Should I care about Parabens?

When I do some “Ethical ” shopping on-line, especially for make up and toiletries, I always see the label “paraben free” and think “ohhhhhhhhhhh, that sounds good!” But, I admit I have no idea what a paraben is and why it matters anyway. So I thought I’d collate the headline “facts” or at least the big opinions out there. Another dummies guide…



What are Parabens?

  • For the last 70 years parabens have been used as preserving chemicals in toiletries and make-up and in most products you find in a steamy bathroom. They’re added to stop things going mouldy.
  • They are hard to spot on an ingredients list. The common names end in “-paraben” but watch out for synonyms. I get the impression pharmaceutical companies might be trying to hide them? If my A-level chemistry serves me correctly any ingredient containing the letters “benz” or talking about “esters” is likely to be a paraben in disguise.

Why Should I Care?

Some folk question if it’s a good idea to cover our bodies in parabens. They are known to be absorbed into the body. Parabens are a little like oestrogen hormone and increasing oestrogen in our bodies might have negative effects including…

  • increased risk of breast cancer (in men as well!)
  • lower sperm count and other fertility issues


Why Shouldn’t I Care?

  • There is no scientific evidence parabens in cosmetics cause a problem.
  • Parabens have passed all the necessary safety checks needed by the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Only very small amounts are found in the our cosmetics so the level of paraben exposure would not be significant enough to cause a problem.


My Feelings

It’s impossible to know if parabens are as bad as people say. There is a lack of scientific evidence but then there is a lack of scientific evidence for a lot of things we take for granted! Doing proper randomised control trials involving people is very difficult and often limited by ethics.

Generally in life, I tend to air on the side of caution. I wear a helmet when I ride a bike and don’t use my phone when driving. But I do understand the flip side. I’ll happily drink a few glasses of wine at the weekend and if I was hit by a bus tomorrow I’d probably prefer to be wearing deodorant when they haul me off to A & E.

I think aiming for paraben reduction in my life is probably achievable. Especially in the area of kids who will be most susceptible if there is a problem.

On the plus side, I don’t feel quite so silly now I vaguely know what it is I’m avoiding:-)


Is Your Cat Poo Green?

Having looked at the greenest option for dog poo disposal it’s only fair to look at cats. There is one main reason cat poo cannot be thought of in the same way as dog poo…Toxoplasmosis.

Some catDSCF0890s excrete Toxoplasma gondii which is zoonotic (i.e. infects humans). It can cause illness especially in those with a weak immune system and it can cause foetal damage and miscarriage if pregnant women are exposed. (For those of you in farming circles it causes similar problems in sheep – one cat can lead to an abortion storm in an unvaccinated flock!)  I was surprised to find out  water treatment systems don’t always kill this parasite!! Don’t get me wrong, not all cats are super shedders of this organism. When a cat is first infected it only sheds infective oocysts for around 14 days. With that in mind the first big question is whether or not your cat goes outside.

The 100% Indoor Cat

Here we need cat litter. Clumping cat litters contain clay retrieved from environmentally damaging mining. Many litters also contain silica which isn’t friendly for cat or human lungs. Torn up newspapers are quite a good option although people have less old newspapers lying around these days. If you want to purchase an eco-friendly litter there are lots to choose from. Friendly Natural cat litter made from straw, Yesterday’s News made from newspaper and World’s Best Cat Litter are among an expanding market.

But what do you do with the soiled eco-friendly litter?

The first point to note is that the risk of your cat excreting infective oocysts is minimal. If they have not been outside in the past 2 weeks where could they have picked up Toxoplasmosis from? Now, if you are feeding a raw meat diet then that’s a different matter. But if they have been inside for at least 2 weeks, they are fed “normal” cat food, are otherwise healthy then I see three options…

Bag and Bin

If you read my dog poo review you’ll know I wasn’t too impressed when I discovered that even supposedly biodegradable bags don’t really break down in land fill conditions:-( Really, there is no eco-friendly way to put cat litter in the bin.

Flush it down the Toilet

Having assessed the Toxoplasmosis risk as being negligible this actually seems a pretty good option. Check that your eco-friendly cat litter is suitable for flushing – many of them are.


Similar to dog poo I’d be a little wary of using the end product around veggies or where kids are playing but if you have a use for the end product, maybe around fruit trees, then why not? In the highly unlikely event that your cat somehow was excreting Toxoplasmosis oocysts the heat in the compost bin would probably kill the oocyst anyway. If you want to go down the composting route check out this link for a how to guide. There doesn’t seem to be a cat poo composter on the market in the same way there is for dogs.

Dig a Big Hole

Another option is to dig a big hole and bury the litter. Seems pretty straightforward if you have a suitable site, a shovel and a little time.

The Less than 100% Indoor Cat

Cat which go outdoors are  a little more risky in terms of Toxoplasmosis as they pick it up from wildlife. There is no way of knowing if/when your cat has been infected as they don’t get sick. Young cats will be inherently more risky. Although the risk is small it is still present and that means composting and flushing don’t seem like such a great idea. Let’s face it many of these cats will bury their poo themselves and in fact that’s probably the most eco-friendly option! You can’t really argue with nature in this case! If you can train your cat to poo well away from veggies and children then well done:-)

If these cats are also using a litter tray when indoors then I have no better option but to bag and bin the soiled litter.

Technically, you could go down the route of blood testing your cat to try to assess whether it’s been exposed. If you get a positive result then you would reasonably safely open up the flushing and composting options. Whether it’s ethical to take a blood sample from your cat for this purpose is entirely up to you !

Any other ideas let me know!

Reliable Sources:

Toxoplasma gondii infection

Hemp for the Eco-Newbie

WP_20160215_003 4Hemp and it’s iconic leaf shape have socially gotten themselves a bad name. People immediately think Cannabis and Marijuana BUT legitimate, UK Home Licensed, Hemp contains very little of the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol so no one’s getting high! (Try telling that to my firewall – researching this on-line is proving difficult!)

Interestingly France is the current main producer of Hemp worldwide closely followed by China. If air miles are your green worry them check your Hemp sources!

Hemp is a fast growing, bushy herb which grows without the need for fertilisers or pesticides. It’s also one of those super carbon dioxide absorbers. It’s adaptable to many climates and is grown in the UK  – albeit very small scale at present! That means there is a real possibility of home grown textiles. However,  at that point you must decide your own ethical priorities – while it might be greener to “grow our own” that’s not helping those in the developing world desperate to make a living by exporting bamboo and cotton to us!

WP_20160219_003Hemp has a long history in being used for rope and paper. The process in making Hemp into paper is less environmentally damaging than using wood.

For textiles, Hemp is reportedly stronger and more absorbent than cotton and it is incredibly durable. Modern processing has made it soft enough to be used for clothing (it is said to get softer as you wear it!) and it’s resistant to UV light and mould. It’ll be just as happy whether you’re in rainy Northern Ireland or in sunny Australia. If there is any doubt in the ethical credentials of this material just check out THTC, one of the UK’s most ethical menswear brands.

Hemp has a wide range of diverse uses e.g. soap , health food (it’s high in omega fatty acids), skincare, animal bedding. In fact, The Hemp Shop claims Hemp has 25,000 everyday uses so I’ll not attempt to list them here! It’s safe to say there’s a lot of potential in this bushy herb. We’ve been using Simply Soaps hair and body soap for a while now and love it! Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a bar of soap for both hair and body…thank you Hemp!

Having looked at Bamboo, Organic Cotton and now Hemp I think they’ve all got their virtues as well as some limitations. Along the way I’ve learnt never to take eco-credentials at face value and that some companies will happily “greenwash” to increase sales. However, there are some fantastic businesses out there who really are making an effort not leave a dirty great carbon footprint on the  earth. If you’re looking for eco-friendly clothes in the UK check out Braintree and People Tree.  Braintree’s website also has a nice little summary of other  lesser known “moral fibres” if you are interested. If you’re shopping for something else I’d suggest running it past Ethical Consumer to see how your purchases check out!

Thanks for reading, happy shopping!

Other sources:


Organic Cotton for the Eco-newbie

Is it just me who has no idea what cotton is let alone organic cotton?

Here’s the basic facts to mull over…

  • It’s a flowering plant (imagine candy floss on branches!) mainly found in the tropics and subtropics  and in those countries it’sWP_20160215_003 4 big big business. Maybe it’s just me but in the UK we just don’t notice.
  • It’s claim to fame include being hypo-allergenic, soft, super absorbent and breathable.
  • BUT cotton’s got itself a really bad name in terms of it’s thirst for fertiliser, need for pesticides, chemical heavy manufacturing process and most importantly horrific human exploitation. It’s safe to say cotton has very (very) bad history.

But all is not equal in the world of cotton…cotton can be harvested another way…did someone say organic!!

  • Organic Cotton is natural, renewable and biodegradable – all the things that make an eco Mummy smile!
  • The organic version avoids all those nasty chemicals which is great for the workers, the environment and the end wearer. Buying Fairtrade ensures the workers get a fair deal. Show your support at Cottonedon– a great website for all your cotton questions.
  • BUT (there’s always a but!) just because something says it’s organic cotton is doesn’t mean it’s 100% organic and may be combined with non organic stuff or have met some nasty chemicals along its way from the field to your wardrobe. You need to look out for either the GOTS or the Soil Association symbol to ensure the whole process has been organic.

Overall, cotton has enormous eco potential but as with everything in life you need to check your sources.



Going Green in 2016: Bathroom Update

PicMonkey Collage 6

The war on plastic continues…This week in the bathroom we moved to bamboo toothbrushes from Save Some Green. Disposable plastic toothbrushes was one of my biggest irritations on the plastic front. Anyway, I chose bamboo bristles and so far have been very impressed. I previously experimented with “The Environmental Toothbrush” and found the bristles fell out quite quickly and the brush had to be replaced after a month. We’ve only been using these brushes for a week so it’s too soon to comment on their longevity but so far we give it a thumbs up! When they’re done they can go straight in the compost bin! And perhaps my most exciting discovery of the week……our toothbrush holders. WP_20160205_002With everyone’s toothbrushes being identical we needed something to label them and we also found wooden toothbrushes went slightly manky if they didn’t have chance to dry out. This is genius and ticks all the boxes – even the box about recycling plastic clothes pegs!!

To reduce the amount of little plastic bottles in the cupboard I’m also experimenting with natural deodorants. I’ve previously tried baking soda and liked it OK but I did struggle with the best way to apply it without covering the bathroom in a layer of dust (There’s enough dust in our house without adding more!) This week I’ve been using….. a lemon! It’s no Right Guard but if applied a few times during the day it does leave you feeling fresh. Although, it is winter in Northern Ireland so it’s not having to do much work!! The purchase of lemons was multi-functional (I LOVE multifunctional!) . I intend to make my own furniture polish this week and I like the simplicity of this recipe from The Blender Girl.

For the last year or so we’ve been using these cool little bamboo soap bags in the shower. My husband uses this Hemp hair and body shampoo bar for all his cleansing needs but I found washing my hair with soap left a residue. I use Faith In Nature shampoo instead but it does come in a plastic bottle so I might have to rethink it. However, I do like the soap-in-a-bag method for daily showering purposes. Don’t get me wrong I have a few bottles of “normal” shower gel and foam bath in the cupboard for a special occasion!

Sanitary wise I’ve enjoyed these reusable panty liners which I got from Earthwise Girls about a year ago. They wash well and are really convenient. With two kids the washing machine is on most days anyway and I just throw these in a normal wash. It significantly cuts down on bathroom waste – plastic or otherwise. I haven’t been brave enough to forego tampons but I find Natracare a good compromise. Maybe someday I’ll go re-usable!

Now I’ve got the ball rolling with plastic, next up I’m going to examine the ethics behind my shopping purchases. I’m hoping Ethical Consumer will point me in the right direction! Check out next weeks blog to see how I get on.

Going Green in 2016: Kitchen Update

PicMonkey Collage 4.jpg

So one week into my plastic reduction the headline conclusion is….this is harder than you’d think!

My first hurdle was the Tesco order. I get home deliveries. There’s no way I’m dragging a baby and a toddler around a giant supermarket! Some swaps were easy. We’re getting PlJ Lemon “squash” in a glass bottle rather than lots and lots (and lots and lots) of small plastic ones and I found Flahavan’s porridge oats in a paper bag…yay! But, despite asking the “picker” for my “loose” fruit and veg in paper bags they still turned up in endless plastic bags which have to go straight in my bin:-( I thought the ultimate kick in the teeth was the fact all my little plastic bag wrapped goods had then been placed inside a large brown paper bag…arghhh! I contacted Tesco and they thanked me for bringing it to their attention but essentially told me not to hold my breath! Next week I’m going to pack Mr Cucumber Diaries and toddler off to the local fruit and veg shop and see how they get on.WP_20160203_001 1

We made the transition to stainless steel sippy sups for the kids this week and the Klean Kanteen was a resounding success. Read all about it in my earlier blog here

I also found some “tupperware” style glass containers in Ikea. They have a plastic lid but at least that doesn’t contact the stored food so I’m happy with the compromise. Like all good Ikea products they work well and don’t cost a fortune. I don’t think it’ll be too hard to find alternative uses for our plastic tupperware collection.

We also love these little wrappers for my husband’s sandwiches. Keep Leaf make a whole range of eco friendly storage options in lovely colourful designs.  The simple wrap for a round of sandwicheWP_20160205_015s suits us fine and avoids daily cling film or foil ending p in the bin. We picked ours up from WWT Castle Espie gift shop but you can get them all over the place now. We made this change about a year ago and they are still going strong. They fasten with velcro and wash well. I’ll definitely be using them fr the kiddies lunches when they start school!

Belfast City Council was remarkably helpful in dealing with my enquiry regarding what we could put in our blue recycling bin. I thought the website was vague but turns out it’s quite correct – the only type of plastic that can go in the bin is plastic bottles! That’s quite limiting really. We’ll have to find other uses for yoghurt pots and margarine tubs…Pinterest here I come! Did someone say glue gun? I have tried making my own yoghurt into the past. Some batches were OK but it was very hit and miss. The final straw was the time I somehow melted the thermometer.  For now it’s going to be shop bought yoghurt although I have moved to larger tubs to reduce overall packaging.

In other news, the washing machine continues to survive on a diet of Bio D washing powder (which comes in awesome paper bags) and Ecover fabric softener (comes in a plastic bag and cardboard box). The washing powder is fine for daily washes but not great at stubborn “lasagne-type” stains. I admit to having a sneaky bottle of Vanish in the cupboard which I feel very guilty about but try to reserve it for disasters. If anyone has any winner eco-friendly stain removers that really work please let me know! The Ecover softener does a reasonable job and “Amongst the Flowers” smells nice. It’ll not leave your clothes super soft but it’s better than a long list of other things I’ve tried!  I’ve tried loads of laundry product combinations over the years and I’m relatively happy with this at the moment. It’s by no means perfect but has less impact on the environment than many other options.WP_20160207_005.jpg

Bio D (we love them!) also do a great washing up liquid which we find works well – just as good as any supermarket brand anyway. We’ve used it for quite a while without any problems. It comes in 5 litre plastic containers which isn’t ideal – there must be something useful I could re-purpose them into? At least they can go into our recycling bin if all else fails. Also, buying in bulk usually means less packaging over all. I find Ethical Superstore our best bet. They do free shipping (even to Northern Ireland!!!) on orders over £50.

So that’s our progress in the kitchen so far. Keep an eye out for the bathroom update coming soon:-)



Going Green with a Klean Kanteen (Review)

After a somewhat ropey start to my plastic reduction we finally had a success story…the Klean Kanteen Sippy Cup. The 12oz cup is stainless steel and I hope will last a lifetime – or at least see them through their sippy cup days! At £11 + £3 pp it’s obviously  much more expensive than my usual Tesco “whatever is on offer” sippy cup but I concluded in the long run it’s probably an economical enough option. The cup should last “forever” and you can buy replacement tops for £4 (plus pp). The caps look sturdy, are easily cleaned and can be sterilised so overall I think they should last much longer than my usual cups. At least only the top needs replaced so that puts a smiley face in the plastic reduction box. And, when the child is older, you can buy a sports top. I boughtWP_20160203_001.jpg a sports top to try with my toddler but I think he’s very much still at the “spill proof” cup stage!

Anyway, the new cups were an instant hit with my toddler and he is more than delighted with his purple one. His 10 month old sister seemed fascinated by hers and spent ages licking the outside:-/ She does seem to be able to lift it fine despite
it being heavier than her old plastic one and not having handles. I think it’ll take a day or two for her to fully get the hang of it…she was really quite distracted by the shiny red metal object that had arrived during nap time to really consider drinking from it!

I  bought our new cups from Little Acorns to Mighty Oaks  a great little online, UK based, shop of “non toxic” products for all the family. I think we’ll be visiting this site again and not just for sippy cup caps. They have all sorts of cool toys and gadgets. I’m tempted by the Abeego for food storage but that might be one step too far for the budget right now!

So, overall, I’m happy with the sippy cups. The kids love them and only the cap is plastic. While it may seem pricey when I think of the the number of plastic cups I’ve bought  and discarded a couple of months later I think the Klean Kanteen is a winner…if only I’d bought one when my little boy was 6 months and not 2.5 years!