The Mindful Merchant

Shop – Eat – Live – Mindfully

Number Knowledge July 3, 2010

Filed under: environment,heath and safety,recycling,safety,shopping,toxic — MindfulMerchant @ 9:49 am



No matter how eco-conscious we are, it is challenging to get away from using plastic. Manufacturers use resin ID codes to help us with recycling making it easy to sort our household garbage. Did you know that these numbers can also help us determine the safer plastics and which ones we should try to avoid?  I tend to put more thought to the food/products I buy and less attention to the packaging involved. Now I am starting to reconsider after reading about the differences.  Here is some information about the most commonly used plastics.



#1 Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE)

You will find it in water bottles, shampoo and pop bottles. This might be the most commonly recycled plastic.


#2 High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

Most commonly found in cleaning product bottles, milk jugs, some water bottles, saline, medicine bottles and shopping bags.


#4 Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

Found in sandwich bags, some newer plastic wraps, grocery bags. This plastic is not as toxic to manufacture as other plastics, but it is not as commonly recycled.



#5 Polypropylene (PP)

Yogurt containers and a variety of food and beverage containers. More studies are needed since research is unclear about chemical leaching. Researchers are unsure if the chemicals/substances pose a health threat.


Try to Avoid

#3 Polyvinyl Chloride (V  or PVC)

According to Greenpeace – this plastic ranks as one of the biggest environmental bad guys. PVC (also known as vinyl) contains vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen. It is most commonly used in construction (PVC pipes in our homes) Found in some plastic wraps, cooking oil bottles and unfortunately many children’s toys. It is rarely recycled but plastic manufacturers still stand by its safety. Apparently many plastic wrapped foods like meats and cheeses in the grocery store are wrapped in polyvinyl chloride (PVC).


#6 Plystyrene (PS) Styrofoam

It is not commonly recycled. It contains benzene which is a suspected carcinogenic. Avoid consuming hot liquids, fatty foods or alcoholic drinks from Styrofoam containers since they may increase leaching. Transfer foods from Styrofoam containers to glass or ceramic as soon as possible.



#7 Other (often polycarbonate made with BPA)

This number covers any other plastic other than #1-6. This mixed bag is concerning since there is conflicting data about this plastic. Often marketed as “non-leaching” and sold as a good green alternative, it is often made using a highly toxic chlorine gas derivative and carcinogenic solvents. The data is conflicting about leaching of bisphenol A. Industry says even low doses would not be enough to hurt you, others suggest that even small amounts this hormone-disrupting chemical can be harmful. Found in microwavable plastics, eating utensils, linings for canned goods and beverage containers, sometimes baby bottles.



Eliminating all plastic packaging from our homes would be an extremely difficult task. Studies suggest that when plastics come in contact with food, certain chemicals migrate and may cause an array of health problems. Try to store food in glass or ceramic and transfer food out of plastic containers before reheating in the microwave.


I used to assume that all recyclable plastic was the same. After reading more about the number codes and what they represent, I am giving more thought to the type of plastics and the products I buy and bring into our home.





Sunscreen Surprises June 17, 2010

Filed under: Canada,children,health warning,heath and safety,non-toxic,safety,toxic — MindfulMerchant @ 9:13 pm



sun The first official day of summer is days away. In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice officially begins on June 21st at 7:28 am EDT. As the weather warms and we shed our clothes, many of us are starting to think about sunscreen. Before you reach for your favourite brand, the Environmental Working Group published its 4th annual Sunscreen Guide. If you have time to read this year’s report, it is full of interesting and concerning cautions. If you do not, here is my “Cliff Notes” version.


The EWG tested approximately 1400 products with SPF – beach and sun lotions, lip balms, moisturizers, sprays and creams. 1361 of those products received poor marks. Only 39 earned the highest green rating. That means they recommend only 8% from the 1400 tested.  Kind of scary isn’t it?


So why did the majority of beach and sport sunscreens rate so poorly?  The EWG’s explanation, “A surge in exaggerated SPF claims above 50 and new disclosures about potentially hazardous ingredients, in particular recently developed government data linking the common sunscreen ingredient vitamin A to accelerated development of skin tumours and lesions.”


The EWG recommends we avoid two chemicals – oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate (vitamin A). The research regarding vitamin A/accelerated cancer connection is not conclusive.  They suggest we avoid retinyl palmitate as long as there is doubt about its safety. Oxybenzone is a hormone-disrupting compound that penetrates skin and enters the bloodstream.


Another interesting read is Sunscreen Exposed: 9 Surprising Truths. Here are a few points.

– The EWG reports there is “no consensus on whether sunscreens prevent skin cancer”.  (?)

– There is some evidence that some sunscreens might increase the risk of the deadliest forms of skin cancer in some people”.   (what?!)

– There are more and more 50+ SPF products and higher on the market…”but no proof they’re better”.


If you hauled out your old sunscreen from last summer, do not throw it away just yet. It is easy to find its score on the website. Just type in the name and chances are the results will be there – hundreds and hundreds of products were tested.  Hopefully the brand you currently use is one of the safer products and does not appear in the Hall of Shame report.  If you are shopping for a new SPF products check out the top EWG recommended beach and sport sunscreens, lip balm, moisturizers and makeup.


mimesI have not found a safe sunscreen that my family likes.  We tried a few of the low hazard products on the EWG list with disappointing results. Last summer was particularly frustrating. I wasted money on a popular, highly recommended sunscreen at the health food store. It was thick, sticky and did not absorb or blend into our skin. We looked like a travelling mime troop at the park. 


So…this summer I have started my sunscreen search again. I am also looking into sun protective clothing.  (My husband and children are groaning and rolling their eyes!)  The EWG suggests the best protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays is clothing, hats and shade. Sunscreen is a secondary means of protection.


If you have a favourite sunscreen or any sun safe strategies, I would love to hear them.  





The Dirty Dozen May 20, 2010

Filed under: Canada,environment,environmentally friendly,heath and safety,shopping,toxic — MindfulMerchant @ 10:50 am


whatsinside-shoppersguideI  received an email from Lindsay Coulter. She writes The Queen of Green Blog for the David Suzuki foundation and has all kinds of inspiring tips for earth friendly, healthy living. Lindsay wanted to let me know about a new campaign just launched, the first of its kind in Canada. The David Suzuki Foundation is asking Canadians to look around our bathrooms, open makeup bags/purses/gym bags and take a closer look at the personal care products we use daily. They are interested in specific toxic ingredients. It only took a few minutes to complete and I have to say – it was surprising.


I thought there would be little to report since I have changed my shopping strategy, trying to purchasing healthier natural products.  What I realized is that some products I use have no ingredients listed on the bottles.  How did this escape my attention?  (warning – excuse ahead)   Well…I think the outside packaging had the ingredient information but even if that was the case, the information is long gone in the recycling bin.  The worst offender is toothpaste.  None of the three brands we have in our home list any ingredients on the tube.   Another surprising discovery was how many products I use on a daily basis. According to The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic  Safety Database, most people use an average of 10 personal care products in a day. I calculate I consistently use about 12 products and if I wear makeup – it is even more. Does that mean I am a high maintenance gal?


Whats_inside_logo_long_EN_sm If you are curious about the products you are slathering on daily or what your family is using, consider taking the survey. I thought it would be time consuming with lots of typing but it was a few quick clicks – super easy. Lindsay has arranged for fun earth friendly prizes and frequent draws as an incentive to participate. The more Canadians that participate, the more significance the study will have.


The David Suzuki Foundation has simplified things by identifying twelve chemicals/toxins we should try to avoid. You can download a handy wallet-sized list of the “dirty dozen” chemicals for a quick reference when shopping.  It is something to consider since industrial chemicals are basic ingredients in personal care products and our exposure is extensive. I am interested to learn more about the findings from this study.  Stay tuned.  🙂




Duke almost died May 13, 2010

Filed under: gardening,heath and safety,pets,toxic — MindfulMerchant @ 1:18 am


Our neighbour had to rush his dog to emergency vet clinic last weekend and good thing he did – Sir Duke almost died. The crazy thing is that he is a young, healthy strapping fella.  He got terribly ill from picking up a stick in the park, carrying it home and chewing it in his backyard. The stick was piece of a broken branch from an apple tree. Duke is what I call a stick dog.  He’s always got one hanging out the side of his mouth. I think he was a smoker in a past life.  Our poor neighbour feels terrible. He did not know all parts of an apple tree is toxic to dogs. I had no idea either.  Did you?


somerser_apple_trees Yesterday I took our pets for their annual shots and I mentioned the stick incident to the Veterinarian. She explained most gardens are full of multiple hazards…some of them I knew about…some were a surprise. Since it’s spring and we are all getting dirty in our gardens I thought I would list a few common hazards that might be lurking in your garden.


If you have a young puppy, a dog that loves digging/chewing or you were entrusted to do some pet sitting… keep them away from ingesting:


– All parts of Apple and Cherry Trees are toxic to dogs (stems, leaves and seeds)

– Azaleas and Rhododendrons

– Privet Hedge

– Clematis Vines

– Hosta

– Red Maple Trees (the leaves are toxic)

– Rhubarb

– Garlic


For a more detailed list and description of symptoms, the American Kennel Club has a helpful sheet outlining many more potential dangers. Not sure what some of these trees and plants look like?  You can quickly identify them using a  Tree Study website or Better Homes and Gardens plant identification database.


If you have an outdoor cat or your neighbours have outdoor cats that like to visit your yard…be careful…


Hostas – Like dogs, cats are in danger if they ingest Apple & Cherry Trees, Garlic, and Rhubarb. Also, watch out for leeks, tomato plants, and onions in your garden since they are also poisonous to cats.

– Plants in the lily family are toxic like Day Lilies and Lilly of the valley.

– Poisonous spring bulbs include tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, iris and crocus.

– Like dogs, Clematis and Hostas can be deadly as well as a many other common garden plants like Geranium, Ivy, Daisies etc.


For a longer list of poisonous indoor and outdoor plants, here is another helpful Vet information website.


Our little garden is full of dangers to cats and dogs.  Yikes.  The Vet told me different plants cause different symptoms in pets, from diarrhea, shock, vomiting, weakness, panting, swelling and even death.  Try to get medical help quickly if you suspect your pet ingested a poisonous plant.


I hope you have a fun and safe summer with your furry four legged friends!





Step Aside Nancy Drew January 15, 2010



nancy drew My next few posts will be focusing on some interesting tidbits of green information I discovered. The more I read about environmentally friendly, all-natural, organic products, the more I realize the importance of research. I consider myself a ‘green’ greenie and part-time sleuth these days.


Greenwashing.  “The practice of companies disingenuously spinning products and policies as environmentally friendly. It is a deceptive use of green PR or green marketing. The term green sheen similarly been used to describe organizations that attempt to show that they are adopting practices beneficial to the environment” ~ Wikipedia



I was shocked to discover the following terms are almost meaningless.  Hypoallergenic, Allergy-Tested, Dermatologist-Tested and Fragrance-Free. These scientific words imply safety and natural purity but the reality is they mean almost nothing since they are unregulated by the government.   According the FDA there is no such thing as a non-allergenic cosmetic since everything can cause a reaction to someone.


Here is another marketing ploy. Against Animal Testing. Cruelty Free, or Not Tested on Animals. Often these labels do not mean what they imply. In some cases companies mean they do not test animals in their buildings…they outsource it to other labs. Sometimes it means that a product has not tested on animals in the last five years but the research is current.


Isn’t that interesting? I say interesting with the intonation a TV detective uses after discovering a clue <while raising one eyebrow>.   Surprising?  Not really…I guess.


flashplacement2 So what can consumers do about this?   Even though labelling is unregulated, there is still a chance what the manufacturer says is true.  The best way to tell is to look for this Leaping Bunny logo from The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC).  This is a great website for listing Canadian, U.S. and International companies that support cruelty free practices. They provide a free pocket sized shopping guide too.  Be careful to check for the real Leaping Bunny logo and not an imitation.  Yup, there are fake cute bunnies slapped onto labels out there.  Another trustworthy source is PETA  (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).  Click HERE to search for cruelty free companies and products.


You can also investigate your favourite beauty and personal care products to find out just how “natural” or “organic” they really are at the Environmental Working Group Safety Cosmetic’s Database (EWG).   Warning, do not attempt this if you are having a grumpy day…it will only make things worse.


There is Right to Know movement happening. The hope is that manufacturers will have to list all ingredients and disclose if a product is hormone disrupting etc. so consumers can make informed purchasing decisions. For more information about this, have a look at Toxic Free Canada website.


I feel duped and mad at myself for being so trusting.  That is in the past now and naiveté is sooo 2008.  I hope these little nuggets of green information help you with your future purchases.



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are organics fuelling my lottery addiction? December 20, 2009



I have started buying lottery tickets. Not for a dream vacation or fancy car…just so I can buy organic food. (I kid, I kid…sort of)

Lindsay, my sister-in-law and I often discuss our escalating grocery bills. She has a frugal gene too. We are both interested in buying organic food but wonder who can afford to pay the prices? There is no getting around it, organic food is expensive. Lindsay has asked me to put my frugal skills to the test and research how we can lower our monthly grocery bills, yet eat as healthy as we like.

Many argue that organic is not worth the money. My husband is one of those “anti-organic – it’s all a marketing ploy” thinkers. When he spies the price of organic grapes (after I have put them in the cart) the vein at the side of his head pulses. We debate, we share interesting articles and he does not shop with me anymore.

Since money does not grow on organic trees, I have to start prioritizing where I spend our money in the grocery stores. I have discovered I can save money buying fresh produce. Why do I bother buying organic fruit and vegetables? After researching the topic, it is much more than being pesticide-free. Organic means that farmers cannot use sewage sludge to fertilize crops. Yes folks, that’s right human feces is a popular fertilizer in Canadian municipalities. Yum! Organic also means free of hormones, free of processing aids and nothing genetically modified. Other reasons include higher nutrient/vitamin content, earth friendly farming practices and supporting local family farmers when possible.

Forget my reasons. Check out some websites and come up with your own. This is an interesting one  The Environmental Defence’s website has a Toxic Nation Reports section full of many different studies.  You can view the toxic chemical profiles of Canadian Adults and Canadian families tested.  You can also head over to their Metallic Lunch Report to see which foods contain the most lead (frozen dinners) nickel (cookies) and other unhealthy metals. What a fun way to spend an evening!

Another website is The Environmental Working Group. They used results from 87,000 tests collected by the U.S. Food and Drug administration and ranked pesticide levels of 46 fruits and vegetables. According to the E.W.G. people who eat the 12 most contaminated produce consume an average of 10 pesticides per day. Rinsing reduces pesticides but does not eliminate them. Peeling helps but unfortunately we lose the good nutrients in the skin.

 Here is a list of items you might want to consider buying organic, and which ones matter less.  Click here for a printable pocket guide.

The Worst Offenders

1.   Peach

2.   Apple

3.   Bell Pepper

4.   Celery

5.   Nectarine

6.   Strawberries

7.   Cherries

8.   Kale

9.   Lettuce

10. Grapes (Imported)

11. Carrot

12. Pear

This is not all doom and gloom though. Good news! Turns out there are many non-organic fruits and vegetables tested that had minimal pesticide residues.  Here are the top results.

The Clean 15

1.   Onion

2.   Avocado

3.   Sweet Corn

4.   Pineapple

5.   Mango

6.   Asparagus

7.   Sweet Peas

8.   Kiwi

9.   Cabbage

10. Eggplant

11. Papaya

12. Watermelon

13. Broccoli

14. Tomato

15. Sweet Potato

The shopping lists will likely change as I continue to research this topic. In the meantime, I will be less concerned about shopping organic when it comes to items on the Clean 15 list.  I have noticed a small reduction in our grocery bills while still trying to eat and cook healthier meals.  Every little bit helps.

I think the lotto is 20 million this week…come on lucky quick pick!



Laundry Loyalty October 29, 2009



Last summer my cousin-in-law Gregor asked me to suggest a good environmentally friendly laundry detergent. I could not.  (Cue the sad violin music)  I have been experimenting with many natural laundry soaps and have dull looking t-shirts and a linen cupboard full of faded towels to show for it. This slow search made worse by the fact that I always had to finish a product, even though it was a dud. My frugal side always wins in these situations. Dull clothes < spending money. Frugal runs in my family.

We have two busy, sporty, messy children. Did I mention they are girls? This means multiple wardrobe changes per day. I also have a sporty, messy, sweaty husband who fashions his gym workouts after Lou Ferigno. (don’t ask)  Me? Well, let us just say I am in the midst of a natural deodorant experiment that is not going well. I think you have a clear understanding of my qualifications and expertise with laundry. I live laundry. I know laundry.

Here are the criteria I am looking for in a laundry detergent. It has to be safe for my family, non-toxic, phosphate free, cruelty free, environmentally responsible and effective. Many companies comply with most of that long list…however it was hard to find one that really got our clothes clean.

My sister-in-law Tig introduced me to Seventh Generation Natural 2x Concentrated Laundry Liquid during a visit this summer. It is suitable for high efficiency washers as well as standard machines. She uses the Free & Clear detergent and likes it because it is hypo allergenic as well as non-toxic and biodegradable. It is free of phosphates and optical brighteners and does a very good job. I became a fan after using it for the week.   Since that visit, I tried the Seventh Generation 2x Ultra with Blue Eucalyptus and Lavender scent but have found the White Flower & Bergamot Citrus to be my pick of the bunch. I like my laundry to have a light subtle fragrance…and this one is my favourite.

I just love the company slogan quoted on all Seventh Generation Products “In our every deliberation we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations” Wise words. Marketing aside, it is worth mentioning that for over 20 years this company has been committed to manufacturing safe, environmentally responsible products for the home. In an industry where cleaning products are unregulated, Seventh Generation is one of a few companies that provide detailed product information on packaging, the web and brochures. We should question any “green” product that does not share any information about its ingredients.

Now Gregor and Cindy (a friend who recently asked)  know where my laundry loyalty lies. Please try to conserve water and only run full loads. Switching your laundry soap is a good step to keeping toxic chemicals out of the environment.