Sustainable Living Swaps for Everyone

Just in time for Earth day! We are continuing our conversation about sustainable living practices, the Zero Waste lifestyle, and living as a spiritual being in a very practical and accessible way. I’m here to say that Zero Waste/Sustainable living is available to each of us to a certain degree and encourage you to feel into what changes you are comfortable exploring.

At this point, I think most people are already doing some of the more mainstream “first tier” swaps (reusable water bottles/straws/coffee cups/shopping bags etc). But I want to encourage you to give some of these others swaps a try. You might just find a new favorite.

After all, in order for there to be real impact, we all need to be doing “something” and that “something” is very individualized. For some, it may be to eliminate air travel or live in a car optional community. For others, it may be to only purchase items from companies that are Fair Trade certified or Certified B corporations. The point is, only YOU can decide- but we all need to start taking some steps toward a more sustainable lifestyle. But don’t stop there, keep moving until you find your edge. You may be more comfortable with more change than you are giving yourself credit for.

So, here we go- my Top Zero Waste/Sustainable Living Swaps with specific brand recommendations that I can personally stand by:

  1. Green up your Toothbrushing Routine! This is one of the first swaps I did because it was so simple and there was barely any adjustment period . We all switched out to bamboo toothbrushes and Bite Bits for our toothpaste and floss. They have a subscription available that comes with zero waste refills and now even have Bite Bits for children ages 3 and up. I love that we are no longer tossing small bits of plastic in the trash, and to be honest, the little glass bottles on the bathroom vanity just make me smile.
  2. Modernize your Period experience! This is a great experiment- take all the trash from your next period and put it aside in a bag. If you are using disposable products, the amount of trash each month is probably more than you imagined. Time to rethink your routine with some great re-usable options.
    • Menstrual Cup– it may take some getting used to, but users absolutely love the freedom that wearing a cup can bring. There are lots of options to choose from and many places to purchase them. Some may even be sold in your local pharmacy.
    • Organic/Zero Waste Products– My absolute fave here is Tampon Tribe. Their products are all organic, zero plastic, women owned, compostable and socially responsible. You can subscribe for a customized package each month that comes with refill packs for their really cute burlap bags.
    • Period Underwear– Again so many options to choose from here. The feeling may take a little bit of getting used to, but so worth it. Period underwear are super easy to use and come in lots of styles and price points. My favorite are the ones from The Period Company. They contain no PFOAS at all, are socially responsible, extremely absorbent and at a very attractive price point.
  3. Skip the Plastic Jugs of Detergent! There are many companies offering excellent sustainable options to those huge jugs of laundry detergent. Drops laundry pods are a popular choice here. Made in the USA, free of all the bad stuff, compostable packaging and carbon neutral shipping make this a great choice. Another popular one is Meliora. They disclose every ingredient used, are MADE SAFE certified, a Certified B Corp, Made in the USA, and package free. I am in LOVE with every Meliora product I’ve used so far. They smell great (only using essential oils) and clean extremely effectively.
  4. Welcome Bar Soap back into your life! Remember those bars, you know, back before everything came in a little plastic bottle? From bar soap for hands, face, dishes to shampoo and conditioner bars, there are bars for everything. My shampoo and conditioner bar of choice is NueBar. They are made of high quality ingredients, no artificial fragrances, contain no soap, SLS, SLES, or SCS, carbon neutral and plastic free packaging. They even have a smart lettering system on the bars so you don’t get them mixed up in the shower. They are also Curly girl method approved. I also love their facial bars, especially the one for mature skin. For dish soap, you can’t go wrong with Meliora here again. Their products are really superior and well crafted.
  5. Try out some DIY Personal Care Products! Plastic free and zero waste versions of your fave products are super easy to find. Here are my go-to recipes for products I use every single day.
    • Flax seed hair gel. This was the first DIY I ever tried and was so floored by how great it worked and how amazing my hair felt afterward, it’s now the only product I use in my hair. Flax seeds are full of Omega-3 fatty acids and are nutrient rich. You can freeze this gel in portions in an ice cube tray so you always have a stash made and it literally costs pennies per ounce. Here’s my go to recipe for flax hair gel.
    • Body Butter. I love this all natural and simple body butter made of only 3 ingredients: shea butter, cocoa butter and coconut oil. Our whole family uses it- including our toddler. I even use it on my face. It feels great and soaks right in. The best part is that there are no mystery ingredients to worry about and its so easy to make.
    • Moisturizing Skin Serum. This lovely skin serum is made of organic, cold- pressed plant oils and is a relatively new addition to my routine. I put this on and allow it to soak in and follow up with the body butter recipe above. Using it makes me feel like I’m in a spa. Here’s the recipe.
  6. How about some DIY Cleaning products? There are tons of recipes out there. We’ve been using this one for our dishwashing detergent and have not been disappointed- one more plastic bottle down! And as soon as my bottled toilet bowl cleaner is finished, I’ll be replacing it with this.
  7. Let’s Talk Toileting! Speaking of toilets, we swapped our TP for one made of recycled content and all compostable packaging. I’m loving Who Gives A Crap for their commitment to a worthwhile cause and humanitarian effort. They are a Certified B Corp and have carbon neutral shipping. I am super pleased with their products and bonus, they have cheery wrapping that is quite pretty (and can be repurposed!) A next step for us is purchasing a bidet. While we are not quite there yet (our toddler would have a literal blast with it) we do have this one on our radar.
  8. Ditch the plastic and go for glass, glass, and more glass! Start buying things in glass packaging whenever possible. You like mustard? Buy the one in glass. Salad dressing? Find the one in glass. Start a jar stash and literally use them for everything. You can freeze in them, store dry goods in them, use them for leftovers, organize your office supplies, drink out of them, put flowers in them, make DIY gifts in them. The list goes on!

So there it is for now, I hope some of these swaps spark interest and hopefully excitement for starting something new and fresh this Spring. It’s a perfect time for renewing our commitment to this planet and to ourselves.

You’ve all seen the bumper sticker, “There is no Planet B” after all.

Sat Nam

Zero Waste Living as Spiritual Practice

As the climate crisis looms heavily in our awareness, more and more people are becoming curious about living a zero waste lifestyle. This movement has been getting a lot more attention and understandably so. Zero Waste is defined by the Zero Waste International Alliance as, “Conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health”. That’s something I think we can all get behind- but what about the term “zero waste”? The name itself is often misleading and misunderstood as the intention to be truly zero waste is a nearly impossible feat to achieve. Here, I am offering the suggestion to approach a zero waste lifestyle with a side of self compassion and a whole lot of patience. I would like to banish those images of people holding up a mason jar containing a year’s worth of their trash. Instead let’s consider how simple changes in our daily lives can help lower our environmental impact, bring us closer into alignment with our spirit and relationship to nature, and even teach us a few things about humility along the way.

One of the first thing I noticed when researching all things zero waste was the array of aesthetically pleasing items composed of natural materials: wood, cork, organic cotton, and glass. It was beautiful. I was nearly tempted to dump every plastic item in my home and replace it with something sustainable. I didn’t want to use one more plastic item. Then I paused-wouldn’t that be the opposite of what this movement is all about? So I started slowly and wanted to share my exploration here.

If you’re considering a zero waste lifestyle, here’s a great place to begin

  1. Take a fridge inventory. Do you have a lot of takeout containers? Food rotting and forgotten in the back? An excess of packaged and processed items? A foundational part of being zero waste is reducing our food waste. Consider how you could cook at home more often. Research plant based meals which are inherently produced with a smaller carbon footprint than animal products. Go simple and make extra portions for the freezer. Look at creative ways to make meals with leftovers and recipes with “scraps”. All of these efforts will not only bring you closer to your zero waste goals, but also to an overall healthier and thriftier lifestyle.
  2. Consider prepping your own DIY cleaners. Find simple recipes for homemade cleaners and have the ingredients at the ready for when you run out of your conventional cleaner. Start with one item at a time and find a recipe that works best for your lifestyle. You can re-use the plastic spray bottles from your old cleaners or store the new concoctions in jars. Once you find a good DIY replacement, move on to another cleaning product.
  3. Use the personal care products you have completely before buying a “zero waste” replacement. You can still use your toothpaste, shaving cream, shampoo etc. Just have a new replacement at the ready for when they are finished. I’m reminded of the saying, “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” here.
  4. Peek in your recycling bin. Are there items you can take out to be repurposed or reused? Can someone else use it? ( think about your local “Buy Nothing” group). Are you seeing a lot of the same type of packaging? Where can you cut back on plastic? Just start becoming aware…and creative.
  5. Observe your daily habits. What disposables could you replace with reusables? This is very personal and specific. If you never use straws, it wouldn’t make sense to purchase a stainless steel straw. That said, if you buy coffee everyday, buying a reusable coffee mug is a practical and easy swap. Start with what works for you and your comfort level.
  6. Begin building your stash of reusables. Everyday items make easy swaps. A great example of this is repurposing old T shirts, cotton burp cloths, and flannel to replace paper towels for cleaning. It is also much cheaper and less wasteful than purchasing a new item, such as un-paper towels, even if it is zero waste. Re-use containers, jars, plastic packaging rather than buying reusable ziploc bags or a matching set of mason jars.
  7. Re-think new items coming into your home. Is it necessary? Could you find a diy alternative? Is it made sustainably? Is it fair trade? Will it last a long time? Is it in alignment with your philosophy?

Taking time for reflection, focusing on a clear intention and being thoughtful about taking steps is all part of this process. It is a way to deepen our connection to ourselves, build community, engage in a larger world issue and enact real change. Keep striving for self improvement and for a better world-we will get there.

And remember, small steps are still steps.

Sat Nam.

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Choosing Non-Toxic Cookware

How much thought do you give to the food you eat? What about the type of water you drink? Skin products? Cookware?  All of these things have an impact on our health and well-being. I’ve been carefully working on cleaning up my act these last few years.  I switched out my skin and personal care products, became really conscious of my food and drink choices, but cookware? No, I didn’t really even think about it.  As I discovered though, the type of pots and pans we are using can actually make us sick.  It really got me thinking, with all the care I give to eating really healthy and detoxing my body, why would I cook my food in potentially harmful cookware? I began researching right away.  I quickly became overwhelmed by all of the buzz words out there, “green”, “clean”, and “healthy” were used in a general sense to describe cookware that for me didn’t really seem that healthy at all.  Below I outline some of the most popular types of cookware used and the potential health risks they pose.

Teflon (PTFE) Coated–  PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid) is a chemical used in the process of making Teflon and is toxic to our bodies and the environment.  This chemical has been linked to some cancers. Teflon coatings can flake off and contaminate the food being cooked. Cooking in Teflon coated pans can also release toxins into the air that are particularly harmful to pets. A lot of cookware is now being advertised as “PFOA free”.

Stainless Steel- Stainless steel cookware contains other metals (such as nickel and chromium).  If pans become pitted or scratched, these metals can leach into the food as it cooks. When choosing stainless steel, opt for high quality/pharmaceutical grade stainless steel to reduce your risk of exposure to heavy metals.

Cast Iron- While a common fixture in many kitchens (including mine until recently), cast iron pans leach iron into the food as it cooks.  Iron encourages the formation of free radicals and has been associated with increase cancer risk.  While we need small amounts of iron to produce red blood cells, we often have too much iron in our bodies which we have no way of ridding ourselves of. Excess iron in tissues and organs has also been linked to infertility.

Ceramic Coated- Ceramic cookware has gained popularity recently because it conducts heat well and metal does not come into direct contact with the food as it cooks.  The ceramic coating is typically applied to an aluminum pan for better heat conduction.  If the coating becomes scratched or chipped, aluminum from these pans can leach into the food.  Aluminum has been found in the plaques on the brains of Alzheimer’s patients and is known to be associated with the disease. In addition, ceramic coated cookware is commonly glazed with a nonstick substance that may contain traces of lead or cadmium.  It is best to do a thorough amount of research if you are considering ceramic coated cookware.

Solid Ceramic (no coating)- This cookware is less popular and contains no applied coatings.  It is aluminum free and contains no chemicals.  There is no coating to chip or peel off. While they are durable, food can stick to the surface.

Glass- Visionware  is still on the market and a good option for those concerned about heavy metals and chemicals leaching into food.  Some of the reviews caution about the cookware shattering, but with proper care, glass cookware can be a healthy alternative.

So how to decide?  After weeks of researching I narrowed it down to 2 options. Saladmaster, a pharmaceutical grade titanium/stainless steel was at the top of my list.  I had seen a cooking demonstration on the HHAS cruise this past February and was impressed with the product.  In addition to the quality of the material, this cookware is meant to cook on low heat with no oil to optimize the flavor in vegetables.  The downside? Saladmaster cookware is very pricey.  For me, it was cost prohibitive.

My second option was Xtrema Ceramcor ceramic cookware.  I love how transparent the company is- putting toxicity and health front and center. All of their cookware has been through leaching tests and results are posted on their website. The cookware is 100% ceramic, no polymers, metals or chemicals.  In addition, the cookware is in adherence to the stringent California Prop 65 testing by the FDA.   I was surprised to find that this product was in such close alignment with what I was looking for and have been extremely happy with it so far.  Most importantly, I have the peace of mind  knowing that the food I’m cooking is clean.

Spring is here- time to lighten the load!

Part 1- Simple holistic ways to reduce toxin exposure and improve overall health.

Welcome Spring! I’ve found that focusing my energy on strengthening my body and detoxing has been a beautiful spiritual practice and want to share with you what I’ve learned on this path (so far).

The new life energy coming forth from the earth creates an inspiring time of year to purge our bodies of its heavy toxic load.  The toxic load we carry comes from both what we absorb from our environment every day and what has been passed down to us through our parents and those before them.  These toxins can build up in our system and cause chronic health conditions such as anxiety, headaches, dizziness, weight gain etc.

If you are interested in improving your health and state of wellness, this is a great place to begin.  Nothing harsh, just a few simple changes that when combined, can have a tremendous impact. It’s also a good practice in changing routines, nourishing your body and truly listening to what it is telling you.  I found that in the beginning, some of the changes in diet and lifestyle brought up all kinds of emotions and resistance inside me.  It felt challenging to follow this path when society was telling me to eat, drink and be merry because I “deserved” it.  So this is a very different perspective, eat well, avoid things that can increase your toxic load, and be kind and gracious to yourself- because my dear ones, this is what we deserve.

Things to avoid or eliminate from your routines:

  1. Plastics– We have been wrapping ourselves in plastic since the 70’s and it has leached into everything;our food, our water supply, and our bodies.  Plastics are particularly harmful to our reproductive systems, they may contain  the chemicals bisphenol A (BPA) and phythalates.
    1. plastic wrap & baggies- avoid wrapping your food in plastic at all costs, use reusable containers when possible.
    2. plastic containers-  I find that glass containers such as pyrex work great!  Never reheat food in plastic.
    3. shower curtain liner ( these contain phythalates which can damage sperm)
  2. EMF’s– Electromagnetic frequencies are everywhere. They are emitted from anything electronic ( computers, cell phones, cars, airplanes, appliances etc).  The problem with EMFs is that they interfere with our body’s own electrical frequencies which can prevent our body from letting go off toxic heavy metals and can cause adverse health conditions, both neurological and otherwise (i.e. cancer, insomnia, anxiety, headaches). Since EMFs are everywhere, you may want to take precautions. One product I use is made by Memon. I wear a memonizerBody on my wrist and have a memorizerMobile  on my cell phone. I also have organite throughout each room in my home and on my desk at work where I sit with my computer throughout the day. You can also remove electronics from your bedroom, run appliances such as the dishwasher or dryer when you are out of the room, and turn off your wifi at night. For all men out there, never carry your cell phone in your front pants pocket.
  3. Chemicals– This is a fairly broad category.  As a guideline, I only buy products that are cruelty free, plant based, environmentally friendly, and free of dyes, fragrances and preservatives.  The fewer ingredients, the better.
    1. Household- Think of your home environment as a sacred space. We need to take extra care not to pollute this space with toxins. Nothing works better than good old vinegar, lemons, baking soda and peroxide and there are many websites devoted to cleaning with these items. If you can’t part with the convenience of a bottled cleaner,  I like Seventh Generation, Mrs. Meyers, and my newest fave,  Ecos.
    2. Beauty products & nail polish- This is a tough one for a lot of people, but we really need to be looking at what we are putting on our body. Many products out there are laden with harsh ingredients, parabens, toxic fumes and dyes.  If possible, opt for using food grade products on your body.  Some that I love include Lux shea butter for my face, and coconut oil for my body.  I am also loving this oil based facial cleanser.
  4. Toxic/Heavy Metal Exposure– These metals include lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury and  aluminum.  They can be found everywhere, but especially in fish and processed cheese, vaccines, nasal sprays, fertilizers, plastics and antiperspirants. A great first step to reduce toxic metal exposure is to ditch the antiperspirant! It took me quite a while to find a really good deodorant that I love, but you will not be disappointed in  Primal Pit Paste.
  5. Pesticides/ Herbicides– I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but eating organic dramatically reduces your exposure to toxins.  If you can’t afford or find organic produce in your area, try to avid the dirty dozen as much as possible.  When I first started out, I would keep a list on my phone and reference it whenever I went to the grocery store.  The dirty dozen includes the following foods listed from most to least contaminated:
    1. Strawberries
    2. Spinach
    3. Nectarines
    4. Apples
    5. Peaches
    6. Pears
    7. Cherries
    8. Grapes
    9. Celery
    10. Tomatoes
    11. Sweet Bell Peppers
    12. Potatoes
  6. Meat and Dairy Products– This list could not be complete without mentioning meat and dairy products.  From a toxicity standpoint, the fat and protein compounds in these products clog the liver causing it to be sluggish and reducing its ability to do it’s job of filtering the blood and removing toxins from the body.  Simply said, if your liver is sluggish (or fatty), the toxins stay put!  in addition, meat and dairy contain high amounts of  growth hormones (there is no such thing as hormone free, all animals in the industry have been exposed), antibiotics and adrenal compounds (from the slaughtering process).  Increasing your fruit and vegetable consumption will improve overall liver function and go a long way in detoxing your body.
  7. Added Sugar– Yes, it’s really bad for us. It’s corrosive to our system and damaging to our organs (and dairy is liquid sugar meant to grow a baby calf/goat/lamb).  If you feel a sweet craving coming on, grab a piece of fruit or use some maple syrup or dates in your baking- you won’t be disappointed. The glucose from fruit is extremely important for brain health and body functioning, so indulge as often as possible.  For more information on the healing powers of fruit (and vegetables) check out Anthony William’s latest book, Life Changing Foods.

 

 

My great (vegan) car dilemma

How what we drive is influenced by what we believe.

I’m in the market for a new car, not completely by choice.  Since I have a very long commute and need to drive fairly far to family and friends, I put loads of miles on my car (about 30k a year).  I’ve been trying to reconcile the environmental impact of my driving so much, so about 5 years back I decided to buy a Vokswagen TDI (“clean” diesel).  This car was fantastic! It was great on gas, relatively affordable, tons of room, and had all the little options that made my commuting comfortable. I thought I found a responsible way to drive as much as I do and not completely destroy the environment. Win-win, right? Wrong! Lo and behold- it turns out that this “clean” diesel was not clean at all!  VW had installed software that cheated the emissions tests and my “clean” car was spewing toxic chemicals into the environment every time I drove it.  I was outraged…and deceived. I felt terribly guilty and didn’t want to drive my car one more day. VW willingly sold a product they knew would be damaging to the environment at the expense of us all. When they finally sent out the recall notice, I chose the “buyback” option and vowed never again to support a company that puts corporate greed above all else.

So, I’m in the market for a new car- and facing a new dilemma.  Although vegetarian at the time of my VW purchase, I opted for the faux leather seating but turned a blind eye to the leather wrapped steering wheel and gear shift.  I guess part of me thought I was doing a greater good by buying this environmentally friendly car and that it somehow made up for the leather steering wheel.  In all fairness, there weren’t any non-leather options offered.  There are still very few.

My car requirements remain pretty much the same.  It needs to be fuel efficient (I drive too far for an electric car), have good cargo capacity, and all wheel drive (I added AWD to the list after driving on some rough winter roads while praying the entire way). I heard that Tesla now offers an all vegan car, so I figured the car industry was evolving and was excited to see all of my new options.  But, here’s the thing- unless you buy the base model (think no power seats, no power mirrors etc), most cars still come with a leather wrapped steering wheel! This holds true even for even the less expensive models.  I briefly looked at the luxury brands, but other than Tesla, none of them offer a completely leather free interior.  Some, like BMW, offer faux leather seating (they call it Sensatec), but the steering wheel is still leather. Leather it seems, is still viewed by our society as being luxurious- a status symbol of wealth.

I thought about my options, how important is it for me to have power seats anyhow?  I decided that I would go with a base model Subaru Outback – no leather. As if the universe was offering its support of my decision, that very same day one of my vegan friends posted a gruesome photo to her FB wall.  It showed a large cow being skinned alive, laying on the ground after all of its legs had been chopped off so it couldn’t escape.  I couldn’t get the image out of my mind.  In 2017 humanity is still creating extraordinary ways to brutalize other species for a profit.  That solidified my decision- leather is NOT an option!

My car is being given back to VW next month (on the morning of my 40th birthday).  I am disheartened that there is no true vegan car yet and flabbergasted that the options for vegan materials in cars is so extremely limited.  If all goes well, I will be purchasing a Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium.  It was the only AWD car I found to have a completely non leather interior while offering nice add-ons such as a moonroof and power lift gate.

Back to Ahimsa. It is a guide and a teacher.  When I search for what is true, what aligns with my beliefs, it is informed by ahimsa.  My car dilemma is just one example.  Throughout the day we are bombarded by images/thoughts/experiences that cause harm or violence to other beings, each other and ourselves… but every time you can bring ahimsa into practice, you are connecting to a greater all-knowing infinity. Ahimsa, I’ve learned, is applicable everywhere ….and yes, even when I am buying a car.