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, 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.

What I’ve found is, that the plan itself is pretty ambitious. The scope of which the Green New Deal (GND) 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 GND is a take on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal from the 1930’s. The GND also covers going carbon neutral in the time frame of ten years, to providing careers and livable wages and pensions to families in the lower income bracket, closing some of the gap in the entrenched wealth divide between social classes in the states.

This was something that was a bit confusing to me at first, but as I continued to read about the GND, I realized that most likely the people who would be most incapable of switching to renewable sources of energy 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 GND isn’t a set of laws or legislation. It’s a large scale plan to invest in renewable energy sources and decarbonizing our economy and infrastructure, while making society a more fair and just one. The plan makes a lot of sense, but like 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.

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 GND? So in the face of the scope of this expansive proposal, in an attempt to help the average person feel as though they can be doing their part to help further the movement, I’ll be listing some ideas on how we can make a difference on an individual level that are still somewhat in line with the goals of the GND.

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

For example, I live in Massachusetts, so I would need to call my energy provider, who purchases power from different sources throughout the state, and ask to purchase my power from a renewable company like wind or solar. The energy all travels through the same grid, so there’s no need to upgrade anything in your delivery system.

This also 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 is another option. As is growing your own food if you have a green thumb. Some of the focus of the GND 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, with most likely fair wages for workers and ethically grown produce. You’ll also be investing money into your own community by supporting local farms in your, or neighboring city or town.

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 endeavour. 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 on food miles, but you’ll also be eating healthier as well.

Unfortunately there isn’t much we’re able to do when it comes to liveable wages. 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 positive, 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. And if we look to shop as locally as possible, we may develop healthier purchasing habits along the way, while we’re waning ourselves off of instant shipping that has become so commonplace.

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

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 other than packing yourself and stuff into your car.

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 a few of my favorite places to visit and a must on my trip.

Luckily there is a train line that runs from Boston North, that ends in Brunswick ME that has Portland as a stop and 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.

Also, if I want to head south of Boston I can equally as easily head to South Station which has trains and buses which will bring me to all points south. I believe they go as far as Maryland, New York City and 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 roadtrip hastles.

Second, if you live in a city that has reliable public transit, commuting via commuter rail, train or bus 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, 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. And 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.

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 GND. 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 GND is planting a rooftop garden filled with greens to help promote her cause. But if you don’t have a rooftop to turn into a garden for greens, 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, everytime 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.

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 the work they do? 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.

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 everytime you buy something from them, you donate to their trash collection cause. They have single use plastic alternatives which is in line with their cause and something we can all get behind, 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 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 protecting 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 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 as well as help communities grow nutritious foods, gain access to clean water and land and access to fair wages. They do a lot to look after the welfare of the communities they work with by also helping to provide care for communities experiencing disasters and conflicts.

These three, 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 that you can support. 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 search around. Who knows what you’ll come up with. 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, what we’ve 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 collective goals. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

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

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

Sustainable Clothing: Is it Better to Buy Cotton, or Recycled Polyester?

I was looking for a new hooded sweatshirt a few days ago when I realized I only have two that aren’t exercise clothing. One being two sizes too large for me and the other I use almost every day. It’ll only be a matter of time before the one I wear everyday becomes threadbare. And The other is comically large on me. So I usually only wear it around the house. So in search of a new sweatshirt, I went to the website of a company I’ve bought from in the past, Mexicalli Blues, and was looking through their products in search of a new, sustainable sweatshirt.

Reading The Clothing Labels

I like the the companies clothing. The style as well as the simplicity of them. So the next step was to look at the materials label. The company prides itself on being sustainable so I figured I’d have nothing to worry about. But when I checked the labels, it said that they were made with recycled materials. I knew this meant polyester to some degree. This made me wonder what the ramifications are of using plastic in clothing. Even if it’s from recycled sources as the main material component.

My instinct is that using plastics to any degree, including clothing, perpetuates the cycle and need to rely on petrochemical materials. The idea of having more plastic floating around in one form or another is unsettling to me. I’m not saying that all plastics are inherently bad. I appreciate that plastics have been used to change many people’s lives for the better. But it seems to me that we first need to get our collective plastic consumption under control before we think about expanding its use into more aspects of our day to day lives.

Being More Mindful of Clothing Materials & the Environment

As far as my clothing goes, I’d like to lean towards more natural fibers. Fibers such as cotton and wool. I know that at least with cotton, the material will eventually decompose. And more than likely in my lifetime. And a quick Google search tells me that wool will decompose in six months under ideal conditions. But plastic however will stay around for some time, breaking down further into smaller pieces. This causes all sorts of environmental hazards.

Consequences for Our Oceans

Both small and large aquatic animals mistake plastics for food. Certain whales for instance, have been found with many pounds of plastic waste in their stomach. But one of the reasons that plastic clothing in particular is such an environmental threat is, that when washed the fabric degrades, releasing hundreds of thousands of microfibers into the aquatic environment. There they are consumed by marine life.

Fresh and saltwater animals alike consume them, as the waste makes its way into our waters and up the food chain. As Lisa Messinger from The Guardian put it in her article, “How your clothes are poisoning our oceans and food supply“, when a professor cut open a fish from the great lakes, they found thousands of microfibers weaving their way in and around the gastrointestinal tract of the freshwater dweller. No bueno.

This is concerning to say the least. According to Greenpeace, 30% of plastic pollution could be caused from microfibers. In this article by Green Peace, “what are microfibers and why are our clothes polluting the oceans?“, they explain that, “Europe and Central Asia alone dump the equivalent of 54 plastic bags worth of microplastics per person per week into the oceans.” More disheartening news. And the older the garment is, the more fibers it releases, according to a study paid for by Patagonia.

The more I continued to read about the effects of microfibers on the environment, the more I realized that there wasn’t really an option. If I want to live a more sustainable life style, I need to stop buying clothing made from synthetic materials.

Priorities, Standards & the Companies Embodying Them

With all this new information swimming around in my mind, I was left with my new plan, to buy more sustainable clothing. Though unfortunately I also was left without much direction. The brand I was originally looking to for my new sweatshirt had a bullet point under the specs that said it was made from, “bluesign approved materials“. This caught my eye and could possibly be some of the direction I was looking for. So I headed over to their website to see what they are about.

bluesign

From what I was able to gather, the Swiss Company is an independent resource. Their focus is on advocating for better working conditions for employees and a more sustainable way of producing goods during every aspect of their production. A noble cause indeed. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that a product is 100% sustainable. After all, the sweatshirt I was looking at that was bluesign approved was made with 60% recycled polyester.

That’s not to say that the company isn’t doing important work. Just because I’ve set my standard at wanting to purchase natural materials for clothing, doesn’t mean it’s the most important one by any means. Also, this made me think that maybe my standards are too lofty. bluesign also focuses on working with companies to reduce the amounts and toxicity of the chemicals the company uses. As well as focusing on the human element of the industry. Such as fair wages and safe working conditions for employees. All important aspects to investigate and consider when purchasing from a company.

Certified B Corp.

The next group of businesses I stumbled across in my search for sustainable clothing was Certified B Corporations. Another company focused on the ethical production of goods and their effects on workers rights, consumers rights and the environmental impact of the products companies produces.

This reminds me of a business I go to who solely employed homeless persons. I’ve often heard in the past that all the homeless really need to do is to get a job. Though I imagine it would be difficult for a number of reasons for a homeless person to complete an interview successfully, let alone maintain the tasks we take for granted in keeping a job! From finding clean clothes and a place to shower, to printing out a resume. Also, not having a stable mailing address or reliable transportation. The homeless person has a mountain of obstacles to overcome!

So from the perspective of protecting employee rights, I can understand and appreciate the work that is being done from B certified corporations. But as far as clothing and B Corps. goes, they have a blog, where in one post they explore a few companies in the fashion industry and how they are making a difference. One of the companies, Bombas, is mentioned as donating a pair of socks to homeless shelters for every pair sold. This is a stellar way to give back to the community. One of the most requested items at homeless shelters are socks. Win, win.

The one area that wasn’t clear however, was the research they did and the numbers they used to score each company. There was general information about what the practices they are evaluating were, but they did not go into detail on the information they used to evaluate the practices. Upon further reading, they explained that these evaluations were taken by the corporations themselves. Self-evaluations.

Does this mean that a company is giving itself an assessment of how they perform in each category? Or is there a disinterested third party that is evaluating the company and its results? I’d like to believe that these companies are honest and accountable for their actions, but with so much ambiguity it would be nice to know for sure who’s doing the evaluating.

B Lab

B Lab is another company that evaluates corporations on a spectrum of concerns. A Wikipedia article explains that B Lab is a company that gives out certifications to companies that meet a certain standard of “transparency, accountability, sustainability and performance”. But again, how B Lab comes up with the standards that they grade these companies with is not totally clear.

From what I understand of the B certification, it is something that a willing company takes as a self assessment. Evaluating their performance using B Lab’s standards and creates a plan around where they find weaknesses in their company. This is definitely better than not doing anything. And it’s comforting to know that there are corporations out there that are willing to take a look at their practices and to make a change for the better. I only wish that B Lab was more transparent with their evaluation methods.

Green Stars Project

There are few places that I could find that gave ethical reviews on companies in general. Reviews of clothing companies were few and far between. There was however one website that showed some promise. The Green Stars Project. This is a project that empowers people to write reviews of and rate different companies using a system based on criteria that covers topics from fair working wages to the environmental impact. It takes into consideration the company’s use of our resources, to the ethical treatment of animals, to how the company impacts the community. The list is only limited to the knowledge that individuals feel is important to their ethical standards.

The only downside to this is that it relies on individuals to write these reviews in the review section of a particular item. It’s decentralized. This is good because it’s coming directly from the consumer and their knowledge base. But from what I understand of the system, there is no way to search for products by their Green Star rating. So if I was looking for an ethically sourced piece of clothing, I would have to do the research to find the company and product. Then write a review or hope that there was one already written.

Better World Shopper

The Green Stars Project does however have a resources page where they list a few sites that do have lists of companies that have done some research on ethical businesses. One of the sites listed is Better World Shopper. Here you are able to search companies by category and grade. I found some clothing companies that are listed by grade and could easily tell which companies are more ethically focused than others.

Even with the grading system, if you are looking to replace synthetics with natural fibers as I am, you still need to read the labels. But it’s nice knowing that there are people out there doing the work and looking for ethically and socially responsible companies. Also that we have a place to at least start our search for better buying choices.

Fairtrade Certification

The Fairtrade certification means that the business is working to sustain the safe working conditions of the employee. Also that the company is protecting the environment. Also, helping to pay sustainable wages for workers as well as community development funding, according to their website. This is a huge step forward in helping to reduce not only the environmental impact of a company, but also the fair treatment of the employees and workers rights while building healthier communities.

Pact

There are some companies that do hit a lot of the marks as far as making sustainable clothing goes. One company, and the one I’m probably going to buy my sweatshirt from, is Pact. This company provides a wide variety of organic cotton and sustainable clothing. They are environmentally conscious of the production of their clothing by using sustainable materials as well as organic fabrics, while focusing on the well-being of their employees. They also work closely with the Fairtrade certified organization.

Positive Resources From the Community

And finally, in this article published by The Good Trade, they cover 35 different companies that have ethical and sustainable practices! This was an exciting find. To think that there are so many companies that are willing to put the effort into making sustainable products and work towards the betterment of workers and the environment. Knowing there are more options when looking for sustainable ways to fill your wardrobe, it feels like there is less of a burden knowing we are helping to lessen our impact in purchasing clothing.

Minding Your Budget & Longevity

I will add that some of these clothing lines can get pretty pricey. One of the clothing companies I mentioned above, Nudies Jean Co, has jeans that range from $185 to $400. That’s a lot of money for a pair of jeans no matter how you look at it. But according to The Food Diary, they last longer than other brands of jeans. Kezia said that her husband’s pair of jeans have lasted four years now and they are still going strong. The website also has a repair service. So if there’s been some damage done to your jeans, you can fix them up instead of throwing them away. So the lifespan of the garment is something to consider when looking at the price tag as well as the production methods.

Start a Sinking Fund

Something that has helped me along the way, with purchasing clothing on a budget, is to establish a sinking fund for new clothing purchases. I don’t buy clothing often. So when I need something it’s usually small, like a package of socks or underwear. But if you need to replace a winter coat, or a pair of boots, this can get expensive.

A sinking fund is a good way to have a certain amount of cash on hand in case you need to replace items in your wardrobe. If you’re not familiar with the term, a sinking fund is where you set up a savings for a specific item. In this case it would be clothing. And you contribute a set amount of money each week, pay period or month to the fund. This way you have what you need, when you need it. And you don’t have to scramble to find $300 dollars to purchase a new winter jacket that you may have lost on the slopes.

I contribute $25 dollars a pay period to mine and I’ve decided to cap my fund at $400. This way I won’t look at my fund one day and realize I’ve amassed thousands of dollars into something that doesn’t require that much money! This way I can replace the most expensive article of clothing in my wardrobe while still feeling confident that I can take care of my basics when I need them.

Establishing & Standing by My Values When Buying Clothing

So in the end, some companies that use microfibers that are polluting our oceans may still be leading the way in other areas of sustainability. It may come down to what your personal preferences are for buying and supporting sustainable clothing. For me it’s buying organic cotton or wool when I have a choice, and recycled fibers if it’s something that requires them. Something like a raincoat or winter boots.

Also, knowing that I’m supporting workers rights, and lessening the environmental impact my clothes are having is something that I can feel good about supporting. Knowing that I’m not just pushing off the problems of today onto the next generation helps me to rest a little easier. And with communities like The Green Star Project, it’s exciting to think that there could be an independent source and knowledge base coming together to create a more ethical way to purchase clothing.

It’s also nice knowing that companies such as B Certified Corporations, bluesign and Fairtrade are out there, putting the work in to help lead the way in helping companies produce their goods in a more sustainable way. While also letting consumers know which companies are doing the work. I’ll be linking some of these companies in my community page for those who are looking to make their wardrobe a little greener. And I’d love to hear about the companies you’ve found that are doing good work as well.

Priorities & Personal Standards

Some of the companies that I’ve come across in my search for ethical and sound businesses are very specific in what they offer. For example there are many companies that focus on socks and underwear solely. So when I came across this post by Whole Body Diary, on sustainable clothing lines, I was excited that there are more people out there searching for ethical ways to purchase a variety of clothing.

Whole Body Diary brings up a good point and one that I am struggling with. Many of the companies she lists on her blog are not 100% sustainable. This brings me back to my original question, is it better to buy cotton or recycled plastic? But as Kezia. from Whole Body Diary explains, not every company is going to hit every sustainable mark. Some may focus on organic cotton, like Nudies Jean company, while others help the larger community. Companies such as Bombas, who I’ve mentioned above.

The Take away? Our search for sustainable isn’t going to be a perfect one. But if we choose to search for companies that are trying to make a difference on some level, we’re supporting the larger whole of the mission. To buy from and support more sustainable businesses. This is where I leave you good reader, and as always, peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Nature’s Coatrack” by m01229 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Updated: 9/14/2022

10 Air Purifying Plants to Help You Keep a Greener Home

A few years ago I started investigating ways of purifying the air in my house using natural methods. I’ve been increasingly worried about the levels of toxins in the air we breathe and wanted to see if there was anything I could do to off set them in my home. Even if only in a small way. I’m sure I’m not alone. Especially with the mounting environmental concerns that are only getting worse. The more we discover the effects we are having with the methods we’ve been using, the more concerning it becomes. From producing electricity using unsustainable methods, to overloading our sewage systems. And what we’re putting in the products we’re using on our bodies, it’s hard not to feel like a passenger on a sinking ship. But luckily, there are some plants that can help us in that department.

Start Local

I did some research on the subject and the advice that keeps coming up is, to plant more trees. I live on the outskirts of a large city. So planting more trees just isn’t practical advise. I use Ecosia, which is a search engine that plants a tree for every query I make. But that doesn’t make an impact on my immediate environment. It’s nice to know that there are people planting trees, helping the bigger picture. But I’m looking to make a difference in my immediate surrounds.

And I refuse to believe that the only way to create a higher quality of air in my house is by planting more trees. Not that I’m against the idea, but there are so many other species of plants. Surely some of them must be able to do even a tenth of the job that a typical tree does.

Don’t Worry NASA’s on it

So I did some more research and what I found was that NASA is already on it. In the 70’s, NASA found that some employees were complaining of allergy symptoms while working in newly constructed buildings. When they looked into the matter further, they discovered that the new construction as well as some mechanical elements in the building, were off-gassing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are dangerous to human health.

VOCs are still an issue in general. I’m not entirely sure how long homes off-gas VOCs for, but some of the compounds they emit include benzene (plastics, gasoline, think anything made from petroleum), formaldehyde (used in building materials and household cleaners and beauty products), carbon monoxide (off gassed by gas ranges or boilers, anything using gas, coal or wood in the home as well as car exhaust), xylene (a solvent used in the leather, rubber, paper and automotive industries), trichloroethylene (a chemical found in stain and paint removers), ammonia (found in window cleaners but also used in agriculture as a fertilizer, another reason to buy organic) and toluene (adhesives and paint thinners). This is not an exhaustive list, and all VOCs are toxic to humans. Definitely not something I want floating around my house if I can help it.

The Answer? More Plants!

Luckily for us, some common house plants along with the microorganisms in the soil as well as their roots, take in these toxic gasses. From what I understood of the study, plants filter these VOCs by taking them in through the soil and roots or directly into the leaves. Then they are passed to the plant where they become part of the plant. The plant sequesters the VOCs and holds them, rendering them harmless to humans.

It only makes sense that nature has a solution. But it’s still satisfying to think about how it solves this particular problem so well. And all the while creating fresh oxygen for us to breath. “So what are these plants?”, you may be wondering. For the rest of this post, I’ll go over the plants, ones I have and am looking for, why I chose them and what their benefits are. Also a little bit on how to care for them too. Because there’s no point in picking up a new plant to help keep you healthy if you don’t know how to keep it alive!

1. Peace Lily

I believe one of the first plants I got to help purify the air in my house was a peace lily. The peace lily is adept at breaking down compounds such as, benzene, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide. The reason this plant is so appealing to me is, that if you live in a city with lots of traffic, the ability to break down carbon monoxide and benzene are two compounds you want to focus on. Seeing how these particular VOCs are so prolific around traffic congested areas like cities. This is something the peace lily will handle well.

Plant Care Tips

They like moderate to medium light. Which means partially shaded with not much direct sunlight. They take fertilizer in the summer months, about every six weeks according to The Farmers Almanac. And it’s easy to tell when it’s time to water you peace lily because the leaves will become limp and droop. I water mine about every two to three weeks.

2. Snake Plants

The next plant on my list is the snake plant. This plant is stellar at removing formaldehyde from the air. This is a good thing considering formaldehyde is in an awful lot of our personal hygiene products. And according to RollingNature.com, where most plants will release carbon dioxide at night, the snake plant, or Sansevieria will produce oxygen. Paired with the peace lily, not only will you be reduce the carbon monoxide in your home, you will be replacing it with fresh oxygen. Win win.

Plant Care Tips

This plant is a succulent, which means it’s pretty hearty. That said, as with all succulents, if you over water them they will develop root rot. You should wait until the soil dries out completely before watering. And when in doubt, wait a little. These guys are drought resistant so err on the side of under watering. They will tolerate many different light settings but prefer bright, indirect light.

3. Dracaena

Next up is the dracaena plant. This guy is known for removing formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene from the local environment. They’re especially good at removing formaldehyde, so a good location for this plant may be in the bathroom or near your vanity. Wherever you use most of your soaps, beauty and hygiene products.

Plant Care Tips

Luckily, most of the plants on this list are pretty hearty and the dracaena is no exception. They don’t require a lot of water. Keeping the soil slightly damp should be enough to take care of its watering needs. I water mine about once every two weeks. They’re also sensitive to fluoride and watering with filtered water will help to keep this plant at its healthiest. The fluoride in our drinking water imparts brown crispy spots on their leaves. Filtered sun is best and never place these guys in direct sunlight. Direct rays can scorch the leaves of this guy leaving it looking a little crispy.

4. Aloe Vera

Another succulent on my list, the next plant is the aloe vera. This plant is kind of amazing. It’s good at removing benzene and formaldehyde, but it’s ability to reduce carbon dioxide and produce oxygen is nine to one when compared with other plants! It takes carbon dioxide in during the night, and when exposed to sunlight it releases the oxygen back into the air. And it’s sometimes referred to as an oxygen bomb! That’s pretty badass for a plant if you ask me 🙂 The insides of the aloe are also used to soothe minor burns and scratches.

Plant Care Tips

Caring for this succulent is easy since they don’t require much attention. When watering, do not water often, but water deeply. I think I let mine go at least three to four weeks between waterings. They are a succulent, so again, too much water will cause root rot. Let the soil become pretty dry before watering your aloe again. They enjoy bright indirect light. I place mine just on the outskirts of my eastern facing window, away from the morning sunlight. This allows them to gain the benefit of the bright morning sun without being directly in the sun’s rays.

5. Spider Plants

The spider plant is another air purifying plant that made NASA’s list. Also known as an airplane plant, spider plants are stellar at their ability to remove formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and xylene from the environment they inhabit.

Plant Care Tips

As far as watering and sunlight needs, this plant is easy to care for. While they are small and just becoming established, you’ll want to water them once a week. After the first year, you can reduce their water schedule to once every two weeks. These plants will also produce shoots with what look like baby spider plants. And if you plant these little guys in soil and keep them well watered and attached to the mother plant, that’s exactly what they’ll become! They also prefer bright, indirect sunlight. So near a sunny window, without being directly in the sun’s rays.

6. English Ivy

English Ivy is another plant that made the list. It is known for its ability to clean formaldehyde, benzene and xylene, as well as reducing molds and fecal matter from the air. It’s resilient and easy to grow as well. These aggressive plants are found growing mostly in Europe and North America. And they take well to containers for in the home as well as for landscaping outside on a larger scale.

Plant Care Tips

They are resilient plants, and prefer bright, direct sunlight. Their watering needs aren’t complex either. They like to be a bit on the drier side. So water once the top inch of the soil dries out. This ivy also needs to be fed on a fairly regular basis. Once a month during its growing season. From spring to fall, while suspending the feedings during the winter months. English ivy also benefits from having the dust removed from its leaves once and a while. Gardening Know How suggests to give your ivy a quick shower to remove any dust and pests that have found their way onto your ivy. Plus, you have a new shower buddy! Jk, don’t use soap on this plant, or any plants. It may not kill them, but it isn’t a guarentee : )

7. Lady Palm

Next up is the Rhapis excelsa, aka the lady palm. This palm is able to scrub formaldehyde and xylene from the air. But is best known for its ability to filter ammonia from the atmosphere. They also help to keep their environment higher in humidity. Something beneficial to not only its human cohabitants, but also their fellow plant friends as well. Ferns in particular thrive in humid environments. So the ability to regulate the moisture in the growing space is important.

Plant Care Tips

Lighting requirements for the lady palm are bright, indirect light. The same strategy I use for the aloe vera plant should work for the lady palm as well. Near an eastern facing window, just out of the morning sun’s rays. Let the top inch of soil dry out before waterings and let the soil dry more so during the winter months. And fertilize only in the summer months with fertilizer diluted to half strength.

8. Weeping Fig

Weeping fig, or the Ficus tree is another plant adept at filtering formaldehyde and xylene from its environment. This plant is considerably sensitive to its environment. And if moved, may drop leaves as it adapts to its new location. This is another plant that prefers to be in a humid atmosphere. Like its fern friends, it would benefit from being in a room with a humidifier or the bathroom.

Plant Care Needs

The weeping fig likes to have moist soil through the growing season, which is from spring to fall. And requiring fewer waterings during the winter months. During these months, let the soil dry out up to two inches before watering your weeping fig again. As for lighting needs, this plant loves indirect, bright sunlight. Keeping them just outside of the sun’s direct rays will be their ideal location. Fertilize your weeping fig during the spring and summer months using an all purpose houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength.

9. Boston Fern

The Boston fern is another plant on the list that is exceptional at removing formaldehyde from the air. But benzene and xylene are also among its impressive cleansing abilities. This is another plant that would benefit from being in a humid environment. Either in the bathroom (if it doesn’t already look like a jungle in there by now), or with a humidifier. I keep a humidifier running year round in my room.

Plant Care Tips

The soil of the Boston fern likes to be kept moist. Check your plant often to make sure that the soil is moist enough and don’t go too long between waterings. You also only need to fertilize this plant a few times a year. Maybe once a season during its growing season, spring to fall. And these plants do well in low to indirect sunlight. Nothing to close to an eastern or southern facing window.

10. Bamboo Palm

The bamboo palm is next up and last on this list of air purifying plants. The bamboo palm is not to be confused with lucky bamboo, which is actually a relative of another plant on this list. The dracaenia plant, or dragon tree. It is best at scrubbing formaldehyde, trichloroethylene and benzene from the environment.

Plant Care Tips

For its watering needs, this plant likes to have moist soil. When watering wait for the top layer of soil to dry out before rewatering and don’t let your plant sit in standing water. This palm does well in low light settings but will grow faster in brighter light. Keep out of direct sunlight. You can use time release fertilizer during the growing season which is spring to fall.

Cleaning Up

I’m currently looking for a list of beauty and cleaning products that contain formaldehyde. When I find one I’ll be posting it on the community page. For those of you who are as concerned as I am about the contents of the products we use. If you’re ready to make the jump to something more natural, Mrs. Meyers has a ingredient index list that should help guide you in some of your household cleaning and beauty purchases.

As for tools that may come in handy for caring for your new plant friends, it may be beneficial to purchase a small humidifier to help keep your environment just right for some of your moisture loving plants like ferns or weeping fig. It’s also beneficial for us humans as well 🙂

Also, a lot of the care information I received was adapted from Gardening Know How as well as The Farmers Almanac. These two sites have loads of helpful advice on how to care for and maintain your plant friends. I also use an app on my phone to remind me when it’s time to water and feed my plants. Vera, from Bloomscape. It’s free and has been indispensable for me to remember when to water and fertilize. As well as other tasks I may need to remember for general plant care. There have been many a plant that have met their end while in my care before I had some assistance. I’m not too proud to say. If you’re like me and need a little help in the remembering department, this app may be worth looking into.

That wraps up my round up (no round-up was used by me during the writing of this post) of air purifying plants. It feels good knowing we can make a difference, however small, by tending to and caring for some green space in our homes. Until next time, be well and happy gardening 🙂 peace.

Here are some links to some resources on what VOCs are and where they are found. The DOH in New York released this PDF on VOCs and some products they are found in. This post from One Green Planet lists common household items that contain VOCs. And this article from Science News for Students has a rudimentary list of consumer products containing VOCs. I haven’t found specific brands that contain certain VOCs, but when I do I’ll post it on my community page. If you find anything please feel free to share below in the comments section.

Related Reading: Micro-Forests

Image Credits: “🌿🌱🌿🌱🌿 #tokyo #japan #house #plants #street” by DocChewbacca is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Updated: 8/6/22

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