Green Spotlight: Eileen Shares Her Environmental Pet Peeves

For our final Green Spotlight post this month, Eileen Spillman, single mother of two, full time teacher, and eco-mom extraordinaire, shares her eco-annoyances and what it means to pass green values onto your children. 

Do you have any environmental pet peeves?  

Oh yes, many. 

  1. Teeny tiny bottles of “green” cleaners but no re-fill size.  I think any environmental benefit of the cleaner was swallowed up by the packaging.
  2. Over-packaging. 
  3. When you bring your own mug to a coffee shop and they make it in a paper cup anyway, pour it into your cup and throw away the paper cup.  Kind of missed the point there.
  4. Planned obsolescence.
  5. The marketing ploy of making people feel like they have to spend a lot of money to help the environment and the whole designer, Hollywood version of being green.  Which is ridiculous because as soon as you have a second house, a boat, and find yourself taking plane trips every other week for pleasure, you need to stop kidding yourself about what a great environmentalist you are.
  6. People who drive fifteen miles out of their way to shop at upscale, organic grocery stores.
  7. Products like the Swiffer, which are designed specifically to force you into buying more consumables.  A mop and bucket does a better job anyway!  And what exactly is convenient about another product you have to keep track of, find a space to store and remember to refill when you run out? My mop and bucket are always there for me.
  8. The entire baby industry, which preys on new-parent anxiety with products you don’t need.

Do you get any indication that your children might be picking up on some of your Earth-friendly choices?  

Definitely.  They are old enough now to understand some of it.  Our apartment has a view of the back parking lot where the dumpsters and recycling bins are kept.  It is great excitement to watch the two trucks come and do their thing.  We talk about where each is going and what it means to recycle. 

The kids are totally with me on trying to use the car less too.  If I ask them to walk somewhere instead of driving, they will tell me that it’s a good thing we aren’t using the car, when just a couple of years ago there would be whining. 

Right now I am working to get them to understand the concept of not wasting food.   We’ll see how that goes.  My daughter is very aware and worried about people in the world who don’t have enough to eat, but hasn’t connected that her throwing out half a plate of food has anything to do with that. 

What’s your favorite part of being a mother?

Reading bedtime stories, random outbursts of “mom, I wike you”, remembering how to play hopscotch and cat’s cradle, the first note that was printed and spelled all by herself saying “I love you mom.  I really, really love you.”, living room dance parties, little arms around my neck and little kisses on my cheeks and being the arms they run to when life is full of spiders, monsters, rough sidewalks, loud flushing toilets and darkness.

Thanks Eileen for being our featured Green Spotlight mom this month!  We especially love Eileen’s can-do attitude—which obviously makes her so effective as a mother and a eco-role model. 

The Green Baby Guide welcomes all eco-pet peeves!  We also want to hear about the ways that your children are learning from your environmental choices.   


  1. What a great post!

    If I may add my own… what about when you bring reusable bags to the store and the cashier/bagger does something stupid, like put the items in a plastic bag before putting it in the reusable one. Or just sticking the reusable bags in a plastic bag. *blank stare*

    My toddlers are starting to pick up on some of the eco-friendly things that we do. Although, they did turn on all the lights in the house earlier, and I had to remind them that since the sun is up, we don’t need the lights on. (As an aside, how AWESOME are those solar nightlights!! I absolutely love them! Definitely bookmarking for possible Xmas gifts!)

  2. Eileen, I share most of your pet peeves! And April, that has happened to me at the grocery store as well. I have even seen them start putting my stuff in a plastic bag, then when I say I don’t need a bag, they throw the plastic bag away! Agh!

    Another huge pet peeve is eco-friendly dish soap. I have yet to find one that has anywhere near the concentration of conventional dish soap. This is a pet peeve because with the eco-friendly variety, I’m going through over two to three times the number of plastic bottles! (Sort of like Eileen‘s first pet peeve.) I have an upcoming post about this, which I’ve been working on since February. I am personally testing many eco-dish soaps and figuring out which one lasts the longest. Stay tuned!

  3. 1. Rebecca, email me and I’ll get you some Shaklee concentrated dish soap, pronoto for review and giveaway! Hello! One or two drops and you are good to go. My bottle lasts me almost four or five months.

    2. Excellent post. So genuine and to the point. I hate the celebrity green thing to a point. It is the cool thing to go green but then buy a Lexus Hybrid and have it shipped from Japan (Paul McCartney). Annoying. However, it sheds more light on doing the right thing and draws attention and people into doing better things for the environment and their health. The good the bad and the ugly, I suppose.

    3. The plastic bag thing at the grocery store, used to bug me. Now I’m proactive and straight forward. I wait till I have the cashiers attention and then hand them or the bagger my reusable bags and tell them, no plastic bags, what-so-ever. I slip up and sometimes I forget my bags and then use plastic. I feel bad enough about that, so why add to the waste?

  4. I agree with #5 big time. It really stressed me out during Earth Day, so much so that I stopped watching TV and reading green stories on the Internet for the rest of April.

    Another pet peeve is the idea that “this thing/method works for me and that’s the only way to green it”which isn’t always true. This is a big world and city/state/country regulations, area climate conditions and resources also come into play when it comes to greening something. For example, solar panels are a great in sunny areas where the local city/power company has incentives for people to use them but they aren’t a very good option for people who live in Alaska with 6 months of darkness. (Although I’m sure that there are options for people who live in Alaska that wouldn’t work well for people who live in say, California too.)

  5. Eco-friendly dish soap is a subcategory of my biggest pet peeve: things that say they are eco-friendly, when in fact they are not. Dish soap – any soap – is bad for the environment. The fact that it is biodegradable, rather than being better, is in fact bad. Furthermore, all soaps are biodegradable. When soap biodegrades in rivers and streams algae feast on it, causing excessive algae bloom, lowering water clarity and lowering levels of oxygen in the water. This is bad for water quality, fish and wildlife. The only way that soap can be slightly less bad for the environment is to come in more recyclable packaging and to be more highly concentrated so the bottles are smaller. Rebecca, I’m eager to hear about your research on this subject. I would love for people to be made more aware of this topic.

  6. Hmmm, Gina, that is very interesting. I was taking eco-friendly dishsoap to mean that it was derived from natural oils (such as coconut) rather than petroleum. I was thinking that once it was disposed of, plant-derived ingredients would be safer on wildlife than petroleum-derived ones. What do you know about that? I am still a bit murky on the issue, no pun intended.

    Then there’s the issue of the bottles. So far in my personal testing of dishsoaps, I’ve yet to find an eco-friendly one that lasts anywhere near as long as regular dish soap. So I would go through four bottles/year of regular soap that costs $2.00 a bottle or up to SIXTEEN bottles/year of some “eco-friendly” brands that cost much more. I really don’t see how buying sixteen plastic bottles of soap a year could be better for the environment.

    I still have two more brands to test out before I publish the results of my experiments, so keep the information coming!

  7. “I really don’t see how buying sixteen plastic bottles of soap a year could be better for the environment.”

    Exactly! Plastic production and even recycling is so toxic that the bottle the eco-friendly brand comes in has a greater negative impact than the positive impact of the product it contains.

    I haven’t tried it yet because i’m still using up a bottle of Dawn I bought at costco over a year ago, but I have a recipe for dish soap that uses shavings from a bar of Ivory (which has minimal paper packaging). You could put it in a glass pump bottle and a lot less plastic is involved. I don’t know how well it will work or how hard it will be to make, but I’m eager to try it.

    Gina, do you have an alternative to soap or do you just try to use it minimally? I know that if we are willing to let our dishes soak in a bit of water and sit in the sink longer, a very little soap will go a lot further. Water is an amazing surfactant.=) I do have a dishwasher and lately I’ve been using just a small bit of detergent and skipping pre-rinse in favor of the pre-wash cycle on the dishwasher. I think overall that method uses less water, electricity and soap. But then there’s the manufacturing of the large machine… sigh. There AREN’T any eco-friendly choices, only eco-friendlier choices.

  8. Eileen, let us know if you find that dishsoap recipe! What is an Ivory bar made from, though? I mean, I know it’s 99% pure according to their ads, but I’d want to know what it was before making dish soap out of it. Also, I have heard that you can run the dishwasher with baking soda instead of any detergent. Have you tried it? I don’t have a dishwasher, so I can’t try it myself.

    And yes, I know that dishwashers are more energy-efficient and water-efficient than handwashing. However, I’d have to go and buy a new machine in order to have a dishwasher. As you pointed out, that would have quite an impact as well. Maybe I’ll find a used one that happens to be energy-star rated.

    P.S. I just looked at my notes, and I guess I was exaggerating when I said I’d have to use sixteen bottles of eco-friendly stuff. It was just 8.7 bottles/year of “eco-friendly” soap compared to the 2.7 bottles/year I’d go through of the cheap stuff.

  9. I don’t know a whole lot about the manufacturing of dish soap and how it affects the environment, but I have heard that the claims most eco-soaps make are greatly exaggerated if not outright false. In my biology class in college my professor went over the whole issue exhaustively and came to the conclusion that if you have to use soap, the only lesser-impact stuff was the super-concentrated soap that conserves on packaging and number of bottles used. Water purity issues were a large portion of the class. Soap and plant fertilizers are a huge concern here in the PacNorthWest.

    I haven’t done much research on the subject, but I would not assume that soap made from plant oils would necessarily be better – after all, the oils have to be harvested from a farm or plantation. This reminds me of when I found out that old-growth forests are being cut down to plant bamboo farms – all for the eco-conscious people like me who had just bought bamboo flooring because it’s supposedly more sustainable. Ouch.

    As for what I do dish-wise: I, like Rebecca do not have a dishwasher. I wash everything by hand. I try to either clean stuff right away so it’s not crusty or soak for a while if needed. I’m a big fan of various brushes and scrapers that help get off the gunk. I then just need some soap to finish the job. Some part of me suspects that soap isn’t really that necessary for our hygiene, but I can’t bring myself to put stuff away when it has a film of grease on it. In fact, I often find myself re-washing stuff that isn’t sparkly. Not the best thing for our rivers and streams, is it? But I don’t like buying non-stick surfaces for health reasons, and ceramic-coated dishware seems to need a little extra soaping to get clean. Ammonia would probably be a good eco alternative, but I can’t stand the smell.

  10. Here is a website that talks about the biodegradibility of natural and “synthetic” soaps:

    Here is a website about the dangers of soap to streams:

  11. Thanks for that information, Gina. If your bio professor is right and it’s better to buy super-concentrated stuff rather than plant-derived “eco-friendly” stuff, then that will affect the conclusions I reach at the end of my experiments. Oh, and what about phosphates? Aren’t eco-friendly soaps phosphate-free? Or something?

    Good point about plant-derived oils coming from coconuts, which may or may not be sustainably harvested. Also, they certainly aren’t locally grown!

    I’ve had good luck cutting grease with baking soda, though I haven’t tried washing dishes by hand with them. Maybe I should. The saga continues. . . .

  12. Okay, here is the recipe. It is from the book, “Homemade” published by Reader’s digest.

    1/4 cup soap flakes
    1 1/2 cups hot water
    1/4 cup glycerin
    1/2 teaspoon lemon oil

    (my condensed version of how to make it) Make the soap flakes by grating a bar of ivory with a cheese grater. Pour soap flakes into hot water. Stir until dissolved. let sit for 5 minutes. Stir in glycerin and lemon oil. A loose gel will form as it cools. use a fork to break up any congealed parts and put it in a squirt bottle.

    In the book they talk about how you used to be able to buy a very simple/natural product called soap flakes but now they are very hard to find and you have to make your own using as natural a bar soap as you can find.

  13. I wanted to add, I think when I make it I will sub vinegar for the lemon because I’m not supposed to use lemon cleaners on my flatware. I might add some essential oil for fragrance too.

  14. Thanks for that recipe, Eileen. Please report back if you ever end up making it!

  15. I would like to clarify and amend my previous statements on soaps. Rebecca’s husband and I were discussing the algae bloom issue last night and he was correct when he brought up the point that it’s mostly the phosphates in soaps that are the most significant cause of algae bloom in lakes. Phosphates are no longer allowed in most soaps, notably laundry soaps, but they are still found in dishwasher detergent – it is the chemical that reduces soap residue on your dishes. So if you are using a dishwasher, make sure your detergent is phosphate-free. Here is a link to an article about this problem:

    However, I stand by the assertion that all soaps are bad for the environment, and by what I can deduce from various sources, there is no clear advantage to buying “all-natural” soaps, especially if the packaging is not reduced. Here are a few points to take into consideration:

    1. Soaps made from petroleum products have their origins in crude oil. Crude oil is a naturally occurring product.
    2. Biodegradability simply means that an organism, usually a bacteria, had to consume the product and break it down into parts. This process can be good for the soil, but is bad for streams.
    3. In Portland, some of our waste water overflows directly into streams when our water system can’t handle the volume. This usually happens when it rains, and it means that your water, soap, and, yes, raw sewage go directly into the Willamette River.

  16. Wow, Gina, all this time I had no idea that you were so informed about soap. I was doing a bit of reading on the subject myself. The link you provided about the biodegradability of soaps in comment #10 was interesting. They claim that there is no clear environmental advantage to plant-based soaps over petroleum-based soaps, AND they are the Soap and Detergent Association, “home of the oleochemical industries.” Oleochemicals are biologically-derived chemicals, as opposed to petrochemicals.

    I am now expanding my original post on eco-friendly dish soap (soon to be published here on the Green Baby Guide). If I had a dishwasher I’d try plain old baking soda and see if it worked. I know very few people who have a dishwasher, but if anyone wants to try it out and report back, please do!

  17. So my question is, how are we supposed to get clean??? Like for washing hands, etc..? What about glycerin soap? Is this just the same thing?

  18. Eileen, I’ll let Gina, our resident soap expert, tackle that one. But I just came across another interesting idea today: using bar soap to wash dishes. Some people use a Dr. Bronner’s bar of soap to wash dishes. I am not sure if the soap itself is any better for the environment, but at least you wouldn’t be using any more plastic bottles. I wonder how long a bar would last?

  19. I like that idea. I bet you could use the Dr. Bronner’s to make the soap recipe above if you prefer the convenience of liquid. but it’s still soap and so if Gina’s right, it’s still bad for the environment. But it seems like NOT using soap is really bad for our health. I have read that the single greatest medical breakthrough, in terms of saving lives, was when doctors started washing their hands with soap.

  20. Eileen, I think it’s important to keep washing. I’ve also heard about hand soap being the most important factor in improving the mortality rate in hospitals. Another thing I’ve heard is that the most effective way to prevent a cold is to wash your hands regularly. It would hardly do to conserve on hand soap only to end up blowing your nose on tissues more. I’m going to stand my professor’s assertion that the best way to limit the environmental impact of using soap is to reduce packaging, which means getting the concentrated kind if you buy a liquid. However, I’ve heard from other sources that the Dr. Bronner’s is extremely effective and if you make your own liquid soap that could be even better than buying a plastic bottle of it.

    Here is a good site about making your own cleaners, and it’s on Oregon’s own government website! A lot of the rhetoric on here is more focussed on avoiding toxic products, and there are a lot of solutions:

    The subject was pet peeves and mine is still “things that say they are environmentally friendly when they are not.” It’s not widely known that soaps are bad for the environment – people think that it makes them clean, it’s biodegradable, therefore it’s safe to dispose of. I think it’s important for people to be aware of what it means for something to be “natural” or “biodegradable.” For me it’s an issue of making informed choices and realizing the consequences of your actions. Sometimes it is just about making less of an impact rather than eliminating the impact, but it can still make a huge difference.

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