Don't let an eco-friendly lifestyle be bad for your health

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Many people live an eco-friendly lifestyle in an effort to protect the planet and preserve it for generations to come. Simply taking small strides on an individual level can add up to measurable change collectively.

Although individuals may forge ahead with environmentally conscious plans to reduce, reuse and recycle, they may not know that some changes could potentially prove harmful to their health. Recognizing these potential health hazards and how to avoid them can benefit both the planet and the people who want to protect it.

Reusable bags

Avoiding plastic shopping bags in favor of reusable cloth totes is a popular eco-friendly trend. Many types of plastic are not biodegradable, and tote bags help keep millions of plastic bags from ending up in landfills. Reusable totes also tend to be stronger and more durable than flimsy plastic.

But without frequent washing, reusable totes can harbor harmful bacteria. According to microbiologists at the University of Arizona in Tucson, almost all reusable bags tested in one of their studies had large numbers of fecal bacteria, which can come from toting fresh produce and meat. Bacteria can increase exponentially if the bags are allowed to sit in warm cars or trunks.

The solution is to wash reusable tote bags with hot water and detergent regulary to remove any bacterial residue. Choose cloth bags that will stand up to repeated washings.

Water bottles

Ditching disposable water bottles for reusable alternatives is an easy way to eliminate scores of plastic bottles from going in the trash. Such a switch also reduces energy output to recycle old plastic and turn it into new bottles.

But it’s important that reusable bottles are cleaned thoroughly after each use. Bottles can hold on to germs, especially bottles with a spout or flip-up attached straw. Bacteria gets transferred from your hand every time you pull out the spout or straw, so select a water bottle that can be run through the dishwasher. The hot, steamy cycle will help sterilize the bottle after use and keep it clean and sanitary.

Composting

Composting is a staple of green gardening. When done right, compost can add valuable nutrients to the soil and reduce waste from foods and yard clippings. When done in an irresponsible way, composting may do more harm than good.

A potential downside to composting is that the pile of decomposing food and plant matter will attract pests. Smaller pests can attract larger predators. Certain rodents can carry harmful diseases and pass them on to people or pets through scratches or bites. Composting should be done in secured bins to keep pests away.

Putting the wrong scraps into compost also can create problems. Meat and other animal products, with the exception of eggshells, and human and pet feces are dangerous. These items tend to have more protein in them and can foster dangerous pathogens as they decompose, leading to disease and possibly even death.

Reusable cloths

Everything from handkerchiefs to cleaning rags can be used to reduce reliance on disposable items. But while such items cut down on waste, without frequent laundering, these items can breed and transfer germs.

Routinely wash any reusable fabric cleaning or hygiene item in hot, soapy water to kill off pathogens. It’s possible to get sick from eating off of dishes that were washed with a washcloth laden with bacteria. Soak washcloths in bleach and replace dishrags and towels every day or two.

Do not use hand towels or dish towels to wipe up spills around the kitchen. Designate cloths for cleaning and personal use.

Going green can help protect the planet, but men and women should ensure their attempts at going green are as beneficial to their own health as they are to that of the planet.

— Metro Creative

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