, I no longer worry about them getting into poisons.  There aren’t any there, and that’s a nice feeling. 

While environmentally friendly cleaning products are more expensive than conventional versions, that is only because we are not paying the true cost.  Today, Canadian households use roughly 54 000 tons of general-purpose cleaners per year, and that is polluting our water, air and soil.  The explosion of blue-green algae blooms in lakes and ponds all over the country are a direct result of this, as are the deaths of wild and domestic animals who are exposed to them.  Not to mention the damage to the ecosystem in general.  Since I am not willing to walk around in dirty, smelly clothes, I am willing to pay more for my cleaning products in order to reduce the damage my cleaning does.  Here’s hoping Eco-Pioneer does the trick!

4 Responses

  1. Great article about reducing the environmental impact of everyday living. Here is a useful link with info on how to make many cleaning and personal care products at home:

    I haven’t tried using borax yet, but I soon will – and I’m planning to try out the following ‘recipe’ for laundry detergent:

  2. Great links Liz – thanks! I have been using my new products and so far am quite happy. It certainly takes a little more elbow grease to get things as clean as I’d like, but this time of year I can use the extra workout!

  3. I’m surprised to hear that using these products is actually more expensive! I’m experimenting with using eco-friendly cleaning alternatives in my home as a way to save money… So far I’m a big fan of how clean baking soda & buddies have gotten my bathroom.

    Also, borax is completely wonderful! I bought a big box of it last year when I was dealing with a rat mite infestation (yuck! but borax really helped!), then started using it as a laundry booster.

    • I think these products were expensive because I was buying them at a fairly expensive health store, and also packaged as a fancy, eco-friendly product (i.e. in recycled cardboard boxes). I expect that I could find them much cheaper elsewhere, and will have to look as I finally used up the last of my washing soap. That said, the date on this post is Feb, 2008, or nearly 18 months ago. I have used other soap products that people have given me (I’m never sure whether it’s more eco-friendly to use other people’s not-so-eco-friendly donations or to throw them out…), but I’d say that “system” of soaps lasted me probably close to a year. In that light, $35 is not terribly expensive!! It’s more of an upfront cost, which is often the case I find with greener products, and one reason they can be off-putting for many people.

      As for borax, yes, it is wonderful stuff indeed!

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