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How To Transition To A Sustainable Wardrobe Woman sorts through jeans and shirts to decide which garments to keep in her new closet

How To Transition To A Sustainable Wardrobe

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Introduction

Last week we discussed how the fast fashion industry is harming both people and the planet as well as the definitions and importance of ethical fashion, sustainable fashion and slow fashion. If you haven’t read that post yet, click here! Today you’ll learn how to transition your current closet to a sustainable wardrobe built on both secondhand and responsibly made garments.

Start With Your Current Wardrobe

Throwing out and starting over is the antithesis of zero waste. You can still work with what you have and build, replace, and swap over time.

Going Through Your Closet

Before you can make any plans for the future, you have to figure out exactly what you own. You may think you know, but I’ve surprised myself many times by actually looking through my dresser and closet and finding items I totally forgot I owned.

Try to answer these questions:

  • What do I actually wear on a regular basis?
  • What actually still fits me?
  • Which items have I never worn?
  • Which items do I need for special occasions? (Cocktail dress, heels, suit and tie, etc.)
  • Do I have duplicates of this item? (Meaning if you have three green t-shirts, you probably only need one.)
  • Which items are showing too much wear? (Stretched out, holes, etc.)
  • How many of each type of item do I need? (How many shirts, pants, socks, etc. could you comfortably live with?)

Answering these questions will help you split up your items into a few different piles:

  • Keep
  • Repair
  • Return
  • Get Rid Of

Put the Keep pile back into your closet or dresser. Repair garments yourself or find someone to do it for you (a tailor, a friend, Craigslist, etc.). Return items you have never worn and don’t plan to wear if possible.

Getting Rid Of Clothing

There are many ways to get rid of unwanted clothing, and you likely won’t have to throw any of it into the trash.

Unwearable Garments

If an item is too stained to wear or beyond repair, can it be used as a cleaning rag? Fabrics like cotton, linen, or other natural fibers make good cleaning rags. Cut the garment into squares and hem around the edges. Old socks are great because they work like mittens. They don’t need to look pretty; they’re for cleaning messes!

For fabrics that won’t do well, you can recycle them! Goodwill stores will take stained or worn out clothing and other fabric items for recycling. Click here to find you nearest Goodwill location.

Some brands like Patagonia (Patagonia only) and H&M (any brand) will take back clothing items for recycling or resale as well based on quality.

Friends And Family

For items that you just don’t need anymore, check if friends or family want them first. Host a clothing swap and encourage others to bring their unwanted items for exchange. Give hand-me-downs to siblings if you’ve outgrown items. By directly going providing clothing to its next owner, you save on the resources used in selling it yourself or donating to charity or a thrift shop.

Selling And Consigning

Reselling clothing secondhand has never been easier. There’s loads of websites/apps where posting a listing is as easy as snapping a picture. Here’s a quick list:

You can also always stop by a local consignment shop and consign there. This supports local businesses and reduces transportation emissions.

Donating

Lastly you can donate clothing to charities or thrift shops, but I do have to give you a warning about donating.

Charities that donate clothing to underdeveloped nations have caused some unforeseen problems. Kenya used to have a thriving garment industry while imported donated clothing was distributed for free. In the 1980s, thing changed.

Donated clothing began to be sold for cheap to undercut new garment prices, and the garment industry workforce has since declined by over 96%. In addition, when organizations send these garments overseas, they wrap them in giant plastic bundles like this.

I’m sure you’ve seen those big yellow bins in parking lots for Planet Aid, but this organization has been linked to the cult-like organization called the Teachers Group and little to none of your donations ever go to helping others. Instead, an investigation found donations get sold for personal use by members of the organization. Employees are forced to give up personal rights, salary, and all of their time to the will of the Teachers Group.

Wait It Out

As a final tip for paring down your wardrobe, if you’re hesitant to give things away, try this. Set aside your get rid of pile in a box or bag for a few weeks or a month. If you miss something, pull it out and keep it. Many times you’ll realize you never gave that bag a second thought, and it will be easier to let go.

Start Building A Sustainable Wardrobe

Let’s start transitioning that wardrobe into sustainable wardrobe. Sustainability and minimalism go hand and hand, especially when it comes to how much we own. I have a bunch of tips for prevent your closet from ballooning back to its original size as well as how to properly shop for replacement items.

Minimalist Wardrobe

Now that you’ve reduce the amount of items in your closet, how do you keep it that way? Many people love shopping and use retail therapy to deal with stress. It can be hard to quick those habits, but here are some tips.

Stop Impulse Buys

First, figure out what is causing you to shop or seek retail therapy. Is it stress, anxiety, or all those flashy sales emails? Work to combat emotional triggers (check out these tips on reducing stress and anxiety) and unsubscribe from email and mailing lists.

This tip can work for physical stores, but I think it works better online. Wait to make a purchase. After finding something you like, go home and spend a couple days thinking about if you actually want or need it. You can leave the wallet at home to remove temptation so all you can do is window shop.

When shopping online, go ahead and add items to your cart, but wait to check out. Don’t buy them right away. Let the cart sit for a few days before coming back and making a decision. (Bonus: some sites will send you a coupon code if you leave items in sitting in a cart!)

One In/One Out Rule

I like this tip because it not only prevents stocking back up on loads of clothing, but it also makes you think about both what you currently own and what you want to buy. The one in/one out rule means for every item you purchase, you must get rid of one. For example, if you want to buy a new shirt, be prepared to give up one you own (using the methods above to reduce waste of course).

This rule will prevent a lot of purchases because you are forced to take inventory of your current wardrobe. It will help limit you to purchases you actually need instead of just buying something new to buy something new.

You can also follow this rule in reverse. Once an item kicks the bucket, go out and find an ethical and sustainable replacement for it. This mirrors other aspects of transitioning to a zero waste lifestyle in which you get as much use out of what you own and slowly replace things over time with better options.

Capsule Wardrobes

One day I really hope to have a capsule wardrobe. Capsule wardrobes are highly limited wardrobes usually based on the season which contain a small number of versatile garments that can be used to create many different outfits.

Many capsule wardrobes consist of neutral tones because they are easier to match with everything, but in my opinion that’s kind of boring. Feel free to create a sustainable wardrobe around a specific palette of colors (like warm autumn shades) or use a single color as an accent found in multiple garments.

Wardrobes range widely in size, but based on guide online, 30-40 items seems to be average (although some wardrobes don’t include underwear, socks, and the like in that total). Check out this post by Candace from Just Posted to see how 28 items can create 60 different outfits.

Secondhand Sustainable Wardrobe

Shopping secondhand is the easier (and cheapest!) way to create a sustainable wardrobe. Some people are really turned off by “used” clothing, but there is absolutely no reason to be. Buying secondhand is great for our environment, and I think shopping in a thrift store is a better experience than a “normal” clothing store.

When secondhand shopping, keep in mind the quality of the items although the store is pretty good about only putting up things in good shape. Check for stains, holes, or other damage that may compromise an item. Also try to limit the amount of synthetic fabrics in your items to prevent shedding of microplastics in the wash.

Thrifting

Pretty much all the clothing I’ve bought in the past two years has been secondhand (the other portion is responsibly made). Being able to pop into the shop and find something new is great because you don’t need to worry about doing all that research into clothing brands.

In fact, I wrote an entire post on why everyone should be thrifting. Not only will you find a wider variety of clothing, but it’s already proved its worth so if there’s quality or fit issues, you’ll already know. Read the post for more reasons to thrift shop.

When buying secondhand clothing online through sites like Poshmark, you can see where the buyer is located to source clothing closest to you. This cuts down on transportation emissions (and you’ll get your items faster).

Clothing Swaps

In addition to buying clothing secondhand, you can be on the receiving end of someone else’s wardrobe transition. Accept items from others, and pick up a few new things from that clothing swap we talked about.

Clothing swaps fill in the desire for new things without needing to buy anything. You can keep your sustainable wardrobe looking fresh by swapping out just a few items every now and again. Swaps are also great for getting others involved in sustainability and they save items from going to waste.

New Sustainable Wardrobe

When you want to buy something new, make sure it’s not fast fashion. I discussed the problems with fast fashion in last week’s post as well as the alternatives: ethical fashion, sustainable fashion, and slow fashion. You can read the post here!

Here’s the aggregated list of good brands from that post:

When buying new items, I keep in mind a handful of requirements and questions. These are just what I follow. You can choose whatever you desire.

Requirements

  • Garments should be made from natural fibers (cotton, linen, lyocell, hemp, bamboo, leather, wool, alpaca, etc.) or recycled fibers (recycled polyester or recycled nylon).
  • They should be built to last multiple years, fit well, and feel comfortable.
  • They should avoid being part of a trend so they won’t go out of style.

Questions To Answer

  • What are the ethics of this brand? Are employees paid well and treated fairly?
  • Where are their factories located?
  • How transparent are they about their practices?
  • What is their commitment to sustainability? What programs do they run/participate in?
  • Do they give back to the community?

I do my research before making new purchases so I know I am buying from brands that are ethical and sustainable and so I can be proud to support their efforts.

Caring For Your Sustainable Wardrobe

Transitioning to slow and sustainable fashion doesn’t stop at what’s in the closet. You have to take care of those items to make them last as long as possible. By stretching the lifespans of items, you reduce how often you buy and how much you buy as well as saving on resources for new items.

Laundering

Washing and drying our clothing uses lots of water and electricity or gas. It also puts wear on our items by tumbling them around and scrubbing them against other garments.

Wash Less

Mom may have told you to make sure you wear new clean clothes every day, but in reality our clothes don’t usually dirty after a few hours of use. You can wear garments a few times before tossing them into the laundry bin, especially jeans and sweatshirts.

Here’s two different charts for reference (Chart 1 and Chart 2), but you can adjust based on your needs/wants. I wash my work jeans once a week and wear t-shirts a couple days before washing (I really only wear t-shirts at home and as pajamas).

Washing And Drying

When you do need to clean your clothing, take care to do it properly and conserve resources. Wash laundry only when you have a full load. Many washing machines also have a knob to adjust the size of the load so it knows how much water it needs to use.

Most items will clean just find in cold or warm water instead of hot so you can reduce energy use. You can also opt out of the dryer altogether and line dry your laundry. Here is a similar drying rack to what I have, and you can also string up a clothes line and use clothespins.

Be sure to read the tags to ensure you are properly washing items. Some garments should be hung up to dry or laid flat instead of going into the dryer. Others require a delicate wash cycle or handwashing. Be sure you know if and how items can be ironed. Here is a guide to reading all those laundry symbols so you can be a laundry pro.

Washing And Drying Aids

Now what do you use to clean your clothes? I’m talking about detergents, softeners, and dryer sheets. Liquid detergents are mostly water and come in plastic bottles. Better options are homemade detergent (click here for a recipe), detergent bought in from a bulk refill station, soap nuts, or powder detergent that comes in a cardboard box.

Softeners and scent boosters aren’t really necessary at all. I have never used these and see them as wasteful. If you want a scent boost, try this lavender dryer bag that also eliminates static. A more natural alternative to single use dryer sheets are wool dryer balls. They can be used for hundreds of washes!

To remove stains, try a stain stick or natural remedies. P.S. The sun is a good stain remover!

If you still wear synthetic clothing that can release microplastics in the wash, check out the Guppyfriend bag or the Coraball which will capture the tiny bits of plastic and prevent them from entering our waterways. You can read about the dangers of plastics in our oceans here.

Repair Your Wardrobe

Repair is the Xth R in Bea Johnson’s list of R’s for a zero waste life. We touched on it in the beginning, but repairing your clothes is a great way to extend the life of your garments. I’ve collected a few different ways you can mend you garments so you can choose the look you want.

Invisible Mending

This is the most common way to mend clothing: making it look like it was never mended. Invisible mending will match thread color and stitching will be hidden inside. Here are some tutorials:

Here are some photos of work I’ve done. I didn’t take before photos on most things, but I did get one of the jacket and a pair of jeans (see Patching And Other Repairs section for that after photo).

Visible Mending

I absolutely LOVE visible mending because your sustainable wardrobe becomes a talking piece. People will notice your repairs and ask about them. Now you have the opportunity to talk about why you choose to fix your clothing instead of tossing it out and buying new. You also get to modify your garments to be truly unique and match your style. Check out these tutorials:

Here are some photos of work I’ve done. The heart was sewn in the side seam of a pair of jeans at upper thigh level, and I just decided to use bright pink thread to sew up a small hole in my gloves.

Patching and Other Repairs

Sewing on patching can either be decently invisible or very visible, and it’s the easiest way to fix holes. All you have to do is cut a piece of fabric to size and stitch it on or you can buy easy iron-on patches.

I’ve also added some links to other sewing tutorials for things like buttons and zippers.

Here’s a comparison of a patch I did for my husband and one I did for myself. I went for a more invisible approach for my husband’s jeans, but still gave it a bit of flair. For my own patch, I wanted it to stand out a bit.

Conclusion

I know this was a lot of information, but this isn’t an overnight process. Transitioning to a sustainable wardrobe will take time, and I hope this guide will make it easier for you. Got any tips or want to suggest another clothing brand? Add it in the comments!

How To Transition To A Sustainable Wardrobe Woman sorts through jeans and shirts to decide which garments to keep in her new closet
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What Are Ethical, Sustainable, And Slow Fashion? Hanging rack of minimalistic white, brown, and grey shirts from a slow fashion wardrobe

What Are Ethical, Sustainable, And Slow Fashion?

Introduction

You may have heard the terms “ethical fashion”, “sustainable fashion”, and “slow fashion” online or from a friend, but do you know what they really mean? In this post, I’ll define each term (because they don’t all mean the same thing) and discuss their importance in our lives.

Next week, I’ll be posting a How To guide on transitioning your wardrobe to include more of these pieces instead of cheap and trendy fast fashion garments. (EDIT: Read that post here!)

What Is Fast Fashion?

You’ve probably heard this term a lot more than its antithesis, slow fashion. Before we discuss the good approaches to fashion, we need to look at how a large part of the industry is producing goods.

Fast fashion started near the turn of the century and is all about creating lots and lots of trendy pieces that aren’t meant to last much more than a single season. They are low quality and sold at ridiculously cheap prices. The goal is to feed our desire for what’s new by constantly changing what’s on store racks and enticing customers with rock bottom prices you can hardly resist.

Fast fashion has coincided with brands sourcing work from less developed countries to reduce labor and production costs. These miniscule costs (compared to domestic factories with higher standards and requirements) allow brands to achieve prices like $5 t-shirts and $8 summer dresses.

Fast Fashion Brands

Most mainstream clothing brands could be counted as fast fashion. Here’s a quick list of some popular brands:

  • H&M
  • Zara
  • GAP
  • Forever 21
  • Primark
  • Victoria’s Secret
  • Uniqlo
  • Urban Outfitters
  • Rue 21
  • Charlotte Russe
  • PacSun
  • Wet Seal

Due to the pressure from consumer who want brands to be more accountable, some of these brands have raced to start sustainable clothing lines and increase transparency about their practices.

Fast Fashion Materials

Most fast fashion garments are made of cotton. Although cotton is a natural fiber, it is a very thirsty plant. It can take 20,000 liters of water to produce a single kilogram of cotton. While obviously not always the case, some cotton growers use child labor, but don’t think cotton is the only culprit!

Other garments are made of synthetic, manmade fibers like nylon and polyester. These materials are plastics. Yes, plastics. Fast fashion relies on fossil fuels, and not just to power the factories. For polyester alone, a whopping 70 million barrels of oil are consumed each year.

When washed, they release small fibers called microplastics into the water. Small organisms eat the microplastics released into our waterways and then are eaten by larger animals up the food chain until a larger concentration of plastic is in our salmon dinner.

Although viscose/rayon is a natural fiber, its production processes are energy and chemical intensive and cause harm to both workers and the environment.

Fast Fashion Ethics

Due to the high volume of demand, brands need lots and lots of garments produced quickly and cheaply. Read the labels on items in your closet, and you’ll find a lot of India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and China. The labor is cheap, which means the saving get passed onto the customer. But at what cost?

Although the cost of living is lower in these countries, garment workers are living in poverty, their hours are long, they are usually not paid for required overtime, they work in dangerous conditions, and are sometimes verbally or physically harassed/assaulted.

As mentioned, child labor is a huge problem in the fashion industry. Children work at all levels of production, from growing cotton to sewing garments. They are oftentimes taken away from family, denied an education in addition to a childhood, and work extreme hours in horrid conditions.

Unsafe Factories

This post comes on the anniversary of a tragedy. Seven years ago today (April 24, 2013), a building housing multiple garment factories called Rana Plaza collapsed in Bangladesh. On April 23, the building was evacuated due to cracks in the walls. The owner then reportedly said the building was safe and threatened to withhold pay from workers who did not show up the next day. That day, the building collapsed, killing 1,134 people and injuring over 2,500.

Collapses aren’t the only problem. Factory fires have also killed hundreds. Also in 2013, a factory fire killed 112 workers, and there were reports that the exit doors were locked and trapped workers inside.

The True Cost

I made the decision to stop buying fast fashion after watching a documentary called The True Cost. This documentary goes inside garment factories to expose the ethical violations and environmental impacts of fast fashion. You can check out this doc and others on my List of Must Watch Eco-Documentaries!

Fast Fashion Production

As if the ethics weren’t bad enough, fast fashion production methods aren’t great for the environment either. The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world.

From Farm to Factory and Beyond

Textile production uses a lot of water (see the Materials section above). Dying fabric takes a 200:1 ratio of freshwater to weight of clothing dyed. Untreated wastewater from factories oftentimes gets dumped into waterways, which harm plants, animals, and humans who live in the area. Fertilizers and pesticides run off into waterways as well, with similar problematic effects.

Speaking of fertilizers and pesticides, heavy use of these chemicals degrade the soil on cotton farms. Dyes, bleach, and other chemicals used in production are toxic to both workers and the environment.

During production, a full 15% of the total fabric gets left on the factory floor. This fabric will be thrown out as a complete waste of the resources that went into making it. Once in the landfill, it can take 200 years for a garment to decompose. Remember, plastics only degrade into smaller bits of plastic. They never truly go back into the environment.

From Factory to Customer and Beyond

While most of the world’s clothing is made in Asia, most of the consumers are in North America and Europe. Garments have to travel thousands of miles to get to stores, which results in a lot of carbon emissions.

Fast fashion encourages over-buying, throwing out wearable items, and frequent shopping trips. Over-buying results in a false higher demand so companies will continue making more and more items. Throwing out clothing fills up our landfills. Textiles make up 5% of landfill volume and the figure is growing. More trips to the stores means more emissions into the atmosphere.

At the end of their short lives, garments are usually tossed into the trash. Since the quality of the garments is low, it’s less likely the item could be donated or sold secondhand. While 95% of textiles could be recycled, only 15% are recycled or donated.

What is Ethical Fashion?

Ethical fashion is exactly what is sounds like: fashion created in an ethical manner where workers are treated properly by employers. Workers are paid a fair wage, provided safe working conditions, and are not worked to death.

Example Code of Conduct

Ethical fashion brand Reformation holds all its suppliers to a strict Code of Conduct. This Code of Conduct ranges from disallowing child or slave labor to limits on overtime to health and safety requirements. Reformation also requires third party audits of all of its factories to ensure a good working environment.

Ethical Fashion Brands

Because of the problems uncovered in the fast fashion industry, many ethical brands have emerged to give consumers peace of mind when shopping.

Check out these ethical fashion brands:

What Is Sustainable Fashion?

Sustainable fashion uses natural fibers grown responsibly and low impact production methods to create built-to-last garments. Workers do not have to handle toxic chemicals to produce and dye textiles.

Waste products are dealt with responsibly (no poisonous wastewater and massive heaps destined for landfill). Oftentimes, garments are produced closer to where they will be sold, such as brands with factories in America.

Sustainable fashion also includes secondhand garments because they extend the life of an item and cost no additional resources compared to buying new. If you aren’t convinced secondhand shopping is for you, I suggest reading my 8 Reasons To Thrift Shop to change your mind!

Sustainable Fashion Materials

Cotton

Organic cotton is a popular choice for sustainable fashion garments. These plants are grown from non-GMO seeds, and fertilizers and pesticides are not used. However, because organic cotton uses even more water than conventional cotton, it is not necessarily the most sustainable choice.

Linen

Linen comes from the flax plant. This plant not only absorbs lots of carbon from the environment, but it also can grow in poor soil unsuitable for food crops. Linen uses 60% less water than cotton, and even non-organic linen uses less added chemicals than cotton.

Lyocell

Lyocell comes from eucalyptus (and at times other trees) and is a form of rayon. The textile is made of the wood pulp from trees that require neither irrigation nor pesticides to grow. It also goes by the brand name Tencel. I have a sweatshirt that it made of lyocell, and it is super soft. Hard to believe it came from trees!

Bamboo

Bamboo grows super fast, and the plants help restore soil quality and prevent erosion. While the usual process of making bamboo into a textile is chemical-intensive (not great), the brand Monocel uses a closed loop process that recycles water and less harmful chemicals.

Hemp

Like bamboo, hemp is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. It requires less resources than other plants (50% the water cotton needs) and does not degrade soil as fast as other plants do. The only problem is hemp growing is highly restricted because the plant is in the cannabis family (although has none of the effects).

Alpaca

Alpaca comes from the animal of the same name. Alpacas produce much more hair much more quickly than goats or sheep and are low maintenance animals. Manufacturing alpaca textiles does not require harsh chemicals either.

Recycled Materials

What about recycled textiles? Although it is a plastic, recycled polyester is a good option because it uses 70% less energy than new polyester and cuts the CO2 emissions in half. It is made from PET (the same plastic as water bottles) and diverts waste from landfills. Recycled nylon is also a plastic but reduces carbon emissions by 18% over new nylon.

There’s also recycled natural fibers. Recycled wool and cotton also divert waste and save on the large amounts of resources to create new wool (taking care of sheep) and new cotton (all that water we’ve talked about).

With the exception of recycled polyester and recycled nylon, all of these textiles are 100% biodegradable.

Sustainable Fashion Brands

Eco-fashion has grown in popularity as more and more consumers are concerned about climate change and the health of our planet.

Here are some of the best sustainable fashion brands.

What Is Slow Fashion?

On the opposite end of fast fashion is slow fashion. The term “slow fashion” was coined by Kate Fletcher from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion as an echo of the emerging slow food movement.

Slow fashion garments are high quality and built to last by incorporating high quality materials and expert craftsmanship. Instead of a new collection of clothes released every month or even more frequently than that, slow fashion brands release only a small handful of collections per year.

It shuns the consumerism and impulse buying that come with fast fashion, and encourages buying less and only when you need to. In addition, many slow fashion brands look for sustainable materials and methods as well as have high ethical standards.

Beyond Buying

Slow fashion isn’t just about the garments you buy. It’s also about how you take care of them.

Increase the longevity of your clothing by following the care instructions on the tag. Reduce how often you wash your items so they won’t stretch, shrink, or fade as quickly. Mend your clothing in the places it does wear out. You can learn yourself or hire someone to do it for you.

I’ll get into more details about clothing care in next week’s post about creating a responsible wardrobe so be sure to check it out.

Slow Fashion Brands

Like with ethical and sustainable fashion, slow fashion brands will charge a higher price, but it is well worth it for a garment that lasts. If pricing “per wear”, it really isn’t all that expensive.

Here are some great slow fashion brands:

Why Are Ethical Fashion, Sustainable Fashion, and Slow Fashion Important?

While on their own, each approach to fashion can make you feel good about your purchases, together they create a wardrobe you can feel great about. Many brands already combine all three. I had a hard time deciding which category the example brands fell into because of that!

You will know neither workers nor the environment are paying the price for that “steal” you found at the mall last weekend. You also know that garment is built to last for years instead of weeks.

By choosing transparent brands or secondhand markets over fast fashion, you’re voting with your wallet. You’re voicing your distaste for the practices of fast fashion brands and reducing their profits. In addition, you’re encouraging and supporting smaller brands to keep doing what they’re doing (since many ethical or sustainable brands aren’t huge multinational companies found in every city).

Conclusion

The impacts of the fashion industry are widespread around the globe and harm uncountable lives and our planet’s future. So what can you do about it? How can you transition your current wardrobe so that it focuses on ethical, sustainable, and slow fashion?

Stay tuned for my post next week on that very subject! (EDIT: Read that post now!)

What Are Ethical, Sustainable, And Slow Fashion? Hanging rack of minimalistic white, brown, and grey shirts from a slow fashion wardrobe
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Earth Day Won't Save Our Planet A wire tray of green and blue Earth Day cookies with little red hearts

Earth Day Won’t Save Our Planet

Introduction

Tomorrow is a very special Earth Day. It’s the 50th anniversary of the holiday since it began in 1970 in the United States. Every year since, April 22nd has been a national then international holiday to raise awareness about our deteriorating environment and encourage citizens to protect it.

History of Earth Day

Earth Day was founded by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson who, spurred by a 1969 oil spill in California, sought to bring environmental protection to the national stage through a “national teach-in on the environment“. His target audience was college students, many of whom were participants of anti-war protests. Because of this, he chose April 22nd for the date so it landed between Spring Break and final exams.

The nation was already growing more and more in favor of environmental protection thanks to Rachel Carson’s powerful book Silent Spring which was published in 1962. Silent Spring argued that pesticides were harmful to non-target animals and the environment, that the manufacturers made false claims of safety, and that the government readily accepted those claims without scrutiny.

On April 22, 1970, a whopping ten percent of the country’s population took part in protests from coast to coast. Earth Day had brought together people from different political and socio-economic backgrounds for a singular cause. By the end of that year, Congress passed the Clean Air Act and the government established the Environmental Protection Agency.

Twenty years later, Earth Day went global. Over 200 million people from 141 countries participated in their own calls for environmental protection. For Earth Day 2000, 184 countries were participating. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and over 190 countries around the globe will be celebrating.

Earth Day Won’t Save Our Planet

While Earth Day started a global movement that pushed environmental issues to the forefront of politics, one day a year is not enough. Earth Day is often celebrated through litter cleanups, planting trees, and protests. These are well and good, but in my opinion, it has led to a superficiality and blinds us to the harsh reality of our situation.

One day of action will not remedy a year’s worth of environmental damage. A single action will not make a habit that sticks. By creating an event rather than a lifestyle movement, Earth Day has become contorted by corporations to make an extra buck. “Going green” for a day convinces ourselves we are better stewards of the planet than we are.

Our planet will not survive if we only fight hard to save it one day of the year. We must do more and do it consistently!

My Realization

The idea that Earth Day is not enough came to me two years ago when I had been planning on signing up for a volunteer event. Two days after Earth Day, I realized not only had I not signed up, but I didn’t do anything special for Earth Day at all. At first I shrugged and thought, “There’s always next year…” But then I realized what a bad thought that was.

If we treat Earth Day like the one day a year to care about the environment, we’ll only have another decade before we see the disastrous effects of climate change. This prediction is based on the IPCC’s 2018 report providing a 12 year deadline for unprecedented changes to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

I started thinking to myself, why does April 22nd have to be the one day a year I specifically do something impactful? What about the other 364 days in the year? My activism should not be dependent on the calendar, nor should it be limited in frequency.

I then had “the litter realization.” I had planned on signing up for a litter cleanup. But does that cleanup mean all that much if the litter gets replaced within a week or two? We’re working from the wrong end of the problem. We need to work on preventing environmental impacts instead of just focusing on cleaning up the mess.

Greenwashing

You may have heard about greenwashing when it comes to products in the store. The terms “eco-friendly” and green packaging convince us the product inside is good for our environment. This is not necessarily the case though because there is no regulation on words like “eco-friendly” or “green” ensuring a product is a good as it’s presented.

But today I’m talking about greenwashing companies and even ourselves.

Corporate Greenwashing Examples

Companies have turned Earth Day into a sales event and advertising campaign to sell more products that may not even be good for the environment. Here’s a brief list of examples I discovered.

Coca-Cola Case Study

Clearly companies are exploiting an environmentalist cause for their own profits. For example, Coca-Cola donated syrup drums for use as rain barrels for Earth Day in 2012. This post references a Dasani ad campaign pushing bottled water sales to celebrate Earth Day.

While this is great, it blocks out the fact that Coca-Cola is the world’s biggest plastic polluter.

For the sake of journalism, I will note that Coca-Cola has started the World Without Waste initiative promising to make 100% recyclable packaging by 2025 and use at least 50% recycled materials in packaging by 2030. They also plan to recycle one bottle or can for every one they sell by 2030.

Coca-Cola is pushing PET bottle-to-bottle recycling as a “circular solution” to the plastic problem. This is good, but recycling is not the answer. According to this Huffington Post article, virgin (new) plastics are often infused with the recycled plastics to increase durability. Even so, the plastic will eventually degrade so much that it is no longer recyclable. This is not a “circular solution.”

Despite these sustainability initiatives, this article published just last week shows Coca-Cola is still the largest plastic polluter. By far.

Greenwashing Ourselves

Companies aren’t the only ones to blame for using Earth Day as a pat on the back. Some of us may celebrate the day and do some good things, but the day after is business as usual. One day isn’t enough to make a real change. It takes weeks to form a habit that sticks. We can’t rely on a single day or a single action to change our lifestyles permanently.

In addition to this, our green actions can make us forget that so many people just plain do not care. There are still climate change deniers, profiteers, and uninformed or misinformed people all around us. Tomorrow will be just another Wednesday for them. For us, the holiday is important, but we can’t pretend like everyone is as eco-conscious as we are.

Every Day Must Be Earth Day

We need to treat every day as Earth Day. Caring for the environment must become second nature to us, all of us, for our planet to survive. Educate yourself and others, set goals to create habits, and make it a point to do something sustainable every day.

It doesn’t need to be something big. For example, have a PB&J instead of a ham sandwich for lunch. Look for clothing secondhand first. Sort through your recycling. Pick up a piece of litter on your walk.

The most important thing we can do is spread the word. Join an environmentalist group. Attend a climate strike. Write your politicians. Educate your friends and family about climate change and the low impact movement.

Due to the circumstances, celebrate Earth Day 2020 virtually with Earth Day Network’s 24 Hours of Action. There are digital events planned around the globe.

Conclusion

The point is one single Earth Day isn’t enough. It is an important step, but it cannot be treated as a solution or a pat on the back or a sales event. We cannot set aside just one day of the year as “the day I do something good for the planet.” We must change our lifestyles, make our voices be heard every day of the year, and hold companies accountable by not taking their sustainability plans at face value.

Check out my post on What More Can You Do For Our Future? or the resources below for more information on getting involved.

Resources

Environmentalist Groups

Who Are My Elected Officials?

Earth Day Won't Save Our Planet A wire tray of green and blue Earth Day cookies with little red hearts
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How To Go Green In Quarantine Little girl in butterfly cape is stuck inside waiting for quarantine to end

How To Go Green In Quarantine

Introduction

Earth Day is next week, but coronavirus has really put a damper on the holiday (despite doing great things for air pollution!). Park cleanups and other events have been cancelled, and social gathering restrictions mean we can’t protest for climate action. So how can you go green in quarantine?

I’ve come up with 35 different things you can do lower your footprint while stuck inside and dealing with the pandemic. Most of these tips are useful no matter what’s going on in the world, but I do have a short section on coronavirus-specific tips. Let’s get started!

Utilities

The first handful of tips to go green in quarantine are about utility usage, specifically water and electricity. You may have become more aware of your water and electricity use now that you are home all day instead of going to work. So let’s look at how you can reduce it.

1. Shower Less

One of the perks of staying home is there’s less of a reason to shower. Switching to every other day or even every third or fourth day will greatly reduce your water usage. If you still want to shower frequently or if you want to take it a step further, take shorter showers to reduce water use.

2. Shave Less

Another perk of the quarantine is not needing to shave as often. For men still working from home, perhaps this doesn’t apply as much, but for women, it can easily save water. While I support women not shaving and rarely shave except my armpits, I understand other women may enjoy a clean shave. Since you’re at home, no one’s going to see your legs though.

When you do choose to shave, conserve water. I have stopping shaving in the shower so water doesn’t just pour down the drain while I’m focusing on my legs. Instead I shave right afterwards and wet/rinse my legs by dumping cups of water on them.

3. Flush Less

A single flush on an average toilet uses 1.6 gallons. Assuming you live alone or with people who’ve agreed, flushing every two or three pees will save gallons of water per day. There’s the motto: When it’s yellow, let it mellow. When it’s brown, flush it down.

4. Install A Bidet

With the dumb toilet paper hoarding has come a rise in bidet use, which is an awesome way to go green in quarantine! We don’t have one because my husband doesn’t want to mess with the plumbing in our apartment, but we will get one when we buy a home.

Bidets cut down on toilet paper use, and in doing so, they reduce water use. How might this be if bidets use water? A single roll of toilet paper requires 37 gallons of water to manufacture. With Americans using a roll a week, that’s a whole lot of water that could be saved by using a fraction of a gallon per bathroom break with a bidet.

5. Full Laundry Loads

To get the most use of the water you use to wash clothes, make sure you’re waiting until you have a full load. Since many people are now at home, you won’t be dirtying clothes as fast and won’t need fresh work clothing each day. Despite this, wait until you have a full basket before heading down to the washing machine.

6. Use Natural Lighting

While we can’t go outside too much, don’t close yourself off from the outside world. Open up your blinds or curtains during the day to let in the natural light. Not only will it save on lighting costs, but you’ll feel happier than sitting under a lamp, have a bit of a view, and stay in sync with the day (so you’re sleeping/awake cycle doesn’t get too far out of whack).

7. Use Cooler Water

In all of your water using activities, keep the water a bit colder. This means a cooler shower (doesn’t need to be a cold shower, just nudge the handle down a bit), running a cold wash for laundry, and using cooler water for washing dishes. If you own a home, you can also adjust your water heater’s max temperature to automatically have cooler water (even if it’s just a few degrees).

8. Turn Off Appliances And Electronics

Many electronics suck energy even when we aren’t using them. By unplugging them or turning off the power strip they are connected to, you save energy that was literally being wasted on absolutely nothing. For example, we keep our microwave unplugged except for the few minutes a day when we’re using it.

9. Reduce Electronics Use Overall

An even better way to reduce energy use from electronics is to not use them in the first place. Cut down on your social media surfing or Netflix binge watching sessions. Use that natural lights. Get into the habit of not using electronics in the hour before bedtime (this tip also allows for a higher production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, so you can fall asleep easier).

Shopping

Our shopping experience has changed a lot since before coronavirus; however, there are still plenty of ways to shop green in quarantine. A few of these tips will also help reduce your need to shop, therefore reducing your exposure to the public.

1. Reduce Number Of Purchases

First and foremost, reduce how much you’re buying. Luckily, the virus has kind of wiped out physical retail therapy, but there’s still the online market. Reduce the strain on Amazon employees and don’t be buying unnecessary items right now. Beyond that, be a good person and don’t hoard groceries, especially perishables which will likely end up in the trash before you have a chance to eat them.

2. Support Local Businesses

When you do shop, keep it local as much as possible. The owners and employees are your neighbors, and they really need your help during this time. If there’s a smaller grocery store or restaurant, try them first before going to the big name chains. Local businesses are way more likely to be led by people just trying to make a living and even give back to the community rather than by people putting profits above all else.

3. Support Zero Waste Online Shops

When shopping online, you should still try to support smaller businesses. I posted a list of 15 zero waste online shops that are still open during the pandemic (some on my original list had temporarily closed). Go green in quarantine by making your next purchases responsible ones, plastic free ones, and sustainable ones.

4. Put A Note On Your Amazon Account

If you do make purchases through Amazon, send their customer service an email requesting a note be made on your account asking to reduce packaging waste. All you need to do is email cs-reply@amazon.com from the email your Amazon account is linked to and request they add this note to your account:

“I have an Amazon account under name@email.com. I would like to put a note on my account letting packers know I would prefer as little packaging as possible, especially plastic air pillows and bubble wrap. Thanks!”

5. Plan Grocery List To Reduce Trips

The last time my husband went grocery shopping, he stood in line for almost an hour before even being allowed inside. Don’t waste your time like that, so plan ahead. Create a full list of everything you’ll need for the next week or even two weeks so you won’t have to head back later because you missed something. When the store is out of an item, improvise and substitute instead of resigning yourself to the line of people standing six feet apart.

6. Shop Your Cabinets And Fridge First

This tip goes hand and hand with the grocery list. What ingredients do you have right now? Try planning a meal around them instead of having to buy a complete recipe. Check dates and use up items close to expiring, but remember: use by/best by dates are not safety dates and do not necessarily mean the product is bad to eat (EXCEPT baby formula, follow the dates for baby formula).

Food

Now that you’re back from the grocery store, let’s look at how to go green in quarantine with our diets.

1. Eat Less Animal Products

The best way to reduce your carbon footprint is to cut out animal products (meat, dairy, cheese, etc.). While you may not be inclined to go full vegan or even vegetarian, try incorporating meatless meals into your diet. Head over to my Pinterest board for a ton of recipes and advice for eating a plant-based diet.

2. Eat Leftovers To Reduce Food Waste

Food waste has always been a toughy for me. Make sure that a) you are keeping leftovers, even if it’s a small portion and b) you eat those leftovers before they become a carpet of mold. Keep leftovers in clear containers so you see what’s inside. Keep leftover containers toward the front of the fridge so they don’t get lost. Add a “leftover day” (or two) to your meal plan to ensure you eat them.

3. Meal Prep

Meal prepping is great for saving time on making lunches for work. But now that you’re at home, should you bother? Absolutely! By cooking a large amount at the beginning of the week instead of 7 separate times, you save on energy costs from cooking. Economies of scale exist in cooking so making a lot at once will use less energy than making the same amount over multiple days.

4. Drink Tap Water

Don’t buy bottled water. Period. Bottled water companies are just plastic bottle companies. Your tap water is safe to drink. If you are super concerned, get a water filter, but don’t keep buying single use plastic bottles.

Cleaning and Chores

Spring cleaning has taken a new meaning during the pandemic and become super important for our health.

1. Switch To Rags

While surfaces should be wiped down frequently, don’t waste paper towels on them. Collect a stash of cloth rags to do the trick instead. Use wash clothes or cut up old t-shirts and store them in a jar or bucket for easy use. When they’re dirty, throw them in the laundry and wash them.

2. DIY Cleaning Products

Make your own cleaning products to avoid harsh chemicals and to substitute when stores are out of stock. Hydrogen peroxide and alcohol (like rubbing alcohol or even vodka) can be used as an antiseptic to kill germs. Make sure you don’t mix the wrong chemicals.

DO NOT MIX THE FOLLOWING:

  • Bleach with vinegar (creates chlorine gas)
  • Bleach with ammonia (creates chloramine)
  • Bleach and rubbing alcohol (creates chloroform)
  • Hydrogen peroxide and vinegar (creates peracetic/peroxyacetic acid)

3. Hang Dry Laundry

We’ve talked about washing clothes in the utilities section, but what about drying them? Try hang drying and cut out every watt of electricity. You can hang outside or inside, although obviously outside is faster. The sun also provides a bleaching effect that helps with stains too!

4. Switch To Hankies

Similar to rags, switch from tissues to hankies. I’ve made some little squares out of old clothing. They are so much softer than tissues, and you can just throw them in the wash after use.

5. Declutter Home To Donate Items Later

Now that you’re home all the time, your house may be becoming a bit messy. Spend some time going room by room and decluttering useless items. Get rid of that stack of junk mail on the table, set aside clothing to donate, and figure out what items you just don’t need. Minimalism and zero waste are a frequent pair of lifestyles because both reduce unnecessary things and simplify our lives.

6. Repair Clothes And Other Items

One of the main R’s of zero waste is Repair. Take this extra time to add patches to clothing, sew on lost buttons, or fix other items around the home that need some love. There are plenty of YouTube tutorials on just about anything. By repairing items, you lengthen their lifespan and save some money.

Working From Home and Paper Usage

Many people are now working from home instead of going to the office, which has been a huge adjustment for most. How can you go green in quarantine while in your home office?

1. Reduce Paper Usage

This is the biggy. If you don’t need to print something, don’t print it. Use double-sided printing when you do. If you need to add a signature to something, add a digital signature instead of printing, signing, and scanning. Recycle the paper you use after you’re through with it too!

2. Digital Day Planner And Notebook

This also helps cut down on paper usage. Switch from a paper calendar to one on your computer or phone. This also makes it easy when there’s changes so you don’t have a bunch of crossed out items. Switch to a digital notebook as well to take meeting notes (alternatively, reuse paper for notetaking, although this can get messy/disorganized). I use OneNote because it’s easy to organize and add tables, to do lists, and even draw stuff.

3. Switch To Paperless Billing

Cut down on paper even more by switching your accounts to paperless billing. This way you’ll receive emailed statements and bills instead of being mailed paper copies. It’s a super easy thing that’s usually just a click of a button or a phone call.

4. Reduce Junk Mail

Millions of pounds of junk mail are thrown out/recycled each year. Head over to optoutprescreen.com or DMAchoice.org, or contact companies directly to get yourself removed from mailing lists. In addition to physical junk mail, sift through your email inbox and unsubscribe from email lists to save the energy used to email you that promo.

Coronavirus Specific

Although I’ve mentioned coronavirus making a lot of the above changes easier or necessary, they can be adopted and used in perpetuity. The following, however, are a bit more specific to the pandemic quarantine.

1. DIY Cloth Masks

There is a worldwide shortage of PPE. The CDC has recommended everyone wear a mask, even if it is cloth. My town has implemented a mask policy where anyone outdoors must always be wearing one. So my husband and I sewed our own out of t-shirts. There are lots of tutorials online for various styles, but the key points are multiple fabric layers and a close fit around the nose, face, and chin. These masks can be washed and reused which avoids a single use product and isn’t reducing the masks hospital workers need.

2. Bag Ban Work Around

Many cities have lifted there bag bans due to health concerns. These bans prevented stores from provided plastic bags or installed a charge per bag on the customer and encouraged shoppers to bring their own reusables. Now reusable bags are not allowed. But you can still go green in quarantine and avoid store bags! To work around this, ask that groceries just be put bare into your cart. Once at your car, put them into your own bags.

3. Coffee At Home

You may still be tempted to head over to the Dunkin’ or Starbucks to grab your morning coffee. While previously it was possible to bring in your own cup to avoid single use, many cafes have suspended these policies for health reasons. Instead make your coffee at home to both avoid the public and a single use disposable cup/lid/straw/whatever.

4. Quarantine Birthdays

A lot of people are unfortunately having birthdays in quarantine. The good thing about not being able to have a party is not needing wasteful decorations. Call them or send an ecard instead of buying and sending a physical card. Gift them an experience instead of providing a physical gift. With the future unknown at the moment, hopefully a promise of tickets can stand in for actual event tickets.

5. Climate Strike Online

As I said in the introduction, Earth Day is right around the corner, but we can’t go outside. Thousands of people have found a unique way to go green in quarantine and shift the climate protests online. The hashtag #fridaysforfuture has been coupled with the new hashtag #climatestrikeonline. Post a photo of yourself with the sign you would’ve brought to a protest to spread the word digitally instead.

Fun

The last way to go green in quarantine is to spend your time wisely. It’s so easy to waste entire days playing video games or watching Netflix, but these use up a lot of energy (and aren’t too productive).

1. Low Impact Hobbies

I recently wrote an article on low impact hobbies that are easy to pick up, can be done inside and/or alone, and don’t tax the environment as much as other hobbies do. The list is organized by impact size from low to least and includes over 15 different hobbies. Go check it out!

Conclusion

Although our lives have changed and been slightly put on hold, we can all still go green in quarantine. This will pass, but it doesn’t need to be wasted time. Keep yourself busy working on transitioning your lifestyle to avoid the anxiety and depression coronavirus causes. Use this time wisely to start new habits that can continue once this is all over.

How To Go Green In Quarantine Little girl in butterfly cape is stuck inside waiting for quarantine to end
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15 Zero Waste Online Shops For Beginners A wooden table covered with many different zero waste swaps like straws and cloth bags

15 Zero Waste Online Shops For Beginners

This post contains affiliate links. I will receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links, at no additional cost to you. Read more on my Disclaimer page.

Introduction

Not all of us are lucky enough to have local zero waste shops in our area; however, that’s where the internet comes in. There are tons of zero waste online shops where you can find plastic free and sustainable items so starting your zero waste journey is super easy!

While this doesn’t replace secondhand shopping or shopping local, online shopping comes in handy when you can’t find that certain item yourself. Check out my post on 8 Reasons To Thrift Shop to get some motivation for shopping secondhand instead of buying new!

I’ve organized the shops by country of origin, but some may ship to other places (all of Europe, worldwide, etc.).

United States

Life Without Plastic

Life Without Plastic has been selling plastic free items online since 2006. What started as an eco-conscious couple selling glass and steel baby bottles has grown into one of the best zero waste online shops. They have something for every part of your life and even have a subscription box service (you can also purchase a one-time box instead of a subscription). The founders also wrote a bestselling book as a guide for others. Life Without Plastic ships worldwide and is based in both the US and Canada.

NOTE: I am a Life Without Plastic affiliate.

Tiny Yellow Bungalow

Tiny Yellow Bungalow started in 2015 as a blog that eventually expanded into a giant zero waste online shop. They focus mainly on kitchen, bath, and cleaning products, but they also have handmade and vintage sections. They can ship internationally and have free shipping on orders over $100.

ZERO Market

ZERO Market is the first brick-and-mortar zero waste store in Colorado located in Aurora, CO. Their zero waste online shop has over a thousand items that ship to the US and Canada. The cool thing about this shop is their selection of zero waste gift sets such as a zero waste to go bag or a picnic set. They also sell herbs and teas in either reusable containers or paper bags, which I think is super neat!

Marley’s Monsters

The first of Marley’s Monsters was a fabric scrap stuffed monster sewn by Marley’s mom back in 2013. From there, her mom Sarah started making everything Marley needed with a focus on sustainability which grew into an online business and retail store. Their fabric and wood products are handmade in Eugene, Oregon, and they have a retail shop in town if you’re in the area. You can even customize your fabric prints (currently suspended during COVID-19). They ship worldwide, and shipping is a $5 flat free for US orders over $100.

Wild Minimalist

Zero waste parents Max and Lily started Wild Minimalist to help others begin their own zero waste journeys. They are based in California and ship worldwide (shipping is free within the US). Like ZERO Market, Wild Minimalist sells zero waste kits which make great gifts!

EarthHero

EarthHero’s mission is to make buying responsibly second-nature by providing a one-stop shop for sustainably made items without sacrificing on convenience. They have everything from clothing to toys to home and pets. They also offer free shipping on orders over $50 (ship to US only currently, but they are working on expansion).

EcoRoots

EcoRoots is also based in Colorado. They sell ethically and sustainably sourced items for the home, kitchen, and bathroom. Like most of these zero waste online shops, they ship using recyclable and compostable materials (even their packing peanuts are cornstarch and dissolve in water!). A portion of every purchase is donated to Ocean Conservancy to reduce single use plastic pollution in our oceans. EcoRoots offers free US shipping on orders over $30.

Boston General Store

The Boston General Store began in 2013 as a small online store, but now they have two brick-and-mortar locations in Dedham and Brookline, MA. The store pays homage to owner April’s grandmother who taught her the importance of reusable, well-made goods. Both locations have such a welcoming old-timey vibe, but for those outside Massachusetts, you can still buy zero waste items, local foods, and clothing online. There is free shipping on US orders over $25, but they can also ship internationally.

United Kingdom

Anything But Plastic

Anything But Plastic is a funky little shop started by a “whippersnapper trying to self-righteously change the world.” The owner really tries to educate consumers by including sections on “What does it replace?”, “Why is it better?”, “Is it worth it?”, and “Material ratings” for each and every product sold on the site. Currently, ABP ships only within the UK.

Waste Not

Waste Not is a plastic free online shop promoting reduction in plastic use that is polluting our planet. They offer home, kitchen, and bath products, as well a few kits. For their sanitary products, they run a one-for-one program which helps young girls receive access to both menstrual products and advice. How great is that? There is free shipping in the UK on orders over £50.

Plastics Free

Based in Cornwall, Plastics Free is aiming to make the transition to a plastic free lifestyle as easy as possible. They sell bath, kitchen, and cleaning products, and they have sections for pets and kids. They ship to all of Europe, but UK orders over £25 ship free.

Life Before Plastik

Two sisters started Life Before Plastik in 2018 as a way to help others make ethical and sustainable purchases. At least 90% of their products are vegan (those that aren’t include beeswax). None of their products were tested on animals, and all are sourced responsibly. LB4P ships to Europe, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. There is free shipping on UK orders over £50.

Boobalou

Boobalou offers a huge selection of home, living, women’s, and baby products. Every order donates a tree to the Eden Reforestation Projects. Boobalou also has an EcoPoints system in which for every pound spent, you receive a 5p EcoPoint to use on future orders. They ship worldwide and offer free shipping on UK orders over £50.

Australia

Biome

Biome started way back in 2003 with the vision “to preserve a safe, healthy environment on this wonderous planet for now and for all who come after us.” Beyond your typical zero waste swaps and home items, Biome sells slow fashion garments, outdoor items, books, and even food. They have very strict standards for their products, which you can read about here. Biome ships to most of Asia, UK, US, Canada, and European Union countries. They also have seven store locations in Australia.

Canada

NU

NU Online is an online zero waste grocery store that also sells other zero waste products (personal care, cleaning products, etc.). If you want to make your own DIY products, NU sells various ingredients plastic free. NU has a physical location in Ottawa for in-store pick-ups. Grocery purchases are for Ottawa only, but other items can be shipped wherever in Canada.

Conclusion

What zero waste online shops have you used to help transition to a sustainable lifestyle? Let me know in the comments.

15 Zero Waste Online Shops For Beginners A wooden table covered with many different zero waste swaps like straws and cloth bags
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10 Best Sustainability Apps For Saving The Planet Cellphone screen showing the forest path in the background

10 Best Sustainability Apps For Saving The Planet

Introduction

Technology makes our lives easier. Why shouldn’t it also make your new zero waste life easier too? I’ll collected a list of the 10 best sustainability apps that cover a broad range of subjects and purposes to help make going green easy and fun.

1. Ecosia

I switched over to Ecosia a few months ago during the huge fires in the Amazon. Ecosia is a search engine that plants trees using ad revenue. They post monthly financial reports that show you how much money they made and where it is being spent. For instance, in February 2020, they invested about 57% of their earnings in tree planting projects (over $1.6 million!).

They say it takes about 45 searches to plant a tree, meaning I’ve planted 20 trees! Ecosia also has a browser plugin so typing in the address bar makes an Ecosia search (download here for Chrome, Firefox, or Safari). Because it’s so easy to start using instead of Google and does so much good, it’s my favorite sustainability app!

2. Poshmark

There are many fashion resale apps out there, but I recommend Poshmark because that’s who I’ve used. Unlike ThredUp, Poshmark items are shipped directly from seller to buyer. This reduces transportation emissions by cutting out the middle man. You can also see where sellers are located to reduce emissions even more.

Having an easy access to a wealth of secondhand clothing will make transitioning your wardrobe a breeze. You can also become a seller to clean out those items you no longer wear (or never wore at all) to reduce clutter.

3. OLIO

This sustainability app is on a mission to reduce food waste by connecting neighbors and businesses to share items. They also go beyond food by allowing users to list household items like cleaning products, furniture, and more.

You can browse listings, request an item, and arrange a pickup all within the app. As a seller, posting is as easy as snapping a photo. Check out their website for more info!

4. American Farmers Markets

Want to shop local, but just don’t know where to go? American Farmers Market is the sustainability app for you! They provide a huge database of local markets so you can find one near you. Just search for your location, and they’ll provide an interactive map with pin-pointed farmers markets in the area. They also provide schedule details and a contact website (if available).

American Farmers Markets allows you to “check in” to a market and makes it easy to share with your social media to encourage others to shop locally produced goods.

5. Freecycle + Trash Nothing!

In addition to sustainability apps for secondhand shopping, check out Freecycle. Browse for just about anything, and everything is offered for free! You can use this app to declutter your home or fill it up with secondhand items instead of new ones.

Don’t see what you need? You can also post a request, asking those in your community if they can help you out. Freecycle also allows you to share listings on social media to spread the word.

6. Vegan Maps

Changing your diet is one of the best ways to lower your carbon footprint. But eating out and being vegan often mean limited menu options that mainly include salad. Vegan Maps provides you with an interactive map of restaurants marked with either a “vegan”, “mostly vegan”, or “vegan and raw” location pin.

Select a pin to learn more about that restaurant, including hours, phone, website, and reviews. You can also favorite locations to save them for later. Never settle for a side salad again!

7. iRecycle

Earth 911 created the iRecycle app to help users find recycling locations in their area. You search by item, and the app will provide the contact information and location of companies/towns that will take that item.

This sustainability app also links you to Earth 911’s latest articles about recycling, green tech, and green living.

8. Hoopla

Hoopla is an online library. Your local brick-and-mortar may be partnered with Hoopla to offer a huge variety of ebooks, audiobooks, movies, and more. (Other library apps are Overdrive and Libby, but I personally use Hoopla). These partnerships give you access to many titles you wouldn’t otherwise be able to enjoy for free.

Hoopla gives you 10 borrows per month, which never bothers me since I prefer real books to a screen, but it may be an issue for others. Ebooks and audiobooks are borrowed for three weeks. You can borrow music for one week, and movies/videos for just 3 days. You can also use your computer to borrow items from their website.

9. AllTrails

Would it really be green living if we stayed inside all day instead of enjoying the outdoors? My husband and I have been using AllTrails for a while now to research new hikes when we go on vacations. They have running and biking trails too.

AllTrails lets you sort by difficulty level, length, or other criteria like dog-friendly. Many trails have frequent reviews which are very helpful for assessing a trail’s current condition (icy, washed out, how well marked, etc.). AllTrails even provides GPS directions to trailheads.

You can save trails to different lists, track your progress while on the trail, and share your adventures with social media. I included AllTrails in my top sustainability apps because not only does help you enjoy Mother Nature, but it also makes sure the only energy you’re burning is calories.

10. JouleBug

So you’ve downloaded some sustainability apps, but you still need some motivation to stick with zero waste? JouleBug helps you record all your daily green actions by “buzzing”. Then it puts them into perspective by telling you how much carbon, waste, or water those actions have saved.

I tried out ecoCRED, which is a similar sustainability app specifically for motivation, but JouleBug offers a way bigger list of actions, runs much smoother, and offers a social aspect. You can follow friends, like or comment on other people’s “buzzes”, and join local challenges and events to boost motivation even more!

Conclusion

I hope you download some of these sustainability apps to help you make eco-friendly living an easy, everyday part of your life. What other apps do you use to help you reduce your footprint? Leave a comment below!

10 Best Sustainability Apps For Saving The Planet Cellphone screen showing the forest path in the background
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How To Have A Low Waste Easter Different colored Easter eggs on a bed of fake green grass

How To Have A Low Waste Easter

Introduction

Spring has finally arrived, and that means Easter is just around the corner. Holidays can be difficult to navigate, especially when you’re trying to be zero waste. There are family members who may not share your views, traditions you don’t want to break, and the craziness of organizing a big get-together. But there are plenty of ways to have a low waste Easter this year!

Low Waste Easter Eggs and Egg Hunts

Easter wouldn’t be the same without Easter eggs and the hunt for them.

Natural Egg Dyeing

My parents and I always dyed eggs for Easter, and it was one of my favorite holiday traditions. We either bought the egg dyeing  kits or used food coloring, but there’s more natural ways to color your Easter eggs.

You can use spices and even kitchen scraps to color your eggs. Don’t think your low waste Easter will be boring shades of brown though! You can make shades of blue, bright yellows, and pink colored dyes as well. Good Housekeeping has a guide for these colors.

According to Deb’s comprehensive egg dyeing post on Just Short of Crazy, there are two easy ways to dye eggs: the hot method and the cold method. The hot method boils raw eggs in the dye mixture, while the cold method lets hard-boiled eggs soak in a bowl of the dye mixture. A longer soaking time gives you a more vibrant color. (Good Housekeeping’s guide uses the cold method.)

Easter Egg Hunts

On Easter morning, I would hunt for our real eggs inside my house, but in the afternoon all the grandkids would hunt outside for the same plastic Easter eggs my Grandma has used for about twenty years. Plastic eggs are great for Easter eggs hunts because they are reusable, can be filled with coins or candy, and can be used outdoors. Try to find some secondhand!

Obviously, hiding real eggs is the most sustainable solution, but sometimes it isn’t the most practical, especially for larger events. There are also hollow, wooden eggs that offer a better low waste Easter solution because no plastic is involved.

Now let’s look at the treats inside the eggs. Like I said, my Grandma would hide coins in some eggs but candy in others. To reduce waste, find some unwrapped candies in bulk bins or look for candy wrapped in foil. The foil can be balled up (in a large enough ball, not a single wrapper) and recycled. Aluminum can be recycled over and over and over without loss of quality!

Low Waste Easter Baskets

Gifts are where things start to get tricky, but have no fear! There are still ways to keep Easter baskets low waste.

As for the basket itself, use one you already own (and reuse it each year) or find one secondhand. Thrift shops always have a large supply of baskets, even if they aren’t bright Spring colors. Instead of using the plastic cellophane grass, line your basket with paper grass or tissue paper. Reuse your grass lining each year.

Be mindful of the gifts you place in the basket. Many parents hold to the “something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read” mantra for giving gifts. This ensures most gifts serve a real purpose instead of a ton of toys.

Here are some great low waste Easter basket gifts:

Low Waste Easter Basket Consumables gift idea list from A Sustainable Sole blog

But instead of just sticking with physical gifts, why not gift an experience? Here’s a list of experiences kids would love:

Low Waste Easter Basket Experiences gift idea list from A Sustainable Sole blog

Low Waste Easter Parties

Easter is also a time families get together. In light of the current health crisis, parties may be a lot smaller or be cancelled altogether, but you can still plan for next year.

Hosting

If you’re hosting an Easter party, cook up some low waste meals. When shopping for groceries, look for local or package-free items. Compost your kitchen scraps (or use them for eggs dyes depending on ingredient).

Be prepared for leftovers and encourage guests to take some home. Either inform them to bring a container or lend them one of yours. Use real plates and napkins instead of disposables.

For decorations, find secondhand items that can be reused year after year. Bring springtime indoors with plants and flowers to add color to your space. If the weather is nice enough, move the party outdoors and play yard games.

Attending

If you are attending a party, bring your own container for leftovers. Encourage the host to use real dishware (offer to help clean up and wash dishes to sway them). At mealtime, take only what you know you can eat in one sitting to reduce food waste. If you bring a hostess gift, bring a consumable like homemade cookies, a dish to pass, or a potted plant.

Conclusion

I hope these tips will help you have a low waste Easter you can feel good about. Remember that these gift-giving and party tips can apply to other times of the year too!

How are you celebrating Easter this year?

How To Have A Low Waste Easter Different colored Easter eggs on a bed of fake green grass
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How Algae Can Save The World Algae covered rocks along the seashore in the late afternoon sun

How Algae Can Save The World

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Introduction

Our planet is facing an uncertain future right now. Climate change, growing pollution, and even food and water to keep us all alive. Could there be one solution for all of those problems? Let’s take a look at how algae can save the world.

What is Algae?

“Algae” is a term that applies to many different organisms ranging from unicellular planktons to giant kelp growing meters and meters tall. They produce oxygen through photosynthesis, though some species are heterotrophic as well. Unlike plants, they lack true roots, stems, or leaves, but they produce half of the world’s oxygen.

Algae can live in freshwater or saltwater, and even on land! For example, lichens that grow on trees and rocks are a symbiotic relationship of algae and fungi. “They can also endure a range of temperatures, oxygen or carbon dioxide concentrations, acidity and turbidity“. Algae multiplies quickly and can “double their numbers every few hours“. So how can algae save the world?

As a crop, algae is very easy to grow due to its hardiness (even in the desert!). Algae can utilize land unsuitable for traditional crops as well as saltwater, brackish water, and even wastewater to grow. This is super important because 70% of the world’s freshwater goes toward food production (crops and animals).

Algae are packed with nutrients including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), and plenty of protein. In the same amount of space, algae can produce seven times the amount of protein as soybeans. While they contain so many nutrients, they can also filter out toxins, pathogens, and heavy metals from water by either storing or using them.

Climate Change

Climate change is a broad subject, but algae can help in a variety of ways.

Carbon Sequestration

Carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is a greenhouse gas that warms up the planet. Like our forests, algae sequester carbon through photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide is captured and transformed into oxygen and sugar using sunlight.

Various companies like Hypergiant Industries is building prototype bioreactors that could sequester many times more carbon than trees in a given amount of space. For example, Hypergiant’s Eos Bioreactor is only 63 cubic feet in size but sequesters as much carbon as 400 trees.

The Cloud Collective designed an algal bioreactor which was installed over a Switzerland highway to capture CO2 emissions from cars. The reactor is composed of algae-filled tubed that run along an overpass and suck in car emissions from below.

Algal bioreactors could also capture carbon before it enters our atmosphere by installing them in factories. When compared to other crops used for biofuels, algae outperforms them all in the amount of carbon they take in.

Claudia Pasquero and Marco Poletto are two architects from EcoLogicStudio who designed algae-filled curtains that help pull carbon out of our air. The curtains hold algae in tubes while the rest of the curtain is a clear plastic. Air flows in from the bottom, and the algae can then pull out the carbon dioxide and transform it into oxygen. Although not the prettiest site, the curtains are an innovative solution to reduce greenhouse gases. The pair are working on a more aesthetically pleasing design.

Ocean Sustainability

Algae are imperative to healthy oceans. Most animals in the ocean rely on algae either directly or indirectly as a food source. As autotrophs, plankton algae are at the bottom of the food chain. If their numbers drop, it can spell disaster all the way up the line to apex predators. Algae convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, which even fish need to breathe.

Like the lichen I mentioned earlier, algae participates in various symbiotic relationships with other organisms. One example is the mutually beneficial relationship between sea sponges and green algae. The algae lives on the surface of the sponge that protects it from predators. Here, it produces both oxygen and sugar the sea sponge feeds on.

Another relationship is that with coral reefs. By producing oxygen and sugars, algae speed up coral growth. With coral reefs deteriorating and bleaching around the globe, we need algae to save these havens of ocean biodiversity.

Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels like petroleum are non-renewable resources, and drilling for them causes harm to the environment. Oil spills are extremely damaging to ecosystems and are hard to clean up. However, algal biofuels could be a replacement for traditional fossil fuels.

Algae produce energy-rich oils called lipids which can be extracted to produce the biofuel. Scientists at Rochester Institute of Technology call the process “doubly green” since algae consume pathogens in the water and filter it while growing.

Algae can produce between 2000 and 5000 gallons of biofuel per acre per year. They can produce between 10 and 100 times more biofuel than other crops. The US is leading the way with algal biofuels with over 100 companies and the government investing billions.

Pollution

While they can’t pick up litter off the street, algae can save the world by cleaning its water. It can also replace some of the litter through the production of compostable algae packaging.

Wastewater

As discussed, algae can filter out lots of unwanted substances from wastewater. They can remove 100% of ammonia, 88% of nitrate, and 99% of phosphate from wastewater. They also remove heavy metals, pesticides, organic and inorganic toxins, and pathogens. Algae can even remove radioactive materials from wastewater!

Microalgae have been used in biological wastewater treatment for over half a century and the process is widely recognized to be as effective as conventional systems. The process can take a few hours to a few days depending on the amount of nutrients to be removed. After treatment, the algae can be used for biofuel.

Sustainable Packaging

I’ve actually written an entire post about how natural substances can be used as sustainable packaging alternatives. Companies like Skipping Rocks Lab and Evo & Co. use seaweed to create compostable, edible, and customizable packaging solutions.

Skipping Rocks Lab designed a material called Notpla, which is used in the Oohos handed out at the London Marathon in 2019. The two companies have also designed sachets, food wraps, and takeaway tray liners using seaweed-based materials.

Learn more about these solutions by heading over to my Sustainable Packaging Alternatives post!

Algae for Humans

In addition to all these fancy technologies using algae, we can also do the simple thing and just eat it.

Food

Records have shown humans have been eating algae since 500 BC, and today, 42 countries commercially cultivate macroalgae.

As discussed, algae is super-nutrient-rich, containing various vitamins, minerals, and good fats as well as a heap of protein. Algae is already used commonly in nutritional supplements. A 1978 study showed how algae improved the health of a malnourished infant.

One company hoping algae will be the next big food trend is iWi. The company uses long saltwater ponds to grow algae in the deserts of New Mexico. The company currently sells algae as nutritional supplements on Amazon, but they are also developing snacks and protein powders made from algae. They say the algae will not have much of a taste, not will the protein powder be green, so it can seamlessly be added to various products.

The problems with human consumption of algae lies with food safety regulations, as some algae contains toxins. There are many species approved for market, such as spirulina, and companies are using these species to pastas, breads, and even yogurts and ice cream.

In addition to benefits of eating algae ourselves, there are significant benefits to feeding it to livestock. The amount of land and freshwater resources used to produce animal products will significantly decrease. Algae is also cheaper than other forms of feed. Incorporating algae into livestock feed has been shown to improve the immune system and reproductive performance of animals, increased their body weight, and reduced cholesterol.

Finally, algae can replace artificial food dyes by acting as a food colorant. Algae can be used for greens, blues, and even orange (due to the carotenoids some species contain).

Water

The last way algae can save the world is by conserving our water supply. The planet only has so much freshwater to sustain us all, and many people . By using algae on a large scale and reducing the use of other crops, we free up tons of freshwater. Due to its filtering abilities, algae can clean our water so it’s safer. Their role in purifying wastewater could also extend into our drinking water if recycled water for drinking is implemented in more locations.

Conclusion

With all of these uses and benefits, it’s clear how algae can save the world. We can clean our air and water, restore the health of our oceans, feed ourselves, and use it to replace fossil fuels. I’m positive algae will lead us into a greener future. What do you think?

Want to read more about algae? Check out these sources:

How Algae Can Save The World Algae covered rocks along the seashore in the late afternoon sun
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