28 Ways To Be More Sustainable: pt. 1

Every day for the month of February, I shared a sustainability tip on my Instagram account.  The concept of sustainability is something I have grown to become so incredibly passionate about. I owe my inherent love for our planet to my mom who raised my brother & I in a home that was pretty darn eco-friendly without it even being a thing back then. We ALWAYS recycled, we took cloth bags to the grocery store, brought our lunches to school in our reusable sacks + food containers, and my mom banned paper towels in our house sometime when I was in middle school. Soon followed the ban on plastic water bottles because there was no need for those in the first place. 

While I certainly can't say I was passionate about sustainability my whole life, I can say with certainty that sustainable practices have always been part of me. Sometime in the midst of my high school years, my connection to our earth began to deepen; I began to truly understand the global impact of our daily choices. This, in tandem with my growing interest in health & nutrition, led me to where I am now post-high school... fifteen years of an ever-deepening passion for nutrition, organic food & agriculture, and of course, sustainability. In my opinion, you can't have any of those without the other; they are all so beautifully woven into one another, just like we are all connected to the same thread of life. 

1. bees wrap 

Beeswrap is sustainably produced in Bristol, VT with only 4 all-natural ingredients: OG cotton, beeswax, OG jojoba oil, and tree resin. 

It’s multifunctional, pliable and reusable. The warmth of your hands is all you need to soften it to cover bowls, jars, wrap a sandwich, produce or other foods :)

Beeswrap is an excellent alternative to plastic wrap. You’ll never find me using plastic cling/wrap because it is NOT recyclable and after its ONE time use, it ends up in the landfill or worse in nature and/or our oceans. Plastic is one of the most unsustainable, wasteful & harmful products and we need to break free from our addiction. Yes, it may be a more “convenient” thing in some cases but all these modern conveniences are NOT SUSTAINABLE FOR OUR PLANET. There are so many alternatives. You just have to take the time find these alternatives and make a conscious effort to implement new habits.

2. return your egg cartons

For those of you who consume eggs, I first off highly suggest sourcing as local as possible! Connect with your local farmer at the farmers market, your local grocery store, or find a farmer near you to purchase from directly. 
 

And all those egg cartons add up! Why toss them in the recycling bin when you can hand them back to the farmer? Every person I know who raises chickens appreciates stacks of free cartons! It not only saves them money but it helps reduce the consumption of more cartons. So why toss a perfectly good carton when you can hand it back to a farmer in need? Even if it ends up in the recycling, that is A LOT of waste. It has plenty of life left in it!  

implement the 3 r's in that order, always! 

reduce > reuse > recycle.

ps. always forego the styrofoam cartons! Styrofoam is NOT recyclable.

3. wool dryer balls

How we wash & dry our clothes is incredibly important. Many of the ingredients in conventional laundry detergents & fabric softeners (like Tide, Downy, Snuggle, Bounce, Gain, Arm & Hammer) are KNOWN carcinogens, such as the common one 1,4-dioxane (which also happens to be in paint & paint thinners). The “what the f**k is this & how do you pronounce it” list of ingredients in conventional detergents/softeners are also linked to headaches, asthma, reproductive health & developmental problems, and a whole slew of irritations associated with the eyes, throat, nose and lungs. 

Who wants to wash their clothes in poison and proceed to cover their skin in them? I’ll pass, thank you.

And fabric softener. One of the worst ingredients being phthalates (added for fragrance). Phthalates are a synthetic preservative that is carcinogenic and linked to decreased sperm counts, early breast development, birth defects, liver & kidney damage. 

Again, pass…

SOLUTION: DITCH IT ALL! 

My first suggestion is to forgo softeners and dryer sheets entirely; you truly don’t need them. I don’t use a dryer & have not for years. Instead, I hang dry and simply add about 1/2-1 cup of distilled white vinegar to my washer. It’s worked for me for years and requires the least amount of resources & energy.

If you do use a dryer, replace those dryer sheets! Even “eco-friendly” ones because at the end of the day, they are a one-time-use item that ends up in the landfill). Instead, get yourself a WOOL dryer ball (not a plastic one). Wool dryer balls are made of only one ingredient: wool. They reduce static (even better than sheets), are incredibly durable, and are more cost & energy efficient. 

But not all wool dryer balls are created equal! Prioritize sustainably sourced wool or else you may be ending up with one from China. 

4. handkerchiefs

Something else that is so darn wasteful.... tissues. kleenex. whatever you call them. 

Think about it. We're cutting down trees & bleaching that paper to blow our nose? And then containing it in more paper, often wrapped in plastic? No! This is wrong.

There is a very sustainable alternative and it's called a handkerchief, aka hankie in my world. Cotton, reusable cloths that you can use over & over again. I promise it's not gross! What is gross is the waste of paper products that are so easily avoidable

5. plastic bags

They cause over 100,000 sea turtle & other marine animal deaths PER YEAR.

They require 12 MILLION barrels of crude oil to meet our current rate of consumption, staggering at 100 BILLION bags. Yep (that’s a B, not an M). 

And it’s estimated it will take upwards of 1,000 years for plastic bags to degrade.  

How and when did we become okay with creating & hyper-consuming things that end up in LANDFILLS with a shelf life of 1,000 years? 

You’ll notice a theme over this next month & most of that is to reduce plastic as much as possible. And a great place to start is at the grocery store with both produce and shopping bags. 

I buy A LOT of produce and guess what? I never use a plastic produce bag at the store. EVER. While these plastic produce bags are recyclable, it’s estimated that only 3% of plastic bags are actually recycled. And they can’t just be tossed in your curbside recycling bins … (how to properly do so is linked below!).

They are incredibly wasteful because 10 times out of 10, you never need them. How do I know? Because I’ve managed for as long as I can honestly remember without. 

I highly encourage you to forgo the one time use plastic bags for produce. What’s the worst that happens? At most, some things in your cart or basket may get a bit wet if you’re pulling greens and veggies from the wet rack… but It’s just water & it drys. Go to the store with PREPARED. With reusable cloth (or repurposed plastic) bags if you need them. Or simply load up your cloth shopping bags with your produce as is and take care of storing them properly in your fridge when you arrive home, with the following alternatives: 

GenerationMe (find her on etsy!), @ecobags, @chico, & Credo Produce Bags. 

And then there are the dreaded plastic shopping bags. These make my skin crawl. I don’t understand why they are so still heavily used when we have such incredible alternatives so readily available like cloth bags, chico bags, and the myriad of other reusable bags that are all over. I have a hearty stash of cloth bags I use for nearly everything and absolutely love their diversity and sustainability! 

So, as stated above, be prepared! Keep a stash in your car. Do whatever you need to do to remind yourself you DO NOT NEED TO TAKE THE PLASTIC BAG. And if you happen to run into the store for something without planning, if it’s just a few items, use your hands. Why take a bag for just a few items you can carry? Just say NO to plastic! I promise you will get along just fine without them. 

Let’s retrain our habits with the NEW ORDER: Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

FINAL NOTE: As for recycling your plastic bags properly, please visit the site plasticfilmrecycling.org. Enter your zip code & local drop offs are listed… Walmart, Target and Whole Foods are some larger chains to name a few.

6. buy in bulk

Prioritizing purchases in bulk is an excellent way to reduce packaging and save money, all while reducing potential food waste as you choose how much you need. 

Bulk offerings are plentiful and most places that sell in bulk will include teas, coffee, flours, salts, sugars, nuts, seeds, beans, dried fruits, grains, cereals, spices, herbs, granola, chocolate, & baking items (& plenty more!). Many places will also provide bulk nut butters (and/or grind your own), oils, vinegars, honey, maple syrup, dish soap, laundry detergent, shampoo/conditioner, lotions, and a few other body care products like lotion, body butters, body oils, & body wash. 

I’ve come across pretty rad bulk departments at health food stores & food coops, like Rainbow Grocery in San Fran. This place is truly the mecca for bulk. It runs the FULL gamut, down to all kinds of FERMENTS. This is literally the BEST place ever for someone who loves bulk and appreciates healthy, sustainable and whole foods! Don’t visit San Fran without a trip to Rainbow Grocery :) 

If you aren’t already familiar with a local coop or natural food store, do a quick search online and see what’s available. And for anyone who doesn’t have access to local options, stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, as I’ll share the best way to purchase bulk items online. 

Moving on…

Purchasing in bulk and not bringing your reusable bags or jars, however, kind of defeats the purpose. Because, really, what is the point if each time you are using new plastic bags?

Bring cloth bulk bags and/or save & reuse all paper & plastic bags (and for coffee drinkers, reuse those coffee bags!). I reuse and save bags until they are too torn/full of holes to lend themselves useful. I often discover a hole once I’m adding food to the bag and all the sudden it’s spilling out everywhere. I too will tape a hole or rip, to keep it useful, if tape will do the trick. I’m committed, what can I say? 

Prioritize PAPER if you forget to bring your own. With paper you can REUSE, compost, burn, recycle or up-cycle {i.e. trash/recycling bag, envelopes, cards, scrap paper, as a lid replacement secured with a rubber band, if your lid is missing}. 

AND many places are okay with you filling up your own glass jars. I bring glass jars for all liquids, spices, & Shea butter. Simply tare your glass jar prior to filling up (otherwise you’ll be charged for that weight) and voila… no waste!

One final tip to reduce waste in bulk is to forgo all those twist ties! Write the bulk # on the bag itself, into “notes” on your phone, or on your grocery list. And then just tie your bag to keep contents contained.

Once you train yourself to be prepared when shopping, this system becomes second nature.

7. buy in bulk, pt. 2

Years ago I knew there had to be a way to access these bulk items directly and bypass the middle man entirely. And lo and behold, there is! And this, my friends, is a buying club.

There is a national organic distribution company, called UNFI, who supplies all the food cooperatives, Whole Foods, and various other natural food stores across our country. The majority of what you find on those shelves is sourced from UNFI. And this extends beyond bulk department… I’m talking everything you find in bulk, grocery & beverages, frozen, refrigerated, personal care, & supplements. However, note with UNFI the orders are in bulk; you’re committing to case sizes. And while buying 25# of organic dried garbanzo beans sounds like a lot (cause it is!), I can’t pass that deal up because I only spend $29! That’s just over $1/lb while at the store it’s easily $2-3 more per lb of the same item. And since I don’t need 25# at a time for just myself, I split with family & friends. I place orders only when needed, which is roughly 2-3x/year. 

My buying club happens to be based out near my family’s farm in the middle of rural WI, so I know firsthand this is an excellent resource for anyone who has limited access to a local, organic grocery store.

Inquire within your local community and see if there is a buying club already in the works. And if there isn’t one, reach out to UNFI and ask to start one :) I’ve gone through that process as well while I lived in Florida and they are so kind. Questions? Just ask. I’d be happy to help.

If you thought that was cool, hold up, I’m not done. 

In addition to the wonderful world of UNFI, my buying club has access to another distributor, Frontier Coop. This is where the same stores listed above purchase most their bulk spices and teas (hello 1# bag of organic cinnamon for $5). 

They offer other products on this site at cost, like essential oils, natural shampoos/conditioners, soaps, shaving products, oral care etc but since I view that as a bunch of plastic and waste, I forgo those items and fill up at the coop/make all my own beauty care products. 

I cannot remember the last time I purchased a spice in a jar. Even though they are made of glass (at least all the ones I would buy), which is WAY better than plastic, I still view it as yet another physical item we can avoid. Because 9 times out of 10, I am sure those jars get tossed. Even if recycled, they end up being a one-time-use item and my aim is to avoid that mentality as much as possible. 

Even if you don’t have access to a local buying club that works with Frontier Coop, you can still purchase directly online through their website. Mind you, it won’t be at their wholesale cost, but it’s a great option if you have really limited access to quality bulk/bodycare items. 

Another company I love for sourcing high quality bulk herbs, spices, teas, and other randoms  like clays, is Mountain Rose Herbs. 

So there you have it. This is just another approach to purchasing quality food items in bulk/online that (mostly) helps in waste reduction & saves you some money! 

8. menstrual cycles

This one is for all my ladies out there! 

Have you ever considered how unsustainable tampons and disposable pads & liners are? These are all prime examples of more one-time-use items that we can completely eliminate from our routines! Not to mention all the packaging all these items come in.

To put the WASTE component into perspective, it’s estimated that over 12 BILLION pads & 7 MILLION tampons are disposed of annually (in the U.S. alone). The average women (whatever that means, ha!), menstrates 38 years of her life, and throws away 250-300 lbs of pads, tampons and applicators in her lifetime. Yikes! Even if you’re using applicator-free tampons, all those tampons contribute to so much waste. 

And then the health reasons. Tampons reside in one of the most vulnerable, sacred parts of our bodies, why expose it to toxins!? While the industry has moved past the former standard of whitening with elemental chlorine gas, all tampon manufacturers, eco-friendly or conventional, still bleach their products. These less benign approaches are either elemental chlorine-free bleach or entirely chlorine-free… HOWEVER, the term chlorine-free is not regulated… so basically anyone can say anything. Tampons are made of cotton and the majority of tampons on the market are not derived from organic cotton. Cotton farming uses more pesticides than any other sector in agriculture! and without hesitating, we put THAT in our vaginas?  Oh, and I almost forgot because I’m so far removed from these, but synthetically scented tampons ☠️ No, No, No and NO. Get that shit out of your vagina! 

Our vaginas deserve to be a toxin-free zone, so it’s time for an upgrade…

The best alternatives for tampons are either the Moon or Diva Cup (silicone based), the Keeper (latex based), or SheThinx underwear. I have had my Diva Cup for over ten years now and while it took a few cycles to get used to, I love the simplicity of it. All you have to do is wash in warm, soapy water each time you remove it & at the end of your cycle, boil in water for 10-15 minutes to clean & sanitize it.

As for pads and liners… there are plenty of reusable ones on the market these days! Aim for ones used with organic cotton, hemp or bamboo. Ones I recommend are LunaPad, Glad Rags, Party In My Pants, and Huggable Earth (available on Etsy!). They come in all sizes and absorbencies… so everyone’s needs are met. Plus, once you master one of the cups, you likely won’t need these at all. 

These alternatives are not only REUSABLE (two thumbs up for the environment) but so, SO much healthier for your body!

🌕🌖🌗🌘🌑🌒🌓🌔🌕 

9. online purchases

This one is tricky because there are many advantages to online shopping. However, I believe it’s become too much of a convenience for us. We’ve grown to be too accustomed to having so much available at the mere click of a button and we aren’t thinking enough about all that goes into those purchases… i.e. the excess of packaging, the fuel burned to deliver each package to millions of private homes, and then of course all the packaging and fuel wasted to manage returns. 

@packagefreeshop (on IG) brings to light the issue of returns perfectly. I couldn’t have stated this better myself so I prefer to quote: ”Reverse logistics (or returns) generates 5 billion pounds of landfill waste per year in the U.S. In the return process, trucks burn roughly 1.6 billion gallons of diesel fuel, resulting in 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. In 2017, 11.3 percent of all purchases were returned, amounting to $380 billion-worth of goods. We believe that the “shop online in excess because returns are free” culture is the real issue here and that we should only buy what we have really researched… Learn to be a smarter online shopper. Research purchases before making them, avoid impulse buys, and (simply put) don’t buy what you don’t need.” 

This echoes 110% how I feel about online shopping. Ordering online is not something I do regularly because I live in a city and 9/10 my needs are met right here in my community. Sometimes I pay a little more for something but I would rather do that (and support a local business) vs. having the same thing hand-delivered to my doorstep. If there has already been fuel and packaging utilized to deliver that same (or similar) product to a local business, why contribute to more packaging and fuel? 

And when you do receive a package, please remember to reuse all parts of it!  

10. travel pt 1: to-go ware

Over ten years ago I purchased these really awesome bamboo utensils by To-Go Ware and I kid you not, life changed. They come in a handy little travel pouch that makes traveling with them easy; it comes complete with a fork, knife, spoon & pair of chopsticks (my fave)! 🥢 Bamboo utensils are not only a gentler, more natural feel in your mouth but they are a sustainable, reusable product that completely eliminates your reliance on plastic in the midst of traveling. Train yourself to always think ahead and take utensils with you and you’ll never have to use those incredibly wasteful plastic utensils ever again! 

While the to-go ware utensil sets are handy & enjoyable, they certainly aren’t necessary. My pouch completely fell apart a couple years ago and since have been using a cloth napkin that I simply wrap utensils in and either tie with a string or rubber band to stay together. So, you can easily use what you already have. If you’re someone who tends to eat on the go or get take out a lot, I would also suggest keeping a pair in your glove compartment. Covering your bases and staying prepared is the name of the game, folks!