28 Ways To Be More Sustainable: pt. 2

continued from pt 1...

11. travel pt 2: water canteens, travel mugs, tumblers

I’ve been on the anti-plastic water bottle train since… forever. Plastic water bottles are so ungodly wasteful; whether it’s just plain water, electrolyte enhanced, “spring” water, vitamin water, or any other “special water”. It’s all just a marketing scheme trying to trick you into buying their product. Trust me, you don’t need ANY of it. There are plenty of alternatives to plastic water bottles; my top picks are Hydroflask, Klean Kanteen, Yeti & Stanley. Each of these companies offer a wide variety of sizes and designs to meet your needs. All products are made from food-grade stainless steel, are BPA-free, and are incredible versatile for all your beverage needs, not just for water! 

Plastic water bottles are without a doubt one of the greatest contributors to waste. And here are some reasons why:

• Only 1 in 5 bottles are actually recycled. The remaining 4 contribute to 3 BILLION POUNDS of plastic water bottle waste. 

• Roughly 44% of bottled water is actually just taken from municipal water sources {aka tap water}. 

• It requires 3X the amount of water to produce the plastic bottle than it does to fill it. 

• It takes 17 MILLION BARRELS OF OIL to produce plastic bottles. This is enough oil to fuel 1.3 million cars for a full year and those 17 million barrels are’t even factoring in transportation fuel. 

• According to a four year NRDC study, 1/3 of bottled waters violated their own industry standard for water quality. 

•  Most single use bottled water is sold in PET plastic bottles. Of the shameful 15% of PET bottles that are recycled in the U.S., nearly 40% are exported to other countries for recycling. That means more carbon-emissions goes into the process of recycling {note: single-use soda and 2L bottles are also made of PET}.

As mentioned above, all four of these brands offer a wide range of products that are incredibly versatile; their travel mugs and tumblers are an excellent addition to travel! And technically you don’t even need a special coffee mug or tea tumbler… mason jars and the your water canteen work great! I use my mason jars and Hydroflask for all liquids.

If you’ve been thinking all this time coffee to-go paper cups are recyclable: WRONG! The plastic liner inside to insulate (plus coffee contamination) prevent that. So stop trying to recycle them and better yet: stop using them altogether! 

• Every SINGLE disposable coffee cup is responsible for .24 lbs of CO2 emissions. 

• If you buy just one cup of coffee or tea in a disposable cup every day, you’ll end up creating about 23 lbs of waste in one year.

• Americans throw away 25 billion styrofoam coffee cups every year. And given that styrofoam isn’t being recycled (because it can’t be), those 25 billion coffee cups will be sitting in our landfills for the next 500+ years. 

• Starbucks alone goes through 4 BILLION to-go cups a year.  

I also highly encourage when you visit a coffee shop and plan to stay there, always ask for a reusable mug. Why use a disposable when you can easily use a reusable one? I’ve never been to a coffee shop that doesn’t have mugs and glasses for warm & cold drinks. Making these small yet powerful changes are so important to eliminate as much preventable waste as possible. And if for some reason you are stuck in a situation and use a to-go cup, refuse the paper or plastic sleeve!! You don’t need it. Your hand won’t burn, I promise! Simply give it back for the barista to reuse ♻️ and hopefully one day these won’t even exist.

Once you start to implement these changes, you’ll begin to see just how wasteful our society is. I look at the trash produced from one store, in one day, and am so disturbed knowing this is how we operate on a global scale. 

Please travel consciously; whether that’s traveling by planes, trains or automobiles; whether it’s near or far. Just leave your home prepared! 

12. eco-friendly straws

It’s estimated Americans alone use 500 MILLION plastic straws daily… most of these ending up in our oceans killing and harming marine life. Plastic straws will never decompose; instead they break down into “microplastics”, which poses significant threats to marine life. Plastic straws and microplastics alike, are harming sea life by the thousands… 71% of seabirds and 30% of turtles have been found with plastic in their stomachs. Once ingested, marine life has a 50% mortally rate. Have you seen the YouTube video that went viral in 2015 of the sea turtle who had a plastic straw removed from it’s nostril? If not, please go watch it right now. If this doesn’t push you over the edge to NEVER USE A PLASTIC STRAW AGAIN, I don’t know what will. 

The mentality “out of sight, out of mind” has grown to become an epidemic. We cannot keeping living like this. The destruction humans are causing worldwide is heartbreaking, frustrating and so much of it is PREVENTABLE. Little daily acts of mindfulness, like refusing plastic straws, is one small yet powerful way to be part of a solution. Because, at the rate we are going, it’s estimated by the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

So what’s one to do? 

First & foremost, start by simply refusing straws! In ALL situations: at the coffee shop, at the bar, in restaurants, with take out, fast food… wherever straws present themselves, simply say NO! Even when you’re grabbing your fave green juice, smoothie or iced chai… the sexiness of a green juice diminishes ten fold when served in plastic, with a plastic straw.  Plastic straws are a big fat no, always!

Fortunately, if you love straws like myself, there are many sustainable glass, stainless steel, and bamboo straw companies to choose from. I personally love my glass straws and highly suggest investing in some. One company I stand 100% behind is Simply Straws. Based out of CA & family owned, @simplystraws is committed to the sustainability of our planet by implementing multiple conscious business practices, extending beyond just the straw. Use this link to receive 25% your first order! Because who doesn’t love a good deal {P.S. They have a few other lovely sustainably produced items aside from straws, like mason jar sleeves & lids to be used with straws}.

And as always, you can just go without altogether!

13. toothpaste

The mouth is one of the most absorbent parts of your body; it’s the fast lane to your bloodstream. And with the average American using 20 gallons of toothpaste in their lifetime (dang!), it’s important to keep as many toxins and chemicals out of our mouths. 

The bad news is standard toothpaste is comprised of a slew of chemicals and toxic ingredients that make you question how they got there in the first place. Some of the TOP OFFENDERS are: ▿ triclosan, ▿ sodium laurel sulfate (SLS), ▿ aspartame, ▿ fluoride, ▿ propylene glycol, ▿ diethanolamine, and ▿ microbeads. I’ll highlight a few… TRICLOSAN. It’s an antibacterial chemical, lending Colgate’s claim “the only toothpaste FDA approved to fight gingivitis and plaque”. Great. But that comes with a side effect of endocrine disruption, antibiotic resistance and has been linked to breast cancer. Triclosan is so heavily used in Colgate products specifically, that people who use it have 5x more tricolsan in their urine. NO THANKS.

Next up, a very common chemical in so many products is SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE (SLS). SLS is a surfactant and lends to the foaming action. It may help foam, tricking you into thinking you’re cleaner, but SLS is actually registered as an insecticide. Manufacturers tried to get the USDA to approve it as a pesticide for organic farms but was denied for potential environmental damage. So, if it’s not even allowed on organic farms, why is it such a common ingredient in our toothpastes, shampoos, conditioners, soaps, etc. Next, DIETHANOLAMINE (DEA). This is a known hormone disrupter. The EWA scores it at 10 (10 = most toxic) for high concerns of organ toxicity, contamination concerns and irritation. Again, no thanks. 

There are plenty of healthy, eco-friendly alternatives but my top suggestion is to simply make your own! I have been doing this for 6 years and can’t imagine ever going back to anything in a tube. Because tubes are… plastic. However, I do have tooth powder for travel. Homemade toothpaste and powder are excellent alternatives! My toothpaste is a mix of coconut oil, baking soda, pepper/spearmint essential oil, and now I mix in a few capsules of activated charcoal. Easy peasy. And if purchasing a natural toothpaste, aim for ones sold in glass. 

14. paper towels

Ditch the paper towels! Both in the kitchen & in public washrooms. 

🌳In the U.S. we currently use more than 13 billion pounds of paper towels each year and that number keeps growing. 

🌳Globally, paper towels result in 254 million tons of trash every year.

🌳Up to 51,000 trees per day are required to replace the number of paper towels that are discarded every day. 

🌳If every household in the U.S. used just one less 70-sheet roll of paper towels, that would save 544,000 trees each year.

My question is why are paper towels still so heavily used when reusable dish towels are already in every household? I have never once stepped into a house where dish towels weren’t present. Have you? 

There is no need for paper towels. Plain & simple. I know many people who get by without them, myself included. I believe they have simply become a "luxury” item in our culture; an unnecessarily wasteful & destructive one at that. 

And when you find yourself in a public washroom, opt for the hand dryer OR just let your hands air dry. I promise the water evaporates quickly! Maybe it feels like an inconvenience in the few seconds of having damp hands but in my eyes, that is way less of an “inconvenience” than adding to the 254 million tons of paper towel trash per year. 

15. bathroom cleaners

Most household cleaners on the market are completely unnecessary! And not just traditional ones but even the “greener” cleaners. We only really need a few, staple items to fully clean and sanitize the house; all being chemical-free & healthy. 

Household cleaners are loaded with harsh fragrances, solvents and detergents, as well as chemicals like ammonia, bleach, sulfates and parabens. Many of these are known carcinogens and skin, eyes, & respiratory irritants. All I know is if I am around conventional cleaning products, my throat feels weird, my eyes burn, and I get a headache. That alone is enough for me to completely avoid them at all costs. There are warning labels on all these products like “can be fatal if swallowed”… you sure as hell won’t find me touching that shit, nor would I ever expose the people I love to them. So, for the parents out there especially, please stop using these harmful chemicals in your house! You’re exposing your children to chemicals that are basically asking for health complications, whether symptoms are presenting themselves now or in the future. 

All the tips below work great, so I see no reason to purchase any products, even “green or natural” because there’s just no point. Plus, most products come in plastic bottles, regardless of brand, which by now you can tell I avoid at all costs. 

CLEANING GLASS: For mirrors & windows alike, all you need is diluted vinegar water and some newspaper. In a reusable or glass spray bottle, use a 50/50 white vinegar + water mix. Add a few drops of your favorite cleansing essential oil like lemon, sweet orange, or lime if you aren’t a huge fan of vinegar. However, the vinegar smell dissipates almost immediately! Spray, rub dry with the newspaper and that’s it! If you compost, just rip up the newspaper and add to compost bin, otherwise toss in the recycling :)

TOILET: There are a few ways to go about it but really all I use is a toilet scrub brush, baking soda, vinegar and water. Most times I just scrub with water & add a few drops of lemon essential oils. To do a deeper clean, add 1 cup baking soda to your toilet, let sit one hour, add 1 cup white vinegar, let sit a few minutes and flush… shouldn’t need much scrubbing but scrub a bit if needed. For cleaning the rest of the toilet, just use vinegar spray & a rag! 

SINK: I simply scrub my sink with a bit of Bon Ami with some water & a rag. Seems to work a bit better than baking soda. 

SHOWER/BATHTUB: The 50/50 Vinegar:Water solution will work great for all over your shower and tube too. For cleaning grout, using baking soda or Bon Ami with the vinegar spray (or just plain water). Using an old toothbrush with these helps to get at tougher to reach areas works well. 

Microfiber clothes are also a great alternative! Use wet (with water) for cleaning and dry for dusting. Works so well in all areas of the house! These clothes last SO long, are so eco-friendly, and their microscopic fibers pick up more dirt, bacteria and germs than regular cloth. 

16. kitchen cleaners

As mentioned above, conventional cleaning products are full of harsh fragrances, solvents, and detergents as well as chemicals like ammonia, bleach, sulfates and parabens. 

We know some of these ingredients are known carcinogens and irritants, as well as hormone disrupters. By all means, if you’re looking to decrease sperm count & increase the risk of male birth defects, please, keep using these products. But I’m sure you’re not. 

And the kitchen is where we often find highly fragranced dish soaps. These fragrances are far from natural; they are a combination of 3,000 different chemicals known to cause allergies, dermatitis, respiratory diseases, and again, disrupt hormones. There is such a high prevalence of skin irritations/rashes, asthma, allergies… an exhausting list, really, of health complications our culture too easily writes off as “normal”, yet they’re not. There are thousands of cases where people strip away all the processed, conventional products from the household and diet… and symptoms start to dissipate.

I highly recommend visiting ewg.org to compare and rate products. The Environmental Working Group does extensive research for so many aspects of healthy living, from beauty care & household products, water health, pesticides & produce, safe cell phone use, etc. Such a wealth of information on this site! 

As for some safe alternatives:

DISHSOAP: To avoid brands that are loaded with chemicals and other ingredients, my top recommendations are Bio Pac, Biokleen, Dr. Bronner’s, and Yaya Maria’s. While any of the Dr. Bronner soaps would work, I have found Dr. Bronner’s Sal Sud’s to be best for kitchen use. 

SINK: About once a week I’ll scrub my sink with some Bon Ami & the rough side of a sponge. It’s a simple & effective solution to keep my sink stain free. Bon Ami is non-abrasive, so should be safe for all sinks but please double check before assuming your sinks material will hold up. 

DISHWASHER: Brands I recommend are Earth Friendly Products Wave (ECOS), Attitude, Biokleen & Better Life. I personally do not own a dishwasher and really have no desire to ever have one. If you do use a dishwasher, PLEASE, PLEASE run it ONLY when it’s necessary and you’ve maximized the space. I see so many people running full cycles when it’s a quarter or half full. And why use energy to dry the dishes when you can use room temperature AIR for FREE? 

STOVETOP: Here again I just use a bit of Bon Ami. I’m an avid cleaner, always cleaning after every meal, so deep cleans aren’t as necessary for me. Every few weeks I will scrub the stove top down with some Bon Ami, a damp cloth and it’s as good as new. 

OVEN CLEANER: I do not know of one oven cleaner on the market that is safe to use. The chemicals that these things are made of are toxic and then exposing them to such high heat is such a recipe for disaster. Instead, spray down the oven with some water, toss a thick (1/4”) layer of baking soda down {make sure it’s a paste consistency} and let sit for a few hours. Wipe away and the grime should come right off with it. Depending on amount of grime, it may take a few applications. Little bit messier of an approach, too, but way better for you and the entire household. 

FLOOR: Rag + water + a few drops of lemon & tea tree oil. I stick to the basics and my floors are clean & bonus, my arms get an extra workout.

COUNTERTOPS: Hot water & dish soap… really is there a need for anything else? I sure as hell wouldn’t put chemicals on the surface I prep my food on and you shouldn’t either!

17. phantom energy

Sometimes I feel like the energy police because I am always turning off lights & unplugging things when not in use, whether it’s mine or not. It pains me to see lights on during the day when/if a room has enough natural light. I believe it’s often more so out of habit we flip switches on than it is a true need for that light. My parents always joke that I like living in the dark but if I can see, why turn on the lights

We all know the drill: minimize energy usage & there are so many ways to do this. But I want to focus this post specifically on phantom energy… have you heard of it? According to Energy Star, the average U.S. household spends about $100 each year to power devices that are turned off… like all those phone & computer chargers that never leave the outlet but are only used for 1-2 hrs a day.  Think about all the things an average household plugs in: a TV, DVD player, coffee maker, washer/dryer, phone and computer chargers, microwaves, refrigerators, ovens, alarm clocks, lamps… so many things! We rely so heavily on the electrical grid and so often we don't unplug a darn thing. Granted, there are a handful of things you wouldn’t want to keep unplugging like the refrigerator, oven, internet modem, etc but there are plenty of things that don’t need to be plugged in ALL THE TIME. Like power cords for phones and computers. If the device is not charging, unplug it! Other big contributors are treadmills, fax machines, printer and stereos…  

Another great way to decrease phantom energy is to use a power strip for your desk and television setups. Plugging all your cords at your desk/tv console into a power strip and simply  flipping the switch on and off minimizes the hassle of constantly plugging & unplugging. Either turn on or off per use or even just getting into a rhythm of turning your power strips off every night. I just want to encourage the mindset that things don’t need to always be plugged in if they aren’t being used; however that works best for you. 

Not only will these actions possibly save you a little bit of money each year, but small actions like these help reduce burning more fossil fuels to keep up with our demand. And small actions performed by many, lead to big changes… like saving our planet!

18. byo: take out & to-go containers

For anyone who eats out regularly, orders take-out, purchases items at a deli counter, or likes to stop by salad/hot bars… these are all great places to start brining your own reusable glassware. If you think those cardboard boxes are recyclable, think again. They are contaminated with food and are a disservice to recycling centers when they end up there. 

RESTAURANTS: When you’re going out to eat a restaurant, bring a glass container if you think you’ll have leftovers. You may feel strange bringing one, but last time I checked, it’s way more attractive to care about the planet than what others think. Plus, that’s a great conversation point if people are asking what the heck you’re doing… you’re saving the planet, that’s what the heck you’re doing.

TAKE OUT/DELIVERY: Maybe this is an opportunity to scale back. Most take out comes in plastic bags, with non-recyclable containers (i.e. styrofoam), recyclable plastic containers (but it’s PLASTIC) or is in a paper product that is inevitably contaminated with grease/food, making it non-recyclable! (more on that below). And all those packets of sauces/dips, plastic utensils, napkins… it’s all avoidable trash. I’m one of the biggest advocates for homemade meals, potlucks, and picnics. The ‘do it yourself’ approach is way more satisfying and 99% of the time, so much healthier. 

And for all the pizza lovers out there. If you’re ordering pizza (whether it’s regular, vegan, GF), think twice about delivery or take out in a pizza box. If there is any grease or food remnants on the box at all, that part cannot be recycled, it must go in the garbage. Recycling centers combine paper/cardboards items with water to create a slurry that turns into recycled paper items. However, if there is any oil/food on them, the oils prevent it from mixing properly and entire batches of what could have been recycled paper, are thus ruined. 

DELI COUNTER: For grocery stores that allow you to bring your own glass storage container, here is a great opportunity to do so! Make sure your container is clean and they tare the weight before adding whatever you’re purchasing. Some grocery stores have stricter regulations with this but it doesn’t hurt to ask; this practice would reduce so much avoidable plastic. 

SALAD/HOT BARS: If you’re dining in, always opt for the reusable plate/bowl and utensils. If you’re taking to go, bring your own container!  

My entire family have been longtime users of Pyrex glassware; Pyrex, mason jars & Weck jars are my jam. There are other glass-based storage container options like Lifefactory…  whatever works for you, just always choose glass over plastic. And a great way to avoid “unplanned” take out, is to have a container or two in your car, stashed with your reusable grocery bags. This way, there are no excuses. 

19. samples & single-serve packets

You know when you’re at the grocery store on a day when it’s samples galore? Most people get excited about this… but all my eyes see is avoidable trash & more often than not, unhealthy food. Sorry to damper the free food excitement, y’all. 

I completely understand samples are a great way for companies to market their product. However, all those little papers, forks, toothpicks, spoons, paper or plastic serving cups/plates are 99% of the time are NOT recycled. Even places you think would be dedicated to recycling, like Whole Foods, is going to toss all those sample containers in the trash. Food contamination is a big contributor to this; if food remnants are on anything that goes into the recycling bin, it won’t get recycled. While that is disheartening, it’s encouragement to avoid single-use items that end up in the trash mere seconds after using it. So next time you see a sample, pass on it. Unless of course, it’s something you can put directly in your hand or it doesn’t require any “thing” to eat.

I also encourage saying no to all the individual sized packets, which applies to sample and travel convenience items. I’m particularly against all the green powders, energy & electrolyte drink mixes, protein powders, nut butters, or powdered sweetener single-serve packets. Are they convenient? Sure. Are they a need? NOPE. If it’s out of convenience, I really encourage you to find a new way to enjoy that item. Of course, there are a few situations where items like these may be justified (yet I still I can’t justify) & that is for people who are on backpacking trips or something of that nature}. 

Overall, I operate under the mentality that just because it’s free doesn’t mean I need to take it or eat it. And if it’s a single-serving packet, it’s simply not happening. I absolutely will ‘sacrifice’ samples & convenience items for the health of our planet & future generations. Who’s with me?! 

20. aseptic containers

You may not recognize the formal name of ‘aseptic’ but these are those pliable cardboard/plastic/waxy (how do I describe these?!) shelf-stable containers that commonly house broths, soups, sauces, wine, dairy-free & regular milks, coconut water, and children’s juice (a common brand is Tetra-Pak). Some curbside recycling programs can recycle them but not all do because they contain many layers of different materials, making it challenging to separate. 

Regardless of if your local center recycles them or not, the sheer fact that it’s avoidable packing in the first place, is where I want to bring the attention. After all, the first ‘R’ in the 3R’s is to REDUCE.  

All commonly found items in aseptic containers are so easily avoidable by simply making them yourself or purchasing in alternative packaging like glass or aluminum. Stocks, broths, sauces and soups are all way healthier homemade as you control the ingredients; not only is this addressing a lower sodium content but you’re also using fresher ingredients. 

Dairy-free milks are the easiest to make at home. All you need is a blender and a nut milk bag. Fresh nut and seed milks will only last a few days in the fridge (without those stabilizers companies add), so make small batches. Almond milk is one of the most popular on the market but I encourage you to explore a more sustainable nut or seed. One of my recent favorites is sunflower seeds - not only are they cheaper but sunflower seeds are way less of an environmental issue than almonds are right now. Plus, the milk is surprisingly so good! 

If you’re a parent and want to give your children juice, purchase a good quality organic juice, free of processed sugars; serve in plastic-free, children friendly water canteens. And better yet, make your own homemade juices :) This approach also reduces the use of those silly plastic straws that come with juice boxes!

However, if you do happen to continue purchasing these containers, I highly encourage you to check out the Carton Council at www.recyclecartons.com. For anyone in the U.S., you can type in your zip code and it will tell you if your local recycling center accepts aseptic containers. And if it doesn’t, there are three addresses provided (under the FAQs) where you can ship your aseptic containers, to ensure proper recycling (you’ll just need to bundle up at minimum 30 containers). Carton Council is dedicated to keeping these containers out of the landfill and for that I am grateful.