Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Wal-Mart Just Ticks Me Off

Will the $82 million fine change Wal-Mart's behavior?  Somewhat I expect, but why do they have to get caught doing something bad before they act responsibly.  This May, Wal-Mart was fined $82 million for dumping hazardous waste in the trash or down the drain.  The New York Times reported that Wal-Mart also was taking returned pesticides and having them processed for re-sale without a permit.  This company makes big bucks, and they know they can't dump hazardous waste in the trash, down the drain, or repackage pesticides for sale without a permit.  If they didn't train their underpaid, under-employed, and under-insured employees to do proper waste management, then that is Wal-Mart's fault.  I don't know if the $82 million fine matched the savings of illegally dumping hazardous waste into our water system or selling us re-packaged pesticide, but I hope so.

I know some might not think this topic is entirely relevant to this blog about your own cupboards--except it is!  We need to change our habits of buying toxic products so we're not polluting our bodies, our family members' bodies, our pets, or the environment.  And we should be supporting companies that do the same.  I don't expect box stores to stop selling Proctor & Gamble toxic products--that's too big to ask of chain stores that rely on cheap goods that we, yes we, demand from the store. 

The only way we can get them to change is to stop buying their crappy products.  Can we make a difference?  Yes.  This September, Wal-Mart agreed to begin reducing it's products with certain toxins.  According to USA Today, prodding by health and environmental advocates caused Wal-Mart to act.  It's a big deal, but it's just a start. 

We can send a message to retailers by not purchasing items with toxic ingredients.  We can start by cleaning our homes with white vinegar, baking soda, and other non-toxic products.

Really, we can make a difference.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Clean Non-Toxic Oven

I finally cleaned my oven after about five years--I am just not that into cleaning.  I had help.  It was a few weeks ago and I wanted to make a video about cleaning the oven without toxic commercial cleaners.  So my co-worker Rachel and I cleaned the oven after finally settling on a recipe to try.  There are others that might work as well, but this worked great--so I'm going with it.  We mixed about a cup of baking soda with enough white vinegar to make a paste to stick on the ceiling and walls of the oven.

First, Rachel scraped out the oven with a wooden spatula to get ride of the crusty stuff that had accumulated there.  A wooden or plastic tool will not scratch oven surfaces like metal might.  Then she mixed a cup of baking soda and about a quarter cup of white vinegar.  I thought there might be a lava overflow when she did this on camera, but she chose just the right size bowl.

I think mixing baking soda (a base chemical) with vinegar (an acid) only makes sense when you use the chemical reaction as part of the cleaning process.  These ingredients quickly kind of cancel each other out unless you get them onto the surface as soon as possible so the reaction is still occurring.

Rachel took a pastry brush and painted the interior of the oven.  She had to get back to work, so I cleaned the oven after a couple hours with a green scrubby and water.  It worked great.  There was all kinds of black goo that came off--cooked on grease.  I cleaned the oven racks separately in the sink.

So after about several years of not cleaning the oven--it was clean, without using the very toxic commercial cleaner.

Unfortunately, this week I had a hankering for crispy baked chicken wings.  The recipe said to dunk the wings into seasoned olive oil and place them on a rack over a pan.  They tasted fantastic.  They were so crispy and good, but I did not need all that oil that ended up all over my clean oven.  It also stunk up my apartment as the stove vent does not send air outside, it just circulates the air through a filter.  Everything smelled like baked chicken wings and I was breathing the odor in my sleep.

So I was back to square one, and I just finished cleaning the oven again.  This time I put a pillow on the floor for my poor knees while I slaved away on the oven.  While I had my head stuck in the oven, I was thinking that people without the self-cleaning ovens have to do the same thing--only they stick their heads into an enclosed space with toxic fumes.

What's Wrong with Commercial Oven Cleaners?

This label reads, “DANGER:  CORROSIVE. CONTAINS SODIUM HYDROXIDE (LYE).  WILL BURN EYES AND SKIN.  HARMFUL IF SWALLOWED.  Avoid contact with eyes, skin, mucous membranes and clothing.  DO NOT ingest.  Use only with adequate ventilation.  Avoid breathing spray mist.  Wear long rubber gloves when using.   

The U.S. EPA also recommends wearing an apron and protective goggles when using commercial oven cleaners.  They further recommend having plenty of fresh air as well as ventilation in the room.  Difficult to do if you have your head in the oven!

The ingredients are not provided on the label, but on-line they are listed as:

2-Ethanol, (2-butoxyethoxy), Petroleum gases, liquefied and sweetened; Sodium hydroxide, and 2-amino-Ethanol 

Why Not Just Use the Self-Cleaning Function on Ovens?

There are pros and cons to buying an oven with the self-cleaning function.  They are much more well insulated and the doors have better seals so they may be more energy efficient if you don't use the self-cleaning function too often.  However, they can be more expensive to repair (due to hidden elements) and typically, you are not supposed to leave the racks in the oven for cleaning as the high heat (around 900 degrees F) can damage a finish on the metal racks.  You also might still have to clean the oven after using the self-cleaning function to at least remove the ash.

Well, I'm going to be more conscious about what I bake now, and I don't anticipate cleaning the oven again for a very long time.