Comments Anyone?

THE APOLOGY

To anyone out there kind enough to have ever commented on a Clueless Girl post, thank you.  I’m sorry if I haven’t replied to you. The thing is, within the past months, more and more I’ve been marking comments on this website as spam. That’s because, and this is a lesson I’ve learned from running this blog, sometimes spam looks a lot like a comment.

THE BACKSTORY

I started Clueless Girl on Earth Day 2016 and during those first weeks and months I would get so excited whenever the ‘comment’ icon on my admin page had a number next to it. It meant a live person had actually read my blog! Those days it was mostly notes of encouragement from my mother and a few friends. I never questioned whether their comments were real. I just happily responded.

That changed after I’d blogged about how plastic shopping bags were polluting the planet, and I received a message from someone I didn’t know. It was in Chinese, too, which made me very curious.  So, I copied and pasted the long paragraph into Google Translator. That’s when I found out that the comment wasn’t a comment at all.  It was just a bunch of advertisements.

I was disappointed. It would have been cool to get a comment from China. But also, the spam-blocker program I use should have stopped the ad from getting through to my admin page. Instead, it left it for me to decide whether to click ‘accept and reply’ to publish it or to ‘mark as spam,’ and send it to wherever spam winds up. With this one, as well as with the many similar ads I’ve received almost every day since, the choice was obvious.

But there are more subtle ones that get through, as well. They say off topic things like: ‘Hey man, stop posting so many videos and just write.‘ (I’ve never published a video on Clueless Girl and I think I’ve included links to maybe 2 videos in all my posts.) Or they tell me how amazing my blog is, but make no mention of the post they’re attached to. I’ve responded to a few of the latter ones, of course.  I appreciate it when someone takes the time to say they like my blog, even if they do write with an accent and are weirdly over the top about it. So, it probably shouldn’t surprise anyone to know that after I replied with a thank you, there came a wave of similar weirdly over the top comments. Now I know that these too are a form of spam. What I can’t figure out is what they accomplish. I never click on any of the links in them. They just bug me.

Not long ago a comment came through that asked for my help. The writer said he was a new blogger. He requested some tips. FROM ME? I’m a new blogger too, so I don’t know much. But I wanted to support and encourage him.  I offered advice about maintaining a writing schedule, which for me is important because not only do I research and write for this blog, but I’m also working on my second novel in a sci-fi detective series, and I teach part-time for my local Early Intervention Program. Then I clicked ‘accept and reply’. Well. Guess what. Not long after, I got hit with a wave of similar requests for help.

I’d been duped.

THE PROBLEM 

I’m grateful to anyone who takes the time out of their day to read my blog.  If they then leave a remark or word of encouragement, I consider that a great gift for which I want to reciprocate by writing a reply.  My intention when I started Clueless Girl was to respond to every comment received. I still want to do that! The problem is, I can’t tell the real ones from the fakes.

THE SOLUTION

So, I was thinking: what if we had a code word that the spammers wouldn’t know about? I stock-vector-beautiful-brunette-girl-winking-and-making-silence-or-secret-hand-gesture-with-finger-on-lips-169363778could put something like that at the bottom of every post. That way, if someone wanted to offer an insight or ask me a question or just tell me about their experiences, if they included it in their comment I would know it was legit!

So, here it goes.

THE CODE WORD(S)

I know I won’t get an ‘A’ for creativity here, but if anyone would like to leave a comment on this post, please include the words ‘not spam’ in your message.

Thank you all so much for reading.

For next week: The Problem with Cleaning Wipes.

A Shout-out to the NRDC!

My husband says I’m too over the top about toilet paper. He could be right. I’ve just spent hours driving myself crazy reading web articles on the topic because, while I’ve learned more than I’d wanted to about how bamboo or hemp or sugarcane are the greenest things since fresh air, I could find little about the environmental impact of processing these alternatives to wood fibers.  Plus, none of the articles have told me whether or not the bisphenol A (BPA) found in TP made from recycled products could hurt us.

So I emailed some of the toilet paper companies. Then, after no one got back to me –––no one––– I emailed the Natural Resource Defense Counsel. The NRDC is a non-profit organization that works to safeguard the earth––its people, its plants and animals and the natural system on which all life depends.  (I copied that off their website.) To be honest, I hadn’t expected to hear back from them either.

I was wrong.

That same day I received the nicest email from Samuel Wicks, the counsel’s Public Education Associate. In it he answered all of my questions in a very courteous and professional manner that made me feel as if he cared about how I’m trying to make my life greener one corner of one room at one time. He also included articles.

So here’s the short of it:

Are TPs made from raw materials other than wood actually greener?

Bamboo  is used to make a variety of things; including textiles and paper. For paper goods, it is pulped into fiber by way of either mechanical or chemical processing. As a Unknowngeneral rule, mechanical processing can be more costly, but is better for the environment. The chemical processing methods used can actually harm the planet. That said, most bamboo manufacturers claim to be green, but really aren’t, because they use chemicals to turn bamboo stalks into fiber.

Hemp is another alternative to wood for paper and according to some of the articles I’ve read, it is generally made using images chemicals that aren’t as harsh to the environment. Both hemp and bamboo are not grown in high enough quantities in the US, though. That means the raw materials for products made from them would have to be shipped in from other countries, like China. This not only makes them more expensive, but increases their negative impact on the planet.

Sugarcane is grown on this continent and turning it into paper isn’t a new idea. I found this nifty video on making sugarcane paper from back in the 1950’sUnknown-1 It’s about 2 minutes long. (Click the underlined sentence above to watch it.) My favorite part is when the narrator says that sugar is one of our most important foods! But it looks like chemicals are needed during various stages of processing that plant into fiber, too.

TP from post-consumer recycled paper is the safest bet for the environment in terms of use of resources and processing. Plus,   the NRDC has a list of green tissue products.  There are plenty to choose from. But with that, I’m back to the BPA conundrum.  The way I see it, I’m left with two options: I go TP golden birthdayparty essentials-2free, install a bidet and use wash clothes. This option would be by far the greenest. I hadn’t mentioned it because,  I don’t know what I would do with my husband then. Or, I could shrug off my concerns and return to plan A: TP made from recycled content.

How bad is BPA exposure really? 

The answer is, it all seems sort of speculative, with some people raising the roof with concerns and other saying: it’s not so bad.  But one thing is certain: almost all of us have been exposed for generations. I suppose then most folks (with the exception of ME) figure there’s no point in dwelling on it.

According to one of the articles Samuel had sent, 98% of our exposure to BPA comes from contact with #’s 3-7 plastics, anyway. I don’t know if that makes it all okay, but at least then only 2% of our exposure comes from using recycled paper products. And, with the latter, the powdered version of the chemical is not a coating on the surface, like it is when I take my receipt after the cashier at Price Chopper hands it to me.  It seems people who handle receipts frequently should be most concerned. But in terms of recycled paper, the traces of BPA powder are mixed in with the slurry before it’s even turned into TP or other products.

So, what’s my final answer?

My husband and I are going to stay with Marcal for now. But we do plan to try a few of the different brands of toilet paper from the NRDC list. Green Forest is said to be somewhat softer compared to most recycled based TPs. It also received high marks on Greenpeace USA’s list of green TP’s.  Unfortunately, it’s not available in our supermarket. But Marcal is!

With that, my husband will be very happy to hear that next week’s post will be about Clorox wipes.

If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to the NRDC, here’s the link to their website: https://www.nrdc.org

Toilet paper: My new worst nightmare!

imagesI’m not gonna lie. I’m a little freaked out by this whole BPA thing.  I’m about fifteen years late for being freaked out, but now that I’m here, there’s no turning back.  It seems Bisphenol-A has been used as a coating inside things like plastic baby bottles and cans for food and beverages since the 1960’s.  And, since it can leach into our food, that means when I was a baby I likely sucked BPA down with my formula. The first reports about how it might be bad for us came out in the 1990’s.

Guess I hadn’t been paying attention.

I wish I could return to those days when I was oblivious to how BPA, that little old endocrine-disruptor that can throw a person’s hormone-system out of whack, is floating around inside almost all of us. I wish I still had no clue about how it can cause things from reproductive problems to developmental delays to obesity to diabetes and so on and so forth. And, I so wish I hadn’t found out that, not only is theimages synthetic form of estrogen inside cans and plastic food containers, it’s on recycled paper products, like toilet paper, too!

Just a few days ago I felt like I’d won one for the environment after I’d convinced my husband to switch from Charmin to Marcal. It’s better for the planet, I said. It’s made with 100% recycled paper, I said.

Ugh!

The problem is that cash register receipts and other types of thermal paper get thrown in with paper recyclables, contaminating the whole lot with a powdered form of BPA. So now I’m not sure if switching to Marcal is the right move. I can only imagine what my husband will say when I break that to him. It took a lot of finessing on my part to get him to say yes to Marcal, which he did mostly so I’d stop talking about toilet paper. Now, not only am I not sure about switching, but we may have to rethink toilet paper entirely.  My biggest wish at the moment is that someone else give him that update.

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My husband responded with a long sigh and then this: “Sounds like we’ve always been exposed to BPA. Is it really that big a deal?” He rested his arm on the banister atop the stairs to the loft, looking towards me and my desk and my opened laptop through the eyes of a guy who’d seen it all before.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“And yet you’re freaking out.”

He had a point. In fact, most toilet paper in public restrooms are made from post-consumer recyclables, which means most of us get a dose of it whenever we ‘go’ outside our homes. BPA has been detected in paper currency, too. With that, in addition to the #’s 3-7 plastic food containers that things like DD smoothies come in, there are more ways of being exposed to BPA, or its substitute, Bisphenol-S, (which, as it turns out, is no better,) than there are tweets by Donald Trump.

“Why don’t you just email Marcal and ask if their TP has BPA in it?”

“I did. They never got back to me.” I couldn’t hide my frustration.  “It really bothers me when companies don’t reply to my emails.”

“You’ve said.” From his grimace + head nod he had more sympathy for Marcal right then. “So, what are the alternatives? And before you even go there, we’re not stock piling corncobs!”

I laughed, although his somber expression said that he wasn’t joking. But he’d made me wonder: With all the corn fields around, why wouldn’t there be corn toilet paper. “They have TP made from bamboo, hemp, and sugarcane. It probably wouldn’t be that much of a leap.”

“Why do I even open my mouth?” The question seemed to have been directed at heaven, so I didn’t answer.

Before paper mills made toilet paper, people actually had used things like corncobs, stones, pages from the Sears and Roebuck catalog, and so on. (And we today think recycled-paper TP is rough.) When mills started making paper products for personal hygiene, they continued to use the wood pulp/reclaimed paper combo that they had for making printing paper and stationary. But these days with concerns over BPA and our vastly depleting forests, some companies have started making TP, tissues and such out of other materials. I don’t know whether choosing one raw material over another makes a company any greener. It’s on my list of things to find out. But at the moment I typed corn toilet paper into the search bar on my laptop and hit the return key, I felt the tingle of what might be a brilliant idea run through my finger tips.

My Google search came back with nothing.golden birthdayparty essentials

“Does that mean I’m the first person to think of it–––ever?”

“And you’re surprised?”

“Um…yeah! Aren’t you?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Green TP is a No-Go

At some point during the night my husband set a roll of Marcal toilet paper on the closed lid of my laptop. I noticed it when I woke up at 6 a.m. I walked past my office, looked left and there is was; his thick &soft, 2-ply, 80% more sheets per roll line in the sand.

I have to say, up until that moment he’d been very supportive, not only of my blog, which he proofreads and says he likes, but also about my one-corner-of-one-room-at-one-time approach to making our lives greener. (I suppose he’s grateful I’m not doing it all at once.) He’s gotten into the habit of saying no to single-use plastic shopping bags, just like I have.  And, we now recycle everything our Waste Management Facility accepts; like IMG_1425plastic film packaging, cardboard-type material, whether its a brown box from Amazon, cereal box,  or TP and paper towel roll, as well as mail and office paper. He’s even made a handy rack for all our recycling bins that we keep in the garage. We now have eight.

But I guess for him at least, when it comes to going green, some things are off limits. That TP on my laptop was a loud and clear message to leave his Charmin alone!

The problem for me is that when I researched to find out whether Bounty was safe for the environment, I learned that Proctor & Gamble, the company that makes it, is doing things that harm our planet; like deforesting woodlands in Canada,  producing more carbon emissions and other harmful bi-products than it needs to, and using bleaching agents and chemicals that pollute our water ways. So, I decided then that if I knew a company was not taking steps to reduce its impact on Mother Earth, I’d avoid buying the stuff it puts out. P&G makes Bounty and Charmin.

So I now have to find a brand of TP that’s eco-friendly, cost friendly, AND soft. Luckily, the National Resource Defense Committee,  has a great list of planet-safe toilet paper brands. Unluckily, in researching some of these brands, I’ll be hard pressed to find one as GirlyGoingAwayPartysoft as Charmin. To make matters worse, I read in the Huffington Post that many brands of recycled toilet paper contain Bisphanal-A, or BPA; a chemical associated with health risks. (Thank you Huffington Post for adding to my parade of worries.)

How did BPA get into recycled toilet paper, you ask. If the reclaimed paper used by paper mills comes from cash register receipts and newspapers it’s likely contaminated with BPA. One BPA-free alternative  bathtissue_EMERALDis to use a TP not made from trees, like Emerald Bath Tissue, made from sugar cain. At almost 30 bucks for 15 rolls with shipping, I’m thinking that’s not the choice for us, however!

I read somewhere that Marcal does not use newspapers in it’s manufacturing. But it also doesn’t say BPA-free on its packaging. Does that mean it’s not BPA-free? I would think if it was, Soundview Paper Company, the manufacturer, would market it that way. But my odds are stacked against avoiding BPA anyway. According to the HP article most public restrooms use TP made from recycled content that is likely not BPA-free. BPA is probably a sealant in the cans of diced tomatoes we use weekly, too. So, does it matter if the toilet paper we use at home contains it? I’m not sure. I just know that I don’t feel right about buying Charmin anymore.

 

Paper Towels Made from 100% Recycled Materials and Cleaning Cloths; Our new normal

I walked through the backdoor of our home feeling so happy. Up until earlier that day, I thought I’d have to order IMG_1145the eco-friendly brand of paper towels I wanted to try on-line, then wait for Amazon to deliver, before getting to see how well they worked. But when I went to Price Chopper that afternoon, my new brand was right there, in the aisle for paper products.

It was as if I’d won a prize!

I arrived home with a pack of eight, removed a full roll of Bounty from the paper towel holder in our kitchen, and replaced it with the new brand, (which is a lot thinner, as it turns out.)

It was around that time when I heard my husband’s office door open.

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His footsteps echoed up the tile floor in the rear hallway. He turned the corner to the front of the house and came into view, stopping in the laundry room, squinting into the kitchen. Despite the dim lighting where he stood, I could see his face clearly. Judging from the way he eyed the open pack of towels on the counter and then turned to me, I was in trouble. I reached back and hid the towels behind me, then greeted him with a smile.

“Why’d you buy paper towels?” he asked.

“What do you mean?” I knew exactly what. “They’re Marcal.”

From his confused expression, this meant nothing.

“I’m blogging about that brand next week. Remember?”

He pointed left, to the closed pantry door opposite our front loaders. “We have sixteen rolls of Bounty in there.”

Now it was my turn to squint.

He paced through the doorway into the sun-lit kitchen, folding his arms across his chest as he approached. “We have to use them up.”

“We will.”

“Not at the rate we’re using paper towels these days.”

“I know! We’re doing great!”

IMG_0863It seemed my celebratory tone only made him more afraid over what would become of those 16 rolls. But it was true! We’d had the same one hanging in51AZcTSL0LL._AC_US160_ our kitchen for over a week and had hardly used it. The reason: I switched to bamboo cleaning cloths for wiping around my counter instead, and we’ve put a system place for what we do with them from start to finish!

THE SYSTEM

IMG_1183I keep my supply of clean cloths in a drawer. From there, I hang a new one on the stove handle every day. The stove is in the center of our kitchen and a convenient place to station IMG_1182a cloth for when I need to wipe around. It’s just as easy to reach there as it is to reach for a paper towel. Then, at the end of the day, or when the cloth gets even the slightest bit yucky, I toss it into a small trash can that I’d repurposed as a  cleaning- IMG_1264cloth  laundry bin.

If the cloth is damp, I’ll hang it on the side of the bin until it dries, to prevent a musty smell.  Whenever I get close to running out of cloths, I wash the contents of the bin in hot water, soap, and bleach, to kill off any bacteria. It can take weeks before we run through our supply, though. When I’d purchased the bamboo cloths I bought three boxes, not realizing that each contained three packs of three.  I now have 27, 7×8 inch cleaning cloths on hand.

My husband and I have also become more aware of it when we reach for a paper towel, and we’ve been finding ways to avoid it. Now that we have a system in place for our main alternative, that’s become much easier!

“Of course, we’ll use them,” I said. “Why wouldn’t we? But you know, Marcal paper towels are less than half the price of Bounty and they’re eco-friendlier.” (Although, I’ll admit, they’re not nearly as soft or absorbent.)

Marcal started using recycled paper to make their products in the 1940’s, way ahead of when being green was a thing. Back then, it made economic sense. Now Marcal is a division of the green Soundview Paper Company.

Studies have shown that paper mills that use recycled material for their products, consume fewer trees and use less water and power, than companies, like Proctor and Gamble, that chop down virgin forests to make stuff. IMG_1103

“You know what else is great?” I said. “Marcal makes napkins and toilet paper, too.”

Whatever the thought was that crossed my husband’s mind at that moment, it came out as a left side chin twitch at first. He leaned back against the counter, covering his face while he groaned, and then said through his hands, “If you decide to change our toilet paper just give me fair warning.”

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Paper Towels and the Degrees of Going Green

I asked my Facebook friends what they thought about going paper towel-less. Not surprising, many already had. They came up with some great alternatives for me to use when wiping around in my kitchen. (Thank you friends!)

THE WEDDING OF-3

 

GREENEST: GOING PAPER TOWEL-LESS

Cloth rags

One of the oldest alternatives to paper towels is what people had used before paper towels were first mass-produced in the 1930’s. They used cloth rags for cleaning! One of my FB friends cuts up old t-shirts and towels for that purpose. She keeps them conveniently located in a drawer in her kitchen. Another friend repurposes old cloth napkins for wiping around.

There are also packs of cleaning cloths available on the Web51AZcTSL0LL._AC_US160_ that can be purchased in different colors; so that bathroom cleaning rags don’t get confused with say, kitchen cleaning rags. e84b3a_727804c360424af381a70a3f2e8f0d8fSomeone also posted this nifty idea to my FB page. They’re cleaning cloths that can fit on a paper towel dispenser! How cool is that! http://www.theunpapertowel.com

But, as another friend pointed out, going with cleaning cloths instead of paper towels might not be as green as one would think. The problem is, those rags have to be washed in hot water and bleach to prevent bacteria from growing on them. If everyone all over the world were to do that, all that water and energy used could counter the benefits of going paper towel-less.

Sponges

The kitchen sponge is a staple in my household and a good alternative for wiping around counters. 41G-vidWzGL._AC_US160_These days, there are quite a few eco-friendly choices there, too.  Also, sponges can be sanitized in a dishwasher or microwave; both eco-friendlier options compared to washing machines.

 

GREEN: USING ECO-FRIENDLY PAPER TOWELS

There are many brands of paper towels that come from manufacturers that have committed to using post-consumer recycled materials. (An example of post-consumer recyclables is the mail and office paper my husband brings to the Dump each week, which eventually gets sent to paper mills and repulped to make other products.) There are quite a few brands that the non-profit National Resource Defense Counsel had rated highly, like Marcal, Seventh Generation, and Good Earth. But the NRDC gavetowel_family_2-6-15 their highest rating to the New Jersey based company Marcal, because it uses 100% post-consumer recycled materials and eco-friendly bleach to whiten their products.

GREENER: USING A COMBINATION OF ECO-FRIENDLY PAPER TOWELS, SPONGES, AND CLOTH RAGS

This should have appeared in between the GREENEST and GREEN, but I put it last, because this middle option, where we use a combination of green alternatives to Bounty paper towels, feels like a good fit. I purchased cleaning cloths and sponges for wiping around in the kitchen. But we’ll likely continue to use paper towels for some things, like yucky cat and dog mishaps. After we use up the Bounty we have in stock, (which could take a while, because we’ll be using less,) we’ll switch to a brand of greener paper towels, like Marcal.

Even if this does result in an extra load of laundry each week, the way I see it, we’ll still be a lot greener than we were before. First of all, a paper mill that relies on recycled raw material for manufacturing, like Soundview Paper Company, which makes Marcal, uses less water and energy than ones, like Proctor and Gamble, makers of Bounty and Charmin. Plus, we’ll be sending fewer used paper towels to the landfill!

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I’ll let you know about how I make it work next week, but for now, here’s something to think about: Which one of the degrees of going green could be a good fit for you?

It’s Not Easy Going Green

Over the weekend we had fun with neighbors and friends at our annual 4th of July party. To add to the awesomeness of fireworks and barbecue, my family came up.  My husband and I love hosting, which is a good thing, because we live in the middle of nowhere. That means when folks come to visit, they generally stay a spell.

So we’re geared up with plenty of beds, sheets and towels. That way, even when we have a full house, like we did this past weekend, everyone is comfortable. It just takes a little planning for meals and such. Then we all pitch in and things go smoothly. I should have planned for keeping my greener corners green too, though. Somewhere between grilling hot dogs and all those lively games of Scrabble my husband and I had a lapse in eco-friendly practices.

I heard once that it can take six weeks for newly forming habits to become part of someone’s lifestyle. I suppose then, if we’d set out to reduce our paper-towel usage back in say, April, instead of just a few days ago we wouldn’t have gone through an entire roll in a weekend. I tried to resist reaching for a sheet each time there were spills, but with meal preparation and clean up a near constant, a lot of times I’d forget. At least once, I threw out a cleaning cloth that I’d intended to wash and reuse.

On the other hand, we managed well enough with our recyclables. We just had more bottles, cans, paper, and plastic to carry up to the garage and sort into the bins my husband had set up. To make that easier, once my family understood what we were doing and how we were doing it, they all helped.

To me that says we wouldn’t have used as many paper towels if we’d had alternatives in place and a plan for what to do with them. Also, as a friend had suggested, it would have been better if our paper towel roll wasn’t hanging ready and willing next to the kitchen sink.  To be honest, though, the thought of moving it somewhere out of sight has me a bit uneasy. I know my husband won’t like it, either. Not yet anyway.

Right now, I have a cleaning cloth hanging off the handle of our stove, which I use instead of paper towels for wiping around my kitchen counter. But I learned just yesterday that my husband uses paper towels to cover food when he microwaves to prevent splatter. So we need to talk about how we each use paper towels and what we can and are willing to do differently.

I also have to figure out how many times I can use the same cloth for wiping around. I don’t want to spread bacteria across my counters.  YUCK! Right now, when a cloth seems soiled or it feels like it’s been in use a while, I toss it into the washing machine, so it can be washed the next time we do a load. But I think they need to be sanitized in hot water and bleach. The problem is, I never accumulate enough of them to justify a separate load.

I need a better plan.

I asked my Facebook friends for some ideas and they really came through. Now I just have to decide which would be a good fit for us. (I’ll blog more about that next week.) Once we have a system for how to function in the kitchen with less paper towels,  I’m sure it will be easy to keep. Then, hopefully, by the time my family comes up next, even cooking, cleaning, and heated Wii bowling matches won’t sidetrack us from staying green!