Archive for April 27, 2011

Clean teeth, green teeth

I am constantly amazed by how many plastic toothbrushes must be rotting (or, more to the point, not rotting) in landfill sites around the globe. If you think of the nearly 350 million people in the US and Canada alone and consider that they probably get through an average of 3 toothbrushes per year, that is over a billion toothbrushes, with ever larger plastic handles, tossed in the garbage annually. (After all, there is a limit to how many you can repurpose as household cleaning brushes.) And then there are all those irritating blister packs to boot.

I use an electric toothbrush a good deal of the time…not a single use one but one that can be charged about once a week (I do remember to unplug the charger when not in use). At least with these you only replace about half a toothbrush, instead of a whole handle. But, I admit, I am using electricity when I don’t strictly need to. It’s just that I have a habit of brushing away my enamel when I use a regular toothbrush.

small terradent

The rest of my family – and me when I travel – use toothbrushes with replaceable heads. It still perplexes me why the mainstream manufacturers have not caught on to this simple way to save plastics: I hope it is only a matter of time before they do.

In the meantime, there are two main replaceable-head brands available in north America, Fuchs and Eco-dent. It turns out that they are both made in Germany and that they have the same US distributor. Although different in size and shape, I find they both work equally well. Eco-dent’s replaceable head brushes are sold under the name Terradent. The heads are traditionally shaped, with tapered tops and bottom and come in both adult and kid sizes. Fuchs EcoTek brushes are more rectangular and compact and have a more angled handle which I like. Replacement heads for both brushes are available in either soft or medium.

small fuchs

Replacing the heads is very simple (pop them out with the help of a strong thumb or a pen or something) and you can use the old head to scrub around and clean up the handle while you are about it. I have never had either brush wobble or feel precarious while in use, so there really is no difference between these and regular toothbrushes, except when you hear a light click as opposed to a dull thud as the waste plastic hits the garbage can.

Many health stores and on-line sites stock both brands of brushes; costs are about the same as regular toothbrushes. If you want to compare, sells both Fuchs and Eco-dent toothbrushes at great prices (less than $4 for a brush with one extra head). The site also has good shipping rates to both the US and Canada, but I have not used it myself.

Finally, I have just ordered some environmental toothbrushes, made from bamboo and biodegradable polymers from Australia. These brushes are entirely compostable and have great reviews. They are available in Canada (for example at My Little Green Shop and Acorn eco-store), and can also be ordered in boxes of 12 for $36 plus international shipping of $12, directly from Australia. I will let you know how they work out.

The best all round cleaning cloth

I know that household cloths are not exactly a glamorous topic of conversation, and I can forgive you (perhaps I even envy you) if you have never given them much thought. However, if you do have a thing about cleaning, or just like good, long-lasting products, then I can hotly recommend Mabu cleaning cloths.

mabu small

These cloths are made out of 8 layers of woven wood fibres. They are tough, soft (after initial washing: they come stiffened with natural starch) and durable.

But the thing that I like best about them is that they are naturally resistant to odours. I also use traditional cotton dish cloths, which I like, until they get that nasty, rancid smell. To get rid of the smell requires either bleach or very high temperatures, neither of which sits well with my eco-conscience. My Mabu cloth, on the other hand, lives in the dark, in a closet where I hide it after washing my floor. Despite this lack of light and warmth, it never gets smelly.

I wash my Mabus in warm water, but they don’t do well in the dryer (of course, you are not using a dryer, anyway….). Since they are made from wood pulp fibre, they can be composted when they eventually exceed their usefulness (which should be several years).

Mabu cloths are available on Amazon, at various health stores and, in the UK, at Waitrose and Lakeland. Home Hardware, here in Canada, sells an apparently identical product – the Natura wonder cloth. I have never been able to tell the difference so maybe these are just Mabu under another name.

I never leave home without….

……my stainless steel tea thermos. In fact my kids run after me with my cup of tea if they see it left behind.

I have tried various thermos products to keep my tea hot. The hands-down winner is the Innate Commercial Dr 12oz Stainless Steel Vacuum Cup. I love how this cup looks. I love that it does not leak even when stowed causally, upside down, in my handbag. I love that it keeps my tea so hot even when I am out in the freezing cold on my skis and skates (in fact the tea is often too hot to drink when you first open the lid). I also love that the drinking rim is thin and metal (although there is a sort of sipping cup built into the lid, I ignore this). I don’t like the thickness of plastic when you sip and I don’t like the taste of plastic after a while. So this cup meets all my requirements (though wouldn’t be suitable for someone who wants a semi-covered cup to sip on the go, as you have to reveal all when you take the lid off).

innate cup

As a company, Innate (which is Vancouver-based) also tries to reduce its footprint and be totally transparent about its business practices (see here).

Imagine, then, how sad I was when I looked at the Innate website to find that my favourite all-time cup has been discontinued….and been replaced with other cups, none of which offer the same sleek features as my treasured tea cup (although one does have an interesting-looking built in loose-leaf tea filter). Perhaps I will try some of the new cups and let you know how they work. But, in the meantime, I would hotly recommend that you purchase any last cups that you can find. Amazon still has some in various colours for only about $10. Here in Canada I purchased mine at Mountain Equipment Coop. Maybe they still have some on their stands, but there are none on the website. Good job that I have a back-up in case of loss or another disaster.

Green bags for your greens

The transition to reusable shopping bags has been smoother than most people anticipated. It seems that, despite our low expectations of ourselves, we are usually able to remember to bring a bag when we shop for groceries.
(The only problem, now, is the proliferation of reusable bags which tend to embody about 20 times the carbon as the light, disposable variety. At least they don’t swirl around and pollute our waterways and oceans).

The next step is to eliminate those super lightweight plastic bags which are used to gather up fruit and veg. I try not to use these and usually get a hard time from the cashier when the fruit is rolling around everywhere.
A better alternative is a reusable produce bag.

Carebags Green small

My favourite are from a Vancouver company called Carebags. They sell green, mesh bags with drawstring closures. The bags are tough, stretch to fit lots of apples and can be used for other things too (washing produce, storing it, keeping small items together in the laundry, etc.). They are made in Canada and are extremely light which is good for the weighing scale at the supermarket and good for shipping if you buy them on line (they are also available at a growing number of super-markets).

There are alternatives. I have some organic cotton mesh bags, but these are heavy and more expensive. Some local supermarkets are also bringing out their own bags, but these are typically made overseas and not designed as well as Carebags.

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