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.





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.  🙂




Who’s thirsty? May 9, 2010

Filed under: children,greenwashing,health,shopping — MindfulMerchant @ 7:02 pm


XUP is a blog I read religiously…the Ex-Urban Pedestrian. No topic is off limits and the discussions that follow are lively.  It is smart, thoughtful, unpredictable, hilarious and always informative. If you have not read it – I encourage you to check it outXUP brought to my attention a product called VitaminWater and her concerns…thought the topic was right up my alley.


So today we made a trip down the beverage isle in the grocery store and I picked up a bottle of VitaminWater. My daughters jumped up and down clapping “Oooh, can we get it?  Can we?  Can we?” I asked them how they recognized this drink. “We’ve had it LOTS of times,” they informed me. Oh really? Hmmm. I read the ingredients and realized XUP was right…this is right up my alley.


It seems the kids have sampled VitaminWater a few times at birthday parties and after hockey games/practices. They also told me it was o.k. because they were “good for you” drinks. As I put the bottle back, I suggested that we do some investigating and look into the ingredients. “Awww,” my youngest said with a stomp for extra drama, “That’s never a good thing!”


images The drinks look appealing with vibrant colours and catchy flavour names. There are many days I sure could use some Endurance Peach Mango and Focus Kiwi Strawberry.  According to The Center for Science in the Public Interest, they contain 0-1% actual juice despite their inspiring names.


My kids say the drinks taste like Kool-Aid and Jello.  <Yes, they have sampled those products too.  Ugh.> 


There are 32.5 grams of sugar in each bottle of VitaminWater (FYI a can of Coke has 39 grams). American researchers feel that artificially sweetened beverages and those sweetened with sugar and high fructose corn syrups are the top cause of childhood obesity in America.


Vitamin fortified drinks sound promising but many of the vitamins we cannot process. For example, vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble. They enter the blood stream through dietary fat. For optimum absorption, it is best to take them with a meal or they pass through your body with minimal effects. The bottom line is that vitamins in water are not as nutritious as vitamins found in food.


There are other brands of vitamin water on the market. If you are reaching for them as a healthy form of nutrition carefully read the ingredients.   I am going to think of them as a soft drink with a twist.   My daughter is right…most of the time I look into the ingredients of a product…it is disappointing. 


Oh, and a  little footnote -  Coca-Cola the manufacturer of VitaminWater is being sued by The Center for Science in the Public Interest for alleged deceptive marketing practices.




p.s. I removed the fructose & artifical colouring portion until I dig deeper on this nutritional information. Stay tuned! 🙂


Cheep Cheep CHEAP April 17, 2010


5741202 Attention frugal folk. A quick reminder to be on the lookout for the new 2010-11 Healthy Shopper Coupon Book at your local health food stores in the next few weeks. Scoop one up as soon as you find them because they disappear quickly.


coupon_book Coupon clipping might sound ridiculous…but if you are looking for ways to lower your shopping expenses, even small savings add up. This little magazine-like book is purse/backpack sized so it is easy to reference during a shop.


On rare occasion when all the planets are in alignment (or something), I am organized enough to search the Healthy Shopper website for E-coupons. It is FREE  and I usually find coupons for many items on my shopping list like yoghurt, almond milk, detergent, dishwasher tabs etc.


My friend is on the fence about buying organic products but last year’s coupon book inspired her to try some.  I like the Healthy Shopper Coupon Book because I am too cheap to “experiment” with different brands and pay regular  prices.  I cannot deny it, frugality is in my genes.  🙂




The Flake Debate April 6, 2010

Filed under: biodegradable,environmentally friendly,health,health warning,shopping — MindfulMerchant @ 3:10 pm

Once a month my husband and I end up in a giant grocery store…together…buying the heavy big bulk items we cannot carry on our usual walk to the shops. We have different shopping styles. Without kids, I take my time, compare prices and read labels. He likes to peruse the roasted chicken counter and the discounted clothing bin. (He loves finding odd coloured t-shirts that have been marked down multiple times until they are $2.00)




This past weekend we found ourselves implementing our ‘see you in the kitty litter isle in 10 minutes’ plan.  When we met up he put a  bottle of dandruff – 2 in 1 shampoo in the cart.


“That stuff is awful,” I said. (Actually, I used a more colourful vocabulary) “You don’t have dandruff and never have!” I said taking it out of the cart.

“That’s why I don’t,” he said, “its preventative.” Back in the cart it went.

“Trust me, it’s horrible” I plucked it out again.

<ATTENTION customers…there’s a fight brewing in the kitty litter isle>

“O.k. why is it so horrible?” He asked putting it back.

“Well…harmful chemicals…I read scary things,” I vaguely replied as I removed the bottle.

“Be specific…I’m not convinced.” This time he wedged it between the groceries.

“Aggh…I can’t remember the specifics! I’ll have to do some research,” I grumbled.

“You do that,” he grumbled back pushing the cart containing dandruff shampoo to the checkout.



What I should have told him is that popular dandruff shampoos contain a toxic ingredient – coal tar. That is the black liquid distilled from coal and it has a long history linked to cancer (miners, chimney sweeps etc.) Lathering up with coal tar extract is not the only problem. The environmental impact from coal mining continues for years polluting ground water even after mines are closed.


The brand my husband bought contains zinc pyrithione. Zinc in this form is problematic even though it is supposed to degrade quickly in water. An interesting study conducted by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation in 2004 found that 3 millilitres of dandruff shampoo containing 0.08% zinc pyrithione killed half the fish added 24 hours later to a 1000 litre tank (within four days). 1% of the added zinc was still detected in the water – 80 days later.


The Environmental Working Group website gives the shampoo we purchased a hazard of 6 and reports its ingredients are linked to cancer, allergies/immunotoxicity as well as other concerns.


Another ingredient to watch out for is selenium disulphide. It has long-term environmental effects and considered very toxic to aquatic life.


If you are looking for healthier alternatives look for tea tree oil shampoos found in health food stores. Another option is to add a few drops of tea tree oil to a capful of your regular shampoo. If you want to use ingredients from your kitchen, vinegar or apple cider vinegar mixed with warm water can soak into your scalp before shampooing as another natural suggestion.


I have not tried any of the homemade treatments but I am looking for a tea tree shampoo to replace the shampoo my husband liked.  He is willing to stop buying the 2 in 1 stuff but he informed me there is no way he will smell like fish and chips…even for “preventative” measures.






Great Question – Not So Great Answer March 28, 2010

Filed under: organic farming,organic food,save money,shop local,shopping — MindfulMerchant @ 10:36 pm


Recently, Meanie contacted me. She is busy with work/kids/life and does not have the time to run all over the city in search of the best organic foods and the best prices. She wondered where I did my shopping. I smiled reading her email since I have been struggling with the exact same issues this year. Here was part of my response…

                                                        ~ ~ ~

I am in the exact same boat as you. I struggle with supporting local businesses/farmers and convenience/expense.  Unfortunately this winter, convenience and cost have won. I cannot afford to shop the way I want to…and lack the energy to get creative. Would you believe I do the bulk of my shopping at the local Independent? (Loblaws) It has a large organic/health food section.  I find the prices often cheaper than health food stores and when they have a sale on produce or our favourite products, I stock up. (My husband calls it “the end times" when I walk in lugging 4 boxes of granola or a giant bags of apples.)

I recently started ordering from different organic food delivery companies in the city but I am in the experimental stages…too early for a personal recommendation. The convenience, eating seasonally and shopping local is appealing. I calculate it would be significance savings too, if we consumed all the produce and avoid trips to the stores in between deliveries. The problem is that my family are fussy eaters. It is challenging to eat everything in the box. It also means organization, planning and more cooking on my part…and some nights I do not have the time to figure out how to turn a rutabaga into something appealing in 30 minutes. I am determined to try it though, so I will let you know if my trials are successful.

The other thing I like to do is shop at our local farmers market every few weeks from May to October.  It sounds lofty but I find it is an economical way to shop. I buy in bulk and freeze a lot of stuff. Sometimes the prices are higher, but most are comparable or even cheaper than the stores. If you know your prices, you can really get some good deals and the food tastes so good.

                                                                            ~ ~ ~


Meanie and I chatted back and forth.  She suggested I post my response and invite you to share your shopping tips.  Great idea – thanks!  So…what is your strategy for healthy, economical shopping?




Kenny – Fix it or Nix it? March 8, 2010

Filed under: eco-friendly,reduce energy consumption,shopping — MindfulMerchant @ 12:21 am


Are you trying to keep a major appliance alive in your home? Our five-year-old dishwasher is giving us a hard time. These days when I load it Kenny Rogers starts singing in my head.  It is too young to be on its last legs but every time I press the start button it is a gamble.  Fingers crossed it chooses to clean something.  “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em”.  Perhaps it is the economy, green consciousness, frugality, or poor manufacturing but a surprising number of my friends and family now have the appliance repair company’s phone number posted on the fridge. How do you know when to stop repairing and say goodbye?

According to Consumer Reports and Bill the repairperson, if an appliance is eight years old or more usually it is best to replace.  Boy, eight years seems like a short lifespan doesn’t it?   If you have a high end model that you love you might want to fix it but consider replacing a newer repair prone dud. Consumer Reports suggests it is best not to fix if repairs cost more than half the price of a new appliance.  (not always possible though)

I found a neat website Consumer Reports Green Buying Guide to help chose reliable, energy efficient, eco-friendly appliances. There is a “get the most value” section, green living guides and other helpful tips to save you money and energy. It might help with decision-making.

If you are planning a big appliance purchase, you might want to consider…

  • Many major retailers will remove the old appliance for recycling or repurposing so check before buying.
  • If they are in good condition, think about donating to a non-profit organization.
  • is a comprehensive recycling location database with U.S. State by State guidelines.
  • Most Canadian municipalities have appliance-recycling programs. The Natural Resources Canada website suggests contacting your local municipality or the yellow pages for collection information.

In the meantime, I continue to coddle our dishwasher…hoping we won’t have to fold ‘em for a long time.