Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Strange Bedfellows: Paper, Sugar, Diapers

Paper, Sugar and Diapers ... Strange bedfellows indeed.

That bed has a few more occupants, however: Flour, Coffee Filters, White Cotton Clothing, Tampons, Toilet Paper, Tea Bags, and Cigarette Papers (to name a few). What do all of these "bed mates" have in common? They are brilliantly white thanks to bleaching ... a process which releases dioxins into the environment.

Dioxins are environmental pollutants and have been associated with health complications such as cancer, birth defects and an increased risk of diabetes. Because dioxins are "fat loving", they bioaccumulate in both humans and wildlife. Bioaccumulate means that they are absorbed into our bodies faster than our systems can get rid of them.

Waterways are particularly susceptible to dioxin contamination as a result of bleaching practices. The toxins get into fish and plant life ... and travel right up the food chain to us. Additionally, dioxins linger on the bleached items ... this is a concern because those items come in contact with us and/or our food.

There are many ways that dioxins enter the environment ... burning coal, using products with chlorine, burning trash in a can in the backyard, plastics (think PVC) ... and bleaching consumer products. Here's an interesting fact ... most natural, raw fibers and products aren't white at all ... they are brown or off-white. But somewhere along the line we came to believe that white equals clean. So we started bleaching things ... and hurting the environment.

Once again, there is power is our purchases. Refusing to buy bleached items increases the demand for unbleached items ... and a healthier planet. Here are a few ideas:

  • Buy unbleached flour.
  • Instead of white coffee filters, go for the natural, brown variety. Or better yet, invest in a reusable filter.
  • Try raw or unrefined sugar or honey instead of white sugar.
  • For paper products, look for unbleached varieties. This includes computer paper, toilet paper, paper towels and napkins, etc.
  • Buy clothing made from natural organic cotton or, if you can find it, go for clothing made from hemp and bamboo. Both hemp and bamboo are sustainable crops and use less resources than cotton crops.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Check packaging ... anything white is a bleaching "giveaway".
As always ... I would love to hear from you!


  1. I had to laugh a little about bleaching. I don't bleach because I have a daughter with breathing problems.
    It was not until years later that I learned how harmful bleach is. I was green and did not even know it.
    When I would like something to be a little whiter I soak it in vineger water. Yes, vineger is a natural bleach.

  2. SF, as a chef, white flour is essential sometimes, I prefer to use wholemeal or mandioca flour.

    Coffee filter is cloth, reusable, life about 18 months with twice daily usage.

    Raw sugar in coffee is just great.

    Try not to use those products, tea-towel has it hands over paper towels. I reuse brown paper bags to drain fat etc off food. Toilet paper IS one of the essentials, but unbleached is impossible to find in Brazil.

    The clothing one is difficult too, unless you shop a chique botique which are horrendously expensive.

    Smoke pipe or cigars more often than cigaretts.

    Prefer brown paper bags to plastic, have a cloth shopping bag. Prefer to buy loose items than prepackaged if I can find it.


  3. Wow, I never thought of this! Maybe I should invest in brown paper instead of white paper for my art! Thanks for the comment you left on my blog, very much appreciated! Keep up the good environment tips!

  4. This is a topic I've been keen on for several years, since learning that dioxins are implicated in endometriosis (which my mother had, and I may have). I pretty rapidly did away with bleached tampons and pads (and since then have switched to a menstrual cup), paper towels, etc. I've never been a fan of bleached flour, and we rarely use bleached sugar now as well.

    The thing I struggle with is finding affordable clothing that hasn't been bleached.

  5. This is a great post. I went bleach free about two years ago because of my dh and grandson who both have asthma. You can use Hydrogen Peroxide or tea tree oil to kill mold, the former to bleach clothes, clean algae from a fountain or bird bath,etc.
    I hadn't considered a cloth coffee filter. That was a great suggestion by one of the posters. I'm on it right now.
    Thanks Small!

  6. I've been out of town but so look forward to any of your postings. I share them often. As this will be another. Thank you for your time and effort in changing what really is! Take care you my friend,

  7. I'd never used bleach before, and yes, DIOXIN is a giant killer... of the animal kingdom and mankind.

    Bad, bad dioxin...

  8. We do a lot of those things and will look for more.

    I wonder what a "natural bleaching" method is for white clothing that gets dingy - did you say that and I missed it? or maybe said it before?

  9. Kathryn,

    I've heard that a cup of Hydrogen Peroxide in the wash water works as well as bleach. I haven't tried it yet but plan to. Using a cup of vinegar in the rinse water is also supposed to brighten laundry (not necessarily whiten though). I've tried that and haven't really noticed a difference. I've also heard that 7th Generation makes laundry products that do a good job but ... again ... I haven't tried them.

    I'll keep searching for something that works ... and I'll let you know!


  10. I truly enjoy reading your posts. I am so glad to have found your blog. You bring up such important topics, ones that are of special interest to me, such as this one. Thanks.

  11. Speaking of bleach, any recommendations for a shower curtain that won't off-gas and can survive more than one trip through the washing machine? I tried cloth, but I cannot keep the mildew under control. I look forward to replacing the curtain with doors when we can afford to redo the bathroom.

  12. I use a reusable coffee filter, carry my own grocery bags.

    I did not know about the dioxin in goods. So I have some serious label reading to do.

    Thanks for the informative post!

  13. Eemilla, mildew is a problem. A fabric curtain is definitely better than those plastic things. Here are a few ideas for keeping mildew down:

    -Keep a spray bottle of vinegar and water handy and then, after each shower, spray the curtain.

    -Open the curtain up after showers so that there are no folds ... mildew loves dark, moist areas.

    -Keep good air ventilation in the bathroom.

    -Before washing the curtain, soak it in vinegar and water. Let it soak for a good long while (at least an hour).

    -After washing, soak the curtain in salt water ... the salt will help prevent mildew from coming back.

    -If the main problem area is the hem of the curtain, cut if off ... again, mildew loves folded areas because it is dark and moist.

    I hope that helps! If you decide to try any of these ideas, let us know how it turns out for you.


  14. Terrific suggestions! As for the coffee filters, I do not use them. Instead I use the K-cups for my coffee machine. Or the pre-made coffee thing that you buy to use your own coffee with it. Which has its own coffee filter that you just use and wash after each use!
    Plus I love using recyclable printer paper.
    Thanks again for always keeping me better informed about being more green and all!

  15. Hoping your Friday is being good to you. Please stop by my reads, I have a little something for you! Take care and enjoy,

  16. Yep, vinegar is great for mold and mildew.

    I've used 7th Gen laundry products but prefer Bi-O-Kleen. Another great option is Charlie's Soap. Oxy-Bright (I think that's the right name -- not the one on the TV ads) is chlorine-free and is good at whitening as well. But most of all, don't forget the sun! Hang your dingy stuff out to dry in the sun and you may be surprised at how good it looks after!

  17. what brands of Toilet Paper and other papers would you recommend? God, I hate to sound so dumb, but again, what is the exact phrase they use when they mean it has been bleached?

    Sorry to sound so stupid.

  18. Bernthis ... that's a great question ... not stupid or dumb at all. Companies have a tricky little habit of "candy coating" things so reading the label isn't always going to give you the answer.

    For paper products, look for these words: totally chlorine-free (TCF) or processed chlorine-free (PCF). Companies that don't bleach are happy to put these words on their labels and the absence of these words usually indicates that the product has been bleached. Also look for post-consumer content ... the higher the percentage, the better. For a great list which can be downloaded and copied (and taken to the store), go here:

    The list is great and if you click on "See the full list", you'll get a lot of product information.

    I hope that helps!


  19. I soaked my shower curtin for about two hours in a strong vinegar water then I hung it out to dry; we have been using a strong vinegar water spray after each shower, and the mold/mildew seems to be at bay.


  20. eemilla,

    I'm so glad it's working! Thanks for letting us know!