Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Greening the Last Frontiers

I've been trying to replace many of my remaining day-to-day bad eco-habits with good eco-habits and I'm down to a few remaining vices. The last to go are tampons, pantyliners, cotton pads for toner, the impossible little bits of the various handmade soaps I love so dearly, occasional paper towels, tissues, toilet paper and what we, in this house, call "butt-wipes."

So, here is the most recent run down:

Menstrual Products
I have always used Natracare tampons which are 100% cotton and not bleached with dioxins as opposed to rayon combined with conventionally grown cotton, which in the United States mean genetically modified and laden with pesticides before they bleach them with dioxins, a known carcinogen. I still feel wasteful, especially since I use the kind in the cardboard applicator. In the world of reusable menstrual products, there are many options:
  • CupsJuJu, Lunette, The Keeper & the Moon Cup, Fleurcup, LadyCup, Yuuki Cup, DivaCup, MeLuna & MeLuna Soft, CupLee, Femmecup, Mpower, SheCup, Alicia Cup, IrisCup, Miss Cup (this site is not in English), MiaCup, MCUK, Natucup  I decided to try the DivaCup, a silicone cup available widely in the United States. The original cup, the Keeper, is rubber latex and, due to my immune system, I was worried I might develop a latex allergy. Some people do not like the idea of silicone, but I believe one or more of the above cups may be made of something else. There is a learning curve with a menstrual cup, but it is quite brief and I was fine by the end of my first period with the DivaCup. Most brands have videos and/or instructive illustrations to help you navigate the new experience, but if you need additional help you can check various forums or YouTube. Because you can leave them in for so long (8-12 hours depending on your flow) you will probably not have to deal with emptying and cleaning them in public. If you do, carry a small wipe in your pouch, dampen it before entering a stall, remove and empty the cup, wiping it with tp if necessary, and then clean with the damp wipe. I use Wyspi Wipes which are tablets that expand when wet and are strong enough to be rinsed and reused several times. There are many ways to keep the cups clean; follow the instructions on the site you buy from, especially pay attention to the Keeper's instructions as they are different for rubber than for silicon. A few companies make washes for between emptyings: Lunette and DivaCup are the two I've found and I use the latter. You could stick a small cloth wipe or washcloth in your bag as well. The bag they send you is kind of dorky and a bit too small, in my opinion. I went to Etsy and found many cute choices for a personalized bag. This is the one I bought.

  • Sponges: There don't seem to be many commercial brands, and for sanitary reasons, I am loath to try to make my own. There are Sea Pearls, Luna Sponge, Levant Sponge and Jam Sponge. If you want to make your own there are many sources for sea sponges online and directions for sterilizing them are here, although I would boil them a bit longer than recommended. Just make sure they are natural sea sponges and you follow the instructions to the letter to keep them clean. If you make your own, it is generally cheaper to buy a larger one and cut them into the sizes and number you need.
  • Pads: There are so many companies and home businesses which make and sell cloth menstrual pads that I shouldn't even begin to list them here, but a few good sources are GladRags, Lunapads.com, Party in My Pants, Comfy Cloth Pads, Sorella Luna, New Moon Pads, Sckoon and Amazon. If you'd like to support work at home parents, good sources are Etsy, Ebay, Cloth Pad Shop, Cloth Menstrual Pad Database and Hyena Cart. You can also find many sources to make your own pads, just make sure you use the correct materials and find a shape you really like before you make a bunch; try sewing one or two of a few patterns and seeing which one works well for you. I suggest you do the same when buying from any source. Don't go whole hog and buy a whole supply if you're not sure what will be your favorite. I only use pantyliners occasionally and bought one from Lunapads.com with which I am not in love, so I'm looking at several options on Etsy right now to try. In any case, you will need a wet bag for travel and one for home. (I bought a double pocketed one so that I can carry dry liners in one side and wet in the other.) If you you don't want to stain treat, rinse and soak and do frequent washings, you might want to look into a soaking jar, bucket (bucket 2, bucket 3) or bag. You'll still need to change the water frequently, but you should be able to make it through the week without too much hassle. Either way, follow the washing instructions for your specific pads. These are my travel wet bag and home zippered wet bag which I am using for two other reusable items, as well. (More on that below.) The seller, Sam of MyBeautifulgirl, is a SAHM/WAHM. I also bought a reusable travel trash bag, as my old, vinyl Hello Kitty one was shot after 7 or 8 years of heavy duty use. My new one is super cute and matches my car well. Then, as a free gift/sample, Sam also sent me one of her gorgeous, super-soft wipe/small washcloth made of organic bamboo velour on one side and sherpa on the other, like the nursing pads she is currently selling.

Cotton Cosmetic Pads and Soap Savers 
I use one, sometimes two, organic, unbleached cotton pads for my face per day. Then I throw them in the trash. I searched for a cloth version for a while, but I only could find pads or cloths which were too expensive, too smooth, too rough and/or much too large. I also found that many people crocheting face "scrubbies" of Etsy were using non-organic and/or bleached or dyed yarn. I finally found a seller (amieq of Stitches N' Stones) who was crocheting  "cotton ball" sized cotton pads (appx. 2" diameter before washing, smaller than the regular  "scrubbies" which are appx. 3" diameter before washing). I "convo'ed" her and asked is she could make me 40 of the small size pads in unbleached cotton yarn and I also asked if she could make two of her soap savers in the same yarn. She not only promptly agreed to make the order, but did not charge me extra for custom yarn and I had the items in my house within six days. Now, as my soap gets to the point where it usually melts away in the dish, I can put the bits in my soap savers to exfoliate and clean myself. (I bought an extra for when the first is in the wash.) My entire order with shipping was less than $20.00 which is about what I spend on cotton pads per year and the soap savings are a little bonus! She even included two of her regular sized scrubbies in the same yarn at no extra cost as a sample/thank you gift. I'll be putting used cotton balls in the wet bag pictured above with pantyliners during that time of the month.

Toilet Paper
Toilet paper is a no go. I am much too germ- and fecal-phobic to convert the family to cloth "family wipes," which, when dampened, could also replace "butt wipes." [NOTE: At least two products included in that search are not for your bottom, so read carefully. If you use these types of wipes and have sensitive skin, please be aware that Pampers Kandoo makes the only fragrance free wipe available to the general public. There are wipes which are meant for home health care which are much more expensive, so unless you have a "thing" against Pampers, I'd skip the others.] Yes, we did use cloth diapers and cloth wipes, yet, somehow, although the concept is exactly the same, I cannot do it. Sorry, Gaia... My family--and guests, I'm sure--thank me for this. If you are so inclined, I suggest you ask the Etsy seller you choose if they can custom make wipes from organic, unbleached bamboo, which is super soft and sustainable. There are plenty of places to be found to answer any questions you might have about the logistics of "family wipes." Like I said, the logistics are the same as cloth baby wipes. Keep a container of clean, dry wipes by the toilet (along with a bottle of water with a touch of Dr. Bronner's, witch hazel, fragrance free pH balanced body wash or whatever you like diluted in it if you'd like to have moist wipes) and a bucket (such as a kitty litter bucket) or a diaper pail with an airtight lid next to the toilet as well. Depending on your preference and fabric used, you may choose to soak or not, with additives like OxiClean Baby, hydrogen peroxide, vinegar or whatever you are advised by the maker of the wipes. You can buy wipes from Wallypop, Family Cloth Wipes, Etsy (link 2, link 3) and Ebay.

Tissues & Paper Towels
We use many fewer paper towels than most households. We have a full cabinet of rags made of old towels, washcloths and old, cotton clothes and sheets. We also have dozens of cloth napkins (fancy and plain, new and antique). We probably won't be getting rid of paper towels altogether anytime soon, but maybe in the next big push I can at least try to wean myself off of them.
Tissues? Well, we're a house full of people with allergies. I have dozens of beautiful hankies and sturdy white, men's handkerchiefs which I use for drippy noses and really runny noses, but the day-to-day blowing which takes places will be into disposable facial tissues for the unforeseeable future.

Every few years, we add a few more green habits to our repertoire and I think we're doing pretty well right about now.

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