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DIY Cleaning Products

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     It’s hard to imagine that a product intended to keep your home cleaner and your family healthier could be toxic, but that is exactly the case when it comes to cleaning products. Not only are they laced with dozens of toxic chemicals, their disposable plastic containers end up buried in landfills and slowly decomposing in the ocean for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Furthermore, the compounds in the products pollute our air and waterways, leading to dead zones and an increase in smog.

     The dead zones are as tragic as they sound. They are areas wherein little to no life can survive due to an excess of certain chemical compounds and/or Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has listed phosphorous, nitrogen, ammonia, and VOCs as the worst environmental hazards in household cleaning supplies which contribute to smog, the reduction in drinking water quality and are highly toxic to animals (humans included) when consumed. These compounds also contaminate watersheds as they are rinsed down drains and are sadly not removed in the water-treatment process. Thus, leading to an accumulation of elements and chemical concoctions that act as somewhat of a chemical fertilizer. This allows for certain plants (such as algae) to grow rapidly and overtake entire habitats. By the end of this chemical-accelerated growth cycle, the plants die in large concentrations. Once they begin decaying, they deplete the oxygen in the water, algae grows, and then animals begin to die off as well, causing more decay. Shortly after, the water is no longer suitable for drinking, cooking or bathing and becomes a deadzone. Aside from water pollution, VOCs also have the capacity to cause health issues; so much so that the state of California’s Air Resources Board has determined “acceptable” limits for these chemicals.

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     The effects of such toxic chemicals on humans can be devastating. The top eight most dangerous ingredients in cleaning products are as follows: Phthalates, Perchloroethylene (“Perc”), Triclosan, Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (“Quats”), 2-Butoxyethanol, Ammonia, Chlorine, and Sodium Hydroxide.

  • Phthalates are found in a multitude of fragranced household products (ie air fresheners, scented trash bags, dish soap, toilet paper, etc). Since companies are not legally required to disclose what their scents are made of, you’ll probably never see phthalates in the ingredients section; However, anything labeled as “fragranced” is likely to contain them and should be avoided as they are known endocrine disruptors. Exposure is most common through inhalation, but it is also possible for the skin to absorb the toxins, in which case they can be absorbed directly into organs.
  • Perc is a neurotoxin found in dry-cleaning solutions, spot removers, and carpet/upholstery cleaners. The EPA has classified it as a “possible carcinogen” and has ordered a phase-out of perc machines in residential buildings due to its suspected health risks. Similar to phthalates, people are most often exposed through inhalation. You know the smell of fresh dry-cleaning or recently-cleaned carpets? Yeah. You’re breathing perc in.
  • Triclosan is an antibacterial agent capable of promoting the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. It can be found in most liquid dish detergents and antibacterial soaps. Rebecca Sutton, PhD and senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, has admit that “The American Medical Association has found no evidence that these antimicrobials make us healthier or safer, and they’re particularly concerned because they don’t want us overusing antibacterial chemicals — that’s how microbes develop resistance, and not just to these [household antibacterials], but also to real antibiotics that we need.”
  • Quats are found in fabric softeners and most antibacterial household cleaners. They are similar to triclosan in that they aid in the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and act as a skin irritant. It has also been suspected to cause respiratory disorders.
  • 2-Butoxyethanol is a key ingredient in window, kitchen, and multipurpose cleaners. Current laws do not require the disclosure of this ingredient in products either, even though the World Health Organization has reported that when inhaled at high levels it has been shown to contribute to sore throats, narcosis, pulmonary edema (excess fluid in the lungs), and severe kidney/liver damage.
  • Ammonia can easily be found in polishing agents and glass cleaner, due to its ability to leave surfaces streak-free. Nonetheless, Donna Kasuska, a chemical engineer and president of ChemConscious, Inc, warns that “Ammonia is a powerful irritant. It’s going to affect you right away. The people who will be really affected are those who have asthma and elderly people with lung issues and breathing problems. It’s almost always inhaled. People who get a lot of ammonia exposure, like housekeepers, will often develop chronic bronchitis and asthma.” Ammonia can even create a poisonous gas when combined with bleach.
  • Chlorine is contained in dozens of cleaning products including scouring powders, toilet bowl cleaners, mildew removers, and laundry whiteners. Like the other chemicals, you can be exposed to chlorine through inhalation or contact with skin while cleaning. The associated health risks include respiratory irritation and potential for serious thyroid disruption.
  • Lastly, we have sodium hydroxide which is in oven cleaners and drain openers, because of its extreme corrosiveness. If it comes in contact with your skin, eyes, or respiratory system, it can cause severe burns and/or a sore throat lasting for days.      

     So, the question remains: if they really are this toxic for us, our kids, and our pets, then why on earth are we using still using chemical-based cleaning supplies when there are other options? There are hundreds of DIY recipes for kid-approved, pet-safe, non-toxic, cleaning concoctions that are significantly cheaper, equally as effective, easy to make, and customizable! Not to mention you can reuse spray bottles and mason jars every time you need new cleaning supplies, reducing the amount of plastic in our landfills and ocean.

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     According to the most recent survey of consumer expenditures conducted by The Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. households spent an average of $645 on housekeeping supplies in 2013. By purchasing ingredients to make your own supplies in bulk, you save money when it comes to the product and its packaging. To get started, collect the following items from around your home:

    • Baking soda
    • White vinegar
    • Dish soap
    • Hydrogen peroxide
    • Essential oils
    • Borax
    • Castile Soap
    • Alcohol
    • Spray bottles, mason jars, squeeze bottles, labels (optional)

      If you’re missing anything from the list, you can buy them directly from this Amazon shopping list that I created or from most dollar stores. Try your hand at making these five tried-and-true cleaning mixtures shown in this video or browse “100 DIY Household Cleaner Recipes That WIll Save You Money”. The total cost of about a year’s supply of these products should cost no more than $150- and that’s if you’re not trying very hard to find deals or bulk items. Based off the Bureau of Labor Statistics and my personal shopping research, I would estimate that you could save almost $500 a year by making your own cleaning supplies! So what are you waiting for? Go start saving!

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Online Textbooks

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     As of 10:07 am on Tuesday, April 4th 2017, the world had already produced 143,779,224 tons of paper since New Year’s Day. So, how do we reduce the damage caused by the paper industry while saving money? Well, one way that students of all ages can save hundreds of dollars while combating pollution and reducing the amount of harmful byproducts in our environment is by switching to online textbooks. Everybody knows that traditional, printed textbooks are expensive; Some of them can cost as much as $250! This not only drains the consumer’s bank account, but contributes to the contamination of sediments in watersheds, emission of toxic air pollution, mass consumption of energy and water, dumping of vast quantities of solid waste in landfills, and deforestation.

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     The three primary causes of environmental destruction as a result of the paper industry are water pollution, air pollution, and deforestation. There are few studies on the effect of textbook disposal on the environment, specifically; However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) releases a biannual report regarding materials in the solid waste stream and in 2009 the EPA found that approximately 33.3 percent of books in the waste stream are recovered and approximately 640,000 tons are discarded into the landfill. The final paper product is not the only source of pollution, as much of this damage is a consequence of the toxic byproducts from manufacturing.
In order to turn trees into pulp, the kraft or sulfite processes are employed- both of which utilize harmful chemicals that remain in discarded wastewater used in production. These processes also produce dangerous gases that contribute to climate change and helps to generate acid rain. These Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) include, but are not limited to: Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and carbon dioxide (CO2). In addition to these GHGs, other chemicals that are harmful to human health (hydrogen sulfide, methyl mercaptan, dimethyl sulfide, dimethyl disulfide, etc) are released into our air supply and we breathe them in every single day.

     Not only do we breathe these toxins in, we eat them. The consumption of dioxins, or highly toxic pollutants that are also created in the production of herbicides (yes, herbicides) is fairly common throughout the world. While many countries monitor dioxin levels in their food supply, contamination can still slip through the cracks until it has reached dangerous levels- as seen in Ireland in 2008. Even though risk assessments showed no concern for public health, the country was forced to recall tons of meat that were reported to have up to 200 times the safe limit of dioxins which were traced back to contaminated feed for domesticated animals in 1999. When humans consume these animals, they absorb the compound over time and are more susceptible to damage in the reproductive, developmental, and immune systems, hormone interference, and even cancer. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 90% of human exposure is through diet, particularly the consumption of meat, dairy, fish and shellfish. Once consumed, the compounds can last for upwards of 20 years, due to their chemical stability and capacity to be absorbed by fat tissues. The WHO asserts that the concentration of dioxins in the body increases with each link in the food chain, meaning humans are at a high-risk level.

     Not only are domesticated animals affected by the paper industry, but wild animals are also impacted by the mass deforestation that occurs as a result of increased demand for paper. We must protect the 80% of Earth’s land animals and plants residing in forests (such as the one I visited in Guatemala seen below), many of which cannot survive the deforestation threatening their homes. Habitat loss, destruction of watersheds, loss of climate-mitigating resources, and reduction of biodiversity are just some of the  repercussions of deforestation. Furthermore, we are not only creating more GHGs through paper production, we are destroying the very trees that cleanse the earth, air, and water of those toxins.

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     By switching to online textbooks you will not only reduce the amount of paper in our landfills, reduce air and water pollution, minimize the release of harmful chemicals, and combat deforestation, you will also save money and do better in school. How, exactly? Well first and foremost, printed books lose value as soon as your credit card transaction goes through and by the end of the semester they could be completely outdated. Alternatively, digital textbooks can be edited and updated as needed without the consumer having to spend any additional money. In this way, your product can actually improve after you’ve bought it. Additionally, online books can be customized by the professor and/or the student; Teachers can emphasize certain crucial information in the text while students can take personalized quizzes and review flashcards of key terms. They easily accommodate every learning style, as most companies include videos, podcasts, interactive simulations, and assessments. So whether you’re an aural, visual, or verbal learner, there are plenty of ways to customize your learning experience and maximize your information retention.

     An article by Huffington Post claims says the average college student will spend $655 on textbooks each year, but I have personally spent $700 on textbooks in a single semester. With some textbooks easily costing as much as $250, the total each student spends in a year can easily be much higher and students attending for-profit schools typically spend even more. On the other hand, e-text companies offer books for as little as $20 and if you’re really lucky, you may even be able to find your text absolutely free. Companies like Flat World and McGraw Hill Education offer better studying experiences at discounted prices. They seem to understand that traditional printed textbooks are soon to be a thing of the past and are actively working to continue improving this technological market. Additionally, there is growing interest in developing open-source textbooks in which students can download books for free. A study conducted on five major universities by the Student Public Interest Research Groups found that on average students could save $128 per course by dropping “dead-tree texts”. If you’re taking five courses this semester, that’s a savings of $640 and I don’t know of a single college student (or human being) who couldn’t use $640. Especially since you’ll probably only read a couple of pages from a textbook (because let’s be real, you’re hardly going to open those books at all this semester) and they will end up in a box somewhere in your house since you simply cannot justify throwing away a $200 book that you will never look at again. I know this, because that box is under my bed as I type.

     So, trust me!! I have been using online textbooks since I spent that $700 in one semester and I never looked back. The customizable aspect is unimaginably beneficial to my overall academic experience and I have personally saved around $1,500* in the past three years. I highly recommend e-texts to any and all students with the opportunity to use them!


-Save more of your wallet by selling any textbooks you may currently have in your possession to a one of the many companies that recycles used textbooks such as Amazon or Chegg (who will send you a box and pay for shipping)!
-Save more of the planet by combating deforestation and pollution caused from paper production by using the Ecosia search engine when you’re studying. At Ecosia, the proceeds generated by advertisements are used to plant trees in the 25 most threatened forest ecosystems as well as poor agricultural communities. If you don’t end up liking Ecosia (although, who wouldn’t?!), you can always get out there and plant trees yourself!! The earth will thank you. So what are you waiting for? Go start saving!

*prices compared to SDSU bookstore pricing


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Reusable Water Bottles

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       There are a multitude of problems that result from the production, consumption, and disposal of plastic bottles that it’s difficult to keep this post short. They fill our oceans, take up space in landfills, require fossil fuels to manufacture and transport, increase air pollution during incineration, take about 1,000 years to degrade, and are much more challenging to recycle than many people believe.

       Using disposable bottles can actually be harmful to humans, because they contain Bisphenol A, or BPA, which then contaminates the contents in the container. There are major known health issues associated with consumption of BPA, even in small amounts. BPA is an endocrine disruptor that imitates the effects of estrogen and has been clearly linked to a variety of health problems including certain types of cancer, neurological difficulties, heart disease, early puberty in girls, reduced fertility, premature labour, and defects in newborn babies. Not to mention, in the U.S. tap water is actually tested more frequently than bottled water. So contrary to popular belief, a reusable bottle filled with tap water is typically safer than bottled water. 

       The main issue when it comes to other animals is that they are eating the bottles and caps. Currently, bottle caps are not recyclable and many of them end up being consumed by a variety of species ranging from birds to sperm whales. These plastics can be broken down to “microplastics” which are consumed by microorganisms. When the little fish eats those microorganisms and the big fish eats the little fish, these plastics begin to accumulate in each successive animal’s stomach, until eventually there is no space left and they starve to death.

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       The solution to these issues is switching to a glass or metal reusable bottle. Not only would you be keeping plastics out of the environment, protecting countless species from the harmful effects of pollution, and reducing your own consumption of microplastics, but you’d also save an average of $250 a year.

       Business Insider reported that last year the the U.S. consumed a whopping 2.6 billion disposable plastic water bottles, with the average American using 167 bottles. If you assume each bottle was only $1.50 (which is on the lower end of some bottled water prices), you could save $250.50 on bottled water alone. ConvergEx Group Chief Market Strategist Nick Colas stated that bottled water is “almost 2,000x the cost of a gallon of tap water and twice the cost of a gallon of regular gasoline.” With price markups like that, who wouldn’t want to use a reusable bottle? The average cost of a reusable bottle is $10, although I have seen them range anywhere from $1 to $45. However, even if you were to buy the most expensive bottle, you still have the potential to save more than $200. One bottle could last for decades, saving you $2,500 every 10 years. Oh, and the cost of using tap water instead? 49 cents…for the whole year. So what are you waiting for? Go start saving! (Style points for adding stickers to your new, reusable bottle.)

-Save more of your wallet by extending this practice to all bottled drinks.
-Save more of your planet by adhering to the three magical R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. If you find yourself in desperate need of water and you’ve forgotten your trusty reusable bottle, the best option is to go for a glass bottle, then an aluminum can instead. If you really can’t avoid the disposable bottle, then try to reuse it by turning it into a planter for herbs, a bird feeder, or any of these fun activities!