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.  





Itchy Scratchy June 3, 2010

Filed under: children,family,health,toxic — MindfulMerchant @ 1:25 pm

Warning:  The following post will likely make you itchy. 

“Mommy, my head itches.” Not the words you want to hear just before bath time on a Monday night. I turned to look at my daughter and she had both hands on her head scratching furiously.


                                                               Oh…please…please…not THAT.


Luckily, my neighbour is a nurse. After knocking on her door, she hurried over and confirmed that Sarah had lice – a virtual lice city on her head. How did I miss them?! Well they blended in beautifully with her thick dark brown wavy hair. After checking the whole family, we discovered that Gillian had a few…but not as bad a case.  Operation ‘Disinfect’ kicked into high gear. 



I never had lice as a kid and neither had my husband. Not knowing what the heck I was doing combined with an itchy panic was not pretty. At 9pm the only store open was the local drug store. I raced out and consulted the pharmacist. He recommended a treatment and a separate comb. I questioned the ingredients and he offered a different brand that he claims is the “least toxic”. I bought it and treated all of us. I also washed in hot water everything I could stuff in the washing machine.


It was a late night for us grease balls. I combed out the kids hair meticulously. I will spare the gory details but let me say, it took almost 2 hours to pick through Sarah’s thick hair. <eeew>


The next day after all the embarrassing “Hey, you might want to check your kids” phone calls were done I sat down and took the time to investigate treatments and techniques…one day too late.


If you have young children I recommend you look into options NOW so you’ll be prepared with a treatment that jives with your family. Since this is a medical topic I am not comfortable recommending a brand or a treatment especially because we are in the midst of dealing with our outbreak. However, I will caution you that many over the counter topical treatments in Canada contain chemical pesticides. Some of the chemicals, like Lindane (a neurotoxin from the same family of chemical pesticides as DDT) are banned for agricultural use but are still acceptable to pour over our heads to treat lice. Read the labels carefully. There are many reports that indicate some lice are resistant to these chemicals anyway.


There are some funky natural treatments on the internet. Interesting ingredients involving mayonnaise, shower caps, petroleum jelly, conditioner, tea tree oil and plastic wrap (not all combined!) The health food stores sell many non-toxic natural kits with essential oils too. I purchased one for our second treatment next week.


The most important and effective treatment seems to be the combing process. Friends and medical people told me that a good metal lice comb is essential to remove the nits (lice eggs) near the scalp. Invest in the good comb because the ones in the kits are plastic and useless.  Muster all the patience you can, section and comb hair lubricated with a slick treatment to make sticky egg removal easier. Comb from root to tip and wipe on a tissue with each pass. Soak the comb in hot HOT water for at least 5 minutes before using it on someone else. To prevent spread or recontamination, make sure to wash clothing, linens and towels in hot water. Pillows and bedding can go in a hot dryer, vacuum carpets and mattresses. Typically, a louse cannot live off the human body for more than 1-2 days.


I used to check my kids by examining the top of their heads but clearly, that is not the best spot. Look behind the ears and the back of the neck first and then move around the head. I have seen magnified pictures before of the different stages of the head lice life cycle, but that did not help me Monday night. If you see what looks like dandruff and it is stuck to the hair (you cannot blow it away) it could be lice.


I hope you will not have to deal it…but if you do, know that it is a very common problem among children ages 3-10 and their families. I will continue combing and checking for weeks after the last treatment.  I will also add drops of tea tree oil to our shampoo for preventative measures in the future.  One good thing to come of this…my house has never been cleaner.





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!





Smells good – but isn’t September 30, 2009

Filed under: health warning,toxic — MindfulMerchant @ 12:01 pm
Tags: ,



I am a fool for marketing.  I bought into the implied promise of a clean, fresh smelling and healthy home in a little sleek device that smelled like vanilla and magnolias. I used to buy air fresheners and put one right beside the kitty litter box and the hockey equipment in the basement. The problem is that all it really did was make the room smell like kitty litter, hockey change room and flowery vanilla beans. What an odd and nasty combination!

In 2007 the Natural Resources Defence Council investigated 14 popular brand name air fresheners and found phthalates in 12 of those products.  Some of the air fresheners advertise as “All-Natural” or “Unscented.  There are health concerns with phthalates, which link to fertility, hormone disruption and developmental problems in rats.    Manufacturers use them in shower curtains, nail polishes, children’s toys, cleaners and perfumes as well as many other household items.   Phthalates increase a products durability, flexibility and longevity.

In Sept 2008 the CBC conducted their own tests on air fresheners and found that 1/3rd tested positive for one or two types of phthalates. Currently, air fresheners in Canada do not need to list ingredients on their labels.  Why is that Health Canada?  Sears, Wal-mart and Toys R Us no longer carry toys containing phthalates.  These are chemicals we all need to avoid.

If you use air fresheners or know someone that does, let them know about the potential hidden dangers. After discussing this issue with my Mom she offered this blunt but good advice. “If your house smells Laura, clean it.”   She is right. There is no need for air fresheners that can be harmful to our health and home.  Let’s open up a window instead!




The SIGG Saga September 17, 2009

Filed under: eco-friendly,health warning,heath and safety,toxic — MindfulMerchant @ 11:21 pm
Tags: ,



Many friends have asked me what to do with the pre-2008 production SIGG water bottles containing the BPA (Bisphenol A) lining. Here is an interesting 2nd letter posted on the SIGG company website from CEO Steve Wasik.





Dear SIGG Customer,

(STAMFORD CT) – Last month, I wrote a letter to try and provide you with as much factual and historical information as I could in regards to the 8060.30[1]evolution of the SIGG bottle liner. I also suggested that people could email me if they had any questions and comments.
After reading and responding to hundreds of emails and viewing nearly as many blog & Twitter posts, I realize that my first letter may have missed the mark. What I should have said simply and loudly to all of our loyal SIGG fans is: I am sorry that we did not make our communications on the original SIGG liner more clear from the very beginning.
I have learned much over the past 2 weeks. I learned that many of you purchased SIGG bottles – not just because they were free from leaching and safe – but because you believed that SIGGs contained no BPA. I learned that, although SIGG never marketed the former liner as “BPA Free” we should have done a better job of both clearly communicating about our liner as well as policing others who may have misunderstood the SIGG message.
For over 100 years, SIGG has earned a reputation for quality products and service – and we do not take that for granted. From the day we made our announcement last month, we made a commitment consistent with SIGG values that we would offer anyone who is concerned about BPA an opportunity to swap their old SIGGs for new SIGGs with the new EcoCare liner. Today, I am announcing that this voluntary
Exchange Program will be in place until October 31, 2009 to ensure that our customers have ample time to send their former liner bottles back to us should they choose to do so.
Once again, I truly apologize for the lack of clarity in our previous communications. All of us at SIGG hope that we will have an opportunity to regain your confidence and trust.
Steve Wasik
CEO, SIGG Switzerland




Bottles containing the former liner can be mailed for exchange directly to SIGG.  The information on how to identify your bottle and participate in the exchange can be found by clicking this link.

My reaction to Mr. Wasik’s original letter was anger and mistrust.  I quickly made the decision not to buy or use SIGG products again. This second letter (with the PR spin) has made me change my thinking slightly. Clearly, the company realizes this is a corporate catastrophe.  I imagine Patagonia terminating all business with SIGG last week was a good indicator of the magnitude of their mistakes. Speaking with many friends about this dilemma, almost everyone agrees to give SIGG a second chance in the hopes they have learned from this and will be honest in the future. I also believe in giving second chances…and will be cautiously optimistic.

If you are not inclined to mail the bottles to SIGG directly, I suggest you contact the store you originally purchased them.  My friends and family report that L’il Niblets & Baby Sprouts (Toronto) is providing  an excellent hassle free experience returning the old BPA lined SIGG bottles. Great customer service!   Here is shout out for Boomarang Kids (Ottawa)  They agreed to exchange the SIGG BPA bottles (up until the October 31 deadline) even if you didn’t purchase it at their store!  That is impressive!  

I hope this information is helpful.  It looks like we will have to be patient with the arrival of new exchanged bottles…I have heard SIGG is overwhelmed and scrambling to deal with the return debacle.  Please let me know how it works out.  Good luck!