Greener Clothing Options

How “green” a product is goes beyond what fibers it is made from; it also takes into account the materials used to manufacture the product and how environmentally friendly the production process is. That includes the bleaching, printing and finishing techniques, and will ideally also take into consideration what happens to that product at the end of its life cycle.

  • Buy used or recycled.
    Eco-friendly clothing can be pricy, however the very greenest clothing choice is also the cheapest – buy second hand. The most environmentally responsible and sure fire way to shop sweatshop-free is to buy already-used goods. You’ll not only reduce pressure on resources and cut down on the emissions from transporting goods from factory to your shopping cart, but you’re also likely to support an independent retailer in your community.
  • Demand sweatshop-free products where you shop by filling out a customer comment card in the store or visiting the company’s website and send a message online.
  • Buy Fair Trade Fair Trade is an economic system that ensures healthy working conditions, self-determination, and fair wages for workers.
    Find online fair trade clothing at
  • Laundry care Avoid clothing that must be dry-cleaned, frequently bleached, or washed in hot water, and you’ll do quite a bit to cut down your impact.
  • Organic cotton you’ll need to check that it is also free from chlorine bleaches and synthetic dyes.
  • Tencel is a natural, man-made fiber. It has many of the qualities of synthetics, but is made of natural cellulose found in wood pulp making it fully biodegradable. The pulp used to produce tencel is grown in tree farms, and the closed-loop production process recovers a solvent used in the spinning process and is able to re-use 99% of it. The process also uses no chlorine for bleaching, making the entire process relatively environmentally friendly. tencel makes an excellent replacement for Rayon. Worn out tencel clothing can be composted safely.

Textiles from Recycled fibres

  • Decreases landfill space requirements, bearing in mind that synthetic fiber products do not decompose, and that natural fibers may release greenhouse gases
  • Avoids use of virgin fibres
  • Reduces consumption of energy and water
  • Less pollution
  • Less demand for dyes.

Some choices:

  • Organic wool is increasingly becoming available: it is produced using sustainable farming practices and without toxic sheep dips.
  • Linen is made from flax, a traditional fibre crop which needs few chemical fertilizers, and less pesticide.
  • Hemp grows without fertilizer, is highly pest-resistant , doesn’t deplete soil nutrients, requires little to no irrigation and is easy to harvest. Hemp plants grow densely eliminating weeds. As a result most hemp by-products are now certified organic. The ecological footprint of hemp is considerably smaller than that of most other plants used for their fibres. It has naturally long fibres which require a minimum of processing. Hemp fibre is 4 times more durable than cotton. There is currently nowhere in Canada that is processing hemp into cloth.
  • Soy fibre is produced by much the same process as rayon. It is usually made from genetically modified soy, grown in the US and shipped to China for manufacture.
  • Milk yarn is made from milk protein. In April 2004, it passed Oeko-Tex Standard 100 green certification for the international ecological textiles. Cyarn milk protein fiber is healthy for skin, comfortable, with bright colors due to good dyeability, etc.

Permaculture Design

According to Wikipedia, Permaculture is a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, and environmental design that develops sustainable architecture and self-maintained agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems.The term permaculture (as a systematic method) was first coined by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1978.

Former resident, and permaculture advocate, Jesse Lemieux states this on this Pacific Permaculture website: “Appropriate at all levels from the home garden to entire regions, permaculture is a rational and scientific design process that bridges the current gap between environmental stewardship and lasting economic prosperity.” Jesse explains permaculture as follows:

Originally conceived as “permanent agriculture” permaculture design is now understood as “permanent culture” and covers the fundamental elements of site analysis, cultural necessities and climate appropriate design patterns for:

  • low energy organic food production
  • sustainable water management
  • alternative energy systems
  • energy efficient house design
  • local food security and sovereignty
  • habitat restoration and land reclamation
  • equitable and sustainable organization
  • disaster preparedness
  • much much more

He offers a number of workshops and courses including programs leading to a Permaculture Design Certificate.

Lasagna Gardening

Lasagna gardening is a no-dig, no-till organic gardening method that results in rich, fluffy soil with very little work from the gardener. The name “lasagna gardening” has nothing to do with what you’ll be growing in this garden. It refers to the method of building the garden, which is, essentially, adding layers of organic materials that will “cook down” over time, resulting in rich, fluffy soil that will help your plants thrive. Also known as “sheet composting,” lasagna gardening is great for the environment, because you’re using your yard and kitchen waste and essentially composting it in place to make a new garden. Click here to read more from on Lasagna Gardening.

Here’s a great article from Mother Earth News on the subject.

And here, you’ll find a find on featuring Lasagna gardening expert Patricia Lanza.


Hugelkultur is nothing more than making raised garden beds filled with rotten wood. This makes for raised garden beds loaded with organic material, nutrients, air pockets for the roots of what you plant, etc. As the years pass, the deep soil of your raised garden bed becomes incredibly rich and loaded with soil life. As the wood shrinks, it makes more tiny air pockets – so your hugelkultur becomes sort of self tilling. For more about Hugelkultur, visit this site.

And, from Permaculture Magazine, an article on the many benefits of Hugelkultur.

  • The Bowen Island Garden Club is a very active group on the island.
    They usually meets 1-3 pm on the third Monday of every month (excluding June, July, August, and December) at The Gallery in Artisan Square and offers gardening advice, fascinating speakers, and the opportunity to socialize and share experiences. Occasionally, meetings may be held evenings; please watch the Undercurrent for details of speakers and times. Their events calendar includes tours of gardens and nurseries throughout Bowen and the lower mainland, a summer garden party, a Christmas party, and an annual plant sale which funds plantings, invasive weed control programmes, library books, and speakers. New members are always welcome! For more information, contact Sheila Webster at 604.947.0114 or by email:
  • Invasive Plants
    Invasive species are moving across BC and Canada at a rapid pace, and are a cost of globalization. There is also debate and research being conducted on the impacts of climate change as a factor increasing this already troubling trend. Invasive species have far-reaching impacts to the BC economy, environment, and society. The BC Invasive Plant Council is full of information and resources on identifying invasive species and offering solutions to tackling these unwanted plants.

Contributed by Kim Kasasian

The issues

Canada evaluates chemicals using a risk based assessment approach, i.e., chemicals are evaluated by the level of risk that is posed. The European Union follows a hazard based assessment model, i.e., if there is a known hazard it is more likely to be banned or restricted.

The EU has banned or restricted over 2000 chemicals from cosmetic products, and Canada only around 500 (the United Staes– just 10).

So, in Canada, even if we know a chemical has health risks associated to it, like BPA for example, it can still be used in consumer products if the risk to exposure is considered low enough –despite evidence of possible threats to health.

Excerpted from the David Suzuki Foundation website:

Many chemical ingredients in cosmetics have never been tested for their effects on human health and the environment. Health Canada and Environment Canada are slowly working their way through the assessment of some 4,000 existing substances — including chemicals used in cosmetics — that have been categorized as potentially posing a risk to human health or the environment. Assessment of cosmetic ingredients is often frustrated by a lack of data on exposure and long-term health effects. Moreover, of the handful of chemicals assessed to date and deemed to be toxic, those used in cosmetics generally remain unregulated, with Health Canada opting instead to place them on the Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist.

The Hotlist, however, has no legal authority and cannot be enforced. Chemicals that are prohibited or restricted as ingredients may therefore still be present in cosmetics as by-products or impurities.

Cosmetics are one of the only consumer products for which the public’s “right to know” about chemical ingredients is guaranteed in Canada (in contrast, the disclosure of ingredients in household cleaners is voluntary, for example). But cosmetic ingredient lists can be hard to make sense of.

Another limitation of Canada’s cosmetic labelling requirements is that they do not apply to “unintentional ingredients” (e.g., by-products and impurities). For example, “formaldehyde” (a cancer-causing chemical) is rarely listed as an ingredient, although many cosmetics contain formaldehyde-releasing preservatives.

A similar loophole exists for chemicals used to scent or mask scents in cosmetics. The term “fragrance” or “parfum” on an ingredients list usually represents a complex mixture of dozens of chemicals. Fragrance recipes are considered a trade secret so manufacturers are not required to disclose fragrance chemicals in the list of ingredients.

For full article go to:

A comprehensive rundown of what is likely to be in each of your personal care products, a list of the most and least toxic makes, can be found here.

How meaningful are the labels?

This is a US website, but the National Resource Defense Council gives a good idea of what you are contending with when reading labels.

Most personal care products are eventually washed down the drain, but water treatment plants do not remove them, so they end up in rivers, streams and oceans.

The Info

At the Skin Deep website – from the Environmental Working Group, you can type any product in the search field and it will rate the toxicity on a scale from zero to ten (best to worst).

Here’s Skin Deep’s list of 12 common toxins in personal care products:

  1. PARABENS – commonly used preservative in cosmetics such as moisturizers, shampoos and conditioners, and many types of makeup. Parabens are known to disrupt hormone function, which is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive fertility. Parabens are linked to is early puberty in children and early menopause in women. Parabens mimic estrogen by binding to estrogen receptors on cells.
  2. PHTHALATES work as softeners in personal care products such as cosmetics and shampoo, as well as flexible plastics like children’s toys. Phthalates are known as endocrine disruptors because they mimic the body’s hormones and have, in laboratory animal tests, been shown to cause reproductive and neurological damage. Phthalates are also in products with ‘Fragrance’ as one of the ingredients.
  3. DIETHANOLAMINE (DEA) is used in personal care, laundry detergent and cleaning products to give that foam lather. DEA by itself is not harmful, however DEA reacts in the cosmetic formula to form an extremely potent carcinogen called nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA). NDEA is absorbed through the skin and has been linked with stomach, esophagus, liver and bladder cancers.
  4. PETROLATUM (Mineral Oils & Paraffin) used as the base for creams, baby rash ointment and many other personal care products. They can slow cellular development, creating earlier signs of aging. They’re implicated as a suspected cause of cancer. Plus, they can disrupt hormonal activity.
  5. SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE (SLS) When it’s combined with other chemicals it forms nitrosamines. SLS is found in foaming products (toothpaste, shampoo, laundry, household cleaning, etc.) It was originally made as a pesticide and a heavy duty chemical cleaner for garage oil stains and in car washes! The manufacturing of SLS creates ethoxylation which is contaminated with dioxane, a carcinogen.
  6. PROPLENE GLYCOL is antifreeze. It’s linked to kidney and liver disease. Found in cosmetics, shampoo & conditioners, deodorant, and … ice cream!
  7. ACRYLAMIDE found in many face creams. Acrylamide is an industrial chemical known to increase infertility and neurological problems.
  8. PHENOL (CARBOLIC ACID) found in skin lotion and produced from petroleum. It is corrosive to the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract. It’s harmful to the central nervous systems and heart and cause dysrhythmia, seizures, and coma.
  9. DIOXANE is a petrochemical solvent found in cosmetics and products that foam, such as bubble bath, baby shampoo, laundry detergent. Dioxane is a contaminant produced during manufacturing, the FDA does not require 1,4-dioxane to be listed as an ingredient on product labels. However, if you look closely you’ll see ingredients such as PEG, polysorbates, laureth, ethoxylated alcohols which are all dioxanes. Dioxane is linked to cancer.
  10. FRAGRANCE – Watch out because this is one of the biggest offenders. It’s what makes your lotion, perfume, deodorant and shampoo smell good. You’ll see it at the bottom of the ingredients list as ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’. Fragrances can contain neurotoxins and are among the top five allergens in the world. Toluene which is in fragrances is known neurotoxin that causes loss of muscle control, brain damage, headaches, memory loss, and problems with speech, hearing, and vision.
  11. FORMALDEHYDE is found in nail polish, body lotion, cleansers, shampoo & conditioners, body wash, styling gel, sunscreen and makeup. Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen. It’s toxic to the immune system and respiratory track.
  12. HEAVY METALS (lead, aluminum, arsenic, nickel, beryllium, mercury, cadmium & nickel) The number one ingredient in most conventional deodorants is aluminum. One or more of these metals is probably in your makeup. Lead is an ingredient so toxic it isn’t allowed in paint or gasoline, but it’s in most lipstick! Watch out for arsenic in eyeliner and cadmium and mercury in mascara!

Gather your make up and personal hygiene products and see if they rate poorly on the Skin Deep website, you may be surprised!

The Suzuki Foundation has created a Sustainable Shopper’s Guide to a Dirty Dozen Ingredients to Avoid in your Cosmetics.This wallet-sized shopper’s guide lists a “dirty dozen” chemicals to avoid when shopping for cosmetics. Use it to check the ingredient list on personal care products before you make a purchase.

Also watch out for these problematic additives:

  • ANTIBACTERIALS – (eg triclosan in soap) Overuse reduces their effectiveness when really needed.
  • COAL TAR – can be found in some dandruff shampoo, toothpaste, ant-itch creams, dyes, mouthwash – known carcinogen.
  • NANOPARTICLES – may penetrate the skin, used in cosmetics and sunscreens.
  • PETROLEUM DISTILLATES – possible carcinogen.
  • P_PHENYLENEDIAMINE (aka benzenediamine, phenylenediamine, p-aminoaniline, diaminobenzene, phenylenediamine, aminoaniline) – human skin toxicant or allergen. Human respiratory toxicant. Used in hair dye.
  • HYDROQUINONE – (aka. tocopheral acetate, tocopheral, tocopheral linoleate, other ingredients with the root ‘toco’). Linked to cancer and organsystem toxicity, it is one of the most toxic ingredients used in personal care products. Banned in EU. Found in: Skin lighteners, facial and skin cleansers, facial moisturizers, hair conditioners, nail glue.

The online  Good Guide  provides a rating on any product you search for, as well as listing the top products for health and environmental safety in any category.

Safe is another great resource.

Ecoholic has a list of common “mean” chemicals to avoid.  They also have created the Mean 15 Pocket Guide.

The Greener Options

Many health store products contain the same toxic substances as the more familiar brands, so read the labels. Looking for better options? Start your research here:

This site provides info on less toxic options and has recipes for you to make your own toxinfree personal care products (a great way to avoid excessive packaging).

Toxin-Free Personal Care Products

Naked Soap Works — Local artisan created products. As stated: “naked® products are 100% natural. “We do not use synthetic colours, scents, stabilizers, emulsifiers or preservatives. in fact, naked® ingredient lists look like something you’d find in a gourmet market: essential oils of lemon from Italy, rosemary from spain, and geranium from egypt; ratanjot spice from india; rich callebaut cocoabutter; local honey, and cold-pressed olive oil. we strive for minimal packaging, in fact, our soaps aren’t packaged at all.  being naked® is good for you, good for the environment.”

Conscious Cosmetics create clean, fresh, completely natural and non-toxic cosmetics for the whole family, using ingredients from nature, and the Earth 🙂 “Products are handmade with love & care on Bowen Island, B.C., Canada. Our intention is to produce delicious and beautiful products, that are truly wonderful for the body, our well being, as well as for our environment. All our products are only tested on friends and family.” Click here for the Facebook site.

Saje Personal care products and essential oils that are free of parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) & sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), polyethylene glycol (PEG,)glycols, petrochemicals, synthetic colours and synthetic fragrances. All ingredients are derived from safe and renewable resources. They have not been tested on animals. Packaging is simple, and made of recycled or recyclable materials. Most products are manufactured locally in B.C.

Lush – Lush produces and sells a variety of handmade products, including soaps, shower gels, shampoos and conditioners, lotions etc. Lush uses fruit and vegetables, essential oils, synthetic ingredients, honey and beeswax in their products. In addition to not using animal fats (except lanolin) in their products, they are also against animal testing and perform tests with volunteers instead.

Lush products are made in factories around the world (including Vancouver), and are made in small batches based on orders from individual stores to ensure the freshness of the product. Lush products are 83% vegan, and 60% preservative-free. They also contain more traditional soap ingredients, including glycerine, linalool, and methyl- and propyl-parabens and shampoo containing sodium lauryl sulphate. Lush does not buy from companies that carry out, fund, or commission any animal testing.

The Body Shop was one of the first companies to go ‘Fair trade’, and 85% of their product range contain some Community Fair Trade ingredients (though the percentage of each product that is Fair Trade varies a great deal). The Body Shop has always been against animal testing of its products. They are currently phasing out the use of parabens and sodium laureth sulfate.

  • Need to find the nearest location to dispose of whatever item you need to recycle? This site will help you reuse and recycle just about anything.
  • North Shore Metal Recycling
    185 Pemberton Ave. (in the alley),  North Vancouver
    Contact: Dan Lindner at 778-227-5092. It’s best to call first as he is often out picking up scrap.
  • North Shore Recycling
    The North Shore Recycling Program (NSRP) is the Recycling and Waste Reduction Department for the City of North Vancouver, District of North Vancouver, and District of West Vancouver. We manage a number of recycling services for North Shore residents – Single-Family Blue Box Recycling, Multi-Family Blue Cart Recycling, Green Can/Yard Trimmings Collection for single-family homes, a Recycling Drop-off Depot and Community Education Programs.
  •   The Recycle Council of BC has info on where to recycle various items. Call their hotline with questions about where to recycle items: 1 800 667 4321 or 604 732 9253.
  • Metro Vancouver has launched a free iPhone app called weRecycle .Simply enter the material you wish to donate or recycle. You can hit the Map icon for a Google map. To learn more visit Metro Vancouver Recycles.
  • Pacific Mobile Depots is a private company that recycles a wide range of items through their mobile depots, including one at Presentation House in North Vancouver, 9:00 am – noon on the 3rd Saturday of every month.
  • Calculate how much energy you save by recycling your household waste with this recyclometer, available here.
  • Consider purchasing produce bags for individual items while shopping. The Ruddy Potato sells them at their store. They are also available from Cool Earth Products.

For the kids

Second-hand Toys & Gear

Purchasing secondhand items is clearly easier on the pocketbook, and on the planet. However, before you buy,  you should consider all possible pros and cons. Make sure, and this goes for any item that you would chose to bring into your home, you check it out for safety, durability and wear and tear.

Safety and warnings concerning second-hand products:

Where to find good (secondhand) stuff

The Great Diaper Debate


Pet Waste/Animal Feces

This is a real challenge for those with companion animals. It is said that American dogs and cats generate 10 million tons of waste every year, most of which is thrown into the trash and then winds up in landfills and never actually decomposes. One statistic is that pet waste contributes roughly 4% of the garbage taken to landfills. There is no reason to think these stats are much different for Canada.

Scooby’s Dog Waste Removal Service: based in Vancouver and visits Bowen Island regularly to remove dog waste and ensure it reaches the sewage system, 604-926-8180.

Or you can consider building your own dog waste composter. Here are some instructions, from a woman whose profession is waste water management: . And here’s a YouTube video which overlaps substantially.

Cat litter is even more of a problem, because of how it is sourced. Michael Bloch, author of Green Living Tips has to say in his article, Kitty Litter and the Environment, notes:

“I was quite shocked to discover that what we give our cats to do their business in (cat litter) wreaks a massive toll on the environment.

I don’t own a cat, but I do use kitty litter for other purposes – under the barbecue and soaking up some messes. I was looking at my bag of cat litter today and thinking ‘so, what’s in this stuff?'”

To read about what he discovers, click here.

Back to Pet Care page.