Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Clean it up!

Six months ago I gave my medicine cabinet an overdue cleaning. Aside from Sustainable Sam complaining that I had too many products lining the shelves, I also knew there were plenty of products filled with chemicals, close to expiration and some that I just no longer used. Sentiments got the best of me, and I kept the majority of the products. I kept thinking I might have a need for the hair products or body lotion, despite my consistent chemical free beauty routine.

This time as I approached my medicine cabinet I meant business. I took every single product off the shelves and evaluated each one; if it was expired, filled with chemicals or if I hadn’t used it since my last medicine cabinet purge, then it was out. I wiped down the shelves and started sorting.

As I placed products back into my medicine cabinet I set the bar high for what I would let back in. All products would need to be as natural as possible, with the majority vegetable based. If it was vegan, organic or gluten it was a bonus. Chemicals that would not be making an appearance would include sulfates, parabens, phthalates, paraffin, mineral oil, and synthetic colors and fragrance.

I started thinking of all the other places beauty products might be hiding that also needed to be tossed out, like my night stand, car and even my desk drawer at work. I made sure to replace these with natural products in glass containers.

Since I’ve been trying my best to reduce waste, I started to think of how products are packaged. Could the container be recycled? Was there excess packaging? Was it made in the US, or even locally? Was it something I could make myself? For the products I made myself, I chose reusable jars when possible or BPA free bottles to hold products in the bath.

Skin care and beauty products shouldn’t cost a fortune, our health or compromise sustainability out of convenience. Magazines, TV and radio advertisements are filled with new ways to get perfect hair, skin, nails, and teeth. The question remains; why do we rely on chemicals for perfection when there are plenty of natural options that work just as well, if not better?

This post was part of the XOXOrganizing 30 Day Challenge

Monday, September 22, 2014

Waste Less Challenge: Week 4

Since announcing the Waste Less Challenge I’ve been picking up trash every other weekend. I've visited parks, neighborhoods and even the Santa Ana River. Armed with gloves, a bucket, tongs and some friends, I've discovered picking up trash is the most stress free, relaxing volunteering I have been a part of. And I’m not going to stop!

The second Green Bird clean up was held at Maxwell Park in West Anaheim. Between soccer games, birthday parties and the new bike trail, this park is a high traffic area, especially on weekends. Surprisingly the park appeared to be clean. That’s because the majority of the trash was small. Between picking up food wrappers and bottles, we collected cigarette butts, water bottle lids and remnants of broken piƱatas. It was disappointing that most of the trash collected was within feet of the park’s many trashcans which are emptied regularly and are rarely overflowing.

Though in a historic area, Pearson Park and its surrounding neighborhood, has a problem with park visitors abandoning much of their trash after late night gatherings. Heading through the neighborhood we found plenty of trash in the street gutters including paper, food wrappers and of course, cigarette butts. We passed a corner market that sits in the neighborhood that had so much trash in the parking lot and gutter around their store. Left behind were the metal beer tops that had melted into the asphalt and the piles of trash in the alley behind the store that simply didn't fit in our buckets. I just hope the ducks, turtles and birds that live in this park have become good at recognizing the difference between food and trash.

This past weekend I got to take a dip in the Santa Ana River for the first time as part of the Inner Coastal clean up. Though it wasn't really a dip, because the river bed was dry, it was a big deal since I had never set foot in the river since Southern California Rivers are paved in concrete. This happened decades ago so that the rivers couldn't change their course and the water could reach the mouth of the river faster without flooding cities along the way. I was pleasantly surprised to find the bottom of the riverbed was coarse sand sprinkled with sea shells and dried seaweed.

This reminds me of Wall-E
We encountered the typical litter – food packages, cigarette butts and water bottles. There were some articles of clothing which is most likely from the people who make the riverbed their home, but aside from a golf ball, we didn't come across anything too interesting. It was however the first time I came across large amounts of Styrofoam. Not just any Styrofoam, but Styrofoam that was coming apart in pieces. Since I had only ever seen whole Styrofoam I never really understood how fish, birds or turtles could mistake it as food. Holding a piece in my hand, it looked like coral, and definitely is something wildlife would think was food.

There isn't water recreation going on in the river, but many of the runners and cyclists on the river trail parallel to the Santa Ana River expressed their gratitude for the trash pickup with their thank you. I kept hoping some of the runners and cyclists would stop and help pick up trash because it is their bike trail. One cyclist stopped and said, “You guys are everywhere.” I responded, “The trash is everywhere.” Eventually we just had to stop picking up trash, because there was so much of it. At some point you have to say you've picked up enough for today.

Have you picked up your enough for today?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Waste Less Challenge: Week 2

In 1960, plastic was less than one percent of our waste. Today, plastic is everywhere. There’s even an island of plastic in the Pacific Ocean. We come in contact with a variety of one time use plastics such as containers and packaging, however more durable, long term use plastics are part of our life. Don’t believe me? Look at your cell phone’s case, the exterior and interior of your car, or even your toothbrush.

Replacing plastic with more sustainable options helps break the consumer culture cycle that insists we need everything to be shiny, new, considerably cheap, and abundant. Generally sustainable options are not shiny, or new. Take bamboo for instance – it is organic so the color is going to vary, and even though bamboo grows quickly, it has to be grown. Sustainable products can be inexpensive and may even be considered cheap, because they are going to break down – naturally.

Replacing plastic items should be done responsibly. If you own something plastic and it still functions, keep it. There’s no need to create unnecessary waste. When you find something plastic that does need replacing, consider plastic alternatives. More and more product options are becoming available made with bamboo, hemp, wood and corn, or even glass or metal. How and where a product is made also impacts how sustainable a product is. Shopping local, where there is a lower carbon footprint based on the transportation alone can make a difference.

 I chose to replace my toothbrush. My old toothbrush had at least 3 different types of plastic. There was the hard plastic that made up the body, the silicone grip, and the bristles. There was no way to take apart these components which made my toothbrush unrecyclable. To be honest I didn’t do a whole lot of research before choosing a sustainable toothbrush. I had seen Brush with Bamboo toothbrushes at Expo West, and then again at a screening of the documentary Urban Fruit, so that was the toothbrush I went with. 

Before I even used my new toothbrush, I knew I was going to be using an eco-friendly product. The paper box and nylon bristles are recyclable, and the wrapper and bamboo handle compostable. They are made in China so they do have a larger carbon footprint based on having to be imported. Their website even shows you ways to dispose of the toothbrush, which tells me that the company cares about their product even after you've used it. 

Since bamboo toothbrushes don’t come in neon colors, I used some washi tape to differentiate between my brush and Sustainable Sam’s brush. I like the bristles – not too hard, not too soft. Sustainable Sam has some texture issues with bamboo and wood utensils, but he’s managed pretty well with the bamboo handle. Since using our bamboo toothbrushes for a few months now, we have noticed some wear to the bottom of the toothbrush where it sits in our toothbrush holder, but otherwise is holding up great.

What did you choose to replace?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Waste Less Challenge: Week 1

If you've been reading my blog for a while, I’m sure you are tired about hearing how reusable grocery bags are great at reducing waste, but I have failed – until now – to mention another lingering plastic waste in the grocery store. Plastic produce bags, though smaller than regular grocery bags, largely remain unnamed when discussing how to limit plastic waste at the grocery store. My guess is because produce bags become part of the weight per price at purchase with reusable alternatives actually costing the consumer.

Luckily, there are some options that make buying produce, and bulk items eco-friendly.

The easiest and most simple? Skip the plastic bag when purchasing produce and avoid individually wrapped products. Veggies and fruit come in a handy bag already. They naturally have a thick skin or peel that protects the goodness inside. If you feel uncomfortable with what your food might pick up while being “naked” in the grocery cart, consider that they have potentially traveled hundreds or thousands of miles without the “benefit” of a plastic bag. They should be washed regardless of how you handle them in the cart. By giving them a vinegar and water bath when you get home, you will clean the skins, and often times help the produce last longer.

Look for a store that is willing to join you in your waste free mission. Find a store that sells dry goods in bulk, package free produce or even a local butcher. The Bulk app has a search feature that can locate stores near you that sell bulk products. Yes, I know, these places have those pesky little plastic bags too, however many of these retailers are more likely to work with you if you bring your own reusable containers.
No joke – bringing reusable jars shopping is not easy. Sometimes even finding a market that is willing to let you use them without charging for the container’s weight can be trying. Just remember, if more consumers ask for sustainable, waste free options, the more these options will become available.

My first stop was Buy n’ Bulk’s Anaheim location. The gal behind the counter was super patient and willing to figure out how I could make my purchases with jars without charging for the extra weight. Since it was both of our first time, it wasn't very smooth, but she made it work and that’s what counts. The next time I came in she was able to help me just fine. Buy n’ Bulk even rewards their customers that bring their own jars and containers with 10 percent off their purchase. Why? Because you are also helping them be eco friendly. Adam from Buy n’ Bulk shared that “when you do use our bags they are brown paper and recyclable. Our main focus is to be eco-friendly, economical and a health alternative to the traditional grocery items.” Shopping with jars was bulky and heavy, but it was convenient to purchase bulk items in the container we were going to store them in.

My second stop was to Sprout’s Farmers Market. I already knew to leave my jars at home because their current Point of Sale isn't able to avoid charging for the weight of the jars. Instead I brought reusable produce bags made from cotton muslin. I had just finished sewing them and was excited to see them in action. To keep the weight down, I used the least amount of fabric with the most room for what I would purchase. I haven’t quite figured out the best way to close and label the bags, since Sprouts has you write down the SKU number of what you are purchasing. For now I am planning on reusing their twist ties. That works for me since I always purchase the same foods from their bulk bins. I’ll keep thinking of a more waste free option.

Do you have tricks for waste free shopping?