Archive for the ‘Simple Starts’ Category

Of Wilco Posters and Sustainable Picture Frames…

Wilco Poster 2

One of the most enjoyable things you can do in life is stop and pay attention to how this connects to that, especially when like-mindedness is involved. 



In January 0f 2009, our very good friends Steve and Jana needed some help with cork and marmoleum floors.  We were seeking good content for our very young blog.  So I took a little trip to their home in Madison, WI and we banged out a couple of sustainable floors in a weekend, with the Flip Cam rolling of course.  The resulting blog post about DIY Cork and Marmoleum Floors is still our most popular post.  Thank you Steve and Jana!

What does this have to do with Wilco Posters?  Well, please bear with me for a few sentences and I’ll tie it together.  

In April of 2009 Mingyan Bao, who we met via Green Drinks and Redirect Guide networking events, was kind enough to guest blog about Sustainable Picture Frames for Your Art & Photographs.  This has since become the second most popular post on our blog.  Thank you Ming!

Back to Steve and Jana, and on to Wilco.  Last October, I met up with them in Chicago for a Wilco show at the UIC Pavillion.  And a fabulous show it was…30 songs total with a 10 song encore!  Here’s the set list  for you hardcore Wilco fans who may be reading this. 

Later, Steve informed me that the unique poster from the show was available for purchase at the store on Wilco’s website.  POW!  I knew we had to buy it and visit Ming’s shop in Loveland, CO to have her team work it into a sustainable picture frame.

It took us awhile to execute and blog about it, but we finally got the poster purchased and framed in a sustainable Framerica® product as you can see in the image above.  Between Ming’s magic on frame and border selection and dumb luck that the colors in the poster totally match our wall colors, we couldn’t be happier with the result.

So fast-forward to February 19, 2010 and we’re at another Wilco show in Duluth, MN with Steve and Jana and other great longtime friends.  Now it looks like we’ve got another cool poster we need to buy from that show

It is important here to point out Wilco’s many causes.  Their posters, benefit shows, downloads for donation and so on support a long list of sustainability, community and global initiatives .  Thank you Wilco!  For making incredible music and making the world a better place in other ways as well.

OK, this post wouldn’t be complete without tying in Ariana and Evan, our great friends here in Ft. Collins who we also met via the Redirect Guide.  They were the ones who took me and Lara to our first Wilco show at Red Rocks last summer.  Thank you Ariana and Evan! 

It is worth noting that they are about to remodel their place and their project includes installing new cork floors, for which I have been recruited.  Funny how this connects to that!!


Carpet Recycling Reclamation Center

September 17, 2009 1 comment

Used Carpet UnloadingIt took much longer than the week I mentioned in my first post on this topic, but I finally got to the carpet recycling center to drop off the carpet we recently ripped out of our home.  On the way there, I was thinking myself a fool to make a 140 mile round trip in Rambo (our tired but trusty ’95 Dodge Ram) to recycle carpet…for a fee no less.  I uttered this thought aloud to Mary Johnson, President of Colorado Reclamation Systems, upon arrival at her Denver facility.

Mary’s answer caught me by surprise.  “Well, there are a lot of fools like you then.”  She added that they routinely see folks from Ft. Collins and even further away, which is why they are working on the details of opening additional collection facilities in Ft. Collins and elsewhere around the state.  I was pleasantly surprised.

As her friendly team unloaded our used carpet from Rambo for me, Mary proceeded to give me a tour to illustrate their process that currently prevents 30,000 to 50,000 lbs. of carpet per day from clogging local landfills.  They’ve already diverted over 2-million pounds of carpet in their first summer of operation!

Used Carpet Ready for Processing

First, the carpet and foam pad is queued up near the unloading area and sorted.  All of the foam pad will get recycled into new pad.  Decent carpet gets separated from the nasty stuff.  The former will eventually go into new carpet of recycled content.  The latter will get incinerated for power generation.

Loading the Used Carpet Baler
Once sorted, the carpet and pad are delivered to a Bobcat operator who loads it into a baling machine.

Baled Used Carpet Handling

Another handling machine operator then moves the bales over to stacks at the loading dock.

Baled Used Carpet Ready for Loading

And finally, a forklift operator loads the bales onto outbound trucks. 

So where does it all go?  The pad and decent carpet is shipped to the southeast part of the country where it will be manufactured into new product.  The grungy carpet currently goes to an plant in Tulsa, where it is converted to power by incineration. 

Mary added that CRS is working with a cement manufacturer in Florence, CO to get permitted for burning waste carpet as an alternative to coal in the cement making process.  In addition to cutting down on coal consumption, fuel consumption and carbon emissions would be reduced due to the shorter haul.

Once unloaded, I paid $25 for CRS to handle 252 lbs of carpet ($0.10/lb) and was on my way (they do not charge for recycling foam pad).  And as I drove back to Ft. Collins, I pondered the good and not so good aspects of this little journey. 

It is very good that there is enough demand for recycling carpet and sufficient reward for reclamation businesses to do so that companies like CRS are able to expand and make the process more efficient.  It is also good that the economics at the household level, once carpet recycling sites are more broadly available, are not much different than those for dumping at the landfill (It cost me $25 to dispose in this responsible manner vs. what would have been a $16 tipping fee at our local landfill which is also subsidized by our property taxes).  The participation of carpet manufacturers in Carpet America Recovery Effort, whose website you can use to locate a carpet recycling center in your area, is also a good thing.

As for all of the fuel consumption, carbon emissions and soot and particulate output related to recycling, remanufacture and incineration…well, not so good. 

Which leads me to a couple of final thoughts.  First, if you have used carpet to get rid of, by all means recycle it. 

Second, when you replace that used carpet, do so with a harder, healthier alternative.  Consider cork flooring, which is beautiful, warm and comfortable underfoot, naturally hypoallergenic, easy to clean, and a pretty easy DIY project to install.  Or go with wood flooring from Forest Stewarship Council (FSC) or reclaimed sources (beetle kill pine in our region, for example).  Any of these products will outlast several carpet and pad replacements, making them gentler on the environment outside your home as they improve the environment inside of it.

Tax Credits for Energy Efficient Home Improvements

July 17, 2009 1 comment

If you’ve been thinking about making energy efficiency improvements to your home, now is the perfect time. If you put in place new efficient windows, doors, insulation, roofs, heating and cooling equipment, or water heaters by December 31, 2009, you could claim a federal tax credit of 30% of the cost, up to a total of $1500.

 And, lately some contractors and retailers are even offering specials for large purchase items like windows and doors, offering an additional discount on their products to encourage people to get started. 

Make sure you confirm with the retailer, manufacturer or installer before getting started that the products you plan to claim do in fact qualify. Also, the credit applies for installation and product cost on heating and cooling equipment, but only product cost on windows and doors, insulation, and other parts of the building “shell”.  And, the credit only applies to a taxpayer’s primary residence, in the United States.

To claim the credit, you’ll need to file IRS form 5695. And don’t forget to save your receipts!

So, if you’ve been holding off on replacing that old, inefficient furnace, or those single pane windows throughout the house,  think about the savings you’ll begin to recoup and how much more comfortable  you could feel by making certain energy efficiency improvements! 

And, don’t forget that if you are planning to take the leap to greener power and fuel, you can claim a separate federal tax credit of 30% on solar photovoltaic or solar hot water systems, geothermal heat pumps, small wind energy systems and fuel cells. The good news is, this tax credit is good through 2016, and doesn’t have a cap on the actual amount you can claim . You’re eligible for 30% back on the cost of any of these systems!

 For more detailed information on these various tax credits, the Alliance to Save Energy has a good site. Go to:

Categories: Simple Starts

How to Select a High Efficiency Toilet (HET)

May 12, 2009 5 comments

Toto ImageBased on all of the toilet talk and analysis in our previous posts on toilet efficiency, Lara and I have come up with a plan that will allow us to reduce the water consumed by the six toilets at our four properties from approximately 49,500 gallons per year to 29,000 gallons per year – a 42% decrease and savings of 20,500 gallons per year. In this post, we’ll look at the specifics of the plan and give you some tips on new toilet selection.

The Plan

Our immediate action plan to save over 20,000 gallons of water per year is as simple as replacing our two old, inefficient toilets with new high efficiency toilets (HET’s). For our own home, we will purchase a Toto Aquia dual flush HET pictured above to replace the existing 3.5 gpf model. The Toto Aquia uses 1.6 gpf to flush solids, 0.9 gpf for liquids. At our rental property where our other offending 3.5 gpf toilet resides, we will go with a 1.28 gpf Toto EcoDrake HET.

For disposal, we’ll take the 3.5 gpf toilets to ReSource to take advantage of a great City of Fort Collins toilet recycling program under which old toilets are collected, crushed and incorporated into road base at no cost to the homeowner to keep them out of the landfill.

Selecting a High Efficiency Toilet

We discovered that researching and deciding which HET to purchase can be a bit overwhelming. Following the four simple steps below will help you keep this process manageable.

1. Start with the EPA’s list of WaterSense® labeled high efficiency toilets. The HET’s on this list have been certified to meet performance criteria developed by the EPA.  Be forewarned, this list is long, with nearly three dozen toilet brands and many models per brand.

2. Develop a short list of HET prospects for further scrutiny. You can do this quickly by using the web to check out prices, styles and colors for the various models on WaterSense® list.

3. Consult the experts to help you make a final decision. Like Step 2, this is easy to accomplish on line by searching for reviews on makes/models on your short list, or you can ask a trusted plumber or green builder you know in your area. We found this site from plumber Terry Love to be particularly helpful.

4. Purchase with eyes wide open. Toilet tanks and bowls are often sold separately. Also, seats and lids are typically not included with the tank and bowl. Some manufacturers do not provide warranty coverage for products purchased over the internet. And then there are some e-tailers who offer attractive prices and promote “free shipping”. Look closely…we found one such claim where shipping was indeed free, but “freight charges” were significant! Finally, be sure to look for incentives, rebates and eco-friendly disposal programs. This is as simple as checking your municipality’s web site.

Here’s how our selection process played out…

Steps 1 and 2 – We quickly shortlisted to three prospects; Toto, Caroma and Kohler. Toto and Caroma made the list because we were aware of them as manufacturers from countries that have long been focused on toilet water conservation (Japan and Australia, respectively) with relatively long track records of HET production. Kohler made our short list simply due to brand name recognition.

Step 3 – Our situation quickly became a Toto vs. Caroma showdown after we discovered several online stories about serious problems with Kohler’s performance, poor customer service and high replacement part costs related to their HET’s. We started leaning toward Toto over Caroma because we liked the styling better, and Maximum Performance Testing (MaP) ratings favored Toto for the models we were comparing (click here to learn more about MaP testing). This thread from Terry Love’s website sealed the deal in favor of Toto. We chose their dual flush Aquia for our own home to maximize water savings, and decided that their EcoDrake was a better choice for our rental property due to ease of operation and lower price point.

Step 4 – We decided to purchase our toilets at Green Logic because we prefer to work with other green-minded local businesses and keep more of the dollars we spend in our community. We are also comforted by the idea that we have someone we can turn to for support with future parts or warranty needs, should they arise.

Flushing Factoid

According to the EPA, if every American home with older, inefficient toilets replaced them with new WaterSense® labeled toilets, we would save nearly 640 billion gallons of water per year, equal to more than two weeks of flow over Niagara Falls!

Are the toilets in your home a part of the problem, or part of the solution?

Sustainable Picture Frames for Your Art & Photographs

April 26, 2009 1 comment

by Mingyan Bao

Gold FrameEvery person has something that they put into a picture frame: photos, art, mirrors, etc.  We like to display our best moments, good memories, and pretty things.   The act of framing something is so common and trivial that we don’t put much thought into it other than whether it will look good. 

The fact is that most picture frames are made of plastic, wood, or aluminum.  The discount frames are usually some form of plastic finished to look like wood.  Metal frames were common and popular when commodity prices were low, but they are less fashionable than they once were, and metal frames sourced from certified recycled metal are not yet available.  Most framers carry a line of aluminum frames, though.  Wood frames from a custom framing shop are usually made from solid, full-grain wood of one type or another.

So what is the “green framer” to do?  A major part of the answer is to use wood harvested from sustainable and controlled forests.  Leading vendors of picture frame moldings are getting PEFC and FSC certifications. PEFC, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, is a global program that traces the chain of custody for lumber products from living forest to finished products.  FSC, the Forest  Stewardship Council, is a world wide effort to promote responsible management of the world’s forests.  

Sustainable Wood Frames

Some molding makers have discontinued using exotic woods such as purple heart, zebra wood, and teak due to the lack of cost-effective and sustainable sources of these woods.  Instead, renewable American hardwoods are finished to mimic the exotic look.  


Wood Composite FrameThere are also frames made of a wood composite material, which is made of saw dust, wood chips, and recycled wood. 





Rustic FrameSome manufacturers have obtained licenses for removing dead wood from national forests, which they turn into beautiful rustic frames.




As you can see from the pictures above, there is a variety of styles to select from.  You don’t have to compromise your aesthetics for the sake of your ethics.


Another way to bring sustainability into your framed piece is to use 100% cotton mats rather than paper mats.  The 100% cotton mats come in a rainbow of colors and a variety of textures.Cotton Mat colors  


They are better than paper mats on several fronts.  Cotton mats last decades longer than paper mats.  They also put a waste product from the textile making process – a by-product of cotton refining called linters – to productive use.  Because paper mats are made from wood pulp, they contain acids and lignin that will eventually cause the mat to discolor and fade.  Some will even damage the art underneath.  This is why museums and galleries use cotton mats for conservation purposes.


So the next time you buy a picture frame, keep in mind which materials you are really buying.  Ask your framer to show you which of their frames are from sustainable sources. 


About the Author

Mingyan Bao is the owner of The Great Frame Up, a custom picture framing shop located at the Promenade Shops at Centerra in Loveland, CO.  The Great Frame Up is a locally owned full service framing shop offering free consultations and in-home quotes.  They specialize in conservation framing and shadowboxes.


You can also upcycle old windows into picture frames, so stay tuned for an upcoming post with step-by-step guidance from Mingyan on this approach to DIY framing.


Opt-Out of Yellow Pages, Opt-In to a Sustainable Living Business Directory

April 16, 2009 2 comments

ReDirect Guide CoverIf you’re like me, coming home to find a plastic bag filled with several pounds of phone books sitting by the front door makes your blood boil.  The trees cut down to supply paper, the ink and energy used to print, the fuel and exhaust to deliver, and yet another plastic bag used to contain something you didn’t request and don’t want to begin with…AAARGH!

Well, now you can stop the madness and seek out a greener alternative. 

First, opt out of unsolicited phone book delivery at  Doing so is fast and free.  And it is important.  As greenbean at what gives!? points out, you’ll be doing your part to help keep almost half-a-million tons of yellow pages and the like out of landfills…per year!!

Second, start using a Sustainable Living Business Directory.  If you are lucky enough to live in Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Salt Lake City or Portland, you have the outstanding ReDirect Guide as the green alternative to yellow pages.  The ReDirect Guide is available on line at  If you prefer a hardcopy of the guide, you can pick one up at a participating business in your community, or at your local Green Drinks gathering.  And you can do so knowing that the folks at ReDirect Guide walk the talk when it comes to all aspects of their business – from paper selection and printing to distribution and transit to relationships with employees and community. 

The 3rd Annual Edition of the ReDirect Guide will be released on Earth Day, April 22.  The new edition features educational articles on green living, suggestions for greening your business, sustainable living community resource information including a CSA map, farmers market listings, green events, a business directory, and more.  All businesses listed in the directory are qualified for providing green products or services.

If you don’t live in one of the communities mentioned above, google sustainable living business directory or sustainable business directory.  Add in the name of your city or state to determine if you have a local option.  Here are some examples:  Chicago Green Business Directory, GreenList Louisville and Hawaii Health Guide Green Business Directory.

So Redirect away from yellow pages and toward the ReDirect Guide or your local equivalent.  It’s greener, it’s thinner and it’s opt-in.

Toilet Efficiency Case Study – Part 3 – Options and Payback

Toilet Tank BankIn Part 2 of this series, we verified that all four toilets at our two-bathroom rental properties are efficient 1.6 gpf / 6.0 lpf models.  We also determined that we have two 3.5 gpf toilets in need of mitigation – one at our personal residence and one at our one-bathroom rental home.  So we’ve built a spreadsheet model to help us evaluate our water conservation options.

Before we get into the details of the model, let’s look at the two general options we will be evaluating with it – displacement and replacement.


Displacing water in your toilet’s tank is an easy, low-cost way to start saving water immediately.  You can accomplish this by using a product specifically manufactured for this purpose, like the “Toilet Tank Bank” depicted above, which saves 0.8 gallons per flush.  You can also employ a used plastic beverage bottle filled with sand or gravel to keep it submerged in the tank.  Or, as a friend said in a comment about my Facebook feed of Part 1 of this series…”I remember an ecology module in the 6th grade suggested putting a brick in the tank for water displacement”.   Yup, that can work too.


Upcycling plastic bottles or bricks is definitely a green, no-cost way to go.  However, we think the Toilet Tank Bank is the better approach.  Practically speaking, it will take a challenging combination of bottles or bricks to equal or exceed the tank bank’s 0.8 gpf of displacement.  This could interfere with the toilet’s flapper function, causing leaking that far offsets any savings achieved. 

The Toilet Tank Bank will cost you about $2.  It is readily available from a wide range of e-tailers.  Watch the shipping charges…maybe you can add a low-flow showerhead or other water-conserving item to your order to reach the minimum purchase amount for free shipping and achieve goodness all the way around.


From a water conservation perspective, toilets can be classified as good, better and best.  Efficient toilets labeled 1.6 gpf / 6.0 lpf are good compared to their 3.5 to 7.0 gpf predecessors.  High Efficiency Toilets, or HET’s, offer 20% better conservation at 1.28 gpf.  And Dual Flush HET’s offer the best water conservation with a 1.28 gpf flush option for solids, and a 0.8 gpf option for liquids. 

The Model

We’ve modeled some mitigation scenarios for the two 3.5 gpf toilets at our Sunset Avenue and Buckeye Street properties (see the figure below for scenarios and results).  If you have a Google account and would like to access this tool for your own scenario testing, just click on the figure to access it in Google Docs spreadsheet format.  Please be sure to follow the instructions in red that tell you how to save a copy before modifying the spreadsheet.  If you don’t have a Google account, you’ll need to set one up (self explanatory at 

Any difficulties? Contact us and we’ll get the spreadsheet to you by email.

Applying the Tool to Our Inefficient Toilets

If you are motivated to save as much water as possible, and you can afford to spend $300 or more per toilet, you should give serious consideration to a dual flush model.  As the spreadsheet shows, installing a dual flush high efficiency toilet will reduce the annual water consumption at our Buckeye Street residence by over 9,500 gallons.  This is almost 28% of our household’s total water consumption of 34,500 gallons per year! 

If cost and payback period considerations trump maximizing water conservation in your mind, and your inefficient toilet looks and works fine, a Toilet Tank Bank is a good mitigation option.  We installed one in the toilet in our home immediately after measuring its 3.5 gpf water consumption.  This simple, low-cost effort will reduce our average monthly household water consumption by 8% from approximately 3,000 gallons per month to 2,760 until we can research, decide upon and install a high efficiency toilet.

If you are planning to replace your toilet anyway and are pondering toilets of differing efficiency, you can use this model to do a comparative analysis.  Input the less efficient of the two toilets to be compared as “existing toilet data”, input the more efficient as “modified or new toilet data”, and input the difference in cost as “cost to modify or buy new toilet”.  The resulting calculations will tell you the comparative savings and payback period for choosing the more efficient toilet.

OK, enough toilet talk for this installment.  We hope you will tune in to Part 4 where we’ll summarize our research into specific models of high efficiency toilets, and tell you what the plan is for replacing our 3.5 gpf toilets.

Toilet Efficiency Case Study – Part 2 – How to Measure Flush Volume and Leak Test

April 4, 2009 1 comment

Women's toiletAs promised in our previous post on toilet efficiency, we’ve inventoried the six toilets at our home and three investment properties.  Now, we’ll show you how to leak test your toilet and determine its flush volume in gallons per flush, and we’ll summarize the data for our toilets. 

Determining Flush Volume

If you live in a home that was built before The Energy Policy Act of 1992 (United States) took effect in 1994, and have not replaced your toilet, it probably has a wasteful flush volume ranging anywhere from 3.5 to 7.0 gallons per flush (gpf). 

If you don’t know the flush volume of your toilet, and you don’t see “1.6 GPF” printed right behind the seat on the bowl (along with the equivalent “6.0 LPF” for litres per flush), there is an easy way to determine it. 

You’ll need a gallon jug or bucket.  With that in hand, just follow the five easy steps at this link from the Marin Municipal Water District to determine your toilet’s gallons per flush (gpf).  Or, follow our step by step video below.

Checking for Leaks

Leak testing is as easy as coloring the water in your toilet’s tank with something safe like food coloring, waiting for a half hour, and then checking to make sure that none of the coloring has shown up in the toilet bowl.  See Toiletology 101 for more details on testing, significance of leaks, and how to fix them if you find them.  

Data for Our Toilets

  • Phoenix Street Property – two 1.6 gpf toilets manufactured by VitrA, neither leak.
  • Maple Street Property – two 1.6 gpf toilets, one manufactured by Fremont and one by VitrA, neither leak.
  • Sunset Avenue Property – one very old toilet, brand obscure, measured flow = 3.5 gpf, does not leak.
  • Buckeye Street Property (our residence) – one Crane toilet, 3.5 gpf, does not leak.

So now we’ve got the data we need to build a tool that will allow us to determine our current toilet water consumption, estimate water conservation associated with various modification/replacement scenarios, and calculate payback times. 

In Part 3, we’ll present and discuss this tool, and make it available for you to use for your own assessment.

Until then, it is worth reading and thinking about this piece on Peak Water from Twilight Earth.  It may increase your sense of urgency (pun intended) to tackle toilet efficiency and other water conservation measures, regardless of what we learn about projected payback times in Part 3.

Thanks gromgull for the cool toilet image.



Tackle Your Toilets to Save Water and Money – A Case Study – Part 1

publication1Lara and I are the proud owners of six toilets at our four properties – one at our personal residence and five at three rental properties.  That’s a troublesome amount of flushes every day for which we’re directly and indirectly responsible.  Why worry?  Because a 1999 study by the American Water Works Association found that the toilet can account for nearly 27% of indoor water usage, and that figure may even exceed 40% if the toilet leaks. 


With evermore frequent stories about the water woes in our state of Colorado, and the U.S. EPA indicating that 35 other states expect to experience local, regional, or statewide water shortages in 5 years or less, it has become clear that we (and you?) are long overdue for a comprehensive toilet water consumption study and reduction plan (sounds like an EPA report title itself).


We know from intimate experience that the “necessary” fixture in our personal residence is not a water-efficient toilet.  In fact, we currently employ a method of toilet water conservation true to our cabin-country septic system Minnesota roots that would even make Garrison Keillor proud: the proverbial “…if it’s yellow, let it mellow…”


I know, TMI.


Our recollection of the toilet situation at the rental properties is not so intimate, and actually a bit sketchy.  We are pretty sure that we replaced the four original toilets at both two-bathroom rental properties four or five years ago with more efficient 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf) models. And we hope that we’ve done the same at our one-bathroom rental, but honestly can’t recall for sure.  Time and busyness have clouded our memory. 


So we’ve contacted all of our tenants and tomorrow evening we’ll make the rounds, with measuring equipment and food coloring in hand, to do a toilet consumption and leak test inventory.  They’ll think we’re odd of course, but since they are responsible for paying the utilities, they’ll find our oddness in their interest, if not endearing.


We’ll report back shortly with measurement methods, THE DATA, water consumption reduction options, and calculated water savings and return-on-investment scenarios, so stay tuned for the next installment of this case study.  


Until then, flush softly and carry a big plunger…



Go green with eco-friendly cleaning products

February 20, 2009 5 comments

The time for Spring cleaning is almost upon us.  But when it comes to cleaning products, do you really know whether those that you are using are safe?  Unless you have specifically sought to purchase non-toxic cleaning products, chances are what you are using to scrub surfaces, clothes and yourselves are not really particularly safe for you and your family, or good for the environment.


If you are older than 30 or so, you probably remember the national Mr. Yuk campaign  (“…things marked Yuk make you sick… sick sick sick” )  intended to educate children to stay away from poisonous products.  I definitely remember those green scowling Mr. Yuk  faces on stickers all over the products my mom used around our house when I was young.  Since then, products have proliferated for every household application and most haven’t gotten any safer for you, your children or your pets.


If you have been thinking about switching to more eco-friendly cleaning products, it’s not a bad idea before that big Spring cleaning to do an inventory of what you are currently using, including your bathroom and kitchen cleaners, detergents, soaps, bleaches, cleansers, scrubbing powders,  and dusting and furniture polishing products.  You may be surprised and troubled at what you discover. And there is a good chance you will want to replace many of the current items.


When you assemble your current cleaning products, you need to be able to look beyond the advertising lingo to understand what potentially toxic chemicals are in them. Product labels can be deceiving, as a number of terms, including “chlorine-free”, “all natural”, “chemical free”, and  “non-toxic”  are unregulated.   So, you have to dig deeper to look at the actual ingredients in a product.  Often it is not easy, because the Consumer Products Safety Commission doesn’t require manufacturers to reveal their ingredients, as they are considered “trade secrets” (Nice cover, huh?).


Warnings and cautionary statements such as “work in a well ventilated area” and “may cause irritation or burns”, or instructions to contact the poison control center if ingested are surefire indicators that a product isn’t really safe.  Also be alert for products containing chlorine (sometimes listed as sodium hypochlorite or hypochlorite), glycol ether, hydrochloric acid and phthalates.   These items are especially common chemicals found in cleaning products that irritate lungs, damage skin, eyes and membranes and even are suspected to interfere with normal reproductive development of children, in the case of phthalates.  But keep in mind that you may never know that these dangerous chemicals are actually in your products unless you choose brands that you know are environmentally friendly and people friendly.


As a side note, phosphates are something to also avoid in cleaning products. They are often found in detergents, and they are an environmental enemy because when they work their way into our waterways (which ultimately does happen) they fuel rampant growth of algae, which sucks the oxygen from the water and kills off aquatic life.


The most eco-friendly cleaning products are those where you recognize all of the ingredients on the label and know they are harmless. Thankfully, there are a number of companies as of late that are making products that are very effective,  as well as safe, to you and the environment.  These companies use ingredients like vinegar and citric acid as their effective cleaning agents, and essential oils rather than chemicals for fragrance.  Instead of products like Comet, which use chlorine, you can now find scouring powders with baking soda and sodium borate (a mineral salt) as their main ingredients.  These eco-friendly cleansers are very effective. Phosphate-free laundry detergent is now readily available too.


Many people are familiar with the Seventh Generation brand, available broadly from grocery and pharmacy stores near you as well as e-tailers on line.  Other firms now also make great products. One way to identify these products is by the Green Seal.  Products bearing the Green Seal have been evaluated by a third party to insure they are safe for people and the environment. Green Irene  offers a wide range of green cleaning products under the “Simple. Pure. Clean.” brand, made by Seaside Naturals.  You can even buy gallon-sized refills so you don’t have to dispose of the pump bottle.  It may take a little more effort to identify environmentally friendly cleaning products, but it’s ultimately well worth the effort.


If you do decide to swap out your old, toxic cleaning products for more green alternatives, please don’t dump them down the sink or into the toilet. They are considered hazardous materials and you should dispose of them as you would any other hazardous item. Most towns have drop sites for hazardous materials, often at the town landfill. Here in Fort Collins, you can take them to our Larimer County landfill and dispose of them safety, insuring that these items don’t make it back into the eco-system. Be careful when you transport them so that they don’t spill or mix with other items, as combining various chemicals, like chlorine and ammonia can be very dangerous.