Monday, August 31, 2015

Tree of Life Visit

Very rarely does my day job and my interest in nature cross paths. I'm working on the installation of a garden that took me to the magical place that is Tree of Life. The nursery is known for California natives, specifically Orange County natives.

It is located at one of the most southern points of Orange County, inland, and is at the foot of the Cleveland National Forest is San Juan Capistrano. It is a few miles away from a suburban sprawl but the staff still say they have to go into town like it's a rural area. When you turn in off the winding two lane road you are met with a dirt road.

Walking up to the first building called Casa La Paz, or house of peace, you truly enter a sanctuary. A large tree and canopy provides shade in front of Casa La Paz where there is a display of various plants on wood tables or in the ground. Inside Casa La Paz are books on plants, landscapes, birds, nature and hiking.

The true beauty is found on the shelves and shelves of outdoor plants. Many people believe that to have a drought tolerant and native garden in Southern California it means desert plants. They are far from the truth. Southern California's climate is actually Mediterranean, which means beautiful flowering plants in purples, yellows and pinks, wispy grasses and some succulents. All which I found at Tree of Life.

The pollinator and butterfly garden area was my absolute favorite. Besides the various types of bees flying around, I saw at least 6 varieties of butterflies all of different sizes and colors. There were these quarter sized yellow flowers that looked like they were made of tissue paper. Their petals were crinkled, but were the brightest yellow I've ever seen in nature. The bees loved them.

I fell in love with the yarrow. It looks so much like wild carrots with long leaves and the tiniest white flowers. It is also known as plumajillo which means little feather in Spanish, which is absolutely true. There is a variety called Paprika that is red and yellow, though I find the white feather plant to be more beautiful and true to nature. It can be used to make tea, tinctures and salves for healing cuts. It is also edible and can be eaten as a leafy vegetable. I regret not bringing home a few with me.

Being shown plants that can replace turf and can even sometimes be mowed was amazing. The Melica imperfecta was a beautiful grass that is actually native to Anaheim, and it was gorgeous.

On the way out I got to see Queen Anne's lace for the first time. I always expected it to be white, but it had this reddish brown tint to it. Almost like it was vintage lace. Next to it was a Bay Tree. I plucked a leaf and gave it a rub and the smell reminded me of Italian food. The canopy was huge. There were  two Manzanita trees next to it, and the difference between the red and green of the two trees was so stark.

I cannot wait to return to Casa de Paz and its colorful garden. Next time it might be a leisure trip since I heard there is great hiking in the area and a small roadside cafe with a 360 degree view. I am thankful to be working on a project that led me to this magical place. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Seal Beach, Trashy Beach

I have never visited Seal Beach and found so much trash. Ever.

Walking along the pier I noticed trash stuck between the wood boards of the pier and started picking it up. I found a plastic cup that I stuffed everything into along the way. I found a few plastic food wrappers, but mostly water bottle caps and discarded pieces of fishing line. As I was bending over to pick up trash I spotted a beautiful California Sea Lion just off the pier. I had been so focused on the trash on the pier that I hadn't noticed all of the trash in the water.

There were bottles and pieces of Styrofoam floating among the body boarders. As I made my way back to shore I noticed how much trash lined the sand where the high tide had broke. The entire beach was littered with trash that looked like it had been washed ashore. Where had so much trash come from?

The most disturbing part about all of this is the beach was full of people sitting in the trash. What has the world come to when it is acceptable to visit a beach and set up your chairs, towels and kid's play things in a pile of trash? Even the space in front of the life guard tower was littered with trash that included glass bottles.

We found a half buried plastic grocery bag in the sand and started collecting as much trash as we could. It was the first time in a while that I was happy to see a plastic bag. The litter was a mix of Styrofoam, plastic food packaging and small pieces of plastic. I'm not talking microplastics or nurdles. The pieces were made of hard plastic and were mostly flat about the size of a quarter or smaller. It looked like they were pieces of plastic that had once been beach toys. After spending time in the hot sun and water those pieces will eventually break into smaller pieces and then become microplastics.

Considering the wildlife I saw on the beach which included a sea lion, different birds and small crabs in the sand, it scares me to think that they probably have already been feasting on the trash spread across the sand and water. With the amount of trash left on the beach, there is no sign of that stopping.

It was only a week ago that I was at Huntington Beach and although I did pick up a few pieces of trash here and there it was sparse in comparison to the amount of trash at Seal Beach. I have to ask again, where did all of this trash come from? Is the City of Seal Beach taking responsibility by not only picking up the trash, but educating beach goers about ocean pollution?

What is the solution to curbing beach pollution? Beach clean ups are becoming a band-aid to the problem. How does the community of citizens concerned with ocean pollution reach and educate those who litter? Share your ideas in the comments.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Eco Friendly Packaging at Expo West

Hitting the Expo West floor this year was different. I wasn't there to sample every gluten free pizza, although I might have. I was on a mission to explore an often undiscussed, but tremendously important piece of the Expo: Packaging. I don't mean this from a branding perspective, but from a sustainable and eco-friendly one.

I needed to find the companies that didn't stop with a natural product, but one that included nature in their packaging. This includes the companies that are skipping plastic and unnecessary packaging. Food companies offering incentives for refilling their glass jars, or cosmetic companies that package their products in home compostable paper packaging.

To find natural products, in natural packaging, was a game changer.

With every booth I approached, the product being displayed became second to the packaging. Using the Waste Less Challenge "This-for-That" approach, I was able to discover brands that supported greener practices by using low waste packaging. If a product came in plastic and there was a similar product in a more sustainable material, I opted to learn about the product with greener packaging.
What comes to mind as I write this is that I was judging a book by its cover. But when plastic packaging has the potential of leaching chemicals into its natural product unknowingly to its consumer, isn't it better to judge by the packaging than trust just what's on the inside?

Enjoy this photo collection of companies in the natural products world inside and out.

Note: I did not sample all of these products. The purpose of sharing these photos is to demonstrate that eco-friendly packaging is a viable option that some companies are taking advantage of. 

 Spices in paper containers? Yes! Even when spices come in glass jars the lids are usually made of plastic. Algarrobos Organicos of Peru showcased a variety of cooking ingredients in simply beautiful paper containers.

Have you dreamed of refilling your glass cleaning container at a eco-friendly store near you? Common Good is encouraging just this. Their laundry and dish soap come in glass bottles with their refilling stations being available for awesome retailers. 

Gluten free granola that comes in a glass jar. PUREnola. Is there more to say?

Evanhealy offers serums, oils and creams with the majority of their products in glass containers. It is great to see more cosmetics skipping the plastic.

Joyful Bath Co's packages their bath salts in glass jars for a more eco-friendly bath.

Eco Soul Life had these fun camping sets that at first glance look to be enamel. They are actually made from bamboo and have a life of about 3 years. When they reach the end of their life, their products can be home composted. Their packaging was made of compostable materials too.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Expo West 2015: Waste Less Recap

Natalie of the Sunshine Grove rides the ART bus to Expo West
Riding the ART bus to the Anaheim
Convention Center was a big part
of my success at reducing waste
at Expo West
With the rush of the Expo behind me, I took today to reflect on my experience at Natural Products Expo West. Even though this was my third go at walking the expo floor, it felt like my first. This was partly due to the larger exhibit areas and the educational lectures. But what really made it different this year was having a clear definition of what I wanted to get from the expo, and preparing to achieve it without losing my mind, or my taste buds.

I knew at the start of Expo West that I wanted to be as waste free as possible. Packing my bag accordingly helped tremendously. So many exhibitors were accommodating to serving drink samples in my cup, food samples on my cloth napkin and accepting their business card back after I photographed it. A big part of my success was observation and figuring out what, or even how I could try products and food without creating so much waste.

Waste Free breakfast at the Marriott and Hilton with the Sunshine Grove
Waste Free breakfast at the Marriott and Hilton in Anaheim

I started out my Friday and Saturday mornings with breakfast inside of the hotels. The Boulder Brands hosted breakfast on Friday was held at the Marriott with gluten free pancakes, bagels, cereals and coffee all served on ceramic plates and cups, real utensils and cloth napkins. The next morning at the Hilton I enjoyed a cup of coffee, veggie breakfast burrito and banana with the same waste less setting. I do have to mention that the Hilton breakfast also offered paper cups for the coffee and plastic plates for the breakfast. It amazed me how many people opted for the disposable items over the real deal.

The Sunshine Grove uses a cloth napkin to sample gluten free food at Expo West
Samples are better without waste! Thank you Canyon Bakehouse, American Flatbread and Ardenne Farm

Getting on the expo floor with a full stomach is key to not over doing it on samples, which also helped cut down on waste. I kept my cloth napkin in my back pocket and my reusable jar handy while walking the aisles. I opted to bring a reusable plastic jar and lid that I already owned instead of glass in case I dropped it. The last thing I wanted to deal with was broken glass with tons of people around. Sampling cookies, chips or gluten free pizza was easy enough to place on my napkin. Drinks that were being poured from bottles or in spouted containers were simple as well.

BYOC - Bring your own cup to sample drinks, popsicles and ice cream via The Sunshine Grove
Kombucha, Popsicles and ice cream all sampled waste free thanks to the support from Revive Kombucha, Good Pop and Artic Zero

Sampling without waste  became more of a challenge with foods that were liquid, like yogurt or ice cream, or if they were already served on a napkin or cup. Many of these exhibitors were kind enough to place a sample on my reusables. If that wasn't possible I made sure that what the food was served on was compostable. Those wooden spoons and paper wrappers I carried around in my pocket were able to be composted today. I did come home with 4 pieces of non-compostable trash. Two were food wrappers, and the others were stickers that were put on me by vendors as I was walking through the halls.

Let's talk plastic and trash, because both are found everywhere at the Expo.

Trash found around Expo West can be avoided by bringing your own reusables via The Sunshine Grove
Trash found on exhibit tables, overflowing trash cans and in the Anaheim Convention Center water feature.

For a group of people interested in naturals and organics, it is incredibly surprising how wasteful they can be. Plastic cups and spoons used to serve samples and food packaging could all be placed in the trash and then recycled, but instead trash was being left on tables, the floor and even in the water feature in front of the convention center. This was disappointing.

Composting my Expo West trash
I don't believe hope is lost when it comes to plastic and other trash at the expo. Eco Tesil was on the floor showing exhibitors how their compostable paper spoons are an alternative to plastic. The expo itself is listening too. Loliware, a biodegradable cup that you can eat, won the Expo West New Hope 360 NEXT accelerator pitch slam. I'm hopeful that as more compostable products are made available, brands take advantage of a more natural alternative to serving their foods.

A big thank you to everyone who supported my low waste Expo West experience.  Stayed tuned later this week for a round up of products that ditched the plastic packaging. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Expo West 2015: Creating A Low Waste Experience

As I prepare for my third visit to Natural Products Expo West my mind isn't on the best gluten free foods or even the best low chemical beauty products. This year I want to focus on attending the expo and making little to no waste, while discovering products that support a no plastic and low waste lifestyle.

Years past I have brought home an abundance of free swag. I make a conscious effort to only take samples of products I am truly interested in and will use. I still find myself emptying bags, yes plural, of samples on my living room floor. I found myself having excess in 3 different ways and have decided to create an action plan to stop wasting so much by limiting  the amount of waste I create while still being able to share the experience of the expo.

1. Bags. There are a lot of bags. The bright side is they are reusable bags given away by exhibitors with their logo on the side. During the expo it is a great way to carry samples and flyers, and of course can be used later. I would arrive home with 10 reusable bags that I truly didn't need. The upside was being able to give my family members reusable bags for them to take shopping. This year, I'd like to come home with zero.

The Solution: I plan on taking my own canvas tote and only using the one tote for any items I bring home.

2. Paper. Flyers, coupons, business cards and advertisements are handed out by all and received by many. When I am preparing a blog post about the products I discovered while at the Expo it is great to have website information and a contact’s name so that I can connect with the product rep after the post has been published or while I'm writing if I have any questions. But then what? Long are the days of rolodex since contact information can now be loaded into a digital address book. I plan on collecting zero paper.

Solution: After thanking the exhibitor for the information, I will explain that I am trying to limit my waste at the expo and will instead take a photo of their business card, flyer, etc. I have a feeling I may be met with mixed reactions, but considering it is a natural expo, I'm hoping most people are eco-conscious.

3. Packaging. Expo West has an enormous amount of food sampling, which on the expo floor is generally full sized items cut down to snack sized portions. Samples are usually served on paper products, which are compostable. Many samples given to attendees to take with them are in single use packaging. Food items like single serving yogurts, sample size bars or even mini sized bottled water are often provided as snacks outside the expo as well. My goal is to not have any food packaging waste during the expo aside from compostable napkins and spoons that samples are served on.

Solution:  Along with a reusable water bottle, I will bring along unpackaged snacks and look out for waste free samples.

Have you experienced a successful waste free expo or conference? Share you tips in the comments.

Monday, March 2, 2015

March WLC: This for That

I was hoping to end January with a celebration of successfully completing the month’s Waste Less Challenge without buying anything. This didn’t happen. As I flip through my notebook where I kept a daily log, I realize that sometimes life just happens. What a terrible excuse, right? After all, I initiated the challenge and shared it with you, and now I’m telling you how flippant I was about it. Just hear me out.

My first purchase was 2 vintage Pyrex bowls from a thrift shop for $3. As a vintage hoarder collector, there are times when a purchase has to be made in the moment or the item is gone forever. That is a tough choice to make regardless of your intended consumer footprint, however thrifted is always better than purchasing a new product. More on that later this month.

Next I bought a yoga mat because I needed it. No really. Under doctor’s orders I needed a yoga mat for prescribed exercises. Knowing that yoga mats are made of plastic, I wanted to make a healthy choice for my body and the environment. I chose a mat that was made without latex, PVC or phthalates. I can rest on my mat comfortably knowing that my body isn't going to absorb chemicals.

Although part of my personal challenge was to not buy any packaged food, I failed miserably here. I thought that eating vegetarian and ditching packaged food at the same time would be a no brainer, you know, because plants don’t need packaging. I was poorly prepared which left me eating out more than I would have liked. I tried to choose restaurants that served their food in paper or compostable material, and even kept track of the waste. There were times when water arrived with a straw already in it, or dressing came in a plastic container. Keeping a log made me realize how much packing goes into food that comes prepared, and to go.

Although I didn't complete the challenge with 100% success, the purchases I did make taught me the importance of thinking before buying. Really evaluating how something impacts your life, the environment and even your local economy, which brings us to February’s Waste Less Challenge.

Coming out of our consumer cleanse, let’s think before we buy.

1.     How much packaging is too much packaging? Is the packaging compostable? Is it made of plastic? Can it be recycled?

2.     Does it have to be new, or can it be thrifted?

3.     When I’m done with what I’m buying, how can it be reused, repurposed, regifted and finally, recycled?

With the amount of consumer goods and packaging made of plastic, we are quickly polluting our water ways. By avoiding new items, reusing, repurposing and shopping thrifted items, we are becoming part of the solution by not contributing to consumer plastic pollution.

Vintage: Old is the new, new. Aside from the unique, vintage is a great alternative. If something from the 1960s is 50 something years old and still in great working condition, then it was made to list.

Go thrifting: You might find something new, or old, but it is new to you. Thrifted clothing keeps textiles which are usually not recyclable out of the landfill and into your closet.

Buy from the source: Farmer’s Markets and buy in bulk stores lend themselves to be more waste free than conventional markets and will help cut down on food packaging.

Read the label: Chemicals in plastic is nothing new. Be sure to read not only what’s not in what you are buying, but what is in your purchase. This goes for beauty and cosmetic products too.

Before you buy, learn to consider the impact your purchase has on the environment, local economy and most importantly on you. 

Be sure to share your story in the comments and by social media with #wastelesschallenge

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Food Will Win the War

When I heard about Meatless Monday my first thought was who would want to give up meat any day of the week? I was consuming meat at just about every meal, mostly because I was under the impression that for the best source of protein I needed meat. Gym trainers, nutritionists and even restaurants enforced this school of thought by making protein synonymous with meat. It would be years before I learned that broccoli, spinach and a variety of other plant based foods have as much, or even more protein than meat. It would be months before I would figure out that I could experience Meatless Monday and be satisfied with what I was eating. And full.

When I decided to start off 2015 by giving up meat for the month of January, I was a bit weary. Last year I swore off gluten, which proved to be pretty difficult, but I continue with a mostly gluten free diet because it makes me feel better. I was surprised to find how easy eating vegetarian actually is.

Even though eating vegetarian was easy there were drawbacks. First of all, it is easy to eat fast food. Did you know that every meal at Taco Bell can become vegetarian if you just ask for no meat? While we weren’t eating fast food very often before eating vegetarian, it became something that we could eat in a pinch. It is amazing how simpler eating vegetarian can be, but how much more meal preparation is needed.

We were making some meals at home, but it seemed that we were cooking a bunch of veggies. I felt like we were lacking actual meals. I shared this with friends who were long time vegans and vegetarians who knew exactly how I felt. Their solution was soups, sandwiches and salads. We frequented our local vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant who I think had it right. They treated the vegetables the way traditional dishes treat meat. I don’t think we have creating vegetarian meals down yet, but we are working on it. 

We have continued eating mostly vegetarian, with a few meals a week including chicken, turkey or seafood. The reason behind our meatless month was more than a health resolution, or even for the love of animals. Sustainable Sam and I chose a month without meat for environmental reasons. If you aren’t familiar with the state of soil, you might be wondering what soil and meat have to do with one another. I joined Sustainable Sam at the viewing of the documentary Symphony ofthe Soil and learned much more than I ever thought I wanted to know about soil. One fact is that monocrops (growing only a single crop at a time) that are grown to feed meat industry animals are not only contaminating soil with pesticides, but damaging the natural make up of the soil. When healthy soil is missing, food cannot grow and animals, including humans, cannot eat.

In fact, last week the Washington Post published a story about a report put together by the nation's nutrition panel that will be used to update US dietary guidelines that highlighted how the American diet should be more plant based, not only for health, but also for environmental reasons.

The first timeMeatless Monday was introduced in America was during World War I by President Hoover. Americans were inspired to create meals around vegetables grown in their own Victory Gardens by the saying "Food will win the war". Giving up meat once a day, once a week, or even regularly today can do the same. Food will win.

How will you help win the war on soil?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


This last year I had a stack 2 feet high of 6 months of unread magazines. Magazines that I proceeded to flip through quickly and donate to my library because I really wasn't interested in their content anymore.

Quitting magazines is a big deal. I love print. Beyond print I love layout and design, straight lines and color. I've worked in print since I was laying out my high school yearbook, and today I still design and layout print. I love flipping and earmarking pages, even the smell of freshly printed pages.

My love of print goes back even further. I remember flipping through Disney Adventure magazines in long grocery lines as a kid. As a tween, waiting for my mom to finish shopping for produce while I flipped through Bop magazine. As a teen I would pour over the pages of Seventeen, ripping out pages and pasting them back together to make collages I hung on my bedroom walls. Early in college I tried the distasteful Cosmo, and then moved onto Glamour. I've had subscriptions to Runners Magazine, Latina and Self. My most recent subscriptions to Martha Stewart, Eating Well and Better Homes and Garden, now cancelled.

I am officially unsubscribed.

If I have learned anything through my relationship with magazines it is that my interests change, sometimes quickly, not even surviving a year’s subscription. The earth, the landfill, and the recycling center don’t have to be impacted by my wavering interests. In this digital age there are many alternatives. Instead I subscribe (and unsubscribe) to blogs. I follow Pinterest boards and sign up for newsletters. I am better at finding time to read these medias. The best part? Most are free, don’t take up space and are zero waste.

Even though many say print is dead, I’ll continue to love it. While the world has been digitizing for many years, I've finally caught up. I’m still reading the information I want, without the clutter and waste.

* This post is part of the 30 day XOXOrganizing Challenge: Day 14 Donate Unused Books and Magazines

Monday, January 5, 2015

January Waste Less Challenge

As another consumer season comes to an end, I feel it only fitting that the January Waste Less Challenge be to not buy anything. That's right, you heard me. Nothing. If that scares the you-know-what out of you, you aren't alone. I've been mentally preparing (aka freaking out) by wondering if I have enough socks and underwear. I haven't actually bought into my freak out, but at least they've been practical items. As long as you've been nice all year, there shouldn't be much that you need to start the New Year.

But let's get serious. The fact is that in the US, waste increases 25% between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency that is an extra 1 million ton of waste generated during the holiday season alone.

I came across a quote by Pope John Paul II that states, "Modern Society will find no solution to the ecological problems unless it takes a serious look at its lifestyles." The January Waste Less Challenge isn't just about not buying anything for one month, but taking a good look at our lifestyles and seeing how we can change to be more environmentally friendly. Start the New Year by keeping the amount of waste you create low, and see how we can work to reduce our waste all year long. Download the Waste Less Challenge calendar here

Don't buy anything.

Okay, we need to eat, and I know I cannot possibly grow all of my food. The exception I am giving myself is I can purchase unpackaged food. This will include fruits and veggies, dried goods from the bulk bin and any other food I can purchase while bringing my own containers. 

Remember these guidelines are there to help you. Feel free to move and stretch them as much as you need to for you to be successful in your Waste Less Challenge.

Reflect on your wants and needs: Each time you find yourself wanting something think about why. How will it impact your life? Will it contribute to your happiness? How does it bring kindness into your life? Maybe you will wait until February to make the purchase, or you'll make it at that moment. By giving yourself the time to think about each item you purchase gives you consumer awareness to what you bring into your life.

Experiences over things: My sister's birthday falls at the beginning of January. I could have bought her a gift in December, but lucky for me she asked for an experience over something material. Delivering an experience can be just as, or even more thoughtful than a wrapped gift. It is also a way of giving that person a little of you.

If you receive discounts and promotions via email, re-direct them to a folder so you aren't tempted in your daily inbox.

Do you have a shopping habit like stopping by the mall after a bad day, or browsing the racks of you favorite store during lunch? Focus on you instead by taking a walk or reading a book.

When all else fails, create a virtual shopping experience. Make a vision board or two, but remember to consider the needs and wants.

The goal of the consumer cleanse isn't only to be happier with less, but to add less material things in the world. In the long run you will save money for the purchases that do matter, you won't be contributing to the cycle of stuff as explained by The Story of Stuff Project and there will be less waste by avoiding packaging. So let's reevaluate our lifestyles and see what we can pass on. 

Be sure to share your story in the comments and by social media with #wastelesschallenge

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Could 2015 Be Your Lightbulb Moment?

There are so many crunchy, sustainable, eco-friendly blogs out there – and let’s face it – the majority of them are mommy blogs. Sure they have some great information, but many of them write with the conviction that it was their pregnancy and caring for a new life that started them on their chemical free journey, which segmented into sustainable and eco-friendly choices. Well, I’m not a mom, nor do I plan to be one (you know, except to my dogs).

I am here to tell you that pregnancy and children are not needed for your light bulb moment and shouldn't be considered a requirement. There I said it. Professional, modern, child free women (and men) can have a healthy, chemical and plastic free, low waste life. I’ll go so far as to say that they deserve it. After all, hasn't eating organic, clean food been on trend for years? So why wait to have children for the added benefits of dumping chemicals and plastics? The answer is you shouldn't, and if you plan on children in the future, why not start improving your environment now?

The truth is anyone’s light bulb moment can come at any time, and really for whatever reason. My moment came when I was having a minor, yet irritating dermatological issue. Doctors couldn't tell me why, and even worse, they couldn't tell me what I could do to prevent it. I decided it wasn't okay to just deal with it, so I started by eliminating the conventional cosmetics I was applying to my skin. Yes, I’m telling you I went without deodorant. In the middle of summer. It was gross, I was stinky. But it also started healing my skin. While these days this is called an arm pit cleanse, it was my first real eye opener to a world filled with low to no chemicals that would 4 years later lead to ditching plastics and resolving to be as low waste as possible.

I was a modern, albeit vintage lover, professional twenty something year old who decided to treat myself and the earth with the same kindness.

So if you decide to start off the year stinky because of your arm pit cleanse, or greasy because you are transitioning to low ‘poo, congratulations. You’ll find no judgment here.

Happy New Year.