EarthTalk: I’ve heard that many air fresheners
contain toxic chemicals. Are there any green-friendly, non-toxic
air fresheners out there, or how can I make my own?
—Jenny Rae, Bolton, MA
air fresheners use harsh chemicals to eliminate
or overpower odors or coat your nasal passages to
temporarily block your sense of smell. But there
are nontoxic alternatives, including make-your-own
concoctions, indoor plants and simply opening the
windows and letting fresh air in.
is true that some air fresheners on the market today make
use of harsh chemicals to eliminate or overpower odors.
“Many air fresheners contain nerve-deadening chemicals
that coat your nasal passages and temporarily block your
sense of smell,” reports National Geographic’s
The Green Guide. Some of the most offensive ingredients—volatile
organic compounds (VOCs), benzene and formaldehyde—can
cause headaches and nausea and aggravate asthma, and have
been linked to neurological damage and cancer.
even more worrisome, though, are dispersants known as phthalates
that cause hormonal and reproductive issues, birth defects
and developmental disorders. A 2007 review by the non-profit
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that 12 out
of 14 widely available air fresheners contained phthalates.
Some of the air fresheners that tested positive for phthalates
were labeled as “all-natural” or “unscented.”
Two of the worst offenders analyzed by NRDC were sold at
Walgreens stores under that company’s own generic
label. As a result, Walgreens removed the products from
its shelves, and the manufacturer which made them reformulated
their product line without phthalates.
such problems with air fresheners, many of us are looking
for non-toxic alternatives. Of course, first and foremost
would be opening a window or two, as nothing beats good
old fresh air for shooing away offensive odors. But sometimes
the weather doesn’t cooperate for leaving windows
and doors open. The website greenhome.com suggests filling
a small spray bottle with a mixture of four teaspoons baking
soda and four cups of water and then spraying the solution
in a fine mist to neutralizer odors. Similarly, The Green
Guide suggests mixing a few drops of an organic essential
oil (lemon, orange and lavender are popular choices) with
distilled or purified water and spraying with a mister.
all-natural way to get rid of nasty smells is by wrapping
cloves and cinnamon in cheesecloth and boiling them in water.
Yet another consists of leaving herbal bouquets standing
in open dishes where the fragrance can dissipate throughout
a room. And don’t underestimate the air-cleansing
power of houseplants, which can improve indoor air quality
by filtering toxins out of the air. Mother Nature Network
reports that aloe vera plants can filter benzene and formaldehyde
out of the air, that spider plants are known for their ability
to take xylene and carbon monoxide out of the indoor environment,
and that gerber daisies excel at removing the trichloroethylene
that may come home with your dry cleaning.
also sells a variety of non-toxic air fresheners for those
less inclined to making their own. EcoDiscoveries AirZyme
makes use of natural enzymes to eliminate smoke, pet or
other smells with a few sprays. Other options include The
Natural’s Air Freshener & Deodorizer and Tru Melange’s
Beeswax and Soy candles.
Green Guide; Greenhome.com;
EarthTalk: Why is Greenpeace upset with some
leading tech companies for so-called “dirty cloud
computing?” Can you explain?
—Jeremy Wilkins, Waco, TX
wants companies like Apple, Amazon and Microsoft
to make smarter, cleaner energy choices now that
"cloud computing" services have ratcheted
up power consumption considerably.
© Wichary, Flickr
companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft are now offering
unprecedented amounts of data storage and access to “apps”
on huge Internet-connected servers, saving consumers and
businesses the hassle of installing and running programs
and storing information on their own local computers.
trend, dubbed “cloud computing,” means that
these providers have had to scale up their power consumption
considerably, as they are increasingly responsible for providing
more and more of the computing horsepower required by the
world’s two billion Internet users. No doubt, sharing
such resources on centralized servers is more efficient
than every individual and business running their own versions
separately. In fact, the research firm Verdantix estimates
that companies off-loading data and services to cloud servers
could save $12 billion off their energy bills and reduce
greenhouse gas emissions by 85 million metric tons within
the next decade. But for the greenhouse gas savings to be
realized, the companies offering cloud computing services
need to make the right energy choices.
been tracking sustainability among tech companies for over
a decade, and recently released a report, “How Green
is Your Cloud?” assessing the green footprint of the
move to cloud computing. According to the analysis, some
of the major players (Google, Facebook and Yahoo) have gone
to great lengths to ensure that significant amounts of the
power they need come from clean, green sources like wind
and solar. But Greenpeace chastises others (Apple, Amazon
and Microsoft) for relying
on so-called “dirtier” sources of power, such
as coal and nuclear, to run their huge data centers.
around the world share their music or photos on the cloud,
they want to know that the cloud is powered by clean, safe
energy,” says Gary Cook, a Senior Policy Analyst with
Greenpeace. “Yet highly innovative and profitable
companies like Apple, Amazon and Microsoft are building
data centers powered by coal and acting like their customers
won’t know or won’t care. They’re wrong.”
report evaluates 14 major tech firms and the electricity
supply chains in use across more than 80 different data
centers that power cloud-based services. Some of the largest
data centers are in buildings so big they are visible from
space and use as much power as 250,000 European homes. If
the cloud were its own country, says Greenpeace, it would
rank 5th in the world in electricity consumption.
like Google, Yahoo and Facebook are beginning to lead the
sector down a clean energy pathway through innovations in
energy efficiency, prioritizing renewable energy access
when siting their data centers, and demanding better energy
options from utilities and government decision-makers,”
reports Greenpeace. But unfortunately the majority of the
industry is not marching in step. As such, Greenpeace is
calling on all tech companies with cloud services to develop
siting policies based on access to clean energy sources,
invest in or directly purchase renewable energy, be transparent
about their energy usage, share innovative solutions so
the sector as a whole can improve, and demand that governments
and utilities increase the percentage of clean, green power
available on the grid.
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