Q I've recently made the switch to non-toxic cleaners. What do I do with all of my old products?
A Can you hear that? That's the sound of your household breathing better already, thanks to your move to green cleaners.
All those ingredients in commercial cleansers that melt tough stains with one easy wipe also pollute the air in your home with one quick squirt. No wonder the air quality index in our homes can be up to 100 times worse than outdoor air! Blame the sordid stew of volatile organic compounds (or VOCs).
Then there's the barrage of antibacterial products loaded with triclosan, one of the many chemicals now found in breast milk as well as most rivers and streams. It mixes with sunlight and chlorine to form carcinogenic dioxins, so you don't want to keep pouring it down the drain. British supermarkets have banned it, but Canada? We're still pondering this one.
Speaking of bans, several American states have recently canned phosphates from dishwasher detergent. The ingredient was phased out of laundry soap way back in Wham's heyday, but for some reason dish detergents slipped under the radar.
Why the big fuss? Phosphates feed toxic blue-green algae blooms that have invaded lakes and rivers across the country, causing serious health scares. Drinking water contaminated with this algae, known as cyanobacteria (aka pond scum), will make you nauseous, headachy and feverish; it also builds up in fish and can kill your dog if it drinks from an affected lake.
Opposition MPs have just started pushing for a ban, but the feds aren't biting. In the meantime, stay away from phosphate-heavy Electrasol and Cascade.
The battle of the mops rages on as eco/fishing/laundry worker groups south of the border try to get the Environmental Protection Agency to ban emulsifying nonylphenols with estrogen-mimicking properties. It's hard to say which cleaners contain them since ingredient lists aren't mandatory, a situation the groups want to see fixed.
The question is, how do you deal with your stash of old toilet, tub and oven cleaners? Whatever you do, do not flush them down the toilet. Our waterways don't need more toxins. In many cases, I wouldn't even recommend using them up and then recycling the bottle.
Bring them to your local hazardous waste depot (www.toronto.ca/garbage/depots.htm), or drop them off at one of the rotating Environment Days (www.toronto.ca/environment_days). Then you can clean green in peace, knowing you're not wiping out the planet or your lungs.
Q How safe are houses made from old tires, especially those with exposed tire walls?
A If you haven't heard of tire houses, you're probably envisioning hoboes sitting around oil drum fires next to a stack of Goodyears. But trust me, homes made of tires can be quite comfy and, yes, even aesthetically pleasing. In fact, they don't look too different from conventional stuccoed houses - on the inside anyway.
There's a whole subculture of these babies (over 1,000 around the globe), and most are affiliated with Earthships (designed by biotect Michael Reynolds). Admittedly, tire construction hasn't caught on with green builders around here yet, but in New Mexico there are whole real estate websites and subdivisions dedicated to these structures. And, yes, tire homes do exist in Ontario.
What are they? You start with second-hand tires, ram them full of packed earth, then start stacking. Just think of them as oversized bricks and the next steps are pretty similar to your usual homebuilding process - that is, if most houses had alternative power sources, solar hot water heaters, a cistern to catch rainwater, a grey water/black water system so you're recycling all your water.... You get the point.
You can even order a partially prefab Earthship online. The kit "can be adapted to any climate" and comes in any size, not to mention the garage. Yes, people with tire homes drive, too. (Hey, if you ever blow a tire you can just save it for your next reno job.)
But if the tires are exposed indoors there's a problem. Just picture all the gunk tires roll through in their lifetime. There are a hell of a lot of dodgy pollutants on them, and hosing them down won't really get rid of most.
Still, experts say your tires won't offgas as long as they're not exposed to sunlight. If you seal the earth-packed tires behind an insulating vapour barrier, plastered walls or a coat of clay, quartz or low-VOC paint, as you should with a good tire house, I wouldn't worry.
Unfortunately, that's not what you're talking about. If you know these exposed-tire-house dwellers well enough, I'd raise your concerns in a friendly way. As in, "Hey, you earth-loving pioneers, love the pad, but, um, aren't you worried about the offgassing that happens when tires are exposed to sunlight?"
Send them to Earthship.net for more details on the offgassing issue straight from the horse's mouth. Anyone interested in building one of these should head there, too, as well as Earthshipbiotecture.com.