Every once in a great while we’re given the opportunity to share something that could actually help the planet even if just one in ten people who read our blog put it into practice (like toting reusable shopping bags or collecting rainwater in a barrel). And this, my friends, is one of those times. Please feel free to pass this info on to your friends and family members!
And who do we have to thank for this wealth of information that just might change the world as we know it (or at least change your impact on the planet from this day forward)? Why none other than my über intelligent little brother Dan (also affectionately known as Almost-Doctor Dan):
Remember when we introduced him here (and revisited his giant brain here)? As a little refresher, he went to Cornell and graduated with the highest GPA of his entire graduating class (a 4.21 if you’re wondering). Yup, out of all of the kids in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, he was the Valedictorian. Yeah, he’s brainy. Now he’s a graduate student at Columbia with a Master’s degree under his belt, steadily working his way up to his Doctorate in chemistry with a full scholarship from the National Science Foundation. Not only do they pay for his education but they actually pay him a stipend for rent and food- all in return for wearing a lab coat almost 24/7 and messing around with molecules and polymers all day. Sweet deal huh? Serious Einstein stuff going on.
Anyway, so on a recent phone convo we got to talking about the impending flu season and all the gross germs that seem to be swirling around more and more these days (thanks so about a million media stories on the subject) and Dan shared something so unbelievable that we just had to pass it on. In short, we learned that the idea of antibacterial soap is a marketing ploy that’s actually terrible for the environment. Here’s Almost-Doctor Dan to break things down for us:
What makes most “antibacterial soaps” antibacterial is a chlorinated aromatic compound called Triclosan. By itself this compound doesn’t appear toxic to humans, but every time you wash your hands this stuff is ending up in wastewater and eventually making its way into the environment. Think about how quickly you go through a bottle of hand soap and realize that every last drop of it ends up going down the drain. You’ve got millions of people across the country using this and it’s ending up in lakes, streams, oceans etc (where it’s not particularly biodegradable by the way).
If it were really keeping people from getting sick, perhaps an argument could be made that this is an acceptable consequence, but it really isn’t necessary! Bacteria and viruses can’t penetrate healthy, intact skin. The only way that pathogenic bacteria on your hands can make you sick is if you eat something or touch a mucous membrane (your eyes, nose, mouth, etc); up until that point they are basically harmless and loosely attached to your skin.
And to remove them from your skin before you eat or touch a mucous membrane, any soap that you use will not only dislodge bacteria from your hands but will likely kill it as well by disrupting its cell membranes. This is why the whole idea of an ‘antibacterial soap’ is just plain silly – any type of soap in and of itself will cleanse your hands of bacteria. Unless you work in an environment that requires truly sterile hands (a hospital for example) the use of these antibacterial soaps is a waste of money and resources as well as a bane to the environment.
Is that not the most interesting thing you’ve heard all day? Well, we thought it was, and we couldn’t believe that companies are slapping the old “antibacterial” claim on their bottles to encourage people to purchase them when in fact they’re doing the world more harm than good (and regular old soap and water does the same thing without the environmental harm!). By no means do we mean to be preachy, but we just had to pass this info along in the hopes that even a few other households might adopt an anti-antibacterial approach and keep tons of damaging pollutants from permeating lakes, rivers, and oceans over time (can you imagine how much of a difference this new approach could make if just ten people changed the type of soap that they purchase over the next ten years?).
We also got a letter from another Almost-Doctor (Kristin who’s currently getting her PhD in Germany) who actually works with bacteria on a day-to-day basis. Here’s what she has to say on the subject:
Bacteria, in general, live nearly everywhere. The vast majority is harmless, some are even beneficial. Even when you wash your hands with antibacterial/disinfectant soaps, the remaining bacteria grows back to their normal number within hours or a day. And as I mentioned, some bacteria are actually beneficial. For example, microbiologists who have to use antibacterial disinfectants on their hands several times a day often suffer from skin damage because the beneficial bacterial skin flora is destroyed (and skin damage can make you more susceptible to getting sick while healthy intact skin is usually impervious to germs).
When cleaning we should think of bacteria as a normal part of our environment, not as something that should be completely destroyed. It is impossible to get rid of bacteria completely, and there is no need to. Too much antibacterial disinfection in households can even become dangerous – the more disinfectants that we use, the higher the possibility is that strain of bacteria will become resistant. In addition, some scientists think a too clean environment facilitates allergies – your immune system has to be trained constantly.
Water with soap kills or washes off 99% of all bacteria. If you do not want to use too much soap, or any at all, you can even use a microfiber cloth with water only – the small fibers will collect most of the bacteria and the towel can be washed in hot water to naturally disinfect it afterwards (which destroys the microbes). These two methods of hand washing are completely sufficient for a normal household with healthy people.
So there you have it. Two insanely smart science-minded brainiacs on separate continents who agree on one thing: lose that antibacterial stuff and wash you hands thoroughly with good old fashioned soap and water to kill germs just as well and do a serious solid to Mother Nature while you’re at it. John and I are big fans of Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castille Soap (the almond scent is our favorite). It’s sold at Target among other places and it’s made with organic oils and even stored in a 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottle. Basically, if you’re looking to replace your antibacterial soap and want some extra credit, this stuff is about as pure as they come (it’s certified fair trade and plant-based so it won’t hurt lakes, streams, rivers and oceans in the least). And so ends our little soap diatribe. Here’s to our health this fall! And the planet’s health too.
This weekend we spent a few hours combing through things we already had and popping out to Target and Michael’s for a few affordable Halloween accents to decorate three different areas of our living room just in time for the season of ghosts and goblins. We don’t usually go all out for the spookiest day of the year, but when we realized that purchasing a silver candy bowl, a faux crow (say that ten times fast), two votive candle holders, a plate, one red candle, two white faux pumpkins and a few black feathers could transform our console table, coffee table and dining table we were totally game.
So here’s a little video all about how we repurposed everything from an Old Navy scarf to dog treats (yup, dog treats) to get into the Halloween spirit without breaking the bank:
And for those of you who can’t view the video at work, here’s a little summary for ya. We opted for an eerie Edgar Allen Poe meets Twilight & True Blood effect, so we skipped the orange pumpkins and fall leaves and went for high contrast black and white accessories set off by a few haunting accents like an ominous black crow and some DIY bleeding candles.
For the console table we dug up an old scrap of burlap to use as a raw and rough looking runner and placed various candlesticks and votives around the new silver candy bowl we picked up.
We also found books laying around with appropriately spooky titles and black spines to work into the display…
…and even realized that old printing blocks from the flea market that spelled LOVE could be rearranged to spell EVOL- just one letter away from EVIL. So we flipped over the O block and markered in an I on the blank wood back. Voila- a cheeky little greeting (or warning) to add interest to our display.
John also had some free Photoshop fun with our wedding picture, turning us into skulls and framing it above our console table in a let’s-see-who-notices experiment for the Halloween season. Switching out art is just another easy way to add some dark and creepy interest around the house, so from ominous silhouettes to spiderweb sketches there’s no end to what you can DIY for your walls on the cheap.
When it came to the coffee table we gathered every single candlestick and votive holder that we already owned (from mercury glass beauties to crystal and glass varieties) and grouped them en masse on the coffee table.
Then we just dug out some white taper candles we already had and purchased just one thing for this entire set up. A $69 cent red candle, which we heated up and used to drip red wax down the tops of our existing candles (an old Martha Stewart trick we love).
Presto- an arrangement that Edward and Bella (or Sookie and Bill) would be proud of.
Then for the dining table we pulled out my aforementioned Old Navy scarf to repurpose as a runner (the black and gray pattern almost looked like spiderwebs) and a glass greenhouse that used to house a fern in the guest bedroom (which we used to display a silhouette of Burger that John gifted me a while back). It’s funny how putting something behind a dome of glass makes it look like a specimen or some sort of eerie mad-scientist experiment. We even added an old fashioned stopwatch for even more of that scientific vibe (a relic from my past as copywriter- I used it to time scripts I wrote for commercials).
Raising the glass dome up on a cake stand created some interest and height in the center of the table, and then we just added our two white faux pumpkins, two hurricane candle holders from the den, and even two white ceramic pears from the kitchen. The finishing touches were six small ceramic-looking bones which are actually Burger’s treats! They’re made of oyster bones and they’re odorless and actually look super convincing among our other Halloween décor- especially when paired with Burger’s silhouette. And the funny thing is that they’re around $2 for a bag of 15 at Target (which we already had laying around) so although we used six on the table there were still plenty left over for Burger’s belly.
So that’s how we sifted through our closets, cabinets and even Burger’s treat dish to come up with three fun little arrangements for the Halloween season. And because we know you people love a budget breakdown…
- Silver candy bowl – $14 (Target)
- Faux-crow – $4 (Michael’s)
- Smoky glass votives – $7 for two (Target)
- Skull plate – $2 (Target)
- Red candle – 69 cents (Michael’s)
- Two faux-pumpkins – $5 for both (Michael’s)
- Black feathers – $2.00 (Michael’s)
- Grand Total: $34.69 (which breaks down to around $11 per arrangement)
Not bad considering we were able to snag a few things we can use all year round (like our new silver bowl and the smoky glass votive holders). Plus we love that we now have a little go-to collection of Halloween accessories that we’re sure we’ll be able to repurpose in a whole new way next year. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves… we still have at least 30 hungry neighborhood kids to shove candy at THIS Halloween.
And speaking of doling out candy to the adorable 3 foot tall ghosts and mummies who ring our doorbell, that’s always our favorite activity along with getting together with friends. Do you guys have any fun Halloween plans or traditions? We’d love to know what DIY decorating schemes you have up your sleeves and whether you’ll go door to door, dish out candy or meet up with friends on the 31st. And stay tuned for some more Halloween-related projects coming down the pipeline, from pumpkin carving to porch decorating and more!