Flame Retardants

home-interior-decorating-80In the month of June, Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health care systems, announced that they will stop using upholstered furniture treated with toxic flame retardants chemicals in their hospitals, medical offices and other buildings. Kaiser Permanente has set an example for everyone, they want manufacturers to switch to more sustainable and environmentally friendly products and this will not happen unless we, the consumers, demand a change.

What are Flame retardants?

Flame retardants are compounds added to manufactured materials, such as plastics and textiles, and surface finishes and coatings that inhibit, suppress, or delay the production of flames to prevent the spread of fire.

Today, flame retardants are used predominantly in four major areas:

  • Electronics
  • Building insulation
  • Polyurethane foam
  • Wire and cable

The two types of flame retardants that cause concerns are; halogenated flame retardants containing chlorine or bromide bonded to carbon and organophosphorous flame retardants containing phosphorous bonded to carbon.

Video Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune

Why are Flame retardants a big deal?

The chemicals don’t break down and generally have long term effects rather than immediate effects and can build up in humans and animals. They are not bound to the foam and can settle into the dust around our homes. Flame retardants have become so pervasive they can now be found in meats, fish, and dairy products.

Image from Green Science Policy Insitute

Flame retardants have been linked to male infertility, birth defects, cancer, reduced IQ’s and other health problems.

Children can carry an average of three times the levels of flame retardants in their bodies than the levels found in their mother. How you ask? Simply put, children spend their time putting their hands, toys, anything they seem fit in their mouths and unintentionally ingest more flame retardant chemicals from the dust.

Do they prevent fire from spreading? 

Flame retardants do not increase overall fire safety. Even though they can delay ignition for a few seconds in products, they will eventually burn and produce toxic gases that cause most fire injuries and deaths.

What can we do?

Keep your home dust free. The Natural Resources Defense Council has some helpful tips on what you can do to reduce flame retardants in your home and your body.

  • Vacuum carpets with a vacuum that contains a HEPA filter.
  • Damp mop floors and damp dust furniture on a regular basis.
  • Wash hands frequently, especially before eating. Don’t eat on your couch!
  • Choose naturally flame resistant fabrics and fill such as wool, cotton or jute.
  • Call manufacturers to ask about their use of flame retardants.
  • Check the label before you buy upholstered furniture and if you live outside of California, don’t buy furniture that carries a TB 117 label.
  • Vacuum and wipe down your car’s interior regularly.
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Giving Thanks: Celebrate Thanksgiving by giving back to Mother Earth

The Pilgrims may have traveled quite a distance to celebrate the first Thanksgiving, but their food didn’t. They learned to source their sustenance locally, a tough task in a new world, and they celebrated with a feast that eventually turned into modern-day Thanksgiving.

Getting food today doesn’t require nearly as much work for most of us as it did for those Pilgrims in the 1600′s, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about where it’s coming from.

Dinner’s Ready
Concerned about the way animals are treated? Try celebrating this year vegetarian-style. There are so many yummy meat-free foods at Thanksgiving, you may not even miss it. But if the big feast just won’t be the same without a bird on the table, look for pasture-raised, free-range turkey. This tells you that the animal lived outside, without harmful chemicals and hormones pumped into its body. Here are some other labels, classified by the World Society for the Protection of Animals, to look for when buying food:

A GOOD Start
“Cage free” (eggs)
“Free range” (eggs, chicken, goose, duck, turkey)
“Grass fed” (dairy, beef, lamb)

The “Good Start” labels indicate a meaningful animal welfare standard, but the standard covers only one aspect of animal care, and compliance with the standard is not verified by a third party.

Even BETTER
“Free range” (beef, bison, pork, lamb)
“Pasture raised” (dairy, eggs, chicken, goose, duck, turkey, beef, bison, lamb, pork)
“USDA Organic” (dairy, eggs, chicken, goose, duck, turkey, beef, bison, lamb, pork)

The “Even Better” labels generally indicate a higher level of animal welfare because the standards are more meaningful than those for the “Good Start” labels, but the standards are either not verified by a third party or cover only a limited aspect of animal care.

The BEST Options
“Certified Humane” (dairy, eggs, chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, pork)
“American Humane Certified” (dairy, eggs, chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, pork)
“Animal Welfare Approved” (dairy, eggs, chicken, turkey, duck, goose, beef, lamb, pork, rabbit)

The “Best Options” labels cover multiple aspects of animal care, and compliance with the standards is verified by an independent third party.

To get your local store to carry products with these labels, just ask. Have your friends do the same, and the store will likely listen. You can download a request card to put in a store’s comment box or mail to its headquarters.

The Ambiance
Decorate your table not with cheesy Thanksgiving-print napkins and paper plates but with pumpkins, gourds, apples, and all the other wonderful edible treats the fall season has to offer. If the thought of doing all those dishes makes you want to scrap the holiday altogether, try Preserve Tableware, an environmentally friendly alternative to the disposable stuff. The dishes and cutlery are made from 100 percent recycled plastic and are strong enough to be reused dozens of times (or just recycled when you’re done).

Top off the look with soy candles and a few sprigs of pine, and you’ll have authentic decor that would make even those who came over on the Mayflower proud.

When It’s Over
After the meal’s done and the leftovers picked through, compost the rest. Of the waste Americans send to landfills, 24 percent of it is organic waste (i.e., kitchen scraps). Keeping that waste out of landfills saves space and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, making it a win-win however you look at it. Making your own compost is easy!

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Disposing of Autumn Leaves: An Eco-friendly Guide

There are lots of great things about the fall season but cleaning up tons of leaves is not one of them. Don’t let all of those crispy leaves on the ground get you down! Dolphin Blue has pulled together some great tips on having some autumn fun and disposing of leaves the eco-friendly way.

DON’T FORGET TO HAVE FUN FIRST
Who needs a gym membership when you can get great exercise at home just by raking your front yard? If you’ve never jumped into a giant pile of autumn leaves you’re missing out on some green fun and a great photo opportunity with the kids! And if you want to get those creative juices flowing, why not go on a hunt for the prettiest or biggest leaves around and make them into an art project to remember. Check out some of these craft leaf activities for kids!

USE FALLEN LEAVES AS MULCH
Protect your vegetable or flower garden from harsh winter weather. Spread leaves over bare garden soil during winter for an extremely cost effective, eco-friendly mulch! Decaying leaves will deplete garden soil of nitrogen so in the spring make sure to add an organic source of nitrogen like Neptune’s Harvest Organic Hydrolyzed Fish Fertilizer.

MOW OVER LEAVES TO SHRED THEM
To keep bags of leaves out of the landfill gather dry leaves into low piles with a rake then mow over them with your lawnmower. Leaves will decompose on their own, eventually turning into compost. And if you spread them evenly over your yard they’ll disappear in no time!

CHECK OUT COMMUNITY COMPOSTING
If your bags of leaves are piling up, check to see if your neighborhood offers curbside leaf collection or maintains a central area where residents can drop of unwanted leaves. Bag your leaves using compostable bags and drop them off or leave them curbside. Leaves will typically be composted by your community center and then made available to residents as free compost!

WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T BURN YOUR LEAVES!
Even though you may have seen neighbors burning huge piles, burning leaves is a terrible idea. Even smaller piles of burning leaves can release large amounts of toxic fumes that can aggravate respiratory problems such as allergies and asthma attacks. The air pollution caused by burning leaves can also corrode paint and metal siding and release a chemical called dioxin that causes cancer. The American Lung Association found that burning a pound of leaves produces more air pollution than burning a pound of coal! Burning leaves can also spark brush fires, forest fires, or even house fires. So remember to mow them, mulch them, or bag them but never burn your leaves!

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China is Drowning in Smog: One Man May Have the Solution


Air quality in China is bad, it’s really, really bad. The air quality is so poor that residents rarely see the sun and in some cities, the dense air pollution is mistaken for snow! What is causing all of the pollution? It’s coal-burning smog. And until China can ween itself from fossil fuels and implement more sustainable energy practices, other energy solutions are desperately needed. One designer named Daan Roosegaarde may have an ingenius solution.

Roosegaarde has an idea to create what he is calling an “electronic vacuum cleaner”. Copper Tesla coils buried underground would help to create an electrostatic field that would pull smog particles down from the polluted sky, creating a clear space above where sunlight could shine through.

His smog vacuum would attract pollution particles much like a strand of hair is pulled toward a statically charged balloon. Copper coils would create a field of static electric ions which would magnetize the smog, causing it to fall down to the ground below. Roosegaarde plans to capture all of the smog on the ground and compress it, hopefully making it easier to create awareness of how much smog residents are living with and to rally opposition to the causes of the polluted air.

This week Roosegaarde created a working prototype with the help of the University of Delft. They were able to take a 5×5 meter room full of smog and create a smog-free hole of one cubic meter with their device. Now the challenge is how to apply it on a grander scale. Roosegaarde would like to see it installed in parks and public spaces where everyone can enjoy a smog free sky.

Over the course of the next 12 to 18 months, Roosegaarde will be working to perfect his device and many will be watching, waiting, and hoping for his success. Roosegaarde acknowledges that the smog plaguing China is “a human problem not a technological problem” and he hopes that his smog-cleaning vacuum will help raise awareness off the issue while also taking a small step to make the air quality and quality of life a little better for the residents of China.

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Greenest Schools in America

What are a few things that come to mind when thinking of the “college experience?” Eating pizza six days a week? Writing papers the night they’re due? Those may be the more popularized experiences, but a college at its most basic is designed it to help its students learn and grow.  Some universities take this more literally than others.

Take Green Mountain College for example, #6 on Sierra Club’s 2013 list of Cool Schools. Its students were one of the first to help their college achieve climate neutrality, a truly impressive feat considering that climate neutrality means a carbon footprint of zero. This requires balancing any carbon output with an equivalent offset. It might seem simple at first, but what would this take? This would mean planting trees, reusing or recycling all trash, eating homemade produce, burning fossil fuels, and using wind or solar energy.  For Green Mountain College, they found 1.2 million kilowatt-hours in an unlikely source: cows.  Dickinson College, #2 on Sierra Club’s list, collects grease from local restaurants to turn it into biodiesel.  These colleges are taking advantage of the opportunity to craft and mold these creative young minds to tackle energy issues with their challenging and stringent sustainability courses.

However, not every sustainable solution is completely unique to each school, there are several practices that many universities share. For instance, many schools have campus-wide composting to reduce waste, enforce keeping paper and water waste low, and maintain cafeterias that serve student grown produce and utilize trayless dining. Also, many schools only build LEED Certified buildings, a certification that distinguishes a high performance green building. LEED takes many variables into account (sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, etc.) and provides a status level of Silver, Gold, or Platinum. Dickinson College only builds to LEED Gold standards.

Not only are these colleges making a positive impact on the environment, they are teaching responsible and accountable living as well as fostering a strong sense of community and teamwork. These are healthy, functional habits that a student can take and use for the rest of his or her life.  What are some of the ways you could practices what they preach? Take a look at our products to get a few ideas on how to take the first baby steps.

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Everything old is new again

Plastics recycling can have a big impact on our resources.
Shopping bags, liters of soda, cereal box lining, and lots and lots of water bottles — it’s easy to amass plastic in today’s world, given its omnipresence in the products we use. Most of that, though, goes straight into plastic trash bags and heads to a landfill. (The rate of recycling plastic bottles has held steady since the 1990s at about 24 percent.)

Why Recycle Plastic?
When contemplating whether recycling plastic is really worth it, consider the following:

– It costs more money to drink bottled water than to put gas in your car — up to five times more — due mainly to its packaging and transportation, says the Earth Policy Institute.

– Recycling 1 ton of plastic saves 7.4 cubic yards of landfill space.

– The energy we waste using bottled water would be enough to power 190,000 homes.

– More than $1 billion worth of plastic is wasted each year.

– Recycled plastic can turn into a whole host of new and useful products, including durable building and construction products, fiber for carpets, tote bags, beverage bottles, recycling bins, shipping envelopes, and tableware (cups, plates, and utensils). Dolphin Blue carries a complete line of post-consumer recycled plastic tableware, which you can find here.

How to Recycle Plastic
Fortunately, 80 percent of Americans have access to a plastics recycling program, and more than 1,600 businesses are involved in recycling post-consumer plastics. There are seven types of plastic, and not every community’s curbside program recycles all of them, so first, learn what’s what with the handy chart from the American Chemistry Council, found here. Most likely you have #1 (water bottles, peanut butter jars), #2 (plastic bags, shampoo bottles), and #6 (packing peanuts, yogurt containers).

Many stores will recycle plastic bags for you, so check with your favorite grocer, or visit PlasticBagRecycling.org for a list of locations in your state that offer drop-off bins for recycling plastic bags.

When it comes to water bottles and other containers with lids, take the tops off before throwing them in a recycling bin. Lids are usually made of a different type of plastic than bottles, and the recycling facilities aren’t going to take the time to take off billions of lids — and likely will reject the bottles for recycling.

For more information, watch a short video here about the process of recycling plastic.

The DIY Guide to Reusing Plastic
There are ways to make good use of plastic once you’re done with it other than sending it to a recycling facility. Keeping plastic bags on hand and reusing them as long as they’re functional is a great way to reduce your impact. To make it convenient, try storing bags in empty tissue or garbage-bag boxes. This keeps the clutter at bay, and it makes the bags accessible when you need them. Just pull a bag out of the parachute hole and go.

For those with an artistic side, look at plastic products in a new way and see what you can come up with. You might just end up with something as fun and elegant as these cascade chandeliers. And although crocheting is usually done with yarn, when plastic bags are the material, it’s environmentally friendly and pretty darn cool. Check out one woman’s creations here.

Last but not least, it’s simple and easy to stock your office kitchen or home pantry with Preserve Tableware, made of post-consumer recycled yogurt cups, available on Dolphin Blue’s site here.

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Infographic Friday: Think of the Hive

Although worker bees only live for approximately six weeks, they spend their entire lives performing tasks that benefit the survival of their colony. Marcus Aurelius surely understood the power and advantage of keeping a community united and working towards a common goal. He was the last of the Five Good Emperors, and is also considered one of the most important Stoic philosophers. “Alone of the emperors,” wrote the historian Herodian, “he gave proof of his learning not by mere words or knowledge of philosophical doctrines but by his blameless character and temperate way of life.”

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Reduce Paper Plate Waste

According to Greenyour.com, offices consume disposable plates, cups, and cutlery for meetings and conferences and every day lunch breaks. The average 2,500-person conference will produce waste to the tune of 75,000 disposable cups, 87,500 paper napkins, and 90,000 cans or bottles. In an average year, most office workers throw out 500 disposable cups!

How many paper cups and plates from your home make it to the recycling bin? Most waste is needless given all used paper cups and plates can be recycled if cleaned. Dirty paper bowls and plates that are uncoated are approved for composting. Also, choosing reusable dishes and flatware can go a long way to cutting overall trash. Even a small change like using pitchers instead of water bottles could make a huge difference over time.

Try these helpful tips to start reducing your home or office kitchen waste today:

  • Serve guests drinks in pitchers instead of using wasteful plastic bottles
  • Choose dishes and cutlery made from recycled content
  • Use a reusable mug for coffee and take reusable dishes when you have to eat on-the-go
  • Recycle as many paper products as you can from fast food and takeout

For a quick and easy guide on recycling and composting, see this brochure from University of Berkeley. For a relatable story of how one woman stopped an addiction to paper plates, read “Guilt on a Paper Plate” by Larissa Kosmos, guest blogger for the NYTimes. Browse Dolphin Blue’s selection of recycled tableware and kitchenware for the office.

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Hope for the American Energy Crisis

In an op-ed published this month in the New York Times, Ralph Cavanagh, co-director of the energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, declares that our energy productivity and energy security are the best they’ve been since the 70’s. This opinion finds itself in stark contrast of those who think we need to construct the massive Keystone XL pipeline, or create a surge of oil and gas drilling, or start a nuclear power renaissance. Keep reading to learn more about Cavanagh’s article.

Cavanagh says that we have President Obama’s climate action plan to thank for the new-found positivity surrounding our nation’s energy news. Obama’s climate action plan gives top priority to the most productive and lowest-cost options for energy, which includes the “energy efficient resources” that come from getting more out of oil, natural gas and electricity with efficient equipment and vehicles that are used more carefully.

According to government data, energy-saving efforts in the U.S. have resulted in a steady decline in energy use since 2007. In 2012, energy use was lower than it had been in 1999, despite the 25 percent growth spurt the economy experienced since then. Cavanagh states that this trend is the result of factories and businesses producing more products and value with less energy, the main goal Obama’s climate action plan.

American oil use is also in decline, down 14 percent compared to a peak in 2005. The U.S. used less oil last year than in 1973, even though the economy is now 3 times as large as it was back then! This is thanks to better mileage from our vehicles and driving those vehicles less. Greenhouse gas emission, energy costs, and gasoline use have also declined; saving billions of dollars and helping the American economy compete in a global market whilst helping to make the U.S. more secure.

To continue this progress, Cavanagh says that the federal and state governments must keep increasing efficiency standards for buildings, equipment, and vehicles. And the Environmental Protection Agency must reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by implementing standards that focus on energy efficiency to reduce pollution. He also states that utility companies should be rewarded by state regulators for helping customers utilize energy efficiently instead of penalizing those companies for not increasing their sales. Annual rate adjustments should be instituted by regulators to allow for unexpected changes in energy utility sales.

Over the past 40 years, the U.S. has found many innovative ways to save energy; we have more than doubled the economic productivity of our oil, natural gas and electricity. America’s most productive energy resource has been efficiency all along and it starts with the everyday decisions we make at home and at work. By simply trading out our old light bulbs for energy saving bulbs and updating our homes and buildings with energy-saving products and appliances, we will continue to see our energy productivity and energy security increase in America. If we focus on achieving more energy savings, we will also reduce costs and pollution. It seems the future of energy is not as dark as it once seemed.

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Let There be Light: A guide to eco-friendly lighting options

As summer draws to an end and the days get shorter, that means less daylight — which, in turn, means more electricity used to illuminate your house. Given that lighting makes up a huge percentage of a home’s electricity bill (somewhere in the vicinity of a quarter of usage), looking at ways to save energy and money through your light bulbs makes good sense.

It’s been a long time since 1879, when Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, forever changing life for Americans. And like any invention, the ensuing 134 years have brought modifications and improvements — many that save you resources and money. With lighting constituting up to 25 percent of the average home energy budget, it’s a great place to look for reductions in energy usage.

Here’s a look at some eco-friendly lighting options:

CFLs
According to Energy Star, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy program, CFLs use about 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer, plus they save approximately $30 in electricity costs over each bulb’s lifetime. CFLs should be left on at least 15 minutes at a time in order to keep their lifespan at its peak potential.

Although CFLs used to give off harsh lighting, the color is improved and warmer now, making them a good option for everything from track lighting to porch lights to table lamps. Because they can sometimes take time to warm up to full power, they may not be the best choice for timed lighting. However, CFLs are definitely faster to light fully than in the recent past.

One of the turnoffs to buying these bulbs is a higher initial cost than incandescents. In the long run, though, you can save money — as an example, an 18-watt CFL used in place of a 75-watt incandescent will save about 570 kilowatt-hours over its lifetime, equating to a $45 savings (assuming 8 cents per kilowatt-hour).

Likely the biggest concern about CFLs is that they contain small amounts of mercury, which can be harmful if the bulb breaks. In case of a spill, the EPA provides guidelines for cleanup here.

More than 50 American Lighting Association showrooms across the country currently offer CFL recycling, as do many retail stories such as Home Depot and IKEA.

LEDs
When the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, replaced all downtown street lights with LEDs, they reaped an estimated savings of $100,000 annually in energy costs — or the equivalent of taking 400 cars off the road per year.

While these energy-efficient bulbs have been restricted to small usages in the past, like Christmas lights, pen lights, and in TV remote controls, more household applications are being developed every day. One barrier to their widespread adoption is that they are currently much more expensive than both incandescents and CFLs, but researchers have been working to develop less-expensive methods of producing the lights, which will bring down the price for consumers.

LEDs last about 10 times longer than CFLs, making them the most energy-efficient option out there right now. They don’t get hot like incandescents, and they don’t break as easily as other light bulbs. Many cities and electric companies offer rebates for LED lighting, so check with your provider to see what options you have.

According to Cree LED Lighting, the average price in the U.S. of running a 65-watt light for 50,000 hours would cost $325 in electricity. By using a 12-watt LED bulb, running the light for 50,000 hours would cost only $60, plus the lights are replaced much less frequently.

Energy Star Lighting
Energy Star has long been known for its appliances, but the program has also certified lighting fixtures for more than a decade, and now has around 20,000 offerings. While screw-based CFLs (those that you substitute for an incandescent bulb) are great at conserving energy, Energy Star fixtures outfitted with CFLs are even better.

If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an Energy Star qualified bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, save more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars, according to a segment on CBS.

Looking forward, Energy Star is working on labeling solid-state light fixtures — those that employ LEDs as the light source — and you can expect to see more Energy Star qualified lighting products hitting the market. They also feature a buyer’s guide that can help you figure out what kind of bulb you need in different fixtures, based on what kind of light you want.

For a side-by-side comparison of incandescents, CFLs, and LEDs on issues of lighting quality and cost, read this article from financial blog The Simple Dollar.

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