Spring Cleaning

Spring is a time for new beginnings; out with the old and in with the new. And it’s the ideal time to open the windows and give everything a good airing! The origins of spring cleaning – the ancient art of doing a thorough clean at the beginning of the season – are not known for sure, but the tradition is still practised widely. However, with today’s modern cleaning products, are we just refilling that fresh spring air with nasty, harmful chemicals? Many shop-bought products are full of artificial chemicals that claim to be harder on dirt and grime. But does this come at a cost to our health?

Scientists have, for a number of years, been warning that man-made chemicals affect human health, having been linked with reduced immunity, low sperm count, cancers and decreased intelligence. One of the biggest offenders is the cleaning products industry. In addition to scientific research, various organisations have been campaigning to tighten regulations and get the harmful chemicals removed from the market. They have had some limited success, but it is still down to us as consumers to be more vigilant in our buying habits.

When it comes to cleaning, you need to be aware that whatever you put in the water to clean the floors or the oven releases toxins that you will breathe in as you clean. Then, when they get poured down the drain, they contaminate our water supply, jeopardising the health of our ecosystems. Yes, this water will be cleaned and treated, but not before all those chemicals have already damaged the environment.

Here are some key chemicals to avoid:

Artificial musks are used in all kinds of products. If it has a fragrance, chances are it is artificial. Look for products with natural oils in the ingredients list that match the fragrance on the bottle, or buy non-scented and add your own. Artificial musks can disrupt the body’s hormone system; they have a long chemical life and can build up in the body. Due to these factors they have been found in the natural environment and even in breast milk.

The term parfum usually refers to the fragrance’s smell, and is used to cover a multitude of different chemicals that should be avoided. They cause allergies for millions of people and they can be found in most household cleaners.

Parabens are preservatives that are used in cosmetics and bathroom products to stop them growing mould. They mimic oestrogen in a way which is believed to interfere with the hormone system and increase the risk of breast cancer for women. Some parabens have been banned, but others still exist in everyday products.

Phthalates are industrial pollutants that leak from the products containing them. These products include PVC, toys, clothing, flooring, wallpaper, cosmetics and fragrances. They are ingested, inhaled or absorbed into our bodies and they have been linked to fertility problems, foetal and birth defects, altered hormone levels and genital deformities. Unfortunately, manufacturers whose products contain them are not obliged to disclose them on the label, so it is hard to avoid them.

Solvents can cause irritation when absorbed through the skin and nails, or when inhaled. They are used in all types of detergents.

Triclosan is found in most dishwashing detergents and antibacterial hand washes. It can alter hormones, especially thyroid hormones, and affect normal breast development. It also helps build up the resistance of harmful bacteria to antimicrobial agents such as antibiotics.

There are a host of man-made chemicals that should be avoided by all. However, it has been found that women and children in particular are most at risk. Women’s reproductive systems can be put in danger, with many of these products using hormone-disrupting chemicals. There have also been numerous links found between some of these chemicals and breast cancer, which typically affects more women than men. Children (and foetuses) are at a higher risk as their bodies are still developing and their organs and immune systems are not yet strong enough to combat the effects that some chemicals have. Small children are at further risk as they come into contact more frequently with their environment. They are constantly putting their fingers into their mouths and eating food from just-wiped surfaces. And, due to being so small, they are exposed to higher concentration levels.

So, what to do? A simple rule to follow would be: if you need to put on rubber gloves, a face mask or protective clothing to use a product, maybe it shouldn’t be brought into your home in the first place. A few initial ways to tackle this issue are to buy brands that use more plant-based substances, avoid the above types of chemicals, and only buy products that are clear about the ingredients that they use. A second option is to make your own. Although many people feel they do not have the time or know-how to make their own, home-made cleaning products are often quick and simple to make, and they can save you money too. You can search for recipes online, get a book, or start by switching to some of the products mentioned below.

Here are a few of the best natural cleaning agents:

Bicarbonate of soda (sodium bicarbonate) can be used to deodorise and clean fabrics. Mix with water or sprinkle on dry. It makes a very effective carpet cleaner – just sprinkle it on, leave for half an hour and then vacuum.

Lemon juice can be used to clean surfaces and remove stains and limescale. For tough limescale, just leave it for half an hour before wiping clean. If left in the fridge, a cut lemon will also absorb all the nasty smells. Mix lemon juice with water to whiten whites and brighten colours, either as a pre-soak or by adding lemon juice to the wash like you would a softener.

Vinegar can be used as a surface cleaner, stain remover, de-scaler, deodoriser and disinfectant. It can also work wonders on windows – just mix with water, wash on, and polish off with screwed up newspaper. (Malt works just as well as white wine varieties, but is obviously a bit more pungent.)

Olive oil or beeswax can be used as furniture polish (use sparingly).

Tea tree oil can be used as an antiseptic and a disinfectant. It is also effective on mould and mildew.

So, this spring may be the time to upgrade your green cleaning credentials! If you’d like to find out more, or have some tips of your own to add, why not come along to one of our socials (‘Coffee with PinT’ on the second Sunday of the month, or ‘Pint with PinT’ on the fourth Thursday of the month) and carry the conversation on with us there?

 

Resources

Washing up liquid: http://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/showthread.php?t=286469

Various: http://www.keeperofthehome.org/homemade-all-natural-cleaning-recipes

Various: http://eartheasy.com/live_nontoxic_solutions.htm

 

Supporting articles / more information

https://www.aromatherapynaturals.com/pages/ewg-hall-of-shame

http://www.womensvoices.org/safe-cleaning-products/basic/

http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/ethicalreports/householdcleaningproductsreport/toxicchemicals.aspx

http://www.greencleancertified.com/green-cleaning-facts/HOUSEHOLD-CLEANING-PRODUCTS-MAY-DO-MORE-HARM-THAN-GOOD

https://experiencelife.com/article/8-hidden-toxins-whats-lurking-in-your-cleaning-products/

https://www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/chemicals_house_products.pdf  (Jan 2002)

http://www.foeeurope.org/search/foee/safer+chemicals

Forward Planning – April 2016

At our April meeting we decided we needed a main project to focus our energy with a clear objective. We started with thoughts around the main purpose of the transition movement, which is to be environmentally sustainable and to reduce CO2 emissions. And so we took up a new project to get the council to divest their pension fund from fossil fuels. After discovering that the pension fund does not sit with the city council, but the county council, we contacted 350.org, an organisation who help with community divestment campaigns. They put us in touch with Fossil Free Cambridgeshire (FFC), who had been running since early 2015 and we now collaborate with FFC on this campaign/project.

Our plan is 2 fold:

  • We would like to see Peterborough City Council sign up to divestment.
  • Work with FFC to get Cambridgeshire County Council Pension Fund Committee to agree to divest from fossil fuels

If you would like to join in with this project, or simply would like to find out more about it, please just come along to our next meeting.

Signs of life!

After a hiatus of six months, four members of Peterborough in Transition met on 6th
March to discuss plans to revive the group and consider new projects. We met at 6.30pm in the Brewery Tap, not long before the regular Monday night session of Handmade in Peterborough.

We discussed various ideas, including lobbying the council and asking questions at full council meetings, helping in each other’s gardens, organising a “Green Drinks” evening, and taking part in the National Plant Monitoring Scheme. A plan to hold a series of evening meetings with a bring and share meal based on the “One Planet Living” themes underlying Peterborough’s Environment Capital Action Plan was outlined. Two of the four at the meeting, Clare and Danette, were planning to go along to the Big Green Energy Show in Stamford the following evening; you can read Danette’s report on the show here. Finally, we agreed that we would meet up again in the Wortley Almshouses on Monday 11th April again at 6.30pm. It would be great to see a few more people next time.

We’ve also established a facebook group called “PinT Revitalisers” where we can share ideas and opportunities. Slightly disappointingly, only thirteen people have joined this so far, though our facebook page has well over 450 likes, and there are still close to 250 people on our mailing list.

Bright Green Energy Show

BGES Flyer On Tuesday 8th March, Clare and and I visited the Sustainable Stamford, Stamford Transition Town Bright Green Energy Show 2016. Events were held across the week, though we were only able to attend the Tuesday night film screenings, but it was well worth a visit. A number of films were shown, some depicting what other Transition Towns have achieved. There were community owned energy generation projects in Fintry, Lewes, and South East London. One had created an investment model for the public to get involved and support the project; another had partnered with an energy company to part own a bigger project. Projects included both solar and wind energy generation. Two films looked at helping people on an individual basis, by draught busting for those in need, and helping people become more sustainable with their energy needs in an isolated town. The longest film was about Germany’s plan to become a market leader in the renewables sector, and was very informative, detailing the science behind different types of renewables, and giving a wider context to what can sometimes be an overwhelming topic. Denmark is also working hard to become a market leader, and plans to be entirely renewable, combining various technologies to collectively support its needs for power, heat and transport. It was encouraging and inspiring, giving us ideas of what we could do both now and in the future.

There was an informative exhibition, detailing many ways to reduce energy consumption, from changing light bulbs to adding loft insulation, and explaining the different types of renewable energy generation, ending with tips on what people can do now for free. This exhibition was supported by various organisations, who had stalls showcasing their products, including a lighting company selling LED lights and an energy company selling heat pumps, many of which produced case studies of projects they have worked on. I will bring the exhibition booklet, with copies of the exhibition boards, to our next meeting.

We were also able to talk with members of the Stamford group, discussing their successful projects, but also the challenges they have faced. They have created subgroups around themes, the energy group having compiled the information for the Bright Green Energy Show 2016. They also have groups focusing on waste, food, transport, and education. They have learned from bitter experience that each subgroup needs to have a key enthusiastic member to maintain momentum, and they offered to support us by sharing ideas and learning.

Do we have a future?

At the last monthly meeting, on September 6th, it was agreed by those present that Peterborough in Transition was in crisis. Over the last year there has been a decline in the number of people attending meetings on a regular basis, and despite some recent successes (our May Day celebration, and the Carbon Conversations group) there has been a loss of energy and purpose, in large part due to the fact that many of those who have given the most time and energy to PinT over the last few years can no longer do so. In some cases this is because people are now concentrating their efforts on The Green Backyard; in others it is because they have increased work or family commitments. There are no longer enough people willing and able to facilitate our monthly meeting or take minutes for it, nor are we able to start new projects as most of those coming to meetings are already very busy. All these factors conspire together to make it difficult to attract new regular members to the group.

It was therefore agreed by those present that our monthly meetings would be suspended for the time being. Perhaps we need to take a break for a few months, until more of us are once again able to commit to coming to meetings on a regular basis and have more time to take the group forward. Perhaps we need to change the time and format of our meetings. However, there was a consensus at the meeting that PinT needs to gain a new vision, and come up with some project ideas that are both achievable and give some energy and purpose to the group if it is to be worth continuing Peterborough in Transition’s existence. It remains to be seen whether there are enough of us willing to commit to coming to our proposed “Visioning Day” for this to happen.

If you are interested in helping to ensure that Peterborough in Transition does have a future, or have ideas for our Visioning Day and you are willing to help ensure the day does take place, then please get in touch with us via our regular email address. Currently, the plan is to devise a survey that will enable us to see what what appetite there is for the group’s continued existence, and, if this does exist, to hold the Visioning Day some time early next year.