Starting School the Green Way

A spiral graph-ruled notebook is on a colorfully striped cloth. An apple is next to the notebook, and colored pencils and a crayon stub are on the notebook. "Back to school" is written on the notebook page. The letters S C H O O L are drawn to look like a bunch of multicolored post-it notes, a pallette of watercolors, a wooden ruler, a happy face with the Os as eyes, and a pencil. there is a shining sun drawn in the top right corner of the page.
Image by Pixabay

It’s that time again… I have one kid in high school, one kid in community college, and one kid homeschooling. I spend most days panicking and checking repeatedly to see who I have to pick up when, and will continue until we’re a couple weeks into our routine. Back-to-school time always ramps my anxiety up to eleven. In addition to chauffeuring my kids everywhere and scheduling homeschool time, there’s the back-to-school shopping. We have to spend so much money and buy so much STUFF. It’s so stressful, and it can be tempting to focus on saving as much time and money as possible and just not worry about being earth-friendly. But the things we buy and do for our kids as they gear up for the new year have an impact on the environment that we can’t ignore. We can’t eliminate this impact, but there are definitely ways we can lessen it.

an assortment of used clothing on various hangers hangs from a length of clothesline
image by Pixabay

Buy used

When shopping for school clothes, make secondhand shops your first stop. Once Upon A Child and Plato’s Closet are two nationwide chains selling clothes on consignment for children and older teens, respectively. I’m sure you can find other kids’ consignment shops and thrift shops near you, and there is eBay and Thredup online. NextDoor, Facebook neighborhood groups, and the Facebook marketplace are also useful places to check.

Since you’re going to the secondhand shops, why not donate or consign your kids’ outgrown clothes and old backpacks, if they’re in good condition?

It might also be possible to buy musical instruments, sports equipment, and art supplies used. Not only is this better for the environment, but it can save you some money.

For lunch, use reusables

Does your child take a packed lunch to school? If so, invest in a bento box or some reusable containers. We use Sistema boxes, but there are lots of different kinds to choose from. Use them instead of ziplocks or plastic wrap for sandwiches, and instead of single-serving packages for snacks and desserts. A reusable bottle of water or juice is much greener than a juicebox. Just avoid glass; most schools have rules forbidding glass bottles because of safety concerns. Thermoses are great for soups and hot meals. If your child will need a fork or spoon, make sure to pack a reusable one (as long as you can trust them to bring it home! We’ve had our share of accidentally thrown-out utensils.). The same goes for a cloth napkin.

Several children's bikes of different sizes and colors, mostly blue, stand in a metal bike rack outside a brick building. There are fall leaves on the ground.
Image by Pixabay

Green transportation

If possible, have your child take the school bus, walk, bike, or carpool. I know that for many people, driving your child to school is the only option. But please avoid idling your car in the drop-off/pick-up lines as much as possible.

A composition book lies open to a blank page. A yellow pencil with a sharp point and what looks like tooth marks leans against the edge of the notebook. A small metal pencil sharpener and some pencil shavings lie on the open page.
Image by Pixabay

School supplies

Sometimes we don’t have much choice in what classroom supplies we buy. Our children’s teachers often want them to have specific notebooks, pencil cases, pencils, markers, etc., especially in the lower grades. But when we do have choices, we can choose the greener options. Binders, pencil cases, and folders made from paper, cardboard, and cloth are better than those made from plastic. Some items might be wrapped in cellophane while others come in cardboard boxes.

By taking a little extra time to think our purchases through, we can make back-to-school choices that are better for the environment, and often better for our wallet as well. I hope you have fun starting the new school year!

When Eco-friendly is Not Disability-friendly

light blue, lavender, and yellow plastic drinking straws stand at various angles
Image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay

What do you think about someone using disposable plastic straws or plastic shopping bags? Are they lazy? Selfish? They don’t care about the environment? Should plastic straws be banned? How about plastic shopping bags? These bans are becoming more and more popular throughout the world, along with companies deciding to no longer offer disposables.

But wait- what about people who, because of disability, need these items? They can just use alternatives, right? They can use paper straws, or bring their own reusable straws and bags, can’t they? Not always. In fact, people with disabilities are often unable to use the alternatives that might seem just common sense to able-bodied people.

A middle-aged man and a middle-aged woman sit in wheelchair scooters at the bottom of a ramp in front of some steps. They both have crutches hanging on their wheelchairs. The man has several stuffed animals in the basket n the front of his wheelchair.
Image by fsHH from Pixabay

Some people with compromised immune systems cannot use reusable shopping bags because the bags are vectors for bacteria and mold, which will make them ill. Some disabled people cannot use paper straws because they don’t last long enough, and cannot use reusable straws because they don’t bend or aren’t easily cleaned. They cannot drink without a straw because of issues with mobility, swallowing, or coordination.

precut chunks of watermelon in a plastic container with a plastic fork
Image by MMT from Pixabay

Some disabled people need to buy precut fruit in plastic containers. It might seem silly and wasteful to see peeled oranges wrapped in plastic, when oranges come with their own natural wrapper, but if you take a moment to ask yourself “who might need this? Why might this be necessary for someone?” I’m sure you can recognize that there are people who are physically unable to peel an orange.

I’ve seen many online conversations where, when a disabled person points out that they actually need disposable plastic straws, they’re bombarded with “can’t you just____?” and “you should use ____.” Don’t be that guy. Don’t challenge a disabled person as though you know better than them about their own life and disability. It’s not the duty of disabled people to prove their disabilities or needs to you. It’s not your job to decide who is “disabled enough” to “deserve” a straw or bag or whatever. Gatekeeping is ableist, and disabled people have to put up with it all the time. For the same reason, a restaurant having disposable straws tucked away to be given to disabled people who ask for them is not a good solution. Disabled people shouldn’t have to ask for accommodation. They should not feel the onus to explain why they need a straw. It’s nobody’s business but their own.

Now, I myself do not have a disability that necessitates any of the hot-topic items mentioned above. I’m glad you read my blog post, but you really should hear from disabled people on this issue. Here are some links for more information.

A video on the straw ban

Grasping at Straws: The Ableism of the Straw Ban

When Accessibility Gets Labeled Wasteful

The Last Straw: Ableism in Environmental Campaigns

Green Beauty

 

three handmade soaps stacked next to two natural-fiber washcloths
image by jussiak from Pixabay

Little by little, I’m replacing things in my life with more eco-friendly alternatives. Lately I’ve been focusing on beauty and personal care items. I’ve already written about how much I love my Little Seed Farms deodorant. Another thing that’s been helping me feel cool and fresh as the weather gets hotter is my Rainwater Botanicals baby powder. Look, I’m a fat woman with a big chest. Summer tends to bring chafing, chub rub, boob sweat, and prickly heat, which are damn uncomfortable. This arrowroot-based body powder helps with all of that and has a pleasant but very light fragrance. It comes in a cylindrical cardboard canister and sprinkles out easily. I keep it in my bathroom cabinet, and even though the air gets quite steamy during showers, the container has not been affected.

cardboard canister of natural baby powder

I also bought a sample size of Rainwater Botanicals under eye serum with carrot seed oil and olive squalene, and I looove it. I’m not sure yet if it’s helping with my wrinkles, but it feels and smells so wonderful! I might just have to buy a regular-sizes bottle to see how it works long-term.

After countless hours searching for body lotion in a glass bottle, I finally ordered a homemade goat-milk-based lotion from Borden Acres on Etsy. The lotion is lovely- smooth, moisturizing, absorbs easily, smells great. There were several fragrance options and I chose lavender essential oil. At first I was disappointed because it arrived wrapped in bubble wrap. I felt like all my time searching for lotion in a glass bottle was for naught. But I spoke to Danielle Borden, the owner of the shop, and she explained that she never buys bubble wrap to ship her products. She reuses the bubble wrap from packages she receives, such as the raw materials that go into her lotions. I was so happy to hear that she is actually lessening the plastic waste stream by reusing plastic, and I will continue to buy Borden Acres lotion.

Other earth-friendly switches/purchases I’ve made:

I bought a lipstick from Color the World. It’s advertised as “age-friendly,” which sold me, since lipsticks tend to bleed on my middle-aged lips. It goes on smoothly, tastes like absolutely nothing (which I love), and the tube is an adorable printed cardboard (mine has kitty cats; each color has a different print, usually related to a worthy cause your purchase is helping). But the color I chose was such a perfect nude that I can barely notice a difference when I wear it. I need to buy a different color to really test it out.

I just ordered some organic cotton bulk/produce bags and some handmade cloth napkins, and I can’t wait for them to arrive. I will, of course, write about how they work out.

I also bought a couple more travel cups, one from Marshall’s and one from Starbucks. The Starbucks one was a bit pricey but I reeeeally wanted an iced coffee and didn’t have a reusable cup with me. I’ve gotten to the point where I feel guilty if I buy coffee in a plastic cup (even my teenage daughter feels guilty using a disposable cup now!). So I bought it and I’m glad I did. It’s recycled glass with a very pretty green tint. Next task: clean out my trunk and stash a few reusable cups in there so I always have one if I make an unplanned coffee stop.

a glass travel cup half-filled with iced coffee

Plastic-free Solution: Deodorant

In my quest to use less plastic, I found myself looking for a good natural deodorant. I wanted a deodorant that kept me smelling good (of course), absorbed wetness, went on easily, didn’t mark up my clothes, and didn’t come in a plastic container. Little Seed Farm was giving free samples of their deodorant, so of course I ordered mine.

I was not given a special deal; nor was I asked to write this review. I was just trying to find something that worked for me, and I thought I’d share my experience with my readers. I do sometimes earn money through affiliate links, but I am not doing so in this case.

Trying my samples

I was able to choose two scents to try, so I chose lavender, which is one of my favorite fragrances, and activated charcoal, because I was curious about what the charcoal did. I’ll answer that question first: the charcoal formula didn’t seem any different except that it had a gray-green tint. The effectiveness was the same.

Two small foil sample packets of deodorant sit next to each other on a patterned background. One is labeled "Deodorant Cream, Lavender, Little Seed Farm," and the other is labeled, "Deodorant cream, Activated charcoal, Little Seed Farm."

Little Seed Farm’s deodorant is a cream, and the samples came in foil packets. I squeezed out a pea-sized amount for each armpit onto my fingertips, and rubbed the cream into my skin. It felt smooth, and spread and absorbed very well. The cream contains coconut and jojoba oils as well as glycerin, so I wondered whether it would be greasy or sticky. I definitely didn’t want to leave grease stains on my clothing. Not only were my armpits not greasy at all, but my fingertips didn’t even feel greasy after applying it! The cream formula is not what I’m used to, but it’s no harder than rubbing a deodorant stick onto my armpits, and it actually feels nicer on my skin.

The lavender smells wonderful. The activated charcoal, scented with spearmint, rosemary, and geranium essential oils, is not really my cup of tea, but it might be yours. They also have grapefruit-lemon, Rosemary-patchouli, and unscented.

A honeybee clings to a sprig of lavender
Image by Pixabay

Deodorant is not antiperspirant

Now, I know deodorant and antiperspirant are two different things, and the Little Seed Farms deodorant is not antiperspirant. I still sweat when I use it. But it seems to absorb some of the wetness- must be the arrowroot powder, or maybe the magnesium hydroxide? I’m not sure what magnesium does in a deodorant. The truth is, even when I use antiperspirant, I still sweat. I live in North Carolina. Our summers are filled with days when the temperature and the humidity are both in the 90s. I mean, just plain miserable. No matter what chemicals I put on my underarms, I’m going to sweat. And I think I smell better using this natural deodorant than I do when I use the usual drugstore antiperspirant-deodorant.

I wanted to really put this deodorant to the test, so I used it on a day when I did yard work, a day when I didn’t shower, and two days when the temperature was in the 70s and I was outside in the sun for hours. I was amazed at how effective it was and how long it lasted. When I was out in the sun and got really sweaty, I had to reapply in the late afternoon. Or at least I felt, after sniffing my pits, like I should reapply. But I don’t think anyone else would notice unless they were very close to my armpits. And honestly, I often have to reapply regular antiperspirant-deodorant. Again, swampy NC summers. All in all, Little Seed Farm’s deodorant cream keeps me smelling good at least as well as the average mainstream antiperspirant-deodorant, maybe even better. It’s made with natural and organic ingredients, and it is packaged in a recyclable glass jar with a recyclable metal lid. I ordered a jar of the lavender deodorant and I can’t wait till it gets here.

Other options

I should mention that everyone has their own unique body chemistry and of course their own likes and dislikes. This might not be the perfect deodorant for you. There are some other companies that make deodorant in non-plastic containers, such as Taylor’s Natural, Fat And The Moon, or Meow Meow Tweet. There are also companies that send refills for a plastic container, which doesn’t completely eliminate plastic, but lessens it a hell of a lot. Two brands to try are By Humankind and Myro.

Please let me know what you think if you try any of these, or any other plastic-free or low-plastic deodorants!

Greening My Life

My latest project, the one I’m thinking about the most, is not knitting or baking or art journaling or making leather notebook covers, although those have all occupied a lot of my time and effort lately. No, my biggest project these days is making my home and my life greener. I’ve always considered myself an environmentalist, and I’ve written before about trying to reduce my consumption of single-use plastic. But over the years, I have really slacked off, often choosing convenience or lower price over earth-friendliness. I have three kids, and there’s only so much I can do. Whenever I felt guilty, I reminded myself (possibly a bit defensively) that I breastfed and cloth-diapered all my children, and that balanced out whatever environmental sins I was committing. And, of course, I recycle.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you buy something through one of these links, I earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you. You can read more about my advertising policy here.

A few weeks ago, however, I listened to an episode of the 99% Invisible podcast called “National Sword.” It describes how China is refusing to recycle US waste, and how a lot of the items we toss in our recycling bins actually aren’t getting recycled at all. I urge you to listen to it, but probably not on a day when you’re feeling depressed or hopeless because believe me, this will not make things better.

plastic bottles and other plastic trash float in water
Image by Pixabay

After listening to “National Sword,” I’m more determined than ever to reduce my use of plastic (especially single-use plastic) and reduce my trash production in general.

I’ve already mentioned that I use reusable grocery bags when I shop. I also recently bought reusable produce bags. They are made of a see-through mesh fabric, so they don’t add significant weight, and the supermarket cashier can see the code on the produce stickers. They’re just as easy to use as plastic. I also have started using beeswax wraps instead of plastic wrap. They’re easy to use and clean. Much easier, actually, than wrestling with plastic wrap that’s hard to tear properly and always sticks to itself. I’ve tried two different brands, and I prefer the Green Bee wraps, as they stick better than the other one I’ve tried. I’ve also been transitioning to glass containers and jars instead of ziplock bags for freezing leftovers.

three empty glass canning jars in front of a large metal bucket
Image by Pixabay

My next challenge is reducing my use of plastic bottles for toiletries and household cleansers. I use Method dish liquid and spray cleaner, and I buy the refills rather than buying more small bottles. I’m still buying plastic, I know. I could buy aluminum or glass spray bottles and make my own cleaner with vinegar, but I really love the scents that Method makes, and my husband is not a fan of the smell of vinegar. Just writing about it is making me feel guilty. Maybe I’ll switch over, but no promises. I’m also transitioning from paper towels to cloth napkins and cloth cleaning rags, and from regular sponges to biodegradable cellulose sponges.

many blue and yellow dishcloths folded and stacked together
Image by Pixabay

It’s staggering how much plastic we use, and how much it has increased in just the past two to three decades. When I was a kid in the 70s and 80s, soda bottles and peanut butter jars were glass, and things such as cornstarch, drink mixes, oatmeal, and mixed nuts came in canisters made from metal or cardboard. Now most of these containers are plastic. Cold cereal used to be in waxed paper bags inside the box, instead of the plastic bags used now. Those paper bags were easier to open, and when you rolled them down they stayed rolled and kept the cereal fresh longer.

I’m going to see what my options are for avoiding plastic bottles of body lotion, face cream, deodorant, hair products, and the like. I’ll be blogging about the changes I make, so stay tuned!

9 Ways I’ll Be Using Less Plastic in 2019

A dumpter overflows with trash, mostly in plastic bags, some loose. Trash is on the ground around the dumpster. Text says:
Image by Pixabay

I’m not big on New Year resolutions, but one of my intentions for 2019 is to continue making small changes in my daily life to walk more gently on the earth, and especially to reduce my use of single-use plastic.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you buy something through one of these links, I earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you. You can read more about my advertising policy here.

Reusable grocery bags

After literally years of leaving my reusable shopping bags either at home or in my car, I am finally remembering to bring them into stores with me almost all the time. I use the kind grocery stores usually sell for a dollar or sometimes give away, and I find they work well for me. Not only are they green, but they’re stronger than plastic grocery bags, so I don’t have to worry about a bag being sliced open by the sharp edge of some cellophane packaging or splitting from too much weight. They also sit in my trunk without flopping all over and spilling their contents. If you’d prefer another type, though, there are many bags available for purchase, such as foldable bags in cute designs, or bags that are actually collapsible boxes.

 

Packing lunches

An open plastic container holds wrap sandwiches and grape tomatoes
Image by Pixabay

Along with plastic grocery bags, I’ve ditched plastic ziplock bags for the most part. I still use them for frozen foods, but when packing lunches or snacks I use either Sistema boxes (yes, they’re plastic, but they last for years. Much better than plastic bags or disposable plastic containers) or Lunchskins paper sandwich bags. These bags seal with a peel-and-stick strip and are perfect for sandwiches and dry snacks. I’ve noticed that Reynolds has started making paper sandwich bags, too, but I’m a sucker for the cute pictures on the Lunchskins ones.

 

I also use reusable water bottles. After trying a bunch of different brands over the years, I found that I really love Sip by S’well stainless steel bottles. They don’t have straws or any other fiddly parts that get lost or are hard to clean. Just a bottle and a cap. They come in cute prints, they last for years, and they are double-walled, so they keep your cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot. They can be a bit pricey, but I usually buy them on sale. I’ve also gotten some knock-offs from Aldi, so keep your eyes peeled at back-to-school season!

Making Laundry Cleaner and Greener

I’m planning to ditch plastic jugs of laundry detergent in 2019. Homemade laundry soap is really easy to make, and the recipe is even easy to remember. It’s just one bar of soap, one cup of borax, and one cup of washing soda. You can probably find borax and washing soda in the laundry aisle of your local supermarket, Walmart, or Target. Or you can order it from Amazon. Grate the soap with a box grater, and then stir the grated soap, the borax, and the washing soda together. If you want, you can add a few drops of essential oil for fragrance. Store the mixture in an airtight container, and use 2-4 TBS  (1/8 – 1/4 cup) per load. I’ve never had a problem with it dissolving in cold water, but if you do, you can just dissolve it in a cup or two of hot water and toss that mixture into the washing machine before filling it up with cold. (Or pour it into the liquid detergent dispenser if your machine has one of those). It’s safe for HE machines, too.

Shower solutions

stacked bars of soap
image by Pixabay

I’ve started using bar soap in the shower to avoid using plastic bottles of shower gel. This also solves the problem of having an inch of soap left in the bottom of the bottle that you can’t get to with the pump. Don’t you hate that? I suspect that manufacturers purposely make the pump tubes too short so we’ll buy a new bottle sooner.

Did you know that shampoo and conditioner also come in bars? I just bought a handmade conditioner bar on Etsy, and there are also a ton on Amazon. Once I finish my current bottle of shampoo, I’ll replace that with a bar, too.

You know what else is plastic and in my bathroom? My toothbrush. I just ordered a pack of bamboo toothbrushes, and I’m going to try to convince my whole family to switch.

I’m not perfect, and I know there’s plenty more I can do to help the environment. But using less plastic, especially single-use disposable plastic, is one step, and it’s not hard to do. If you have other suggestions for using less disposable plastic around the house, please let me know in the comments!