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Guest Post: Six Things You Didn’t Know About Plastic

six thing you didn't know about plastic

Think you know what’s in your coffee cup… or closet? Think again—it could contain a type of plastic that’s polluting the environment and/or endangering your health. With nearly a decade spent committed to the fight against marine plastic pollution, The 5 Gyres Institute shares these tips on discovering hidden plastic—and going #plasticfree.

1. Your faux-fur jacket is plastic. So are your workout pants.

All materials shed fibers. But unlike wool and cotton, which biodegrade, microfibers from synthetic clothing never biodegrade—because they’re made from plastic. When these garments are washed, the tiny plastic microfibers slip right through sewage treatment filters and into our waterways: One recent study found a single synthetic fleece jacket released as many as 250,000 microfibers when washed in a machine. When these fibers are eaten by small organisms and fish, they can work their way up the food chain and onto our plates.

Solution? Avoid acrylic garments, which are particularly harmful and can release as many as 700,000 microfibers during the lifecycle of one item of clothing, and if you do own synthetic fabrics, wash them less. Oh, and if you’re buying a new washing machine, choose a front loader—it releases fewer microfibers.

2. Much of the plastic dropped in recycling bins isn’t recycled.

In 2014, 22% of PET plastic collected for recycling was exported out of the United States. Why? Our facilities can’t keep up: Plastic production surged from 15 million tons in 1964 to 311 tons in 2014—an increase of more than 2,000 percent. Also, as oil prices fluctuate, so too does the price of plastic. When those markets are depressed, virgin plastic becomes far cheaper to buy than recycled. Without a profitable market in which to sell it, it’s not cost-effective for many recycling companies to process plastic—so they sell it to other countries at a loss. In 2011, China imported nearly half of America’s plastic waste.

Solution? Use less disposable plastic! Refuse the top five sources of single use plastic: plastic bags, water bottles, to go containers, takeaway cups and straws, and switch to reusable solutions.

3. Most coffee cup lids are made from the same type of plastic as Styrofoam.

Starbucks sells 400 billion cups of coffee annually—each with a polystyrene lid. Toxic styrene—the primary component of polystyrene, and expanded polystyrene foam better known as Styrofoam—is proven to be carcinogenic to animals, and is a probable human carcinogen. It can migrate from containers into food and drinks when it comes in contact with fatty or acidic foods, and when heated—like for your coffee or take out. While some cups are recyclable; typically, the lids are not. Billions of coffee cup lids are landfilled and/or littered daily.

Solution? Request your coffee without a lid. Or better yet, bring a reusable insulated stainless steel coffee cup and avoid the plastic waste altogether.

4. Straws are not recyclable.

Americans use more than 300 million plastic straws each day. Straws are too small to be easily recycled. So they become trash—often in the ocean. In fact, plastic straws are one of the top polluters on our beaches and can be harmful to animals. More than 600 species are impacted by small pieces of plastic—like straws—in the ocean, either through ingestion or entanglement, which can sicken or even kill them. Birds, fish, turtles, dolphins, sharks and even whales can be poisoned or trapped by plastic waste.

Solution? Ask for your beverage “straw-free” or try reusable stainless steel straws.

5. You might be washing your face with plastic.

Many exfoliating products contain plastic microbeads—tiny round beads look innocuous but are actually pretty evil. When we use products that contain them, plastic microbeads go down the drain. Because they’re too small to be filtered—smaller than a grain of salt—they end up in our rivers, lakes and oceans. In the United States, we release 8 billion plastic microbeads into the environment each day.

In 2013, research conducted by 5 Gyres and SUNY Fredonia found a high concentration of plastic microbeads in the Great Lakes, which inspired a movement that culminated when President Obama signed The Microbead-Free Waters Act into law. However, at the current rate, more than 7.3 trillion microbeads will enter the marine environment before the Microbead-Free Waters Act becomes effective in 2018.

Solution? Avoid exfoliating beauty products that contain “microbeads,” or show polyethylene, polypropylene, polylactic acid (PLA), polystyrene, or polyethylene terephthalate on labels.

This was reposted, with edits, with permission from 5 Gyres.

 

6 Toxins in Household Cleaning Products

Toxins in Household Cleaning Products

It’s easy to assume that household and personal cleaning products are clean and safe. However, most are loaded with toxic chemicals that can have negative effects on our health and the environment.

There are no federal regulations related to safety standards when it comes to common household cleaning products. This means that manufacturers can put just about anything in these products, without any significant testing. They may claim that trace amounts of these chemicals pose no risk to our health in small doses, but with consistent exposure over time, and in combinations that haven’t been studied, it’s impossible to gauge the risks.

It’s easy to make your own cleaning products with natural, non-toxic ingredients. There are also many resources that specialize in making organic, natural cleaning products that are safe for ourselves, our pets and the planet. Fillaree is a zero waste, sustainable soap company whose core mission is to reduce household plastic waste through refill. That’s a message we can stand behind!

Toxins in household cleaning products can be avoided by switching to handmade, natural alternatives. Here are some of the worst offenders:

Ammonia

Found in glass cleaners and furniture/silver polishes, this chemical is a respiratory irritant. Also, when mixed with bleach it produces a poisonous gas. Prolonged exposure can cause cases of chronic bronchitis and asthma.

Chlorine

A common ingredient found in scouring powders, toilet cleaners and laundry detergents. It can cause respiratory issues and thyroid disruptions with long-term exposure.

Sodium Hydroxide

Also known as lye, this is found in oven cleaners and drain-unclogging liquids. It’s extremely corrosive and can cause chemical burns on skin, and damage to the mouth and throat if inhaled.

2-Butoxyethanol

This is found in kitchen, window and multipurpose cleaners. This is what gives the cleaners that sweet smell and there are no regulations that require this ingredient to be listed. However, when inhaled, it can also cause respiratory problems and even liver or kidney damage.

Phthalates

Fragranced cleaners, air fresheners, and even some toilet papers are loaded with these chemicals. Phthalates are a known endocrine disrupter, even causing low sperm counts in men. Most ingestion is inhalation, but fragranced soaps are dangerous as well since the skin absorbs the toxins directly.

Triclosan

Found in lots of dish detergents and antibacterial products. Triclosan is an antibacterial agent that can cause the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. Not only is this counterproductive for cleaning, but it’s harmful for our health in the long run.

These are just a few common toxins in household cleaning products, hidden in plain sight underneath our kitchen sinks. Instead of posing a risk to our health, start 2017 by making the switch to natural cleaning products. Shop Fillaree to see all the natural options they can offer your family and home!

This was reposted, with edits, with permission from Fillaree.

5 Reasons to Step Up Your Food Storage with Stainless Steel

stainless steel food storage

Plastic food storage is certainly affordable and lightweight, but research shows that plastic can often leach chemicals into our food and drinks, which can harm our health. In addition to the adverse health effects, plastics are polluting our planet at an alarming rate. Take steps to swap out old plastic containers that degrade after prolonged use, and replace them with safer stainless steel. The benefits of stainless steel will help you justify the switch:

Durable, long lasting and less wasteful

Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times. As the desire to reduce waste is becoming more common, people are increasingly choosing more dependable and durable materials that do not degrade or leach after years of use and dishwashing. The longer containers last, the happier you are, and the fewer resources are used to reach the goal of working toward a zero-waste lifestyle.

Non-toxic and non-leaching

As news about toxins in plastic food storage becomes more mainstream, people are seeking safer food-storage solutions by ditching their plastic and turing to safer alternatives like stainless steel. “As scientists become more aware of the chemicals that leech out of plastics and make their way into our bodies, they are uncovering a variety of health issues that result. This includes cancer, reproductive issues, immune system suppression and problems with childhood development just to name a few.” – One Green Planet

More hygienic

Because plastic degrades over time from use, hot water and cleaning products, the surfaces become scratched and difficult to clean effectively. Smooth, non-porous stainless steel is the ideal surface for food, with fewer opportunities for bacteria to accumulate and less risk of contamination.

Less expensive over time

Saving money is an important benefit of swapping your plastic containers for long-lasting stainless steel. There is an upfront cost, but it pays to invest in quality products that stand the test of time to save money otherwise spent replacing lower-quality items.

Completely recyclable

Stainless steel is 100% recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without loss in quality or purity. Alternatively, plastic is “downcycled” into another lower-quality plastic product that becomes one step closer to a landfill. Plastic Pollution Coalition reminds us: “Indeed, collecting plastics at curbside fosters the belief that, like paper, aluminum and glass, these will be converted into new similar objects. But this is not the case with most plastic. These products will still end up in a landfill, and therefore, they do not stem the need for more virgin petroleum product.”

Switching out your plastic food storage can take time, and if you’re still using plastic during your transition, check your plastic numbers to minimize your exposure toxins. Check out our full-range of stainless steel containers, including divided containers, insulated containers for hot and cold, and nesting sets to save storage space.

Top 10 Healthy Home Tips for 2017

healthy home

Start the New Year by taking steps to create a healthy home. Simple changes can have a huge impact on your health and the health of the planet. Here are our top ten healthy home tips for the new year:

1. Question plastic

Plastics not only pollute our planet, but research has shown that some plastics also harm our health. Avoid cans lined with plastic and eliminate single-use plastics that break down easily. Seek out non-plastic alternatives: use a cloth shower curtain, purchase food and drinks in glass jars/bottles instead of plastic, and pack lunches and leftovers in stainless steel and glass.

2. Avoid fragrance

Fragrance in dryer sheets, fabric softeners, cleaning products, candles and air fresheners often contain rarely disclosed toxic chemicals, including phthalates and formaldehyde. If you like scents, make sure they come from sources you can identify like essential oils, and avoid products that list “fragrance” as an ingredient.

3. Clean without toxins

Not only do conventional cleaning products harm our health, the chemicals also go down the drain and pollute our waterways. Vinegar, baking soda and Dr. Bronner’s castille soap are remarkably effective, non-toxic, inexpensive cleaning options. Skip the pre-packaged cleaners unless you’re comfortable with their toxicity rating on Skin Deep.

 4. Use non-toxic personal care products

Soaps, skin care and makeup are loaded with questionable chemicals including parabens, phthalates, toluene and triclosan. Because the industry is highly unregulated, and we absorb most of these products through our skin, use EWG’s database to identify safe alternatives and try homemade solutions.

5. Dust

Household dust is not only responsible for allergies, but it’s also made up of toxins from your home including fire retardants, lead and other chemicals. Vacuum often with a HEPA filter, open your windows for ventilation, and clean with a damp cloth.

6. Ditch the non-stick

Since the EPA lists PFOA (one type of PFC used in some non-stick and water-resistant coatings) as a “likely human carcinogen”, it’s best to find alternatives. Use stainless steel or cast iron pans, avoid takeout containers, and don’t purchase clothing with unnecessary stain proofing or water-resistant coatings.

7. Control pests naturally

These days it’s pretty simple to control pests by keeping your home clean, sealing entrances and using natural pest remedies. The NRDC has suggestions and a link for controlling over 30 different pests naturally.

8. Eat FLOSN foods

Thanks to the Conscious Kitchen, we have a new acronym to help us remember what foods to eat: fresh, local, organic, seasonal and non-GMO. This healthy home tip is easy if you shop at the farmers market, cook homemade meals, and pack lunches daily.

9. Drink filtered tap water

Tap water is regulated by the EPA, which requires yearly public reports, but bottled water is regulated by the FDA, which has no such requirement. Drinking filtered water is an important healthy home tip, but which filter should you use? Find out with this updated water filter guide.

10. Choose natural materials

Furniture made of wood with wool or cotton cushions will likely contain fewer toxins than those made of pressboard, plastics or stuffed with treated polyurethane foam. Remember this tip when replacing your mattress and bedding too.

 

Favorite Holiday Traditions from the U Konserve Team

holiday traditions

In the spirit of the holiday season, the U Konserve team has shared our favorite holiday traditions, including the funny, heartwarming and steal-worthy below—and we’d love to hear about yours on our Facebook page or Twitter!

‘Tis the season…

Chance Claxton, Co-Founder

“Going to the ballet in San Francisco. This year we are mixing it up, foregoing the Nutcracker and going to the Smuin Ballet.”

Lynn Julian, Co-Founder

“Decorating the house with my kids and baking Christmas cookies.”

 

Courtney Timblin, Operations Manager

“Being home in Wisconsin with snow on the ground making Christmas Cookies with my mom while listening to Neil Diamond or Dolly Paton and Kenny Rodgers Christmas albums.”

Wendy Murphy, Marketing Director

“We are transitioning traditions. Grace Cathedral used to be a yearly favorite, but these past few years it has been replaced by Christmas Eve mass in our town. We always go on a big hike on Christmas Eve or Christmas day with friends and family.”

Liz Haney, Customer Service Relations

“Going to my Grandparents house on Christmas morning and spending the day with them and the rest of our family.”

Debra Paul, Salesperson

“Spending time with my dearest friends and children that I met supporting the rainforest. We celebrate and appreciate each other deeply.”

Wishing you a healthy and peaceful holiday and new year. We’re grateful to have supportive customers committed to reducing waste.  From our UKonserve family to yours, Happy Holidays!

Enjoy a Green Christmas this Holiday Season

green christmas

A green Christmas might not be on everyone’s wish list. After all, nothing says Christmas quite like a soft snowfall and blanket of white on the ground and trees. But an environmentally friendly Christmas is something that everyone can embrace. Ensuring that your holiday season is eco-protecting doesn’t have to mean shunning traditions; it just means tweaking them in order to protect the planet.

Deck the Halls

Christmas trees are arguably one of the most important aspects of a traditional Christmas experience. But have you thought about how the cutting of trees or purchasing of their plastic alternatives negatively impacts the environment? To make this custom greener, try decorating your outside trees. Lights, popcorn garlands, and ornaments made out of birdseed and nuts are all easy and eco-friendly. You’ll still get to enjoy the magical sight of a lit tree, and as a bonus, you’ll be feeding the animals who may be needing a bit of help finding food during the colder months.

If your heart is set on having a tree indoors try purchasing a live tree that can be planted outdoors afterward. As well as helping out the planet, you’ll also avoid the never-ending task of sweeping up the shedding pine needles.

Waste Less

Christmas is becoming more and more focused on consumerism, and it’s easy to fall prey to the idea that more is better. Reject the pressure to go over the top in your spending, whether it be gifts, wrapping paper or food. Purchase recycled wrapping paper, use paper saved from previous years, or better yet, wrap gifts in cloth or nothing at all. Buying neutral patterns will allow you to reuse paper for other celebrations as well. When planning your holiday meals and snacks, focus on quality over quantity and use some of these tips for holiday gatherings.

Give Back

If your life is good and you’re blessed, pay it forward. Giving-themed holiday parties are a great way to celebrate with your family and friends. Instead of having your guests bring the typical over-indulgent hostess gifts, like bottles of wine or chocolates, ask them to bring books, warm clothing or small toys, and then donate these to your local shelter. By sharing your resources, you’re minimizing the impact on the environment while maximizing the positive effect on those who receive your donations.

These small changes can start a global change. Switch from a “gimme” mindset to becoming an ambassador for the environment and its inhabitants. ‘Tis the season for goodwill to all. Make it the best possible green Christmas for you, your community and the environment.

Host a Zero-Waste Holiday Party This Year

zero-waste holiday party

Every December is an occasion for celebration. Friends and family enjoy gathering to celebrate the holidays and new year, but you might be concerned about the impact these events could have on the planet.

Fortunately, a zero-waste holiday party is easy to host and fun to attend.  Here are a few of our top zero-waste tips for any holiday gathering!

Invitations

We live in the electronic age which means paper invitations are unnecessary. You can build a beautiful, individual invitation on a site like Paperless Post and send them along via email. In the invitation, you can explain your eco-friendly angle for the party and ask your guests to respect certain guiding principals as they prepare and attend the event.

Gifts

Even if you ask for no hostess gifts, many guests feel obligated to bring one. The best approach is to ask that if people do feel inclined to bring a gift, give it the sustainable way. Suggest that they bring repurposed items, bring items that can be used up, or regift something they already have. Suggest that they leave it unwrapped, or wrap with fabric or recycled paper. Skip the bows and opt for reusable string, twine or no ribbon at all!

Dishes

When it comes time for refreshments, use real plates, silverware and glasses instead of disposable paper or plastic. Avoid paper napkins as well and opt for cloth that can be easily washed. Cloth dinner and cocktail napkins are easy to make with scrap fabric and add a nice touch to a holiday party. If you need to purchase reusable dishes or glasses, check your local thrift store for mix ‘n’ match options.

Decorations

The key to zero-waste decorations is to rely on nature’s beauty during this time of year. Potted plants and flowers brighten up any space. Soy or beeswax votives in reusable glass jars provide a soft, non-toxic light, and accents like river stones add a unique touch. Homemade wreaths, garlands and pinecones are an easy way to bring the outdoors in and add natural fragrance to the room.

Food

When it comes to refreshments, organic, locally produced food is always your best option. This is true not just for your holiday party, but for every day of the week! Many recipes can be made ahead of time. Get healthy recipe ideas here.

As you plan your zero-waste holiday party remember that it can be as complex or simple as you want. The key is to use these guidelines as a foundation and let your guests know what to expect ahead of time.

 

 

5 Reasons We Love the Tiny House Movement

tiny house

Tiny Houses have taken over home TV shows, the internet, and many home and garden magazines. But what exactly is the tiny house movement? Simply put, it is a social movement where people are choosing to downsize the space they live in. The typical American home is about 2,600 square feet, whereas the typical small or tiny is between 100 and 400 square feet.

You may be shaking your head asking why would people want to downsize to such small quarters. So we’ve compiled a list of 5 reasons we love the tiny house movement.

Smaller Environmental Impact

Due to the size of micro homes, they can generally be completely powered by solar panels at a fraction of the cost of a traditional home. Through the proper application of green technology, it would be possible to live net-zero and completely off the grid in a tiny home. This infographic does a great job highlighting all the ways tiny houses reduce energy costs and allow your house to be self-sufficient.

Less Expensive

Tiny houses cost less in general. Since the houses are smaller, so are the mortgages and utility bills that go along with it. Young adults buying their first property are better able to afford these houses as well as people looking to downsize and save. 68% of tiny house people have no mortgage compared to 29.3% of all U.S. homeowners!

More Time & Freedom

Simply put, when you have a smaller living space there is less to clean and less time put into maintenance. This leaves more time for activities you enjoy and more time with friends and family.

Less Clutter and Less Waste

Living in a smaller space leaves less storage room in general. With the success of books like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, people have been decluttering items that don’t bring them joy. A tiny house means keeping what you really use and getting rid of excess “stuff” that doesn’t serve a purpose. Less space also forces us to purchase with intention and seek out durable, long-lasting items that take the place of other wasteful alternatives.

More Connection and Communication

Smaller living spaces mean fewer places to go when a disagreement arises.  Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell of Living Large in Our Little House puts it best when she says, “Not having room to spread out anymore took some getting used to, but now I wouldn’t want it any other way. I don’t want to go back to us living in separate rooms, and not really communicating or spending time together.”

So how do you know if tiny is for you? Rent or stay overnight in a tiny house or stay at a tiny hotel like this one and see how you like it! Also check out our Pinterest board full of our favorite tiny houses and inspiration for going smaller.

The Benefits of a Plastic-Free Kitchen

plastic-free

From storing last night’s leftovers to shopping at the grocery store, plastic is everywhere, especially in your kitchen. It is important to understand that some plastics contain a hazardous mix of chemicals, such as:

  • Phthalates, which affect the reproductive system
  • BPA (bisphenol-A), which disrupts the endocrine system by mimicking the female hormone estrogen

As you may be aware, these chemicals can leach into whatever food or beverage you put in them, in amounts that vary depending on your use. For instance, if you microwave plastic containers or bottles, or put hot liquids or foods into them, BPA leaches into your food or drink 55 times faster than when used cold. There is also evidence that chemicals leach from plastic faster when the container is:

  • Old or scratched
  • Frequently put in a dishwasher
  • Washed with harsh detergents

Knowing those facts, you’re probably wondering what steps you can take to transition out of using plastic in your kitchen. Here are a few tips:

Skip Plastic Wrap and Baggies

Plastic wrap and baggies are usually a go-to when saving leftovers. But plastic wrap can leech into your food, and every year 100 billion plastic bags are thrown away in America. Make a transition to reusable food wraps made of beeswax or LDPE #4, a low-density, recyclable plastic. Our food kozies and snack bags are a perfect option, or you can try to DIY with this step-by-step guide.

Save Leftovers in Glass or Stainless Steel

At first, it may seem hard not to use plastic for food storage, but switching to glass or stainless steel is a much healthier option for you and your family. Some helpful tips include:

  • Save glass jars and searching second-hand stores for glass containers in good condition.
  • Purchase stainless steel reusable food containers for takeout and leftovers.
  • Buy glass containers to cook, bake and for storing leftovers.

Skip Plastic When Food Shopping

From produce bags to check out, plastic is everywhere when grocery shopping. Do your best to skip the plastic by purchasing food in bulk in reusable bags, skipping fruits and veggies wrapped in plastic, and bringing reusable jars and containers for other loose items.

Cutting the plastic out of your kitchen may seem overwhelming, but by following these 3 small steps you’ll be able to easily transition to a plastic-free kitchen!

Looking for more ideas on how to live plastic free? Check out our infographics: Top 10 Tips for a Healthy Kitchen and Safer Kitchen Guide, created in partnership with EWG’s Healthy Child Healthy World.

4 Ways to Make the Most of your Halloween Pumpkins

pumpkin

Halloween isn’t the same without carving a jack o’lantern. But have you ever considered alternate uses for your decorative pumpkins post-Halloween? Just 3.5 ounces of pumpkin provides 100% of the daily value of vitamin A, which is essential for normal vision, fighting infection and healthy skin.

With a little pre-planning before tossing out those pumpkins, you too can reap the benefits that they have to offer.

Roast the Seeds

An ounce of pumpkin seeds gives you close to 20% of your daily requirement for magnesium and zinc. Magnesium plays a vital role in nerve, muscle and cardiac function, and also maintains strong bones. Meanwhile, zinc aids immunity, healing and fertility.

To prepare seeds from pumpkins, scoop them out, wash off any remaining flesh, boil for 10 minutes to soften and dry on a towel. You can then roast the pumpkin seeds with a olive oil and salt in the oven at 250 degrees F for 45 minutes. Add seeds to salads, granola, smoothies or yogurt!

Bake the Flesh

So many people discard pumpkins once Halloween is over without realizing what they’re missing. Skip the canned stuff and make your own pumpkin purée in a few easy steps.

The flesh of a pumpkin provides a good serving of beta-carotene which your body converts to vitamin A.  Use the pumpkin purée in many food recipes including pies, breads, muffins and soups.

Blend it Up

Pumpkin spice everything! Use that purée as an ingredient in fall flavored smoothies.  Follow this easy recipe for a drink packed with vitamin A, potassium and fiber.

Ingredients
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large ripe banana
  • 1-1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 5 ice cubes
  • 1 cup unsweetened soymilk or coconut milk beverage
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Directions

Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Top with a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg. Makes 2 servings.

Make a Mask

Since pumpkins are packed with zinc, antioxidants and vitamins, they help in protecting skin from wrinkles and age spots. They also gently exfoliate, giving a more radiant complexion. Follow these steps for an easy DIY mask:

  • Make your base: Whisk together about 1/4 cup of pumpkin purée and one whole egg. The yolk adds nourishment while the white provides a subtle tightening effect to sagging skin.
  • Dry skin additive: Add a few teaspoons of honey, which not only seals in moisture but prevents breakouts thanks to its antibacterial properties.
  • Oily skin additive: For an astringent effect, mix in a splash of apple cider or cranberry juice.
  • Apply: Smooth the pumpkin-y potion over your face, relax for 15 to 20 minutes, and rinse to reveal a brighter, firmer, smoother complexion.

Pumpkins do so much more than foster the spirit of Halloween; they foster good health as well. Looking for more waste-free Halloween ideas?  Check out our Pinterest board full of our favorite spooky treats and decor.