Practical tips for living eco-friendly

There are enough things you can do to make your home and your life eco-friendly.

At the end of a long, tiring day, there is no feeling that beats being home. In the comfort of our space, we can enjoy our solitude, precious-moments with loved ones and a good night’s rest. What most of us don’t know is that our safe haven is often ‘home’ to a variety of toxins that add to the body’s exhaustion and stress. From hormone disrupting chemicals in household cleaners to high lead content in paints, there is a lot to watch out for in our home.

There is a thin line between living an informed life and a paranoid one. This article’s purpose is not to stress or overwhelm you. Instead it is an invitation to become aware of some important facts, so that you can make informed choices for yourself and your loved ones.

We’ve been ‘lead’ astray

According to World Health Organization, 1.2 crore people are overexposed to lead and 99 per cent of the most serious cases are in the developing world. So what does lead exposure do? Lead is absorbed directly into the bloodstream, causing, serious damage to the brain, kidneys and nerves. Lead exposure has also been linked to learning disabilities and behavioural problems. Children are more at risk because of their constant contact with lead-based products, from walls to toys to playground equipment.

So what do you do?

  • Get yourself and your family tested for lead and other heavy metals.
  • Use lead-free paints whenever possible.
  • Increase your consumption of foods rich in calcium and iron. This will help offset some of the damage caused from lead exposure.
  • Spread the word so more people are informed and demand safer paint options as consumers.

Bye, bye plastic bottles. Hello stainless steel and glass

Most plastic bottles are made of phthalates and BPA, toxic substances that leech from the bottle into the water, juice or other liquid it contains. BPA has been associated with certain types of cancers, diabetes, fertility issues, and developmental concerns. Research is finding that BPA-free plastic also might cause harm to the body.

So what do you do?

  • Stainless steel or glass bottles and jugs are healthier alternatives. They are good for the family, and because of their easy recyclability, they are great for the planet too.
  • Another perk of stainless steel bottles? They keep water cool and refreshing in the warm summer months without refrigeration!

Take a peek under that kitchen sink

Most household cleaning products come laden with toxic chemicals and xenon-oestrogens. The latter are particularly harmful to women and can cause severe hormone disruptions.

So what do you do?

  • Some of the most effective household cleaning ingredients come in very harmless forms! Mix some vodka with eucalyptus oil and you have a bug spray, kitchen stove cleaner and air-freshener.
  • Mix some baking soda and vinegar together to clean your toilets and kitchen sink.
  • Use olive oil and lemon to keep your wood furniture clean and shining.
  • Hydrogen peroxide mixed with hot water makes for a great floor cleaner.

Better still, call your grandparents and ask for tips. They lived a far more eco-friendly life than us.

Au Naturel is the latest beauty trend

Most bath and beauty products available in the market today are laden with sulphates, parabens and a host of other harmful ingredients. Almost 60 per cent of these are directly absorbed by our skin and enter the bloodstream without any filtration by the liver. Lead in lipsticks is known to cause neurological problems, blood disorders and depression. Toxic metals such as aluminium are widely used in deodorants and have oestrogen-like effects, disrupting the function
of the endocrine system. Phthalates, the synthetic fragrances in shampoos and lotions are linked to hormone disruption.

So what do you do?

  • Check out the ingredient list on the product. Anything you can’t pronounce? Maybe its time to move to simpler products.
  • Baking soda and orange juice makes a great face mask.
  • Honey, lemon and turmeric is a great cleanser.
  • If you have to use packaged products look for organic options and always check the ingredient list to see what’s really in there.

Be a tree-hugger. Print less.

Honestly, paper usage has no direct impact on our health. And yet we have to just look around us to realise the effects of global warming and a receding green cover. Although technology has significantly reduced our need to print, there are times when hard copies of documents are required.

So what do you do?

  • Look for printing paper that is made of recycled paper [at least partially].
  • If you’re using paper for personal use, then use the blank side of old printouts lying around the home or office.
  • Look for recycling options or donate your old books to local libraries. Spread some bookworm love and save the earth.

Finally, vote with your money

We often underestimate our power as consumers. India is the twelfth largest consumer market in the world. That means, our individual and collective consumption decisions can have a large impact on what the markets make available.

So what do you do?

  • If you’re an animal rights advocate, ask for cruelty-free products.
  • Think big corporations are evil? Frequent local, mom-and-pop stores, boutiques and restaurants.
  • Wish your grocery store sold organic produce? Get your friends to make phone calls to the store till they stock up on the stuff.

Being conscious, responsible consumers is probably the most empowering thing we can do. It affects our own health and has a huge impact on the environment. Wherever we live, from a high-rise in Mumbai to a tree-house in Sweden, we all really have just one home and one mother: our beautiful, magical planet. When we commit to take better care of it, we end up benefiting in the process.

My mantra since the last three years to live a more eco-friendly life

Turn off the tap while brushing or switch off all lights in the room if its unoccupied.

Take water with me wherever I go instead of buying plastic bottles.

Taking the extra effort to recycle what can be recycled and reuse what can be reused [jam and sauce jars can easily be used and used again].

For everything I bring into the house, I ask myself:

“Do I really need this?”

“Can I make a safer [more fun] version of this at home?”

“Can I recycle it after I’m done using it?”

This simple exercise ensures my house is not cluttered with unnecessary plastic bags, pots and pans, decorative items, and other unnecessary but enticing things. Becoming aware that most things we trash end up either in landfills or the ocean helps guide my consumption decisions.

This was first published in the May 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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