As Earth Month comes to an end, I thought I would share a blog post on how we can be more mindful of transitioning to toxic-free living or as most call it– green living.
No, I’m not talking about eliminating drama or toxic relationships out of your life (although we all could benefit from a drama-free life, Amen?). Toxic-free living means to refrain from eating foods and using products that contain unhealthy chemicals, such as foods that are high in preservatives and hair products that are made with parabens.
To help me with understanding how we can start transitioning into toxic-free living, Dr. Tracie Baker, assistant professor in the Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at Wayne State University, shared with me a few helpful tips she recommends.
Dr. Baker has worked in the toxicology field for 17 years and she holds a Ph.D. in molecular and environmental toxicology. She is also the principal investigator and director of the Baker Water Lab at Wayne State University in Detroit.
FUN FACT: Dr. Baker gave a TED Talk at the 2019 TEDxDetroit last November. Click here to read my post on TEDxDetroit 2019 and to see Dr. Baker’s speech on toxic-free living.
WHY SHOULD WE CARE ABOUT TOXIC-FREE LIVING?
One alarming fact I learned from Dr. Baker was the United States has only banned 11 ingredients from being used in products. Yet, in Europe, there are almost 1,500 substances that are prohibitied from being used.
“There is a change that’s being considered by the U.S. House Subcommittee on health right now,” Dr. Baker told me. “So it makes it a very important thing to be talking about [green living] because companies don’t have to list their ingredients and it doesn’t have to be approved by the FDA.”
Dr. Baker went on to say companies can voluntarily list their products’ ingredients but only one-third of companies actually do. This is also an issue because the companies are not required to administer safety testing on the ingredients they use in their products.
Another reason why we should consider toxic-free living is because many chemicals and contaminants have a negative effect on our health. Some of these toxins can be linked to cancer, infertility, pollution, and other serious health concerns.
“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make.”—Jane Goodall
5 TIPS FOR TOXIC-FREE LIVING
1. Start reading the labels of food and household products. Dr. Baker recommends becoming more familiar with the ingredients found in the products you regularly use. Read the labels on your food and household products to determine if the product is truly safe for you and your family.
2. Organic products don’t necessarily mean they’re good for you. “There are things that are natural that you could put on plants that could potentially harm your health,” says Dr. Baker. She used the example of fish meal used as fertilizer.
“Depending on where the fish are from, they could have high mercury levels so then they could end up having mercury getting into the plants as well.” This, in turn, would be harmful to our health.
3. Slowly transition your products out to using toxic-free products. It can be very overwhelming trying to live a toxic-free life. Dr. Baker suggests starting off slow and make small changes one step at a time. For instance, buy paper straws instead of plastic straws or consider using green living products such as Ever Spring or Mrs. Meyers.
She even cautions consuming microwavable popcorn. “Microwavable popcorn has PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances),” says Dr. Baker. “These are fluorinated compounds and they’re becoming a huge issue in Michigan.” PFAS is used in microwavable popcorn bags as a flame retardant to prevent the popcorn from catching on fire.
“But these PFAS chemicals are also known as “forever chemicals” because they can stay in our bodies and in the environment for over 50 years. And we’re finding several reproductive and other health effects. Some are even suggesting they cause cancer in humans.”
READ MORE ABOUT PFAS ON THE FDA’S WEBSITE HERE.
4. Start using glass or metal water bottles. “Glass or metal water bottles are good because you’re not getting the plastics exposure,” Dr. Baker says.
About six months ago, I started using a metal water bottle. I love it because I don’t need to buy plastic water bottles anymore and it keeps my water cold for several hours. I even bought a pack of metal straws for my new water bottle.
5. Make your own cleaning solutions. Instead of using store cleaning products that are often made with harmful chemicals, you can start making your own cleaning solutions. Dr. Baker recommends using vinegar and water to clean hardwood floors. “It works just as well as most other cleaners,” she says.
She also suggests using essential oils. “I’m using essential oils instead of perfumes,” she says. “We use Mrs. Meyers because they don’t have fragrances and are paraben-free.”
To help people become more aware of the benefits of green living, Dr. Baker started a social media campaign called “#TOXFREETHURSDAY”.
“I created this idea, mostly around having conversations with people in the community where people were [asking] ‘what can we do,'” she explains. “So my thought was similar to Meat-Free Monday and Taco Tuesday.”
Dr. Baker thought of #TOXFREETHURSDAY to encourage people to spend one day out of the week to think of how they can eliminate toxic products from their routine eating habits and household products.
“If we get enough people doing that, then we can see a change,” she says. “I mean, it really is hard to do. The way our society has moved– everything is fast food. Everything is prepackaged. And so, everything is disposable.”
She went on to say trying to completely eliminate toxins from your life is almost impossible to do unless you live on a farm or rural area where many people live off the land. Therefore, people who live in bigger cities may have a more challenging time transitioning to green living, but IT CAN BE DONE!
Dr. Baker says she understands that not everyone will be able to participate in toxic-free living all of the time, but her hope is #TOXFREETHURSDAY will encourage people to start paying attention to the products they are using in their everyday life.
SHARE YOUR GREEN LIVING JOURNEY EACH #TOXFREETHURSDAY
You can share your toxic-free living journey on social media by participating in Dr. Baker’s #TOXFREETHURSDAY each Thursday. Just share a photo on Instagram or a tweet on Twitter using the hashtag #TOXFREETHURSDAY and tag Dr. Baker on Instagram/Twitter @bakerwaterlab!
To learn more about Dr. Baker’s work at the Water Lab, click here to visit her website.
Special thanks to Dr. Tracie Baker for taking the time to interview and share her insight with Good Life Detroit’s readers!
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The feature image was taken by Jennifer Hamra in 2016 for Good Life Detroit in Detroit, Michigan. (If you know the artist of this mural, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to add the photo credit. Thank you!)