BPA: What You Should Know

BPA has been a buzz word the past few years, concerning our food and the potential health risks associated with it. I’m all for using less processed chemicals in our daily routine, so I decided to do a little research on the subject before I decide that BPA is the enemy. This is something I feel that we do too often. We find something new to hate, or rail on when there could be benefits to whatever it is that’s gained our disapproval. So in the following, I’ll be writing about the research I’ve done on the subject, and the changes I’ll be making to my purchasing habits, if any. Hopefully I’ll be able to clarify some of the questions around BPA for myself and others.

BPA: What is it?

BPA stands for bisphenol A, which is a chemical that is used to make certain resins and plastics. These resins and plastics are then used in the packaging that store the foods we purchase. They’re usually found in some plastic containers, or sprayed inside of tin cans that hold the food we eat. The primary concern with BPA is, that when the chemical is heated, it can then leach into the food that the container is holding. A reported 93% of Americans over the age of six have been found to have BPA in their urine.

BPA & Health Risks

This is a concerningly large percentage of people, if the chemical is detrimental to our health. If so, then it could have grave consequences. And according to this article from the National Library of Medicine, the effects of BPA aren’t wholly benign. Some risk factors include, “…BPA has been shown to play a role in the pathogenesis of several endocrine disorders including female and male infertility, precocious puberty, hormone dependent tumors such as breast and prostate cancer and several metabolic disorders…”. That’s a long list of reasons to stay away from packaging containing BPA.

Other Perspectives

There is another side to the BPA story. One which suggests that the chemical is safe in the amounts that it is found in the items and food packaging we use everyday. This site, Facts About BPA, lays out an argument for the continued use of BPA in products.

The very title of the site states that this is the truth about BPA. While they may not be lying about how they are presenting their information, they skirt the negative and potential side effects of the chemical. It’s also worth noting that the people who own and operate the website are also the largest producers of the chemical. So it would be fair to say they have a vested interest in the positive disposition of their product.

So Which is the Best Choice, BPA or BPA-Free?

For me and my health, I’m leaning more towards the camp of BPA free. It seems to me that taking in any amount of chemical that is proven to cause a variety of healthy malades, seems irresponsible. Why take the risk? Even if the FDA is saying that there are “safe” levels that we can ingest. We’re most likely never going to completely avoid BPA. Though lessening our contact to it will certainly reduce the chances of the potential health risks.

This also gives us the opportunity to use fresher ingredients in our meal prep. Since BPA is mostly found in the lining of cans and in plastics, if we purchase fresh produce and proteins, we’ll be steering clear of the chemical. And our food will taste fresher in the process.

Avoiding BPA in Our Day to Day

Now that we have some idea of how BPA interacts with our bodies, my next question is, where it can be found and how do we avoid it? As it turns out, BPA is found in a lot of different products we use regularly. Here’s a link to “EWG”‘s site, which I found on “Eat This, Not That”. EWG has a pretty comprehensive list of foods that shows which packaging contains BPA. Just type the name of the food and brand into the search bar to see if they show up on their list. It’s stated on their site that there’s over 16,000 products containing BPA. So it’s worth checking out if you’re concerned.

Items such as plastic storage containers and water bottles, baby bottles are made with BPA and tin cans are lined with the chemical to protect its contents from the off taste of tin. Thermal register tape is coated with it, as well as certain types of dental fillings, and most plastics that are marked with the numbers 3 and 7. This article from NPR goes into some detail about how to avoid it.

Image Credits: “How to avoid BPA” by DES Daughter is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Using Fewer Processed Foods While Cooking

How I’m approaching this dilemma is, by cooking more of my foods from their more whole, natural states. For example if a recipe calls for black beans, instead opening up a can, I’ll use my instant pot to cook a batch. As far as I know, the plastic bags holding the dry beans don’t contain BPA and the beans are cooked to order each time.

Instant Beans

I used to cook black bean soup at a restaurant I worked in in my twenties. So I know the time that’s involved in cooking dry beans from scratch on the range can be lengthy. The instant pot is an incredible time saver. Here is a link to The Minimalist Baker’s post on cooking grains and beans using the instant pot. As I’ve said above, it is a great way to save time and definitely worth looking into getting one if you do a lot of cooking. Here’s a link to some product reviews of the different brands and types of pressure cooking devices from The Spruce Eats. They cover everything from stove top pressure cookers to electric ones, slow cookers and pressure canners.

Cook to Order

Another way to avoid processed food would be to purchase fewer premade meals. I know we’re not all afforded the luxury of time. And I recognize that I’m coming from a cooking background. So my knowledge level and cooking skills aren’t where everybody is, and that they save me time. But learning to cook is a great way to take care of yourself while also nourishing your body and creating stronger bonds with family and friends.

If you’re new to cooking, here’s a link to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Cooking School. It’s mostly online, and they have loads of resources for free. You can learn recipes developed by Christopher Kimball and his team, but you can also learn other cooking techniques. Their most recent class was on knife skills. A basic for any would be chef to learn for sure.

Farm to Table

And the ultimate way to use fewer processed foods, grow your own! I have many happy memories of playing in my father’s community plot and the park next to it as a child. Along with creating fond memories, and making a beautiful space to enjoy, you also can’t beat the freshness of the produce you’ll be harvesting. Not to mention the money you’ll be saving by growing your own.

Other Ways to Avoid BPA

Water Bottles

One of the big ones on the list for me was using a different water bottle. I use to use an old plastic Nalgene. Which according to this post from Healthfully, Nalgene hasn’t used BPA in the production of their bottles since 2008. And fortunately for me, I received a stainless steel travel mug as a gift and have been using it ever since. The water bottle I had been using was definitely older than 2008. So it was time for an upgrade for sure.

Stainless steel works well for my needs as I make a lot of tea during the course of the day. Especially since heat is what releases BPA into the liquid of what certain types of plastic containers are holding. So if you’re in need of a new water bottle, or you are picking up something at a store on your way somewhere, check the bottom of your bottle.

This article from The Berkey, says that any container marked with a 3 or 7 in the recycling symbol, or labeled as “PC”, may contain BPA and or other toxic chemicals, such as BPS or BPF, that could be dangerous to your health. “…even little concentrations of BPS and BPF may upset the capacity of your cells in a path like BPA”-Berkey. So it’s best to avoid these containers altogether.

Also, I do have a water bottle on the nightstand next to my bed. On the bottom of the bottle, there is an etching, stating that it’s BPA free. So when in doubt, check the bottom. Also, going to the website of the company that made your bottle may answer some of your questions about what’s in their products as well.

Thinning Out Your Plastic Collection

This may also be a great opportunity to go through your water bottles, weeding out any that could contain hazardous chemicals. But also a chance to look at your other kitchen storage containers, devices and appliances. Maybe the plastic containers you use to store leftovers, the ones that you picked up from that takeout place, are marked with a “3”. Or the bowl of your food processor has the letters “PC” on it.

This way you’re able to take inventory of what may need replacing. Or just put them in the recycling. For example, if you have a blender that has BPA in it, then every time you blend something right from the range you’ll be melding more than just flavors into your sauce.

Or you can do what I’ve done, which is make the switch from plastic storage containers to glass. I use quart sized Ball Jars for not only my dry goods, but also when I cook meal prep. I store all my meals in the same jars as well. And when I take lunch or dinner to work with me, I also take a glass lunch box with a bamboo lid. And for breakie, I use pint sized Ball Jars for my overnight oats. This way, no chemicals. And I’m also using natural materials that will be recycled or decompose when I’m done with them. Win win.

Buying Bulk

Also if you live buy a natural grocery, or have a store in your city that has a bulk product section, then buying your soaps and detergents in bulk, using eco-conscious, reusable packaging, is another option. There are two places that are somewhat close by to where I live. Both which sell items such as body wash and laundry detergent. And you can fill your own containers with their product.

How it works is, you bring your own container, or sometimes they have containers there for you to use. A communal container exchange where people leave old containers for somebody else to use. You tare the weight of your container, such as a glass jar, and write it down on a sticker you then apply to the jar or whatever you’re using. When you bring the item to check out, they weigh it as they would weigh produce at most grocery stores. They then subtract the weight of the container from the product weight.

The products are usually cheaper than most of their pre-packaged counterparts, because you’re not paying for the packaging. But also reduced shipping weight lessens the use of fossil fuels to get the product to you. Reduced packaging and avoiding toxic chemicals, less fuel being used and the same quality of product. What’s not to like? The only way to clean more green is to make your own products.

Wrapping Up… Or Unwrapping Rather

BPA has been linked to so many health concerns that even though the FDA says there are safe levels of the chemical to consume, my perspective is why take the risk? We have alternatives. And lucky for us, they’ve been around for millennia. There’s also the health benefits to consider, when we eat fresher and fewer processed foods. So if you’re concerned about the state of the food you’re purchasing, or just want to reduce the amount of plastics you consume, think about incorporating some of these changes into your shopping habits and life style. And you’ll inadvertently be creating greener and healthier habits in the process. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Plastic Bottle Waste” by Tony Webster is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Updated: 11/27/22

Environmental Self-Audit: Assessing How Green Your Habits are

I’ve been posting a lot about emotional topics lately, so I thought that I’d make this one a little less heavy. I’ve been wanting to do a home audit to see how green my habits are. Something that’s been in that back of my mind for a while. So I thought I’d check out some methods, do some research and let you guys know what I came up with. Here’s what I’ve found.

First Thing’s First, This is Not an Energy Audit

The first thing I found was, there are not a lot of people in this field, doing this work. My first search yielded results mostly from Canada. And one company from Illinois. This makes me a little sad, knowing that there aren’t more people doing this type of work. With environmental concerns only getting more acute, it seems as though there should be a glut of these types of companies and services, doing this type of work.

Sadly, this isn’t the case. The sites I found mostly focused on the energy that is being used in the “house envelope”. This basically means any system that is working in your house, plumbing, electrical, HVAC systems to name a few, that are all working in conjunction with one another and in a closed space, i.e. the home. Like an envelope. So an audit basically adds up to an assessment of how efficiently these closed systems are working.

I’m not sure how well a self audit would work for assessing the workings of more technical systems in your home, such as HVAC for example, but for habits you keep in your day to day household upkeep and routines, you can easily see if things could use a change for the greener. So in the rest of this post I’ll be looking at some ways to make our life style, a little greener.

Green Habits

When it comes to thinking and acting a little greener in our homes, there are quite a few areas we can focus on. Anything from routines in the home to habits we maintain that we can shift to a more green version. Let’s take a look at some of the habits I’ve been keeping to help inspire you to keep your home and daily routine as green as possible : )

Composting

Composting is a great way to help keep food waste out of landfills or incinerators and keep the food cycle green. And don’t worry, even if you don’t have a garden, composting is still an option. Even if you’re living in a city, or a place without green space.

The first way, if you have the space and a garden, is to use a bin composting system. With this system, you can purchase a bin, or convert a container such as an old plastic garbage bin, into a composter. For this system to work there needs to be air circulation (punch holes in your bin), water and an absence of light. This is the ideal environment for bacteria growth that converts food waste into useable soil. You can also use a three bin system, where you place the beginnings of your compost in the first bin and move it to the second halfway, to promote quicker bacteria growth. Finally the third bin is for the finished compost. The green way to deal with plant-based food waste.

And if you don’t have land or use for compost, there are companies picking up people’s food waste to compost it for commercial uses. The company that’s local to my area is Black Earth Composting. They provide you with a small container and pick up your food waste in the same ways the town picks up your trash and recycling once a week. You can then get a voucher for compost from a local nursery, or donate it to one of the projects they are working with. Less waste, more delicious foods. Win, win.

Where’s the Meat?

Another way to produce less waste and be more green is, go vegan. Or maybe eat less meat if you’re not wanting to make the switch. This graph from “Climate Central” shows not only how many more resources are used by the production of livestock for consumption, but also the amount of greenhouse gasses that are produced in the process.

If you’re not ready to make the plunge into going completely meatless, think about eating less meat during the course of your week as a green alternative. Try adding a meatless Monday to your week. Every little bit helps. If you need some inspiration, head over to my Community page where you’ll find a link to “The Minimalist Baker’s” website. There, Dana has loads of tasty, mostly meat free recipes where you will surely find something suited to your taste. Start by typing in your favorite ingredient and see what comes up.

Be a Man by Challenging Tradition

In this article, “The Good Trade” explains the link between our traditional views of what it means to be a man and how they run counter to the ideas of what it means to be an activist for the planet. They explain how certain types of socially created norms can seem unrelated to the current climate crisis, but may share a connection. This is called intersectional environmentalism, and one of the examples is toxic masculinity.

It basically says, that caring for the environment is seen as feminine. And therefore rejected by those who value the tenets of toxic masculinity. Among these tenets are dominance and competitiveness. Caring for the environment and “environmental stewardship is nurturing and cooperative. It’s inherently at odds with internalized, problematic perceptions of masculinity and feminine” writes Zach Thomas of “The Good Trade”.

This makes a lot of sense to me, as a product of the 80’s. My young mind was molded to the shape of thinking that “real men” take what they want, use violence to get it, and anything that was seen as feminine in a man was considered “gay”. It took me a long time to come to terms with these harmful lessons. And it wasn’t all my caregivers fault. They were trapped in the same type of narrow thinking that had been perpetuated by society.

And though I recognize that it wasn’t their faults entirely, they could have come to terms with how they were teaching this type of violence and therefore perpetuating it. They could have formed their own ideas and opinions based on the information they were receiving. But it takes strength to break from social norms.

It takes a lot of willpower, to break the bindings to what we’ve been taught. The lessons that are harmful to ourselves, others and our environment. But it’s possible. Never give up hope, and be persistent in questioning if what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling, may have been shaped by those unhealthy lessons growing up.

Carry a Water Bottle

This one is especially pointed. I’m not sure where the need to keep bottled water on hand came from. This article from “The World Counts”, suggests that it comes from a fear of drinking contaminated tap water. I’m not sure where this fear first took root, but another concerning fact the article brings up is, “An estimate 1,500 plastic bottles end up as waste in landfills or thrown in the ocean every second”.

This blows my mind. And all the more reason to take action. If you drink water, or plan on doing so (which you def should, here’s an article about the benefits of staying hydrated), carry a water bottle. I don’t believe I’ve ever been in a place or situation, where I was in civilization, where it was unsafe to drink the tap water.

Ironically, there are chemicals that can leach into the water you’re drinking from disposable plastic bottles. If you’re looking for an alternative, I like Hydro Flask for their design and ability to keep their contents hot or cold for longer than conventional, plastic bottles. They’re also made from steel. So you’re bypassing most plastics while you’re filling up your bottle. Win, win. Or get one from your local thrift shop. You’ll be recycling and saving resources!

Take Public Transportation or Walk/Ride a Bike

With so many cars on the road, this one is a no brainer. I’m not suggesting that you sell your car. Only to take a closer look at your driving patterns. Where are you going and how often? What’s the nature of the trips you’re taking? Is there another way to get to where you need to be without hopping in the car? Do you work or go to school in an area that has a robust transit system? Maybe instead of taking your own vehicle, you could share a ride with thousands of others, and do your part to lower greenhouse gasses.

Not to mention that commutes can be ideal times to catch up on your favorite podcasts or reading. Writing if that’s something you’re in the habit of, or meditating. Something I did on my way into work when I worked in Cambridge.

Owning a car is a necessity for most people though. For example, if you have children you may need to drop them off at school in the mornings, or pick them up in the afternoon or bring them to various activities. Also, grocery shopping can be difficult if you don’t have a way to bring your groceries home. So you’ll need to rely on your car for certain things for sure.

Getting Around Without a Car

I don’t have a car, and still manage to get all the things done on my list. I walk to work or when I worked further away, I took public transit which was very reliable. When I go grocery shopping, I take public transit to the store, and take a Lyft home. Of course, I only need to take care of myself. If I had a family that relied on me, I would most likely find another way to provide for them. This is where a car would come in handy. What I’m suggesting is, that we think of different ways to get our needs met when it comes to transportation.

If you live close to a commuter rail station, or subway or bus stop, consider taking them to your workplace instead of driving. Or maybe carpooling with a co-worker who lives close to you. This will help you to save on gas, while using a service that is already running or share a ride with someone who is going your way. Reducing your carbon footprint even further. Do you live close enough to walk or ride a bike? Consider these carbon neutral ways of greening your commute time.

Donate Time or Resources

Are you an avid hiker? Do you use the beach frequently? These are great hobbies or activities to cultivate and ways to relax and destress. But there won’t be many places left for our enjoyment with the ways things are heading. What can we do about it? Find a place to volunteer or donate to, that are in line with your interests and hobbies.

If you enjoy going to the beach, why not join an organization that is cleaning the surf at your favorite oasis. Can’t find one? Start one. Organize your friends and family, maybe some coworkers as well. Throw a party on the beach you’re cleaning, but spend some time cleaning the beach first. Then you can all enjoy the the fruits of your labor while cooking out together.

The same idea can work for a particular park or reservation you enjoy hiking. In both cases, it may be best to get in touch with those who are in charge of the maintenance of the area you plan on cleaning. There may be efforts already taken in that direction.

If you’re short on time but have resources to donate, try finding an organization or charity that is in line with the type of activities and activism you enjoy. I’ve donated to 4Ocean, and the Appalachian Mountain Club in the past. If you’re looking for ideas on where to donate time or resources, this post from “The Good Trade” has a bunch of ideas on where to get started. Also, check your local community Facebook page. Or your city or town’s website. There could be something happening locally that you can get involved with. Taking some of the pressure off you to organize something new.

Get Involved

To sum up our current environmental situation, as an old co-worker of mine used to say, “it’s no easy”. And as another co-worker used to say, “that’s how it be sometimes.” I quote these people not to make light of the situation we’re in, but to bring a shared sense of struggle and hope. We’re not in this alone. It’s important to remember those who have helped pave the way and have already done good work. The people who have lifted our spirits when we felt totally overwhelmed by a situation, like the one we’re in now. Or those who have given us the wisdom to help get us through a project when we feel depleted, while there’s still more work to be done.

I’ll be looking into green, house assessments in the future and if you have any insights I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below. What are your green habits? But for right now, there is loads of work that needs to be done. Find something that sparks your interest and get involved in some way. Even if it’s something small to start. At least it’s a start. You’ll also feel better about being part of the solution. And connecting with like minded people along the way. Maybe making some new friends to boot. So get out there and lend a hand at making the world a little more green. You and the environment will be glad you did. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “A poem behind my green living room…!!! Un poème derrière mon salon vert…!!!” by Denis Collette…!!! is licensed under

      CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Green New Deal: What Are We Planning to do With Our Resources?

The Green New Deal is something that’s been in the works and the news for a while now. So I’m kind of embarrassed to say that I don’t really know what the proposal is all about. Seeing how part of the mission of my blog is based on environmental advocacy and sustainability, I feel I should at least be abreast on some of the major talking points. I’ve heard it being spoken about in brief news clips. But haven’t done any real digging to find out what it’s all about. So for the past week I’ve been looking for news articles to get a feel for what it entails and maybe find ways I’m able to support it on an individual level.

Green New Deal Scope & Design

What I’ve found is, that the plan itself is pretty ambitious. The scope of which the Green New Deal may cover, according to this article from The Intercept, may be anywhere from agriculture, plans for relocating coastal populations from flood zones, ensuring democratic participation in clean energy planning and ending eminent domain. A universal basic income, wildfire management, transportation upgrades and trade policy. And this is only a portion of what it may contain.

Also, according to this article from Vox, the Green New Deal is a take on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal from the 1930’s. The Green New Deal also covers going carbon neutral in the time frame of ten years. To providing careers, livable wages and pensions to families in the lower income bracket. Closing some of the gaps in the entrenched wealth divide between social classes in the states.

Why The Green New Deal Makes Sense

This was something that was a bit confusing to me at first. But as I continued to read, I realized that most likely the people who would be most incapable of switching to renewable sources, would be those who are having trouble finding these resources to begin with. I.e. lower income and vulnerable populations.

If you’re having trouble paying for the electric bill already, then there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to find alternative sources of energy. Such as installing solar panels on your existing house or apartment building. If you already have the means, then switching to a renewable source shouldn’t be an issue.

And furthermore, the Green New Deal isn’t a set of laws or legislation. It’s a large scale plan to invest in renewable energy sources. Decarbonizing our economy and infrastructure while making society a more fair and just one. The plan makes a lot of sense. But as I said above, it’s ambitious. It can be a little overwhelming for a person on the individual level to feel as though they are having an impact.

How Can an Individual Make a Difference?

If you don’t have the time to write congress, protest or knock on doors to gain support, what can an individual do to help the goals of the Green New Deal? The scope of this expansive proposal is large. So in an attempt to help the average person feel as though they can be doing their part to help, I’ll be listing some ideas on how we can make a difference on an individual level. Ones that are in line with the goals of the Green New Deal.

Electric Co.

The first, and probably most pertinent one is, our current energy consumption. One way of changing this is to ask your electric company to switch your power supplier to a company that provides energy from a renewable source.

For example, I live in Massachusetts. So I would need to call National Grid, who purchases power from varying sources throughout the state and ask them to purchase my power from a renewable company. Such as one who uses wind or solar as their main harvesting methods. The energy all travels through the same grid. So there’s no need to upgrade anything in your delivery system.

This has the effect of increasing demand for energy that is provided from renewable sources. And since we live in a capitalist economy, we are voting for cleaner energy with our dollars when we switch to sources such as wind or solar.

Buying Local & Growing Your Own

Buying local is another option. As is growing your own food if you have a green thumb. Some of the focus of the Green New Deal is around trade policy. This may include aspects such as shipping packaged produce from remote parts of the world. While most companies have their logistics down to a science, i.e. filling their shipping containers to maximum capacity for best fuel optimization, buying local produce supports local farms. These farms most likely have fair wages for workers and ethically grown produce. You’ll also be investing money into your own community.

And you can’t get much more local than growing your own! Whether it’s in your backyard, a community plot or in containers scattered around your apartment. Growing your own veggies is most definitely a satisfying and tasty endeavor. You’ll also be eating your produce when it’s at peak ripeness. This means that you will be getting most all of the nutrients your veggies have to offer. So not only will it be better for the environment via food miles, but you’ll also be eating healthier as well.

Finances & the Environment

Unfortunately there isn’t much we’re able to do when it comes to livable wages for workers. But there are some things we can do when it comes to how we choose to spend our dollars. There are credit cards that are marketing themselves as environmentally friendly by offsetting the carbon footprint your purchase has when you swipe your card.

While this is a step in a greener direction, and any attempt to help reduce the carbon being released into the atmosphere is a welcome one, it’s not as clean as it sounds. As Sara Rathner from “The Nerd Wallet” put it, most banks that are issuing these cards are more than likely investing heavily in fossil fuels. Our safest bet when deciding to make a purchase is, deciding if we really need to make the purchase.

This makes a lot of sense. But the reality is, we will sometimes need to make a purchase using a credit card. And in my opinion it’s better to do so with a company that is actively trying to offset the carbon footprint. By making a donation to an organization that is doing green works. Alternatively, we can also look to donate to a charity of our choice. And if we look to shop as locally as possible, we may develop healthier purchasing habits along the way. We’re also waning ourselves off of instant shipping that has become so commonplace.

Transportation & the Environment

Speaking of shipping, transportation is another place where we can make an impact. One of the aspects of the Green New Deal is updating and expanding high-speed light rail for travel needs. This can be approached from a few directions.

Light Rail

First, from a recreational perspective. I live just outside of Boston Mass.. We have a light rail system that is reliable. But we also have trains and buses that connect Boston to other parts of New England and the East Coast. So if you’d like to leave Boston for the weekend you have options. There’s no need to pack yourself and stuff into your car for the trip.

For example, I don’t own a car. But I’d like to take a long weekend in Portland Maine. To go to some of my favorite places and just enjoy coastal Maine for a few days. There’s a tea house, Dobra Tea, that has a few locations up and down the eastern seaboard. The one in Portland Maine and Burlington Vermont are two of my favorite places to visit and a must on my trip.

Luckily there is a train line that runs from Boston’s North Station, that stops in Portland. It’s called the Downeastern. So if I’m feeling like taking a weekend trip, I can hop on a train and be there in a few hours.

Busse, Commuter Rail & Trains

Second, if I want to head south of Boston, I can easily head to South Station which has trains and buses which will bring me to all points south. I believe they go as far South as D.C.. So If you’re looking to get out of your city for a few days, it’d be worth it to check to see what your local travel options are first. That way you won’t have to deal with weekend traffic or other road trip hassles.

If you live in a city that has reliable public transit, commuting via commuter rail, train (more commonly known as the subway) or busses are all great options to help reduce some of your carbon footprint. I take the commuter rail and bus/train to get to work now. Sure the commute may be a little longer, but it gives me a chance to ease into my day. I check emails, do some research for articles I’m writing and just to relax for the first portion of my morning.

Also it costs less to take public transit that it would to drive into work everyday. You save on gas as well as wear and tear on your vehicle. If you go carless and take a Lyft or Uber when you need a ride, your transportation budget becomes exponentially cheaper. As you don’t have a car payment or insurance payment to figure in.

Of course these options are mostly only available to people living in a city with established public transportation. But it’s worth your time to look into if you’re thinking of making a switch to something a little greener.

Other Options

There are also other small shifts you can make in your daily routine that will help you to do your part that are in line with the Green New Deal. As we all know, planting trees is still one of the best ways to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, state rep. and a major spokeswoman for the Green New Deal is planting a rooftop garden. She plans to fill it with greens to help promote the cause. But if you don’t have a rooftop to turn into a garden, there are other options available to you.

For example, there are websites like Ecosia. Ecosia is a search engine that uses its profits to plant trees in parts of the world that need them most. They boast, every time you search, Ecosia generates income from ad revenue that they then use to plant trees. This is a great way to take something you do every day and turn it into something helpful for the environment.

Donating Directly to the Cause of your Choice

Alternatively, you can also donate directly to projects and organizations that are doing the type of work that aligns with your personal preferences. This list from Green Dreamer has 34 different types of groups and organizations that are doing sustainable work. They range anywhere from ocean conservation, to social justice. Green Dreamer is community supported. Which means they independently cover green topics without special interests from large agricultural or oil companies.

Are there organizations that you’ve heard of and always wanted to donate to? Or find out more about their work? For me, I’ve historically been drawn to groups that take care of our resources. Such as our oceans and mountains. A few of the organizations I donate to are, 4 Oceans, The Sierra Club and Oxfam.

4 Oceans

Well, I don’t actually donate to 4 Oceans. They are a certified B corporation that prides themselves on pulling a pound of trash from the ocean for every purchase made. So every time you buy something from them, you donate to their trash collection cause. They have single use plastic alternatives for purchase, but what I’ve gotten in the past are bracelets made from recycled plastic pulled from the ocean. I usually buy them as gifts for people who may be difficult to buy for. This way you and the person receiving the gift can feel good about doing something to help keep our oceans a little cleaner.

The Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is an organization that focuses on protecting our environment from pollution and maintains trails and green spaces. Be it from helping to make the switch from coal power plants to renewable sources. Or to protecting our national parks. The Sierra Club is doing work to help us continue to enjoy the great outdoors. They are also a place where environmental protection meets social justice. By advocating for groups that work with vulnerable populations.

Oxfam International

Oxfam international is an organization that aims to help bring an end to world poverty. They do this by advocating for communities that are experiencing conditions that are near or at poverty levels. They help to train, bring in necessary technologies to, as well as help communities grow nutritious foods. Also to gain access to clean water, land and access to fair wages. They do a lot to look after the welfare of the communities they work with too. They help by providing care for communities experiencing conflict or reeling from a disaster.

Get Involved

These three organizations and the list of causes above are only the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to organizations that are out there making a difference, there are many. There are sure to be plenty of people doing the work you would like to be a part of. All you need to do is get out there and look for them. Who knows what you may find. It can be overwhelming, to think of all the areas that needs our attention. Just remember to take it slow, one step at a time.

Also it’s helpful to realize that it took us a while to get into this mess, it may take a while to get ourselves out. So instead of beating ourselves up for not being as green as humanly possible, let’s take an honest look at where we are. Ask, what have we gotten ourselves into and make steps, however small, to get ourselves out from where we are. And don’t give up! It won’t be easy, that’s for sure. But it’s possible. We only need to be diligent in our efforts and work faithfully towards our goals. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Normandy Pasture” by Bold Frontiers is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Updated: 9/30/22

Recycling: Are We Really Making a Difference?

I remember reading and hearing about how China is refusing our recycling about two years ago. It was concerning to find out we were shipping our trash to other countries, but to learn that we are no longer able to any more and the uncertainty that comes with that, left me feeling a bit anxious. What are we doing with our recycling? This seems like something so basic that I’m floored we don’t already have a plan in place already.

One Big Problem

We can’t just leave our garbage to pile up with nowhere for it to go. Why was this not thought through? Instead of a plan, we have a pollution problem that is literally choking our oceans and lakes. We’re using chemicals that are poisoning our foods and releasing volatile organic compounds into our atmosphere and accelerating climate change. And most of this is due in large part to the petrochemical companies creating products that are harmful to people and the environment. Mostly under the guise of it being cheap. This just isn’t acceptable in my book and I hope others agree.

So I’m angry about this. And I’d say this my anger is a healthy response to an unhealthy situation. But I don’t want to be blinded by my emotions that come with the sense of being wronged. Yes there are horrible things happening in the world, but that doesn’t mean that I will default to black and white thinking. I.e. everything involving petroleum is evil and all plastics are wrong. It’s helpful to think of these as problems that we’ve stumbled into. Using what we knew at the time to be the best solutions to what we were facing.

But if you’re anything like me, it’s difficult to draw the line that it doesn’t fall within my realm of responsibility to “solve” these issues. Taking on too much responsibility is something I know I struggle with. And I’m sure I’m not alone. So what’s the alternative to feeling like we have to come up with a solution? Probably becoming part of the solution. Then advocating for the solutions that are most helpful. So what are some solutions to the problems we’re facing?

Things That Need Our Attention

Let’s take a look at some of the problems we’re facing first, to get a better understanding of what we’re up against. According to the Columbia Climate School, of the 267 million tons of materials recycled in the U.S. in 2017, only about 94 million tons were composted or recycled. Much of the unrecycled material was either incinerated for energy, or went to landfills.

A large part of the problem is that there is no centralized program for recycling, states side. In the States, there is no federal recycling program that is coming up with solutions and instituting guidelines for the process. It is now currently the responsibility of 20,000 communities in the U.S. to decide what and how to recycle its waste. And what’s more is, that these recycling programs need to compete with other municipal programs. Programs such as schools and road maintenance for funding. This seems like a lose lose situation.

And to add to the confusion, the only plastics that are being recycled in the U.S. are 1 and 2. Plastics 3-7 are not being recycled, even though they are labeled as such. No bueno. This leads to a vast majority of plastics being sent to the incinerator to produce energy. Along with the plastics that are able to be recycled, but aren’t do to contamination. I.e. not being thoroughly cleaned. This means a majority of the material we are sending out with the intentions of being recycled, end up in the incinerator.

Reduce, Reuse & Zero-Waste Living

With all this information and misinformation, how do we begin to feel as though we are making a difference? From my understanding, the tenets of reduce, reuse, recycle and refuse, still focus on all the areas we need to be paying attention to, to be a part of the solution. One way of living that encapsulates a majority of these tenets is zero waste living.

The concept of living zero waste is simple. It’s to purchase goods that have no component that can’t be recycled, composted or reused in some way. For example, purchasing items from the bulk bins at grocery stores, and carrying them home in cotton, reusable bags or glass jars is a way to eliminate the plastic wrap or packaging that is too flimsy to be properly recycled. Keeping as many items that turn into waste out of landfills and incinerators is the guiding ethos behind the idea of living zero waste.

And this is not an easy way to live for sure. So many items are packaged in some form of unsustainable material, that often times you will have to go out of your way to find alternatives. One big way to make an impact, as I mentioned above, is to buy product in bulk. And I’m not talking about the big box stores where you can buy a years worth of toilet paper on the cheap. But rather stores that have a section with bulk items, that aren’t prepackaged. Where you can bring your own containers to take home with you.

Places to Start Living More Waste Free

Whole Foods has a bulk section, though it was temporarily suspended due to concerns with Covid. My local store has recently put there bulk section back into use starting on June 2nd. There are other places to buy bulk as well. This site from Zero Waste Nerd has a location finder where you can enter your locality and their site will list some of the known zero waste grocery stores near you. I found a shop on my commute that sells household cleaning supplies in bulk. All you need to do is bring a container and fill up anything from laundry soap, to all purpose cleaners. This is a great way to reduce a lot of the packaging that comes with so many of the products we buy regularly.

Another site I found in my search, Litterless, has a similar approach in that they list stores by state, then city, that have bulk shopping options. You can choose your state from the list on their homepage, then they have a list of cities, with the stores and what they sell in alphabetical order. They also link to the store’s site, so you can check them out in advance to see if they have and are what you are looking for.

Buying Bulk

While we’re on the subject, how do you carry these items home to be used? You can’t just toss a bunch of flour or oats in your basket! For items such as the cleaning supplies, glass ball jars work well. This way you can buy as much as you need, use them straight from the jar in the case of laundry detergent, or refill your reusable spray bottle for other types of cleansers. I use the wide mouth Ball Jars which I feel are easier to use a scoop or measuring cup with.

If you’re buying bulk produce, reusable cotton muslin bags will do the trick. You can put all your fruits and vegetables in these bags. I use mine for items such as green beans and fresh herbs. I haven’t tried this, but you may also be able to use these bags for some dry goods as well. They would be great for items such as beans and oats. Anything large enough not to slip through the weave of the bags. Glass jars will also work for spices and baking needs. Such as flour or sugar. Just make sure to ask an employee to help you tare the weight of the jar before you load up.

For me, the items I buy bulk at the stores have a corresponding container at home. So if I buy a pound of wild rice, I have a jar waiting in my cupboard to be filled. This way I don’t have a bunch of bags loosely cluttering up my cabinet space. And I can reuse the same few bags I have to refill different items.

So instead of using one bag for each item to then be stored in, I can have a few bags that I use to refill the containers that are already dedicated to a particular item. And I can easily switch it up to contain other items as needed. This way I only need as many bags as items I need to refill. This keeps things organized while also cutting back on the need to buy a large amount of one type of container (and then carry them everywhere).

How Much Trash Do You Produce?

Another way to get a handle on your garbage consumption is to do a trash audit. This is as simple as it sounds. Take your trash, probably a week’s worth and go through it to see what you throw away. What are the items you are throwing away the most? What is filling up your recycling bin? From here, you can make the decision to cut back on the items that you find reoccurring the most. If you find that you are recycling a large amount of shampoo and soap bottles, maybe making the switch to something like bar soap for both hair and body. Or visit a bulk cleaning supply store like the one I mentioned above, to reduce the amount of plastic that is adding up in your recycling.

Cleaners & Supplies

There are also services where you can order refills for different products such as laundry soap. Companies like My Green Fills, sell packages of concentrated laundry products, detergents, stain removers and other laundry needs. This may not be zero waste, but it greatly reduces the amount of plastic bottles that add up quickly as a result of our laundry needs. And it costs less as well. The way it works is; they send you a bottle with packages of dry refills, that you reconstitute with warm water. Once you go through the packages, you order more and use the same container to refill your detergents.

Paper towels are a big one for me. Switching to a dish towel could be the answer to this issue. Washing a few dish towels each week will definitely save on the waste produced by the paper industry. These can be used as paper towels are, only washed and hung to dry after each use. Make sure to buy cotton towels and avoid microfiber ones, as they can release large amounts of plastic fibers into the ocean, which are dangerous to aquatic life.

Also, old tee shirts work great as cleaning rags. When I retire a work shirt, I will oftentimes cut it up to use as extra cloth rags. They can be used for anything from cleaning up messes to dusting furniture. And as long as you are wearing 100% cotton clothing, it can be tossed into the compost when you’re finished with it.

Composting

While we’re on the subject, composting is a great way to reduce the food waste we accumulate. If you have a garden or space for a compost bin, this should be a fairly easy task. There are premade bins you can buy that house compost, but you can also make your own. This article from The Spruce goes into the different methods you can use to make your own compost pile. One of them is making your own bin using a trash barrel. Something that is accessible to just about everybody.

And depending on where you live, there are companies that will pick up your compost for you. Curbside, just as your garbage and recyclables are already picked up. In Massachusetts, the Boston area, we have Black Earth Composting. Call your local municipal office to find out if there are services near you that you can join. Also a quick google search will yield plenty of results to get you started on your composting journey.

Refusing Plastic While Eating Out

There is also a new trend in food markets and take out places where many of these businesses are switching to compostable containers and utensils for their take out containers and cutlery. Refusing plastic utensils and shopping at places that use compostable containers is a great way to make a small change in the ways we consume garbage. Asking a business if they use compostable or traditional containers will go a long way to keeping these items out of the landfills and incinerators. And in a pinch, bring your own reusable utensils with you when ordering take out. Just tell them you don’t need the utensils.

Other Resources For Plastic Management, AKA Mushrooms

And it isn’t only up to us as consumers to help slow down or stop the consumption of plastics. There is some exciting research that suggests that there are types of mushrooms that are able to use polyurethane, a main component in plastic, as its main food source. This means that some of the mushrooms that we eat, may be the solution to breaking down materials that would normally take generations to biodegrade. And the end result is something tasty for us to eat. Win win!

This article from Treehugger goes into detail about the different types of mushrooms and how they were discovered. Also what they may be able to do for us in the plastic waste department. There is also mention of a mushroom that is able to breakdown polyester. Which, if you’ve read my post on whether it’s better to buy cotton or recycled polyester, you’ll know that this is a major environmental threat. Having an organic solution to these environmental threats is welcome news after what seems like a never ending stream of potentially dangerous outcomes for our future, in regards to our waste consumption.

There’s a lot to be done on the waste management front. Luckily there are motivated people out there that are looking for ways to make the most impact on what seems like a pretty grim looking situation. This post from Wild Minimalist has some suggestions on how to shop zero waste. She mostly focuses on Whole Foods, but you may be able to try these methods out elsewhere, in other stores as well.

The E in Environmental

And one more tip that isn’t related to tangible objects. I was recently talking with a friend who told me that if you tend to collect emails in your inbox, that is taking a hefty toll on the environment. It may only be a few dozen, or maybe a hundred unread emails, but what I hadn’t realized, and what my friend pointed out to me was, that all those emails need to be stored on servers somewhere. This means that there is electricity being pumped into these storage facilities to hold and handle all your unread emails. So keeping a clean inbox is directly related to keeping with a greener lifestyle.

And this blog, Going Zero Waste, is also a great resource for making some of the switches from a less sustainable way of living, to a more green one. It can feel overwhelming for sure. But remember, you don’t have to solve all the problems all at once. And there are loads of people out there searching for and finding solutions to these problems as well. So relax, and take it one green step at a time. I hope this has been helpful, and as always, peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Recycle Logo From Recycling Bin” by csatch is marked with CC0 1.0

Updated: 9/18/22

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