Dear 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
It 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.
|Many air fresheners use harsh chemicals
to eliminate or overpower odors or coat
+your nasal passages to temporarily
block your sense of smell. But but there
are nontoxic alternatives, including make
your-own concoctions, indoor plants and
simply opening the windows and letting
fresh air in.Credit: iStock/Thinkstock
Perhaps 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.
Given 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.
Another 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.
Greenhome.com 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.
CONTACTS: The Green Guide, http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/green-guide; Greenhome.com, www.greenhome.com; Mother Nature Network, www.mnn.com.
Dear EarthTalk: What are “catch shares” as a strategy for rescuing fish populations that are on the brink? -- Peter Parmalee, New Orleans, LA
|First used in Australia, New Zealand and Iceland in the
1970s, "catch shares" programs, which protect estab-
lished fishermen’s livelihoods during efforts to scale back
commercial harvesting of overfished species, are now a
fixture in fisheries management around the world, including
in the United States. Credit: iStock/Thinkstock
The term “Catch shares”—also called Limited Access Privilege Programs (LAPPs)—refers to a fisheries management technique whereby individual fishermen, cooperatives or fishing communities are guaranteed a certain percentage of the overall “Total Allowable Catch” (TAC) for a certain fish species (or “fish stock”) in a given area. Catch shares are typically implemented to protect established fishermen’s livelihoods during efforts to scale back commercial harvesting of overfished species.
“Fishermen are usually allowed to buy and sell shares in order to maximize their profit,” reports the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a leading green group that has worked extensively with fishermen and the six regional fishery management councils on aligning business and conservation goals. “This helps drive the fishery to an efficient level and rewards innovative fishermen who can lower costs and deliver a quality product that will fetch a good price on the market.” Also, EDF points out that under a catch shares system, fishermen have a real investment in sustainability: If the population of the species goes up in subsequent years, the amount of fish guaranteed to each fisherman increases accordingly.
“With a secure share of the catch…incentives change from spurring fishermen to capture the most fish they can, to spurring them to maximize the value of their share instead,” reports EDF. By eliminating this race-to-the-finish mentality, fishermen can more effectively plan their trips, deliver fish according to market demands and stay ashore when conditions are unsafe. They can also fish more carefully, deploy their gear more selectively and take greater pains to avoid fishing in sensitive habitats.
“Fishing more carefully also leads to less gear lost at sea that has become known as ‘ghost gear’ because it often continues to kill fish and other marine creatures,” reports EDF. “In the Alaska halibut fishery, ghost gear was reduced more than 80 percent after catch shares were implemented.”
Another benefit of catch shares is reduced “bycatch”—non-targeted fish, dolphins, turtles and other marine species that get unintentionally caught in fishing nets and gear and which are subsequently discarded dead or dying back into the ocean. “Under catch shares, fishermen can take their time to improve their fishing methods, particularly targeting high-value species and minimizing interaction with species that are restricted or have lower limits,” says EDF. “In catch share fisheries, wasteful discards plummeted from pre-catch-share rates, down an average of about 40 percent.”
First used in Australia, New Zealand and Iceland in the 1970s, catch shares are now a fixture in fisheries management around the world, including in the United States. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the first U.S. Catch Share program was implemented in 1990 in the Mid-Atlantic Surf Clam and Ocean Quahog Fishery, but now over a dozen are in effect across the country and several more are under consideration. As of 2010 the NOAA has been actively promoting the implementation of new LAPP programs in U.S. waters, and lends expertise on design, management and monitoring of catch shares under each of the nation’s six regional fisheries management councils.