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Power in Your Pocketbook

Big Green Purse rallies shoppers to green choices at the store

reviewed by Carrie Madren

An astounding number of green, not-so-green and toxic options vie for our attention each time we shop. To help cut through the confusion, D.C. area writer Diane MacEachern — who’s been figuring out how to live green for more than 30 years — has penned a manual.

Big Green Purse shows us how to become environmental shoppers who choose products and items safe for us, our families and our local ecosystem.

MacEachern writes for women, because as she says, women spend 85 cents out of every dollar in the marketplace. Women do the grocery shopping, buy necessities for their families and typically use more skin and beauty care products. Nonetheless, her wisdom is user-friendly for both genders.

By buying green we can keep ourselves and our families healthier, as well as make the world safer and influence business, even big ones, to go green.

MacEachern outlines chapter by chapter how to make green choices for nearly every product you buy or place you go — from how your mattress can harm you, to how fertilizers and pesticides make their way into your home.

From makeup and beauty products to the food we eat, items that contain toxic chemicals aren’t illegal. Many harmful chemicals and compounds are on the shelves at any major grocery or drug store.

For instance, the chemical compound phthalates — added to many products from nail polish to hair sprays — has been found to cause abnormal genitals in male babies and premature breast development in female toddlers, MacEachern quoting a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

From diapers to chocolate, jewelry, clothes, paints, carpeting, perfumes, cleaners, appliances and furniture, we learn why familiar brands are and aren’t green. Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down sections sprinkled throughout each chapter give the skinny on why particular brands are — or aren’t if it got a Thumbs Down — good for you and the environment.

You’ll also hone your store smarts, learning to read labels with appropriate skepticism — even if they make environmental claims or bear eco-friendly messages — and make informed decisions. For instance, a manufacturer can claim a product is natural, but it may include some synthetic dyes and fragrances; likewise, the term hypoallergenic has no regulated standard or medical meaning.

For dangers that we didn’t choose — like those in our schools and work places — MacEachern arms us with informational ammo to protect ourselves.

Eco-minded shoppers can change the world with their wallets, according to MacEachern.

The way to get companies to start making greener products — and selling them at more affordable prices — is to start picking and choosing who gets your hard-earned dollars.

“Why not use that consumer clout to pressure companies to save energy, protect forests, use safer ingredients and otherwise become more responsible environmental citizens?” she asks “All this consumer clout puts us in a unique position to create the world we want.”

The first step to living green is buying less. But for the stuff that we have to buy, eco-shoppers can make good, green decisions.

The 413-page manual — with no photos or pictures — is laid out in an easy-to-read and useful format. Numerous sidebars, lists and titled sub-sections compel you to keep reading — or thumb through as you write your shopping list.

Read more online at Buy the book at or check your local bookseller: $17.95.

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