Walmart/Seventh Generation Sustainability Challenge: Week 3

by Jenn @ Frugal Upstate on September 21, 2010

So I’ve gotten a bit behind in my posting (although not my actual implementation) of the  Walmart/Seventh Generation Sustainability Challenge.  Here I’m providing my week 2 roundup and my goals for week 3 (which I have already completed & will post tomorrow) and I’m well into the final week!  I’ll be posting my final report in video form on Friday this week!

Since Seventh Generation products do NOT contribute to indoor air pollution (they use non toxic & organic substances) I thought that I would take their lead and challenged myself for week 3 to make the environment inside my home more healthy & sustainable-specifically the air we breathe.

I know, indoor air quality seems to be one of those made up problems that a marketer tries to make you believe in so they can sell you a solution. Like needing whiter teeth, or stressing over “ring around the collar”. . . but it isn’t.  I think this is a legitimate issue that most of us don’t realize we need to address.  The United States Enviromental Protection Agency states:

a growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities.

This is a more recent problem that has it’s roots in more tightly constructed homes, increased use of chemical products, and a society that spends the majority of their time indoors.

There were 4 areas I concentrated on for this challenge.

1. Air it Out.

Open Window Season

Photo by Susy Morris

The idea here is to open your windows in order to air out your house on a regular basis.  This is especially important with newer homes.  My 1908 Victorian was not built to be air tight-they just didn’t have the technology back then-and although it pains me to see any of my heat leaking out in the winter, it also is good to know that any gases or fumes also have a chance to slowly leak out.  Newer homes are usually constructed to be much more air tight-so open those windows occasionally-even in the winter!  Of course to save on energy I’d turn the heat off when you air it out-why be paying to have the furnace running just to have the heat go out the window?

All summer long we leave windows open, especially at night to let in some cool breezes.  Now that fall is here, I do close the windows at night to prevent the temp from dropping too low (we haven’t turned the heat on yet) but during the day we always have at least 2 windows open a few inches on each floor.

Grade:  I give us an A on this goal!

2.  Don’t Spray it on.

spray

Photo by Andrew McGill

Why add unecessary scents to our air?  Do we really need smelly stuff burned, sprayed or rubbed all over our homes?  Who knows what is IN those products. . . why add them to the air we breathe?  As a migraine sufferer I am particularly sensitive to this issue.  I’ve never had a scent trigger a migraine (although I know that happens to some folks) but when I am having a migraine strong scents become intolerable.

I figured that I didn’t have too far to go on this goal.  Despite the proliferation of advertisements trying to convince us that every room & item in our home needs it’s own unique scent, I gave up on most “scenty” stuff back when I started having kids.  Scented candles were the first to go-open flames & little people are not a good combo as far as I am concerned.  As my frugal ways increased I started to see “room sprays” & “carpet deodorizers” as a waste of money-so those went out the door as well.

I was feeling quite smug as I took my little tour of the house.  That was a mistake.  I realized that I actually have several “room deodorizers” that I had forgotten about.  One in the downstairs bathroom that everyone uses, another in the kids bathroom and quite a strong one in Princess’s room under the guinea pig’s cage.

Oops. Forgot about those.  So what could I do?  Well-several things!  Vinegar, baking soda, activated charcoal & coffee grounds all are wonderful deodorizers.

I placed about a half cup of coffee grounds (they can even be used grounds that have been dried out) in an old nylon, tied a knot & hung one in each bathroom.  They don’t look fabulous, but hey-they work!  I also sprinkled the Guinea Pig cage liberally with baking soda and mixed it into the pellets.  That will become the standard routine to help cut down on the smell.

(*note: we already use a product made out of recycled newspaper that is highly absorbent for the bedding to try to contain the smell-Princess just “forgets” to clean the cage frequently enough. Sigh)

Grade: I give us an A in this area as well.

3.  Avoid the Toxic.

109/365

Photo by Amy Messere

So many of the cleaners out there have really awful toxic chemicals in them.  Have you ever read the warning label on your household cleaners? Just about everything requires that you are in a well ventilated room and wear gloves.  Heaven forbid you get some in your eye!

I had already changed many of my cleaning methods over to homemade alternatives to save money-making my own laundry detergent, scrubbing with baking soda instead of cleanser, using boiling water to clear drains, mixing vinegar & water for glass cleaner, using a steam mop instead of products on the floor.

Even with all that, I was still able to do more work in this area.  In the past I had been leery of giving up bleach based products for cleaning/disinfecting.  Let’s face it, with kiddos around my bathroom is probably a bit more nasty than average.  I cook from scratch a lot, and am by no means a neat cook-so I frequently have to sanitize my counters for food safety reasons.

Thanks to the folks at Seventh Generation I was finally able to address these areas.  They have a special disinfecting formula that uses Thymol (component of thyme oil).  They were kind enough to send me a full size bottle of  their Disinfecting Multi Surface Cleaner and their Disinfecting Bathroom Cleaner (both of which are now being sold at Walmart!).  Not only did these products clean great, but they smelled really good as well.  It was an Herbal scent-totally different from any cleaning product I’ve ever used before!

Grade:  Thanks to the folks at Seventh Generation, I can give us an A-otherwise I think I’d have gone with a B+.

4.  Consider Off-Gassing

Laying Down the New Master Bedroom Carpet

Photo by Pattie

Off Gassing is when building materials release chemicals into the air through evaporation.  It’s something we don’t often hear talked about and rarely think about.  You know how terrible paint smells while it is drying? Well think of all the artificially created materials in your home doing the same thing for years-just without the noticeable smell!

So what can we do about it?  Well-you can look into the building materials used in new construction-there are better and worse choices available.  Paint & sealers can be purchase in a “low” VOC form, and you can opt for natural materials as well.  Also off gassing does decrease and then cease over time, so this is a case where buying used is not only good for your budget but also for your healthy.  Reclaimed carpeting, used furniture, older upholstery. .. all these things have likely released their VOC’s before entering your home.

We have a good mix of new & used items in our home (which is itself very, very old).  All of our upholstered furniture is more than 5 years old, and we have hardwood floors in 95% of the house rather than wall to wall carpeting (which is a big offender). . .so I feel that we are naturally a bit ahead on this.  Also, the fact that I am pretty good at goal #1-“Air it out” means that we move out much of the gas that does collect.

On the negative side? We did not consider off gassing when we painted the house-in the future if we are to repaint I will check into that.  Our countertops are vinyl (installed by the previous owner, but recently) and the kitchen floor is linoleum.  Tile or wood would be a better choice.

Grade: I give us a B- in this area.

That leads us to what I challenged myself for week 3.

recycle logo

Photo by Colin

Recycling!

Again-as frugal folk I started out ahead on this challenge-but there was plenty of room to “kick it up a notch” as Emeril would say.

What ideas do you have for ways a family can do more recycling in their home?

Join me, along with my fellow  Walmart MomsSheena of Sophistishe, Jennae of Green Your Décor, Monica of MommyBrain Reports and Denise of Wholesome Mommy, on our four week journey to live a more sustainable lifestyle in the Seventh Generation/Walmart sustainability challenge.
*Disclosure: I am a participant in the Walmart Moms program. Seventh Generation has provided me with products.  Walmart has provided me with compensation to blog about attempting a more sustainable household for a month. Participation in this program is voluntary. All opinions are my own.
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