How to make homemade eyeliner …without trashing the planet

DIY eyeliner 1Ever been curious about making your own makeup? Who says we have to get petrochemical-laced brands from the drugstore or overpriced beauty counters? Of course, you can skip that whole scene by wandering into your local health store and looking for natural cosmetics or you can check out some great green beauty stores online, but what about getting all MacGyver meets Maybelline and doing it yourself? I make a lot of stuff from scratch, including body scrubs, face masks, salves, even soap (okay, I only made bar soap once), but never really ventured into do-it-yourself cosmetics territory until my DIY-lovin’ stylist friend Kameryn convinced me to check it out. The trick is finding ingredients that aren’t just as or almost as nasty as some of the drugstore brands. A lot of minerals, for instance, contain high levels of heavy metals and some are mined in places where there’s a lot of child labour, like mica (which I mention in my Ecoholic Optical Illusion guide to storebought eyeliners).


Online DIYers will tell you to make your own with activated charcoal from the supplements aisle. Since this stuff is sold to people with health problems like upset stomachs or radiation exposure, you’d think, ‘Awesome, this is clearly safe for ingesting so it’s got to be safe on my eyes.’ And you’re mostly right. The only problemo (and it’s a big one) is that a lot of activated charcoal is actually made with a major environmental villain – coal. Source of Life told me its AC is made with a mix of coal, lignite, peat and coconut. Swiss Natural wouldn’t tell me what’s in its activated charcoal, other than “activated charcoal” (even though I explained to them charcoal is always made out of other things like coal or wood). I left probably half a dozen emails and voicemails with their media relations peeps and still no answer a week later. Nature’s Way says it makes activated charcoal using nothing but coconut shells (yay!), but unfortunately, it’s not available in Canada, only in the US. So Canadian DIYers are kind of left hanging on this one. Sorry.


Now, if you can get your hands on some coal-free activated charcoal powder (or go another route with fair trade cocoa powder or green spirulina) then great. Next step involves cracking open a capsule into a small jar, dipping a damp angled brush into there and sweeping your lash line. I’ll admit it went on a little gritty, though my left eye had a great thick, jet black cat eye without too much effort. It wasn’t exactly pro results but I was pretty impressed. My right eye was a little trickier, the brush was either too dry, then too wet and I kept getting powder all over my face and my sink and pulling out makeup remover to try and try again. I attempted mixing a dab of coconut oil on my brush instead, as some suggest, and it went on smoother but that ended up smearing on my upper lid within the hour. No good. At least the oil-free version actually had staying power (it lasted all day), much more so than the cocoa powder or spirulina. Will I be making this again and again? Hm, let’s see, no. But try it yourself and see if you have a better go of it. In a pinch, you can definitely bypass the multinational beauty companies and make it yourself. Just make sure you’re not getting an environmentally nefarious ingredient. Otherwise, check out my eyeliner guide for good green natural brands that work without wearing on your conscience.


Keepin’ it cool: ice cream, aloe and coconut water guides

coconut water, ice creamThere are times in life when I say there’s absolutely nothing wrong with burying your head in the sand. Like mid way through August when everyone’s talking about the imminent arrival of fall and you’re all, ‘Hold up, people, I’m trying to enjoy every last minute of this blissful season!’ In honour of all those sucking the marrow out of the present moment, I’m catching you up on some of this summer’s Ecoholic product guides from NOW Magazine (I’ve been in summer mode myself so a little MIA on the blogging front). First up, you’ll find the Cold, Hard Truth about Ice Cream. In this guide, you’ll get the scoop (argh, sorry about that one) on which brands are serving up dairy from cows given genetically modified growth hormones, as well as the inside line on which brands are serving up sustainability in an especially delicious format. (Let me tell you, product testing on this one was particularly rigorous, involving bowl after bowl of ice cream.)

If a summer’s worth of UV has left your skin worse for wear, check out my Apres-Sun Guide to Aloe Gel. (Hint: real aloe gel is never green and should technically contain aloe somewhere in the upper half of the ingredient list.) And finally, if you’re crawling through an urban savanna and dying for some coconut water, which brand should you choose? My Cracking the Nut…A Guide to Coconut Waters will tell you which brands are heavy in BPA and controversial pesticides and which win feel good coconut water of the year. Now put down that device and soak in the summer vibes while you still can. And don’t worry, will be back full gear in the fall (which, people keep saying is soon)…plus there should be a fresh, new website coming soon, too.

Got dirt on your face? Bronzers & the ugly side of mineral makeup

Dirt on your face? Check your mineralsYou know when you think something’s going to be quick and breezy and it ends up being a knee deep slog through muck and fog? Well, that’s sort of what happened with my bronzer column. I thought I’d toss together a light column on summer makeup, until I remembered that mineral powders are mired in controversy. One mineral in particular has gotten a lot of bad press this year – mica – thanks to media exposes on the child labour plaguing mica mines in India. This makes mica the poster child for “natural” ingredients that aren’t always so desirable. Unfortunately, pretty much every bronzer and most makeup on the market (conventional and natural brands alike) uses mica. And 60% of the world’s mica, comes from India, where illegal mining is a big problem. I called half a dozen natural makeup companies to find out whether they were aware of the child labour problem associated with mica and whether they had any guarantees their products were child labour free. Most of the little indy brands were truly shocked and alarmed. Some jumped on their suppliers to dig up as much as they could on their mica chain of supply, how and whether it was monitored, what kind of traceability schemes they had, what kind of support they had for the workers. Some never called me back. Some met relatively tight-lipped suppliers, which they have since told me they dropped. Others were greeted with a pretty impressive degree of transparency (often from big name suppliers that had been slammed with bad press on this issue in the past and had beefed up their policies).

100% Pure’s owner was the most aware of this issue ahead of time and gave me the direct number for their supplier so I could pick their brains directly. Pure Anada’s owner gave me perhaps the most detailed responses of all. Earth Lab’s owner was also really responsive.  You’ll notice that none of the product’s in this week’s guide got a perfect score and none were given my “Ecoholic pick of the week” designation, which I always give out to the top-scorer. To be honest, I felt I’d need a whole investigative team with cameras going into mines to feel confident giving perfect scores, which to be fair, is something that could be said every week in the column. All I can do, in the end, is share what I know on ingredient sourcing and tell you that at least the genuinely natural brands (versus fake naturals like Rimmel) didn’t pack their products with questionable preservatives and fillers. And I can talk to you about how they perform on your face (because we are still talking makeup, after all). I own bronzers from all five of the highest scoring natural brands and performance-wise really enjoyed them all for different reasons (cream sticks vs powder compacts vs loose powder all have different advantages depending on your skin’s needs). To get the down low on them all, head to my bronzer guide in NOW Magazine.

Slip ‘n slide: the up close and personal guide to lubricants

Yes LubeNo matter how confident you are, some things are just awkward to shop for. Take lube, for instance. A lot of us end up tiptoeing into the condom section of the drugstore, furtively snatching a bottle of KY or Astroglide then quickly burying it in our basket before bolting, all without taking the time to read the labels in detail. You’ll get a lot more guidance if you walk into a good sex-positive, female-friendly store like Toronto’s Come as You Are or New York’s Toys in Babeland. But I have some friends who refuse to step inside for fear they’ll be seen walking in and out. In that case, head to their online shops or check out Red Tent Sisters. They have a great selection of natural and organic lubes (as well as conventional ones). Still, which lube should you buy? Stop blushing and leave the product testing to me. I’ve done all the dirty work for you (some puns are just begging to be used). Heads up: just because a lube says it’s “paraben-free” or claims to be “natural” doesn’t mean it’s free of crappy ingredients so always read the fine print! Intimate Organics Defence Natural Lubricant, for example, contains irritating methylisothiazolinone linked to rash outbreaks (crotch-scratching is so not sexy).


Found in nightstands everywhere, both are good examples of what not to buy if you’re trying to woo an earth-conscious lover. Astroglide’s basic formula contains fossil-fuel-derived propylene glycol (so not sexy), as well as two types of parabens (one that falls on the official hormone disruptor list in Europe) and yeast-feeding glycerin to kill the mood even more. KY’s is the same, minus the paraben. Much wiser to snag a bottle of aloe-based Astroglide Natural. Astroglide $15/150 ml; KY $12/75 ml. SCORE: 1/5


If you love your silicone-based lube, you already know this stuff gives and gives and gives, since there’s no water in it to dry up. Plus, it’s condom-safe, non-irritating, waterproof, with fewer chemical fillers. The big ol’ but here? Silicones/siloxanes are environmental bad boys, particularly if you spot cyclopentasiloxane or cyclomethicone on the label. They’re harmful to aquatic life – so much so that Health Canada had planned to label these “toxic” until industry complained. Clearly we know who the feds are sleeping with. Pjur $30/100 ml; Pink $21/100 ml. SCORE: 1/5


These two totally different natural lube brands have one thing in common: they both use plant waste products as a base. Sliquid uses plant cellulose from cotton, Hathor a biodiesel-based propylene glycol. What I dig about Hathor, including the flavoured kind, is that it’s a Canadian-made water-based lube. (However, it’s not organic.) What I love about Texas-based Sliquid is that it makes a partly organic line (with zero taste) that includes Sliquid Organics Natural Gel (designed for back-door play) that’s thickened with some organic goodies like flax. Sliquid $22/255 ml; Hathor $28/250 ml.  SCORE: 3/5


These cute Canadian products totally blow pseudo-natural sex oils and butters (including Boy Butter) out of the water. You can use these deliciously long-lasting products as lickable massage oils, for solo love sessions (I’m talkin’ to you, gents) as well as all kinds of intercourse (anal, vaginal), as long as you don’t need latex condoms/dams. Oils aren’t latex compatible; hence, they don’t get a perfect score. Über-local Province Apothecary mixes a base of fractionated coconut oil with some lovely organic oils (a flavourless mix). Giddy Yoyo uses all-certified-organic cocoa butter, coconut oil, olive oil and vanilla beans. $14.99/85 ml, $16.75/75 ml. SCORE: 4/5


UK-based Yes offers certified-organic options for all tastes. What’s your pleasure? There’s a water/organic aloe-based lube (latex-compatible for safe sex, naturally) and a long-lasting oil-based option made of all-organic almond oil, shea butter, sunflower oil and cocoa butter. This last one is literally edible, though not latex-compatible. California-based Blossom Organics, Aloe Cadabra and Oregon-based Good Clean Love all make great condom-friendly organic aloe-based lubes, too. They’re all essentially aloe with thickeners and need more frequent reapplication than oils, but are great carnal kick-starters. $20/75 ml, $13.99/120 ml. SCORE: 4/5

A version of this article first appeared in NOW Magazine.

Ecoholic TV (backyard edition): Does Mozi-Q actually work?

Mozi-QHey gang, Did you catch my spot on CTV’s Canada AM this week talking about alternative ways to keep mosquitos at bay – what works, what doesn’t, what’s healthy, what isn’t? It was a lot to cram into four minutes with a sleepy brain! So I figured I’d clarify a few points here. For one, anything that involves filling the air with an aroma mozzies don’t particularly love (like say, a citronella soy candle, lemongrass incense or aromatherapy diffuser full of bug-repelling essential oils – I brought on lavender, lemongrass and peppermint), only really help if the wind is blowing your way. Speaking of wind, plugging in an outdoor fan will help physically push mosquitos away from you and your guests so give it a go. As I mentioned, I had a tough time finding natural bug repellents to bring on air since Health Canada’s making it incredibly difficult for them. I covered the whole regulatory mess in a previous blog (appropriately titled Bite Me). And those that are on shelves, well, I didn’t want to bring too many of them on air since I figured Health Canada would hunt them down and force them off shelves. Ridiculous, considering the US allows natural bug repellents on the market, some of which have actually been found to be as effective as lower doses of DEET in peer-reviewed trials. Seriously. I asked some of those companies why they won’t sell to Canada and they said it’s too much of a royal pain the ass to jump through Canadian regulatory hoops. That leaves us with very few options on shelves that can be openly marketed as all natural bug repellents, one of which is Mozi-Q, a homeopathic repellent. Now, skeptics will kvetch that homeopathics are given DIN numbers from the government without having to prove their efficacy (not the case with, say, natural bug sprays). There were, no doubt, a lot of arched eyebrows watching Canada AM when I mentioned a homeopathic remedy for insect bites. Hey, I was skeptical myself, so I finally gave it a go. I put together a little backyard video for you on my completely unscientific experiment in which I turned myself into a lab rat and waited for mozzies to feast. How did Mozi-Q perform? Watch and see (below)!

UPDATE: I’ve been putting Mozi-Q to the test every time I’m in nature at dusk, which is nearly every night. For the most part, it’s been surprisingly effective at reducing bites. Except, last night. I got a grand total of 3 bites. I wasn’t thrilled when I watched a mosquito land on my arm and dig right in. But I did just shower with naturally scented soap and that’s still the most biting action I’ve had in 10 days of trial when normally I’d be bombed with bites by now (I once had 150, yes, 150 sand flea bites in just a week on a beach…my partner counted them). So no, this stuff isn’t a shield but it’s a bite reducer. The problem with Mozi-Q is you have to keep taking it every 2 hours or so if exposure to biting things is constant, which can get pricey if you’re a family of four and, say, camping for a week (I paid $20 for 60 tabs). Still, I’d say this product is worth trying. And nope, I haven’t accepted any cash/trips/free Teslas/sexual favours/endorsement deals from this company (or any other) under the table. That’s a firm Ecoholic rule. 

Kickin’ it: the ethical guides to soccer balls & summer shirts

Shirts and balls

“You never do any columns for guys,” my editor grumbled a few weeks back. I gasped. “Are you saying the frying pan and cleaning cloth guides that we just published are a woman thing?” I prodded loudly, making sure our banter was audible to the whole news room. To be honest, in my house, my partner does at least as much cooking and cleaning as I do (which isn’t always saying much, but when that man gets on a whirlwind cleaning and purging spree, boy, watch out!).  Regardless, a few weeks after the news room remark I rolled out a few “man-friendly” columns to make sure the gents in our midst don’t feel left out. First up, my new researcher Elyssa suggested a guide to short-sleeved summer mens’ shirts. Not an easy task, considering there are so few eco brands doing menswear these days.  Turns out finding dude clothing that’s both made in Canada AND made with eco-friendly fabrics is about as rare as a sighting of Justin Bieber with his pants pulled up. For the full frontal break down of good and not so good brands plus Nature Notes on donuts and deforestation as well as the latest on GMO-banning nations, head to the full Hot Under the Collar column.

Next up, we channeled the vibes pulsing through every bar/pub/patio with a TV on earth with our Ecoholic guide to soccer balls. Men, women, children, everybody loves the World Cup…well, except for the thousands of poverty activists taking to the streets of Brazil, of course. The Ecoholic Football Fever guide dives into the ethics of stitching the very soccer balls you might be kicking around in a field or yard near you. Plus in this issue, you’ll also find news on the Saputo dairy boycott, Greenwash of the Week and more so don’t change the channel! 

Good day sunshine: the facial sunscreen guide

Facial sunscreen picDo you mind if I sing a little Cher? “If I could turn back time…” (this is me belting it out) I’d, well, I’d wear more sunscreen on my face. I’m pretty sure milky pale Cher loves the stuff and she’s got better skin at 68 then I do at nearly 38. Okay, fine, she may have done a little nipping and tucking but regardless, a woman that pale has got to swear by sunscreen. I, on the other hand, have shunned it most of my life, opting to channel by Greek ancestors (although who knows, maybe they wore olive oil; it does have some SPF, as I’ve written about before). Regardless, I’m changing my tune and am actually wearing some on my face at least these days. Better late than never, I figure. So which facial sunscreen to choose? There’s lots of beauty-industry talk about mineral sunscreens fending off UV rays more effectively and safely than reef-damaging, skin-sensitizing, endocrine-disrupting chemical sunscreens. And they’re right. Still, not all mineral lotions are created equal. Make sure your face is protected with the right stuff.*


Hyped at mainstream cosmetics counters as a cream-of-the-crop solar protector free of dodgy sunscreen chemicals (such as the octinoxate in Avène Emulsion). Too bad they’re using controversial nano versions of the minerals (under 100 nanometres wide) – enviro and health impacts of these are still under-studied. Plus this one contains junky fillers like cyclomethicone, which Environment Canada pronounced to be a danger to the environment, but then recanted after the industry complained. Also in the mix, lots of petroleum-derived ingredients and preservatives like butyl and propyl parabens being banned from children’s products in Europe. $30/50 ml  1/5


Aveeno has all sorts of sunscreens it claims are “safe as water” and chock full of “active naturals,” when they’re loaded with dubious sunscreen chems like oxybenzone and octinoxate (both reef-damaging estrogen mimickers). Aveeno Mineral Guard, however, uses more effective zinc oxide and titanium dioxide minerals. It’s just a shame that J&J (maker of Aveeno) uses teeny, tiny, nano-sized versions of the particles, which are contentiously under-studied, under-regulated and possibly harming coral reefs, too. The fillers here are far from natural. Still, this one’s generally a better option than other drugstore sunscreens. $20/80 ml 2/5 


These two lovely locavores offer excellent unscented mineral protection without turning you goofy white like a 50s surfer (though it can take a minute for the initially white minerals to be absorbed by some skin types). Like MyChelle and True facial sunscreen, they’re not organic, but they are natural/naturally derived without greasing you up. Consonant’s Matte Finish aloe-based sunscreen dries the quickest and has either SPF 15 or tinted SPF 30 ($35/50 ml). Graydon, an SPF 30, is initially a little stickier but also cheaper($20/50 ml). 4/5


If you’re looking for the most ecologically enlightened solar protection, opt for certified organic brands Green Beaver or Goddess Garden (although Green Beaver wins in Canadian books for being an Ontario native that folds in Canadian-grown, naturally UV-fending raspberry seed oil). Green Beaver’s nano-free facial sunscreen (SPF 15) is non-whitening and less oily than its original formula but still sits a little heavier than some others, making it better for dry skin. Goddess Garden has a bit more of a white cast initially but is water-resistant and higher SPF (SPF 30). Both contain some lavender. $21.99/40 ml  4/5


I try to like other brands as much as I dig Devita, but this U.S.-based skin care line still makes the most feather-light natural facial sunscreen in town. It’s totally non-whitening on almost all skin tones (although my two year old bottle is starting to leave white streaks), unscented, made with nano-free zinc oxide (SFP 30), in a base of certified organic aloe. Like Andalou, it’s got a good tinted Beauty Balm with SPF, too. It’s cheaper to buy Devita Body Block and apply it on your face, but Body Block is slightly richer, with a little lavender. Devita’s not water-resistant, so reapply after serious sweating. Hard to find in Canada but available at the Big Carrot, and (which raises funds for women with breast cancer). $34/75 ml 5/5

*A version of this article first appeared in my weekly column in NOW Magazine

Rain, rain, come and play: the updated rain barrel guide

algreen barrel postcardThere’s something about growing up in Canada that makes us want to just open up the taps and let the water flow free like the wind. I distinctly remember being 11/12 years old and taking 45 MINUTE long showers without a second thought (I probably cycled through a whole small lake in that time!). Maybe because we have over 2 million fresh lakes and water costs us next to nothing to use, we just don’t think about it as a problem the way, say, Californians do. Except for in the dead of summer, when the rain stops falling and your municipality starts calling on us to refrain from pulling out our sprinklers so often. When that precious rain does come, don’t let all that free water hitting your roof flood storm sewers and basements. Rain barrels can capture thousands of gallons over the summer to help keep your garden green without chlorine. So which barrel’s worth buying? By the way, I’ve updated my reviews since these first appeared in NOW so be sure to dig in.


This one may be super-convenient to pack up come wintertime, but it’ll totally disappoint you if your ground’s not level. Plus, some stores sell a version that’s made of vinyl (softened with hormone-disrupting phthalates), which is a bad idea. If you do get an H&E barrel, make sure to opt for one made of polyester or nylon. $99. 2/5


I tested out this rain barrel last summer, and it drove me nuts. Yes, the spigot provides clearance for watering cans. But without a second spout at ground level, it’s impossible to empty this sucker out without turning it on its head, so a lot of funky water can fester on the bottom. I thought I’d drained it completely, but I hadn’t, and it froze and split over the winter. Did I mention that the diverter is a pain in the ass to install, since a hole saw isn’t included? Made in the U.S. No recycled content. $160. 2/5


There are a lot of fake wood rain barrels on the market. This flat-backed one, made in Canada, will work just fine if you have room to rest it directly under your downspout. Otherwise, it’s not the barrel for you, since it doesn’t offer a diverter. You also have to clean the screen periodically to keep it from clogging. There’s only one spigot and it’s low to the ground, so this barrel has to be put on a stand to access the 189 litres it holds. $120. 3/5


Let’s face it, most rain barrels are not the prettiest things. Algreen’s are probably the most style-conscious out there and great for high-visibility spots (see image at top of post). Plus they have planter-friendly lids for cascading greenery. These barrels (from 190 to 380 litres) are built to withstand Canadian winters, meaning they shouldn’t crack like others do. They’re made an hour outside Toronto, and the charcoal and brown models have 15 per cent recycled content. Bonus: the company offers a cool pump kit to help get H20 from the barrel out through a hose. Update: since these have a spout at the very bottom for drainage and a spout at a good height to allow for watering cans, you don’t need to put these on stands. Good slim-line options on hand for compact spaces. I may get one of these if I can squeeze one at the front of the house, but making room for recycling/garbage/compost bins and two barrels may be pushing my luck in a tight urban space. It’s like a giant game of Tetris out there! Best prices are at $150+ 4/5


If you’re in the market for a new rain barrel RAINBARREL.CA BARRELSand aren’t so fussed about its appearance, look for one that gives twice – once to the earth (by recycling rain) and once to charity. sells über-eco upcycled food barrels (most are 220 litres and $60 for the basic barrel) largely through non-profits as a fundraising tool. To find a barrel near you or a DIY barrel kit, head to this website. UPDATE: I bought one of these. Love that it kind of smells like olive oil. Yes, it’s a bit of a honker, especially since you have to raise it a foot high to access the water (their recycled plank stands are super green but aren’t visually discrete). Having tested this puppy out on a compact, urban semi-detached property, it only confirms my initial sense that these barrels may not be for tight, high visibility spots, especially if aesthetics are an issue. Although, hey, these are paintable so my good friend & upcycling queen Tiffany Pratt will be coming by in a couple weeks to help me sass it up. I’ll keep you posted on how it turns out! Good news is sells both in Canada and the US. RiverSafe barrels, on the other hand, are pretty local to Toronto. They raise funds for the non-profit water protectors at RiverSides. These are super-sturdy and pretty huge, holding 460 litres, and the black ones are 100 per cent recycled. (You can score one at Evergreen Brick Works or, $225.) 5/5

**If you’ve got a little Mike Holmes in you somewhere, you can also try making your own DIY rain barrel out of an old garbage can or wine barrel. There are loads of DIY instructions on the net.

SIDE NOTE FOR WORRIERS: I’ve heard from a few of you that were worriedthat barrels would start overflowing after one downpour. Don’t worry! This is why barrels tend to come with an overflow valve. And if you buy a diverter, that water just keeps on chuggin’ along down your downspout if your barrel is full. Pretty clever.

SIDE NOTE FOR GLOBAL WATER WORRIERS: I interviewed a bunch of leading thinkers on water issues at the tail end of This Drowning World photo exhibit in Toronto. Author Alanna Michell, clean tech guru Tom Rand and others were on a panel post photo exhibit tour so I interviewed them for their take on why we’re drowning and how humanity can rescue itself. For the full article head to NOW and scroll past the barrels.

A shorter version of this article first appeared in NOW Magazine. 

Connecting the dots…breast cancer and everyday chems

breast cancer chemsAre chemicals in our environment connected to the rise in non-genetic causes of breast cancer? For lots of us following environmental toxin news, it seems like a no-brainer, but scientists are still trying to firm up the connections. A recent study by the Silent Spring Institute and Harvard School of Public Health published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives notes that exposure to chemicals that cause mammary gland tumours in rats is common, but “few studies have evaluated potential breast cancer risks in humans.” In the studies that have been done, researchers found that chems that cause tumours in rats are often associated with breast cancer in women.

The scientists eventually narrowed the list from 216 chems known to cause breast tumours in rodents to 17 common groups of chemicals that should be “top targets for breast cancer prevention.” On the list are substances found in gasoline/diesel fuel, flame retardants, stain-resistant fabrics, paint strippers and (gulp) disinfection by-products of chlorinated drinking water. The list goes on.

The study makes it clear that more research is definitely needed. Silent Spring’s goal was to identify high-priority toxins for further research and biomarkers for these toxins in women. While scientists continue to learn more about these chemicals, the authors of this latest study say there’s enough information to begin reducing our exposures.

On that note, here’s the Silent Spring Institute’s list of the most effective strategies:

• Avoid fuel and exhaust: Turn the engine off instead of idling. Give up gas-powered mowers and leaf blowers. Walk or take transit when you can. Don’t store gasoline in your home.

• Quit smoking, and avoid secondhand smoke.

• Limit consumption of carcinogens in charred foods and use ventilation fans when cooking.

• Go to perc-free dry cleaners or ask for “wet cleaning.”

• Avoid stain-resistant rugs, furniture and fabrics.

• Don’t buy furniture with polyurethane foam, or ask for foam not treated with flame retardants.

• Make sure you’re protected from toxins on the job. Push for good ventilation and protective equipment.

• Reduce exposure to chemicals in household dust by removing shoes at the door, using a vacuum with a HEPA filter and cleaning with wet rags and mops.

• Use a solid carbon block filter for drinking water.

This article originally appeared in NOW Magazine.

Go with the flow: what kind of water filter is right for you?

Glass of waterI’ve been writing the Ecoholic column for, oh, a decade now (actually it was just Ecoholic’s 10 year anniversary!) and some questions trickle in again and again in my inbox. Probably one of the most common reader Qs I get is about water filters. I write about them every few years but the thirst for knowledge of this front never ceases. So I revisited the topic in a recent column, and boiled down the latest info on filter types. We weighed environmental factors against filter quality.  Writing about environmental health, I’m certainly straddling two worlds – a lot of enviros will tell you they don’t own water filters (from an environmental footprint perspective, tap is greenest), but holistic health peeps are highly concerned with filtering out trace contaminants. The final call is yours. But if a filter is effective but super wasteful, sorry, points have to be docked. We also scored filters by type, not by brand (so your particular pitcher filter might score higher). Without further ado…


Your least expensive level of protection. Most rely on granular activated carbon, which is quite effective at getting rid of trace pharmaceuticals in water but not good enough at reducing lead to meet certifier standards. To be honest, pitchers are fine if you’re not all that worried about your water quality and you just don’t want the taste of chlorine. A basic Brita pitcher is certified to reduce “cadmium, chlorine, copper, mercury, taste/odour, zinc.” Mavea is also certified against perc (the dry cleaning chem). Santevia isn’t certified (by a water quality organization) but says it also alkalizes. Only one pitcher in Canada is certified to reduce lead, chromium, chlorine and other heavy metals: ZeroWater. Overall, pitchers scored a 2/5.


This energy-intensive filtration system basically vaporizes water, then captures the steam. It’s top-notch at killing bacteria and viruses (useful in rural settings with no municipal water treatment), but it also strips all the beneficial minerals out of water, which explains why the World Health Organization advises against it. It doesn’t remove chlorine or chlorine disinfection by-products like chloroform, hence why distillers often also run water through a carbon block filter. 2/5


Zapping untreated water with UV light is another great way to kill off bacteria. In fact, the city of Toronto voted to treat wastewater at Ashbridges Bay with UV a few years ago to eliminate carcinogenic chlorine disinfection by-products. But to be honest, urban households getting treated tap water needn’t bother getting a system that includes UV. It’s largely a waste of electricity for urban home use, so we’re docking points. 2/5


A long-time fave in the holistic community, since RO systems get rid of a lot of stuff not tackled by carbon filters, like fluoride, arsenic, bacteria and hexavalent chromium (made famous by Erin Brockovich). It also strips mineral content and doesn’t inherently get rid of chlorine or volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Not all RO filters are created equal – some do more than others. (See’s water filter guide.) Where it loses points is waste: an RO system dumps three to 20 times more water than what it sends out of the tap. Probe before you buy.3/5


These super-condensed carbon filters are the type recommended by the Silent Spring breast cancer report (see column). They won’t remove fluoride (gotta combine it with reverse osmosis or alumina for that) or hex chromium, but are great for chlorine, lead, other heavy metals and a long list of VOCs. They don’t take extra energy or water to run, making them inherently greener. Shaklee makes a carbon block pitcher, though it’s certified to reduce less. Quality varies among countertop, faucet-mounted and under-sink versions. (See’s filter guide.) 4/5

This article originally appeared in NOW Magazine.