Steps You Can Take to Kick the Plastics Habit

by Tiffany in Eco Tips

Plastics. I can hardly say the word without making the “yuck” face.

Don’t get me wrong I understand that plastics have done some wondrous things for us, especially in medicine and in medical devices. But plastics are EVERYWHERE these days. Corporate America is telling me I need to drink out of plastic, eat off of plastic, wrap my food in plastic, carry my stuff in plastic bags, store my kids toys in plastic, and buy up single use plastics as much as possible to make my like easier. What they don’t tell me though is that plastic is forever, that it chokes our oceans, fills our landfills, harms our wildlife, and leaches hormones into the food products it holds with devastating effects on our health. When at all possible we need to step away from the plastic…for our own health and for the health of the planet.  Here are some steps you can take:

Kick Plastic Habit infographic

Click to Enlarge – Photo Courtesy of www.wildlifeheritage.org


Okabashi Recyclable Shoes and Flip-Flops

by Tiffany in Eco Fashion

In the past I have been a flip-flop addict of sorts. Years ago it was not uncommon for me to have 10 or more pairs… of JUST flip-flops. In recent years though I curtailed my habit because they are generally so flimsy (lasting only one season) and they are heavy on plastics and foam. They were just a nightmare in the green department. So I tided myself over with sneakers (sniff) that last much longer and eco friendlier shoes when I could swing it.

Anyway when an eco conscious shoe company called Okabashi asked me to take some of their recyclable flip-flops for a test run I agreed to do so. They look just like regular flip-flops but there are several important differences.

For one they are not outsourced to a third world country, thereby paying workers peanuts AND saving resources with local manufacturing. These shoes are made in Buford, Georgia and I have heard you can tour their facility if you want to. The shoes travel only 7% as far as the average imported shoe. Second, they are VERY sturdy shoes, probably the highest quality pair of flip-flops I have ever owned. These babies are going to last years and the company even guarantees them for 2. Buying plastic anything can be a hard sell but when you know that plastic will only last a few months before it becomes completely unusable… that is a deal breaker.

Third, the material used in these shoes is unique in that it is soft, flexible, non-slip, odor-resistant, dishwasher safe, and contains an anti-microbial agent. Who ever heard of shoes you can toss in the dishwasher? Flip-flops especially can get nasty because the foam used so often to make them is porous and holds stains, and odor and cannot be washed effectively. These are going to be perfect for the gym since I can shower in them and wipe them down and make sure nothing nasty from the showers or locker room is going to get a foot hold in my shoes.

Fourth, these shoes are completely recyclable. Most times when you hear that a company is taking back their shoes for “recycling” that usually means they redistribute them. Okabashi believes in closed-loop recycling to reduce the use of virgin material and to keep old shoes from becoming environmental waste. So when you buy a pair of Okabashi shoes you are likely buying shoes that are made with recycled material already and when you are done with them you can send them back to Georgia (their address is on their web site) so they can be made into yet another pair. Their facility is virtually zero waste.. next to no scrap and last year they used 100,000 pounds of scrap material in their shoes. This is pretty amazing to me since I have first hand knowledge of the plastic scrap that get tossed in a local (Ohio) plastic business. It is STAGGERING the amount of plastic scrap that gets tossed out… ahem… like a huge parking lot full.

Fifth, they are vegan! The entire line contains no animal skins or byproducts, and they are not tested on animals. This is important because most sandals and flip flops that contain animal by-products such as leather and adhesives are nearly impossible to recycle and they end up in the landfill.

Sixth, they are affordable. No $50 flip-flops here. The prices are right around $15-$18. Wahoo! They (Okabashi) also have some listed on Amazon. The price on some is a tad higher but they are darn close to qualifying for free shipping.

I ended up getting two pairs of eco friendlier shoes for the summer and happily these Okabashi flip-flops are one of them because I don’t currently own any others (flip-flops, not shoes). We’ve been reunited and it feels so good.


Green Pet Products and Supplies

by Tiffany in A Green Home

Eco Friendly Pet Toys and Supplies

I have not really written on this subject much because I don’t have pets anymore. I had dogs for most of my life and loved it but after I had children and my dogs got older and eventually died I owned up to the fact that I was not a great pet owner anymore. Whereas I used to refer to my dogs as my babies, I eventually became too concerned with dog hair everywhere, chewing of the kids stuff, and the general work involved in caring for a pet. Couple that with the fact that when we lived in Arizona they were always getting bitten by rattlesnakes and leaving a grisly blood trail all over and breaking my heart in the process, well I decided no more pets. I used to feel guilt that I wasn’t a “pet person” anymore but I don’t believe in doing things half assed. If I am going to do it, I want to do it WELL. Perhaps when my kids are a bit older I can give a pet the love and attention they deserve, but not now.

Still I have fond memories… pups being birthed in the middle of the night in my bed, LOL. Giving the runt CPR and quickly deciding I had to keep her. Taking the dogs to the lake to splash around. The dogs waking me up in the middle of the night to alert me that a horse had gotten out of the barn and was ambling around in the unfenced yard! I miss them still…

BUT if I were to get another pet I realize that I would be a MUCH different owner in terms of what I would feed them and what I would give them to play with. I wasn’t concerned back then with eco friendly pet toys and supplies and I wasn’t aware of the toxins that can poison their lifestyle. Nowadays people are catching on to the fact that some plastic may be unsafe for pet toys and that plastics have heavy environmental impact. Pet owners see that rawhide and other various popular pet toys are not so safe. Take this quote from Bloggy Doggies:

Rawhide chews aren’t regulated so contamination is always a possibility, especially with imported products. You may find the product heavily dosed with antibiotics, hormones, insecticides, lead, even insecticides.

Sheesh! No pet owner wants to think about how they may be exposing their friend daily to toxic products. But what are our options?Well, we have more and more each year. The eco friendly, safe and green pet products industry is starting to boom as more and more people decide to break with the old products we have always used. In general we want to see if we can buy safer plastic that don’t have as many of the chemical nasties. We should buy toys that are tough and will hold up to strong use without being shredded and then ingested. We should look for toys that can be recycled or that will naturally biodegrade. We might also look into making our own pet food and treats to avoid processed, nutritionally devoid feeding products. Can we do ALL of that this, all the time? Well, with any new consumer habit that shouldn’t even be the goal. Increasing our awareness about this issue and moving in a new direction is a great start. I would LOVE to hear about greener, safer pet products from readers in the comments section!


Safer, Recyclable Plastic Pet Toys & Supplies

West Paw Design (seen above) has many eco toys for dogs that use their Zogoflex material. It is plastic but it is also fully recyclable and built to last for as long as it is serving as a dog toy. If their toys get damaged they will take them back even. These toys do not contain, nor do any of its components contain any known sources of lead, cadmium, mercury, latex, natural rubber, phthalates, hormones, Bisphenol A, or asbestos.

Some of their toys include the: Zisc (flying disc), Huck (triangle), Tux, Bumi (s-shaped), and Hurley (bone).

These Planet Dog Recycle Bones claim that their bones are made from plastic that wold have gone to a landfill.

These kitty licious organic cat nip flowers uses material that is 85% recycled plastic bottles and the catnip is certified organic. I would prefer the kickin chicken cat nip toy if I were a kitty though.

The same post consumer recycled materials are used to make eco friendly pet beds too. They are really gorgeous but I probably wouldn’t buy these myself , for the same reason I won’t buy pillows filled with recycled plastic. I don’t want our heads and bodies in such close contact with plastic.

Dog collars can be made of bamboo as opposed to plastic based fibers. Here is a collar made from hemp corduroy and the same company makes hemp harnesses as well.

There are even biodegradable doggy doo bags on the market.You just can’t tell me that pets can’t do their part in keeping the earth a lovely, green place!

Natural materials for pet toys and supplies might include cotton, hemp, wood, or natural rubber. I did not find very many in my research that were completely made of these materials. Most were a bit of this and that and likely that is due to synthetic fibers lasting longer. The dog bones pillows above for instance are made from hemp but have recycled poly-cotton inner stuffing. I would just encourage people to make the best choices they can.


Eco Friendly Cat Condos

Most cat condos that I see in pet stores are covered with carpet or faux fur, which is likely plastic based. But some companies are making cat condos with sustainable wood and leaving them uncovered. Many have scratch pads made from natural rope. They may not be as glamorous looking as what you can find at PetSmart but when was the last time your cat experienced peer pressure? This lovely tiered, and green cat condo would suffice.

Uh.. what was that I was just saying about non glamorous eco options??? Can I live in this cat condo duplex with yall? Wow!

Eco Friendly Cat Condo Duplex

Also check out this eco friendly cat scratching post made from sisal rope. Eco kitties have options!


Natural and Safe Pet Remedies

Pets have health issues to face, just as people do and just like homeopathic, natural remedy minded mamas like natural cures, pets should not be bombarded with chemical products either. There are companies offering natural products for ailing pets. Natural Pet Wonders for instance, claim to have totally natural products for fleas and ticks, worms and parasites, arthritis, cancer, nervous system issues, and more. I can’t claim to know much about them or this subject matter but it is worth looking into if your pet is under the weather.

When bath time arrives you can also find several organic shampoos for dogs. You could probably use a shampoo bar for humans but you would likely end up with some really furry soap, LOL.


Natural Pet Food and Treats

There are products you can buy that are natural and organic for feeding your pet. Organix makes some great products like their organic puppy food and their organic dog treats. BUT these can be very pricey. Another option is to make your own and then you will know exactly what is in it. There are many recipes you can find in a quick Internet search and plenty of green folks are already doing it.

Lisa at Condo Blues makes Allergy Free Apple and Banana Dog Treats.

Beth at Fake Plastic Fish makes homemade cat food.

It can be done with minimal impact and it is healthier for our pets. When was the last time you “accidentally” fed your pet some melamine ya know?

It may take a bit more planning but you know that your pet is eating healthy and living “green”.


How to Avoid the Poison in Your Pantry

by Tiffany in A Green Home, Healthy Eating

Steps You Can Take to Make Eating Canned Food Healthier and Safer…

Until recently, when I started eating less raw and cooking more in an attempt to win over my husband and ease us all into a more meatless existence I hadn’t used canned food in quite some time. I understood that there were issues with canned foods but since I didn’t eat them I didn’t blog about it. But now I seem to be on a Mexican, South American, and Caribbean cooking kick which uses a lot of beans and I have resorted to using canned beans on occasion. With all that I have read recently though I decided to buy a bean crock and force myself to only use dried beans until canned food is just a bit safer and healthier.

So what is wrong with canned food?

BPA – The major issue is BPA or Bisphenol A. It is the endocrine disruptor that I have mentioned oodles of times on this blog that is found in plastics, water bottle liners, and canned goods, among other things. We may have been quick to take that BPA leaching baby bottle or sippy cup out of Juniors hand but perhaps we didn’t think to look in their green beans. BPA is making its way into our food. Consumer Reports and the Environmental Working Group have both studied the issue and found BPA in many of the canned products they tested, including infant formula, vegetables, soda and soup. And we are what we eat. BPA is present in detectable levels in over 90% of Americans’ bodies and groups are many are trying to send a message to the powers that be, that poisoning us, just isn’t cool.

BPA free canned goods are available through ethical companies like Eden. We just need to make sure more companies follow suit.

Salt – Canned goods are outrageously high in sodium often times so look for low sodium or salt free brands. Also make sure to put beans in a colander and rinse really well before cooking. Be weary of canned soups since they can contain a third of the recommended amount of sodium for the day just in that one can. Try no salt versions and just get creative with spices and herbs.

Be Fish Aware – If you like canned fish, and I say that with a twinge of longing for canned Alaskan Wild Salmon on crackers… gulp – make sure to get fish stored in water rather than oil. And make sure to buy WILD caught fish since they typically have less contaminants than farmed fish.

Bean Pots! – These are made of clay or ceramic and where very popular decades ago in making beans. You can cook the way your ancestors did! You just put your beans in the pot with some herbs and spices and put it in the oven. The pot keeps the beans from burning and creates wonderfully flavored beans. You can soak the beans in the pot the night before and after rinsing just return them to the pot for cooking. Older pots should be put in a cold oven to get gradually hot rather than putting them in an already hot oven, as they may break.

The idea for crock pots likely came from bean pots but I still think the latter has a place in the kitchen because unless I am making chili or some sort of bean stew I need something smaller. Bean pots are great for baking black beans that may end up in burritos for dinner or under a fried egg for breakfast.

You can find new ones on Amazon and old ones on Ebay.

How do you feel about eating from a can? What do you do to make slow cooked foods just as convenient?

Related: Everything Beans Book


Ask NatureMom – Laundry Baskets

by Tiffany in A Green Home

Reader QuestionsThis is a somewhat regular feature I added awhile back to organize reader questions. I have a build up in my email inbox so I am doing some virtual housekeeping now.

Reader Jen: My plastic laundry baskets are falling apart and I really need to replace them. Any ideas for a great eco-friendly solution? I haven’t thought of anything I can re-purpose for hauling my clean laundry upstairs and I’m not sure where to look (preferably locally) for something made with sustainable materials and eventually biodegradable. Any ideas for me?

NatureMom: Well, Jen you have a few options in eco friendly laundry baskets. For one thing the metal frame baskets with cloth liners  that you find in big box stores are not to shabby. If you want local you can also canvas yard sales. Even if you don’t find laundry baskets you may find something else that can be re-purposed into a laundry collection unit. ;) Wooden egg crates or wood barrels come to mind.

You could go with a wicker or bamboo basket too. They are natural and they will biodegrade when you are ready to toss them. They have a few on Amazon here and here. Gaiam also offers a bamboo laundry organizer with a basket and bar for hanging clothes.

I also really like these hampers made from recycled feed sacks. They are made by Cambodian villagers with old rice and feed sacks. They are unique, colorful, recycled, and they look they would be really easy to carry down into the basement to do laundry. ;) If you are able to find old feed sacks locally you could also make something like these on your own.

Reader Teresa: Hi Tiffany! Have you looked into these? I have had a Brita in the past and loved having cold, filtered water right out of the fridge. I have heard though, that there is some BPA in the filters. Do you know of any safe alternatives?

NatureMom: Great question! Buying bottled water presents a serious plastics problem for our planet but tap water may be down right nasty to drink. So the more eco friendly option would be to filter your tap water at home and assuming that a whole house filtration system is not in the budget that means having some sort of portable system.

As far as I know Brita’s filter, filter canister, and pitcher are made of 100% polypropylene plastic. Polycarbonate plastics are the big BPA culprits. The Soft Landing has a good article on this very topic. So its appears that Brita is a good brand for you. They also recycle their filters.

The water filter that I have (and that you see in this video) is from Zero Water. It has a pretty darn impressive 5-Stage filtration and a push button dispenser for in-fridge use. I hope to get a review up for it very soon. It has no BPA plastics in it and they have a filter recycling program. They also offer an awesome filter bottle that fits on top of a water cooler. It is quite awesome since conventional water cooler bottles do have BPA I believe.

Reader Wendy: I was thinking that at least buying locally is better than store bought and cheaper, so I was trying to do that.  However, it was not organic. I thought it was still a good compromise. But I have read things lately that are making me wonder. When I thought I was doing good… did I do bad?

NatureMom: Ah yes, the question we probably ALL ask ourselves. If you have a choice between organic but not local OR local and not organic which is best? Well, this one doesn’t have an easy answer. There are people who argue for both sides and insist their way is best. Eating local as much as you can without regard to organic may be better for the planet but eating only organic may be better for the body. Of course if you toss air and soul pollution into the mix with organics the answer becomes muddled. And if you think about how pesticide use destroys our soil then local become muddled.

Here is my take on it…just do your best. If you are shopping at farmer’s markets and “you pick” farms you are likely getting pretty close to organic because small farmers don’t have the budget for mass quantities of chemicals. Talk to them and find out how they grow the food. You may be surprised to find that many are organic… they just don’t have the expensive certification. Balance that with some non local foods that are certified organic. I buy local and organic whenever I can and when I can’t I just do the best I can. But continue to ask your local farmers and grocers for local, organic foods and you may just eventually see the change you want.

Reader Sarah: My hang-up is that there always seems to be so many more things I could do that it feels overwhelming. And then I feel like the things I am doing, aren’t enough. Also, and especially now in this economic crisis, buying organic and other green products is more expensive (sometimes twice the cost of the regular product), that it feels irresponsible financially. I know that may sound horrible. Anyway, I’m hoping you can pass along some insight as to how you make things work for you and your family. And stay sane. ;-)

NatureMom: I understand your frustration Sarah but in order to stay sane I recommend not trying to do too much at once. I have a wish list that I keep of green changes, green products, green renovation ideas, etc that I use to keep track of my goals. I do this because I cannot afford to go whole hog and do it all at once. So I do it little by little.

For instance in my kitchen you will find bamboo cutting boards, wooden cooking utensils, green (Teflon free) non-stick cookware, recycled colanders, stainless steel and ceramic mixing bowls, glass refrigerator dishes, etc. I did not buy all these things at once. I just made and inventory of what I need to change… paper towels replaced by cloth rags, plastic cooking utensils replaced by wood or metal… and I worked on those things one at a time. I still do this.

And as much as you can try to utilize the green ideas that actually SAVE you money and you will have a lot more wiggle room in the budget to work with.