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

Trees: Nature’s Cure-All

I recently went for a hike with a friend of mine in woods local to where I live. We like to get out and among the trees once and a while. We got lost, sort of, which was quite a feat since the woods are only about three square miles. The trails are fairly well maintained, though the map I was using on All Trails, was a little off. But regardless of our fumbling around the swampy woods, I was still in a fairly upbeat mood.

Trees, They’re Important

This is normally a situation that would lead to frustration. But the weather was pleasant, the company was good, and I was enjoying the outdoors. I’ve been doing some reading on how trees and forests affect our moods, and it may not only have been the company and quality of the weather that was altering my mood.

There have been many studies that suggest that spending time in and around forests and trees are excellent for our physical and mental wellbeing. The flora in our cities and neighborhoods is equally as important as well, for filtering the pollutants that are being emitted by the buildings and vehicles we use daily.

In the following, I’ll be going over some of the benefits that trees provide us with and why they are so important to maintaining a sustainable future for generations to come. Most of the information from this article was taken from four articles, which I will be posting links to at the end of this piece. So let’s start with our mental health and general mood.

Trees & Our Mental Health

There has been mounting research that suggests that walking in nature, specifically around trees, may improve our moods by lowering levels of anxiety, depression and overall stress. Trees have also been shown to reduce symptoms of ADHD in children as well. This is quite the feat for these gentle giants.

The reason for these benefit still isn’t entirely clear to scientists. But the results continue to point towards spending time in nature leads to overall healthier mental wellbeing. And it doesn’t take long for the effects to settle in. All the more reason to take a hike in some local woods or go to a local park to enjoy the greenery.

Physical Health

Being surrounded by trees also heightens our physical well being as well as emotional. The leaves from trees filter out pollution particles that affect our lungs and breathing. Mostly, they filter the particles that are emitted from vehicles emissions, or the burning of fossil fuels.

Breathing

This is especially important in cities. Not only is this where a fair amount of the concentration of vehicles are located, but also the trees best scrub the air that is within 100 feet of where they stand. Trees that scrub our air, work by way of the leaves, needles and the thousands of tiny pores on each. These pores take in the pollutants that would otherwise affect our lungs and breathing, holding them harmlessly in their body and leaves.

So the more trees that are located in neighborhoods where more vulnerable populations live, the greater the health benefits could be. Unfortunately, neighborhoods in a lower socioeconomic status are most devoid of the much needed greenery while being most tightly packed together. A catch 22 for sure.

Heart Health

Walking around trees has also shown to improve heart health. In this article by Greater Good, They talk about how walking in nature, specifically around trees as opposed to walking in cities, lowers cortisol levels, blood pressure, pulse rate, lowers the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. According to the article, all of these are markers of greater cardiovascular health. And an overall healthier heart.

And All the Things

It isn’t clear as to why time spent around trees helps to improve health, but the data all points to spending time with trees makes a difference for the positive. There is also evidence that shows that being around trees also leads to better birth outcomes and a reduced risk of diabetes. The health benefits seem to be all encompassing. All the more reason to spend some more time in your favorite park or forest.

The health benefits of being in forests has made such an impact, that countries such as Japan and Korea have been championing forest bathing therapy. This practice is much as it sounds. The person will mindfully spend time in the forest, taking in the sensory experiences that the forest has to offer and receiving all the health benefits as well.

And if all of these benefits weren’t enough, taking in the company of trees also has been shown to improve immune system function as well as prolong life expectancy. And again, the reasons for this aren’t quite clear. There’s a theory that it may be related to aromatic compounds that trees release, but further research still needs to be done to provide an answer with some certainty.

Carbon Sequestering

It’s no surprise that trees help to sequester CO2, one of the major greenhouse gasses leading to the current climate crisis, but the rate at which they do is compelling. First, how they sequester carbon is worth understanding, so we understand why destroying trees, or even why only planting new trees without conserving the ones we have is dangerous.

Trees work to sequester carbon by taking it in from the atmosphere and using sunlight and water to turn it into wood. It’s here where the carbon is sequestered for the life of the tree. When the tree dies, is cut, burned or decomposes, the carbon is released back into the environment. This is why planting new trees isn’t the only solution to our Co2 problem.

It takes decades for a young tree to meet the carbon sequestering power of older trees. One tree mentioned in an article by WBUR 90.9 Boston, says that it has sequestered 22,049 pounds of CO2. That’s equivalent to 1,100 gallons of gasoline. This is something that modern science is still having issues reproducing and why preserving the trees we already have is so important.

Getting Involved & How to Help

So with all these health benefits that trees provide for us, the question remains, what can we be doing to help save the forests and trees that are so healing? There are plenty of organizations that are out there doing good work in this area. Volunteering time or donating money to these organizations are a few ways to help. Below I’ll be listing a few of the organizations. Hopefully you’ll find something that matches your lifestyle and personality.

The Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is an organization that advocates for not only our environment, but also social justice movements. One of their initiatives is to conserve 30% of public lands in the United states by 2030. Currently, only 12% of public lands are protected from being developed. By drilling for oil or monocultures like soy or wheat.

Conserving these lands will help to keep the old growth forests that have already done so much in sequestering tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Developing these lands would most definitely be a major blow to climate change for the worse.

And on a positive note, if these lands are protected, then there’s a chance that these public lands could be transformed into public parks. To be enjoyed by generations of people and woodland animals to come. Sequestering C02 and building new places to enjoy the outdoors seems like a win win. The Sierra Club has a lot of projects that they are working on. So if this one sparks your interest, head on over to their site and check out what they are working on.

The Nature Conservancy

This organization is dedicated to protecting our lands and waters from being developed as well. One of the ways they are doing this is by carbon markets. Essentially, carbon markets work by paying a landowner who may have had plans to clear cut a section of their land for a use that would be detrimental to the environment, to keep the trees on the land intact. This way, the land is protected against being developed and the carbon remains sequestered.

They are also engaged in helping to keep the biodiversity of our planet from collapsing by way of species extinction. By protecting the habitats that these species live in, they are working towards keeping the safety of them ensured. So saving the land and habitats of plants and animals will help to ensure their survival and hopefully they will thrive far into the future.

Rainforest Action Network

This organization also helps to conserve land but by focusing on the companies that are profiting off of the destruction of the environment. One of their initiatives is to call for a stop to burning the rainforests to grow food crops to be sold at market.

Farmers in the Amazonian Rainforest have been burning large parcels of land to produce foods for the Agricultural industry for a long time. The downside to this, asides from the carbon being released into the atmosphere, is that the land is not very fertile, and the destruction of the forest is taking away what has been called the lungs of the planet, from scrubbing the air we breathe. If companies like this aren’t stopped, the consequences could be dire.

It’s Not too Late

You can still get involved and help to do your part. These organizations have places on their sites where you can lend a hand. Maybe donating money is more your speed. Or maybe you want to march in the next protest that aligns with your worldview. Whatever your motivation or preferred method, make sure you get out there and make a difference. There’s a lot of work to be done. And there’s no better time like the present to help. The planet needs us. Be the change you want to see in the world. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Greater Good Magazine

US News

WBUR

The Nature Conservancy

Healing Forest

Other reading to consider: Sustainable Clothing

Image Credits: “Forest” by CECAR – Climate and Ecosystems Change Adaptation R is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Updated: 11/6/22

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

How Eating Healthier Can Make the Planet a Little Greener

I went vegan a few years ago, probably around 2015. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but what got me interested in the lifestyle was hearing that if you eat a plant based diet, your body will naturally maintain a certain body fat percent. But if we’re being honest, I really wanted to look good naked. I weigh less now than I did before going vegan but this has more to do with my healthier lifestyle. I exercise more now and have better portion control than I did before. But thanks to my vegan diet, my eating habits and the quality of the foods I’m eating have greatly increased. But also and just as important is, eating healthier helps to keep the planet a little greener.

Think Greener Grow Your Own

Since changing my diet I’ve become much more interested in how the food I’m eating gets to my plate. Also the ramifications of how it’s produced and how it effects our environment. I’ve kept a vegetable garden on and off for about 15 years. And while it helps to keep the food miles down on some of the veg I eat, I first fell in love with gardening when I was a child. I used to watch my dad tend to his small plot in a local community garden. Running through the rows of flowers and vegetables that my father and his neighbors were growing, on cool summer nights seems idyllic to me now. But I imagine if I could somehow revisit those gardens from my past today, my memories would not disappoint.

There was something about so much diversity in such a small space that made everything feel so rich and alive. Vibrant. It brings to mind the ways we used to farm our crops. The way Jefferson’s Monticello may have looked in its prime. This is what comes to mind when I say eating healthier to keep the planet a little greener.

Some Big Problems

I’ve also recently viewed a few documentaries on farming that got my imagination working. Though also sparked some fear as well. The first doc was “The Biggest Little Farm” and it was about a couple’s vision to start a sustainable, diverse farm using organic farming practices. The second was “Kiss the Ground”. In it, they talked about the need to change the ways we farm in order to help reverse the effects of climate change by fixing Co2 back into the soil. Hopefully this will reverse the desertification that is currently happening due to the monocultures we’ve been cultivating in big agriculture.

The premise, or main take away from ” Kiss the Ground” was, that there are only 60 harvests left using our current methods and the crops we’ve been utilizing. I.e. corn, soy and wheat, before we turn the once fertile soils of our country and others, into desolate piles of unworkable dirt. Spark fear here.

Health and Environmental Concerns

Now the food system has been broken for a long time, that’s nothing new. With the crops we’re growing and the health and environmental consequences they carry, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and be paralyzed by its scale. Health consequences such as obesity and type 2 diabetes due to the over consumption of processed monoculture crops are scary enough. But add the deforestation of the rainforest in the Amazon for farm land and how it directly contribute to the increase of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and we have a full blown crisis on our hands. It’s easy to see that we’re doing something questionable at best and self destructive at worst.

The outlook seems pretty bleak. And with President Trump pulling America out of The Paris Agreement, it seems as though we’re collectively taking a slow step back when we should be fully focused on moving forward. Toward a common goal for the benefit of our collective future. So where do we go from here?

Some Small Solutions

It seems the most pressing matter, according to “Kiss the Ground” is, repairing our soil. With roughly 60 years left before we’re unable to feed ourselves the ways we have been (or at all maybe) this just seems like a no brainer. And if we switch to organic farming practices while diversifying our crops, we’ll not only be working to solve some of our environmental issues, namely fixing more Co2 back in the soil, but we’ll also have the option to be eating healthier. Helping to address some of our health concerns along the way. And eating healthier while keeping our planet greener.

Locally Grown Not Mass Produced

If we focus on smaller scale farming with more diversified crops, woven in and throughout our communities, we can eat in season with fresher produce. While also reducing food miles and maybe even close some of the gaps in the food deserts. The government already subsidizes commercial farming, so it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to take some of the economic principles we’re already practicing and apply them to more localized and smaller setting. And maybe even create a surplus, and with it food security.

That’s a lot to take on as an individual. Or even as a modest sized community. For something like the plan above to work we’d need a lot of support. Locally and from the global community. But there are some things that we can do as individuals that will help move us in a healing direction. Voting with your dollars is a good place to start.

Starting at the Grocery Store

While food shopping, opt for foods and goods produced locally and grown organically as opposed to buying larger brand names that have been most likely grown unsustainably and shipped in from far away places. Shop at farmers markets and buy more fruits and vegetables. Dried beans and grains as well. Whole foods instead of processed monoculture foods like soy, wheat and corn. And that’s not to say that all soy, wheat and corn are bad or unsustainable. There are few things I enjoy more than a fresh ear of corn in the summer with a little salt and margarine. The important thing to keep in mind when buying your produce is how they were farmed and where they are coming from.

Small Price to Pay

And it’s cheaper than you think too. I live in a suburb of Boston, so I know about the high cost of living when it comes to the basics. But even living in Massachusetts, if you’re buying mostly vegetables and grains, it’s not difficult to keep your grocery budget to a reasonable price. I aim for about 300$ a month, though usually I go over by about 50$. And that’s with buying organic and local options when possible. You don’t have to go vegan, though you would save a bunch of money.

Try having one or two dinners a week without meat. Meatless Mondays has gained some traction lately. You may be surprised with how much you enjoy the break from the usual meat and potatoes. Check out Minimalist Baker for some stellar plant based options to supplement your weekly meal plan.

Her recipes are some of the best I’ve had. I use to work with a woman, Doma, from Bhutan. She use to make dishes that were Northern Indian inspired in flavor, while cooking Mexican and Asian cuisine. Dana from the Minimalist Baker has some of the best recipes I’ve had since working with Doma. Dana’s curries are especially delicious. Here’s one of my favorites of hers, vegan chana masala.

Eating Healthier to Keep the Planet a Little Greener

This is where I’ll leave you reader. Nothing I’ve said here hasn’t been said before, but I hope it helps you to think about our collective situation with a little more urgency. To get involved in the ways that you’re able to, in order to help us heal and move forward towards a healthier future. I’ll be posting more on this subject too, as I feel living sustainably is definitely linked to a better quality of life and peace of mind. Peace, and thanks for reading :]

Misfits Market, Co-Ops and Farmer’s Market: Types of Markets That Could Help the Environment

Market. It’s where we buy the things we need. If you’re like most of us, when you go to the market it’s usually a super one. I live in Massachusetts so many of us go to Market Basket. You may have heard of them when they got some press back in 2014. There was concern in the form of protests and strikes, due to the firing of Arthur T. DeMulas by his cousin, Arthur S. DeMulas. Arthur T. eventually bought out his cousin Arthur S. and gave the employees of the grocery chain more benefits and raised the working standards, putting the workers and customers first.

As much as I love Market Basket and the story of Arthur T. taking care of his employees and in return them supporting him in regaining ownership of the chain, there are still some issues I feel are plaguing not just Market Basket but most stores, super and regular alike. The major issue with most food we buy today is, a sides from how we produce it, the amount of waste that’s involved in its packaging.

The Waste We Carry Our Food Home In

Some quick numbers, the EPA’s Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2017 Fact Sheet reported that U.S. citizens composted and recycled about 94.2 million metric tons of waste. While only about 35% of the waste we recycled and composted actually was recycled or composted. That’s 61.2 million metric tons of recyclable and compostable materials that went into landfills. Or found its way into the ocean. Or who knows where else. But that’s only one year’s worth of waste! And most of it is coming from packaging. I’m not sure how much is from food but I’m willing to bet it’s quite a bit.

When I’m at a grocery store or any kind of store for that matter, I’m amazed at the amount of packaging we are taking our food and products home in. Aisle after aisle of neatly packed and stacked items. Shimmering with plastic, glass, paper and metal, all kinds.

I understand that we’ve come a long way in food safety and for a while these types of packaging were necessary to deliver food free from bacteria to the folks buying it. But there are definitely more environmentally friendly and responsible ways of packaging our food that will keep it just as safe and just as fresh. We’ve come a long way in regards to making compostable packaging as well as in food safety. Why not put more of those practices into use?

Maybe Not Ideal But Heading in the Right Direction

For starters, there are zero waste grocery stores, but they are few and far between. I think there are about ten within a 16 mile radius of where I live and I’m in a small suburb just a few miles from Boston! I imagine pickings are slim the further you are from a major city. But there are other places you can shop to reduce waste even in your average grocery store.

Some groceries, and most co-ops, have bulk sections. You can usually find pantry staples in this aisle such as rice and beans, legumes and oats. And they are often times cheaper than their pre-packaged counter parts. This will reduce the amount of plastic packaging for sure, but only if you bring your own reusable bulk bags. Avoiding the plastic bags you find in bulk and produce sections. A quick Google search yields a variety of options and sizes for carrying home your loose items and produce. Some of which I’ve linked to below.

Speaking of produce, another way to cut down on packaging is to buy fresh produce. From either the grocery store, co-op or farmers markets. The only packaging is the boxes they’re delivered to the store in. Or in the case of farmers markets, the reusable containers they brought from the farm. And bringing your own reusable canvas or cotton bags to store them in will eliminate the need for those clear plastic produce bags. Or whatever package the vendors from farmers markets are offering which may or may not be recyclable.

And while you’re shopping for your new canvas or cotton produce and bulk bags, why not pick up some reusable silicone bags that are freezer friendly? To freeze your own fresh veg and fruit in. The shelf life and quality of freshly frozen fruits and veg are far superior to comparable pre-packaged frozen products. And the only downside is that there’s a little more prepwork involved. But if you set aside some time each week to prep the food you’re going to freeze, maybe while you’re already cooking dinner, you can save money and packaging that would have ended up in the landfill.

Storage is Key

So let’s say you get some reusable bulk bags for dry bulk items and produce. You buy a bunch of oatmeal and black beans. You get them home and now you have a bunch of loose dry bulk items and no where to put them! Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. I use glass Ball jars with a wide mouth which makes them easy to fill with just about anything. Beans, rice and oats as I’ve mentioned, but also flours, sugars and teas (actually I use old glass peanut butter jars for tea).

They’re easy to stack, look good, and all while maximizing your usable cabinet storage space with surprising efficiency all while being super cheap. On top of all that, you can find them at pretty much any store you go to. I get mine at the supermarket but remember, they’re technically “seasonal”. Because they’re traditionally used for preserving, canning and pickling your garden harvest. So they may only be available in late summer and fall.

Land of Misfits No More!

And finally, Misfits Market buys produce from farmers that don’t meet the aesthetic standards of supermarkets. A surprising amount of viable fruits and vegetables are tossed in the garbage because they are misshapen, discolored or otherwise deemed as “ugly” by the would be buyers. Markets like Misfits steps in and offers to buy the produce from the farmers at a fraction of the price.

The produce is the same quality as you would find at the grocery and they pass along the savings to you, the customer. They also source their produce from farms that use organic methods and non-GMO seeds. Another benefit is that their packaging is a 100% sustainable. Either recyclable or compostable.

From super, to co-ops, to Misfits, to farmers. The above four types of markets are examples of where, given a little bit of forethought and planning, you could turn your next shopping trip into a greener one. Peace : ) and thanks for reading!

Image Credits: Adam Sergott, photo of vendors at Haymarket, Produce    Market in Boston MA

Updated: 2/3/22

%d bloggers like this: