sustainable holiday shopping guide—boston edition

So you waited until the very last minute to buy gifts. And I can’t say I blame you—between the impeachment trials and mercury finally getting the fuck out of retrograde, there’s been a lot going on. Unfortunately, that excuse won’t fly when your dear mother, who birthed you, realizes you’ve brought her nothing home for the holidays. 

In this kind of situation, solutions can come one of a few ways. The first is online shopping, with all the thrills of very expensive expedited shipping that still may or may not get to you on time. The second is a commercial shopping rampage…oh, except holiday shopping started weeks ago and sizes/style are few and far between.

But wait, hold on, there’s still one more way out. Buying local.

With far more curated inventory and closer proximity to their customers, small businesses are the perfect place to begin your holiday gifting. To start, quality at these stores tends to be higher than what you’d find at any commercial retailer. That means you may end up paying more per item but you’re more likely to find a gift that will be loved and lasting. As for available inventory, independent shops tend to have close relationships with their merchants/manufacturers and may be able to hook you up with out-of-stock merch or have good ideas for substitutions.

To get you shopping in the right direction, here are a few of my favorite Boston-area shops that will help you score before time runs out. 

For the Best Dressers: 

Covet Consignment Store 

391 W Broadway, Boston, MA 02127 | 109 Charles St, Boston, MA 02114 | @covetboston

Great for: Luxury (Louis Vuitton, Prada, Chanel) and mid-scale (Zara, Free People, Madewell) labels and products including handbags, shoes, sportswear & sunglasses

Reformation Sustainable fashion 

353 Newbury St, Boston, MA 02115 | @reformation

Great for: Last-a-lifetime pieces in a wide range of styles & inclusive sizes

For the Aspiring Minimalists

Boston General Store Sustainable & Low Waste Products 

305 Harvard Street Brookline, MA 02446 | 626 High Street Dedham, MA 02026 | @bostongeneralstore

Great for: Sustainable supplies for home & on-the-go (dishware, natural beauty, refillable soaps, personal grooming) & quality leather goods, like hats & bags 

For the Health Kickers  

Cambridge Naturals Natural Products & Food  

23 White Street Cambridge MA 02140 | 92 Guest Street Boston MA 02135 | @cambridgenaturals 

Great for: Natural beauty, grooming, vitamins & supplements, bulk teas, and spa tools 

For the Athletic Types 

Heartbreak Runners Running Gear

652 Tremont St Boston, MA 02118 | 638 Commonwealth Ave Newton, MA 02459 | 294 Massachusets Ave Cambridge, MA 02139 | @heartbreakrunco

Great for: Fit gear, sneakers, specialized fitness classes & marathon preparation 

Tracksmith Luxury Sportswear

285 Newbury Street Boston, MA 02115 | @tracksmithrunning

Great for: High-end sportswear & athletic accessories

For the Plant Mamas & Papas  

Niche Plant Boutique 

286 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139 | 619 Tremont St, Boston, MA 02118 | @nicheplantshop

Great for: Fun variety of house plants & in-house plant experts 

For Big & Little Readers 

Brookline Booksmith New/Used Bookstore

279 Harvard St, Brookline, MA 02446 | @brooklinebooksmith

Great for: Books, coffee table books, notebooks & quirky gifts 

For the Person Who Has Everything 

Abroad Modern Authentic Indian Gifts

260 Concord Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138 | @abroadmodern

Great for: Internationally sourced gifts & kitchenware

Black Ink Card & Stationery Store

5 Brattle St, Cambridge, MA 02138 | 101 Charles St, Boston, MA 02114

Great for: Games, puzzles, hand-made greeting cards, feminist swag & cute totes

Something for everybody

Bow Market Mixed Vendors

1 Bow Market Way, Somerville, MA 02143 | @bow.market 

Great for: Vintage, Boston maps, jewelry, plants & accessories & locally made art

SOWA “Farmers” Market

460 Harrison Ave, Boston, MA 02118 | @sowaboston

Great for: Vintage & antique finds, handmade cosmetics, jewelry, and local grub

how to cultivate gratitude

As we leave fall and officially migrate into the winter months, normal life begins to shift back into place. And for many of us, that’s a good thing. If you’re anything like me, you need some level of routine to feel mentally and physically well. But that doesn’t always make the transition any easier. Even though routine may be good for eating family meals or going to the gym regularly, it can be in conflict with the more intuitive sides of ourselves.

After summer vacations, weekends spent by the water, endless hours of sunshine, and brightly colored produce disappear, I recently found myself unwillingly face-to-face with the regular. Wake up. Workout. Coffee. Work. Home. Zzzz. Repeat. Feeling restricted, I began to overpack my schedule with dinner’s out, exercise classes, shopping, and travel. That worked for a time…until after an entire month of weekends away, it occured to me that I was completely burned out and wanted to hide under a rock for six months.

Wait…what? How was this possible? After all, I was doing everything. How could I possibly be anything but ecstatic? And then it hit me. On top of some basic time-management skills, what I really was craving was Gratitude.

It’s such a hard thing, gratitude. When you live in a world that operates at the speed of light and urges you to go with it, it’s hard to carve out space to fully appreciate where you are right now. It’s something I’ve been working on over the past year and in the process discovered a few great tools for fostering a little more goodness in the midst of the daily grind.

While I hated journaling at first, after filling about seven notebooks with my most genuine and disorganized thoughts, it’s really come to grow on me. Sometimes I journal when I wake up. Other times its before bed. To me, it doesn’t really matter when I do it as long as the deed is done. Depending on my time or mood, I’ll write for a few pages, recording my very raw stream of consciousness.

At the urging of my shrink, I’ve also added a section at the end where I write down a few things I’m grateful for at that moment. Sometimes the list is simple and non-prolific—yoga, my cat, hot coffee—while other times it’s an opportunity for impactful change. Regardless of what ends up on the page, I’ve found sitting down and actually documenting my gratitude helps me be more at ease and present in the moment.

But there are times when writing something down just isn’t enough. Growing up in a household where phrases like, ‘Thank you’ and ‘I love you’ were used very liberally, it shocked me that that wasn’t the reality for everyone. Learning how to outwardly express your gratitude to friends, SOs, and family can sometimes be one of the most challenging aspects of a relationship. And one of the most rewarding.

For a writing-inclined human, like myself, I love sending out-of-blue appreciation texts to let people know they’re on my mind. But some of the people in my life prefer showing they care through group activities or physical contact. And all of this is totally fine by me. Because everyone’s love languages vary, it’s really not about how you tell others you’re grateful but rather just finding your own way to express those feelings.

So we’ve gone over the more external things you can do to express gratitude, but what about the internal? Like oxygen masks on a plane, gratitude is something we need to foster within ourselves before I can even think about extending it to others.

One of the biggest barriers to gratitude is negative thought. These ideas can be brought on my insecurities, challenges at work, and other mood-altering events. Negative thoughts can zoom in faster than storm clouds and flip a perfectly good day on its head.

When I sense a storm coming on, I use both mantra-based meditation and apps like Headspace to break the turbulence. Mantras help me reaffirm aspects of myself while guided meditations lead me out of my stream of thought and into a more reflective space. My favorite mantra is, “Nothing is perfect. Everything is okay.” When I’m in a head mess, this saying reminds me that perfection is unattainable and that most of the time, I really am doing the best I can. With a clear head, I can finally begin to separate feelings from reality and circle back to gratitude.

Thinking back to the fast-paced consumer culture we live in, it’s easy to see why some people understand gratitude in terms of what one has, like a nice house, disposable income, and so on. Yet ironically enough, the times I feel most in need of gratitude are the moments when I have the most. After receiving a few parcels in the mail or gifts during the holidays, I feel overwhelmed and frankly a little unfulfilled. Why? Because beyond food, water, shelter, sex, and love, there’s nothing we actually need. Everything else is just an add-on. They don’t always feel that way because the world is so geared towards a culture of more and better, and pretty, shiny things are distracting. But that’s the reality.

Sure, the minimalist lifestyle isn’t an option for everyone. But learning to pause and be mindful while handling a credit card is one way to minimize this excessive buildup of stuff. Another is to take into account the items you already have. Which do you use regularly? Which ones rarely see the light of day? Whether it’s appliances in your kitchen or clothes in your closet, be honest with yourself and eventually, you’ll be more comfortable separating from those possessions.

Gratitude is a beautiful emotion. It’s not the easiest thing to feel, particularly during difficult or emotional times. Yet the more we learn to appreciate what we already have instead of seeking things to be grateful for, the more content we can become with where we are, what we’re doing, and where we’re going.

6 sustainability apps you need on your phone

One of the greatest barriers that stands between sustainability and the mainstream is convenience. Eating, buying, and living more sustainably is rarely—if ever—more convenient than, say, Amazon same-day service or single-use coffee cups. What’s more, many sustainable businesses and organizations belong to niche communities made up of people who have the time and money to educate themselves and invest in alternatives. And unfortunately, this leaves the majority of people in the dark about ways they can decrease their personal footprint. 

The good news is, there are some great organizations working to meet consumers where they are—on their phones! Check out these five free apps that are putting sustainability on speakerphone. Even if you just download one of them, I promise it’ll be one of the most valuable apps on your phone. 

If you’re: Looking to support more sustainable fashion & lifestyle brands: 

Good on You

So, how ethical are those leggings made of plastic water bottles? Is that commercial company’s sustainable clothing line actually sustainable? Good on You has made it their mission to find out. Part shopping guide, part media source, Good on You makes ethical and sustainable shopping easier than ever. In their directory, every evaluated brand is given a rating ranging from a very sad face to a very happy grin as well as a summary explaining why each brand scored where they did. The app also lets you search clothing categories, including Plus Size, Activewear, and Maternity—areas not known for having many sustainable options—and offers exclusive in-app coupons. 

Done Good 

Although not available by app (yet), Done Good’s free browser plug-in is a lifesaver for anyone trying to make more mindful, but affordable, purchases. Say you type “Coffee tables” into your browser. Done Good’s plug-in will automatically generate a notification on the side of your screen with a list of sustainable furniture recommendations and exclusive promo codes. When searching sites like Warby Parker, Done Good will also pop up to reassure you that the brand you’re supporting is considered an ethical choice by the organization. Likewise, if you’re searching within websites that sell Trump products, you’ll get an FYI for more PC options out there. 

If you’re: Looking for sustainable freebies and/or bargains: 

Olio 

Olio is a fantastic app dedicated to ending food waste. Ever wonder what happens to all that bread leftover at your local bakery or your favorite cafe? Well, if you’re one of the nearly 1.5 million users of Olio, the answer might just be at your fingertips. One of my favorite sustainability Youtubers, Sustainably Vegan, first tipped me off to the app. A London native, she uses Olio to take advantage of local restaurants’ and bakeries’ leftovers that would otherwise be “binned”. Used actively in about 50 countries, Olio shows you local vendors and individuals who have quality leftover food they are getting rid of for little to no cost. And if you’re not quite on board with this side of the sharing economy, you can still benefit from Olio’s quick and hard-hitting weekly newsletter, Zero Waste Weekly

Bunz 

Very similar to Olio, Bunz helps prevent waste but on a more generalized scale. On the app, you can find used clothing, unopened food, and virtually anything else your heart desires. Bunz operates on a loyalty basis, meaning every time you post an item to give away or trade with someone, you earn Bunz currency or “BTZ”. You can then go on to shop using the currency you earn with other members or businesses that accept it. Every day, the app also does a BTZ drop where users can go in and earn additional Bunz for that little extra “cash”. Bunz has been particularly popular in Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Montreal, L.A., Brooklyn, New York, San Francisco, and London, so if you’re in or around those areas, boot up the app and check out what’s up for grabs. 

Tap 

Urban horror story: It’s a hot summer day and you’re carrying around your reusable water bottle—well done—when suddenly you’re down to the last drop. Here you are, out of water and thirsty. What do you do? Buy a plastic water bottle? Hope you’ll stumble upon a park with a water fountain? With Tap, finding a public water source is only a search away. Using your location, the app identifies close-by fountains and taps where you can refill for free. And it’s not just for urbanites; even at my office deep in the Burbs, I can easily find bottle filling stations just down the street. The app is 100% user-friendly and impossible to mess up…unless, of course, you drop it in water. 

If you’re: Looking for more sustainable beauty & skincare options:

Think Dirty

Your bronzer may look fire. But have you ever thought what chemicals might be behind the glow? Think Dirty looks at the contents of everything from nail varnish to dish soap. However, unlike some of the other apps I’m highlighting, Think Dirty has kind of sworn off the whole “sustainability” label. Instead, the app has chosen to, “focus exclusively on the chemical content of the products in question.” That said, it’s not just ironic that the products with better scores tend to be the ones made and processed more sustainably… 

After being evaluated, Think Dirty gives products a numerical rating of 1-10 (1 = GREAT! and 10 = RUN AWAY!) based on their composition. In every analysis, the app’s Advisory Board—made up of experts in science, medicine, and environmental standards—goes into the nitty-gritty of each ingredient and the level of risk it poses to our bodies and health. Think Dirty even has a list of verified brands, making it easier for people like us to make better choices at checkout. 

how to mentally declutter

When I say the word, “declutter”, your mind likely wanders to Marie Kondo, spring cleaning, and that one time a year you do a full inventory of all the crap that’s taken up residence in your car. But decluttering can also be an effective way to break down overwhelming tasks and anxieties that arise. Between constant phone notifications, obligations in and out of work, and the escalating pace of life, it’s easy to get sucked into the go-go-go mentality without even noticing. But when it does eventually creep up on you, I’ve found the following steps helpful for facing stressors head-on and finding mental clarity. 

Minimize or Avoid Social Media 

When I’m running at a hundred miles a minute or drowning in to-do lists, social media can quickly become an unhelpful pacifier. Sure, in the moment, double-tapping Chonky.Animals or binging on What I Eat in Day videos feels good. But once I become aware of just how long I’ve been sitting there starring at a screen, the stress often reappears—with a vengeance.  

Distraction is a natural place to go when you’re feeling overwhelmed. It offers momentary alleviation and keeps you away from tasks at hand. But finding ways to pull yourself away from stress, unfortunately, isn’t the most productive method to addressing personal challenges. Firstly, the relief is never long-term and, when you do finally look up from the screen, whatever problem you’re facing is likely still there. Although it’s far more difficult to meet adversity head-on, it’s also the healthiest technique. That’s why during stressful periods, I highly recommend limiting or cutting off your digital habits. This way, you force yourself to slow down and disconnect while reducing your chances of seeing something that might actually compound your stress.

Be Mindless 

Boredom is a beautiful thing. In fact, studies prove that doing nothing can be restorative for both mental health and creativity. It’s a strange thing to say in a world where entertainment is everywhere but sometimes, going on a walk without your phone, lying outside, or simply lounging around the house can give your mind and body a chance to settle. During this respite, it’s critical to remove judgment and just allow yourself to do nothing, something I find is easier said than done. Driven by success and money, our society tends to praise hustlers and go-getters but doesn’t make room for contemplators and reflectors. By slowing down, you’re not just being incredibly rebellious (so COOL), you’re also giving yourself permission to treat your mind with compassion and demonstrating acceptance for its natural need to breathe.    

Mental Dump 

I’ve been journaling for the past 9 months or so. For however many pages each day, I just write. My handwriting is terrible, the sentences don’t make sense but the process itself is cathartic.

I had tried journaling in the past and found it never really clicked; something about it always felt whiney or repetitive. But, after reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, my perspective shifted. Cameron explains journaling as a way to break through personal baggage and creative barriers—the more you get into the habit of expressing yourself, the less likely you are to let your feelings pile up and hamper your productivity. As a copywriter, I’ve found this perspective immensely helpful. Whether it’s writing an article for this blog or a work project, having the ability to move past mental limitations is imperative for personal and professional growth.

But, if journaling makes you a little queasy, venting to a friend, recording yourself, or drawing can all be effective ways of getting your emotions out of virtual space and into the open.

Prioritize

I’m first to admit this is not always a personal forte of mine. For me, EVERYTHING is a priority, even when it doesn’t need to be. Particularly when I’m anxious, it seems as though the laundry needs to be done as soon as my portfolio is updated as I’m running and making time to get out to a friend’s birthday party. Excuse me—what? None of that makes any sense. 

As much as we like to believe it, no one is a good multitasker because doing multiple things all at once requires sacrificing quality somewhere along the way. What’s more, we physically cannot be at 15 places at once, making everyone in our lives happy—it’s just not realistic. So when there’s a lot on your plate, don’t try to stuff it all in your mouth because you will probably choke. Instead, take the time to sit down and think critically about what’s in front of you. Ask yourself, What needs to get done and what can wait? When is all this due? Can I do one thing now and save the others until later? And, if you’re like me, What have I added to my to-do list that truly does not need to be there? By sorting your responsibilities, it’s easier to approach them with a clear mind and achieve a more refined final product.

Work in Productive Spurts 

Overworking is a big problem. We all experience the occasional late-night at the office or an overloaded week. But it’s when constant engagement becomes the norm that we begin to lose sight of what we’re actually doing. In reality, our most productive moments come in spurts. We’ve all experienced the essay we spent way too long on and then read through only to find it made NO SENSE AT ALL. This school of thought follows the same sort of idea: The more energy you’re able to contribute to something, the better the outcome. When you’re just pounding away at the keyboard with all passion wrung from your cold, limp hands, nothing good is going to result. Yes, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. But when you can take the time to spread out tasks, the outcomes will be far more representative of your best work.

Say ‘No’ 

It’s hard, I know, but ‘no’ should be in your vocabulary. No, you can’t come to the phone right now. No, you don’t want to go out tonight. It’s not about whether or not you like someone, it’s about really listening to yourself. In the moment, saying ‘yes’ often feels like the right move for me (especially if I’ve had a bit of wine). But later, when I actually do whatever I agreed to, it can sometimes feel forced. As someone who likes investing my time in friendships and responsibilities, I never want those around me to feel like they’re not getting 100% of my attention. But in order to operate at my fullest, I need to know my limits and be okay with a little FOMO.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you curl under a rock never to see the light of day. What I am encouraging is that you set reasonable expectations with those around you. If you know you need to unwind after a long week, going out after work for drinks probably isn’t going to serve your cause. Likewise, if you really just need some quality time with a friend or family member, getting the whole squad together to hang out isn’t going to satisfy you either. Trust and believe no one knows your body and mind quite like you do and listening to both means you’re better equipped to support those around you. 

4 tips for a sustainable 4th.

Fireworks have to be the single most ironic thing. So beautiful. So dangerous. So Ariana-Grande-Circa-2016. And yet every year, with or without legal authorization, fireworks light up the sky across the nation in the name of Liberté.

In the spirit of the 4th, which happens to coincide with Plastic Free July, here are a few easy ways to cut back on your waste this holiday. Maybe you pick just one of these tips and commit to it. Maybe you take them all on. Regardless, you’ll be making America very proud. 

1.     Straws suck.

Unless you have a medical condition, there is no legitimate reason to use a straw. Period. Straws can never be recycled so once you’ve finished your drink, that’s it—end of the line. And although your one straw may seem insignificant in the moment, try to imagine how many people are thinking the exact same thing. 

What can replace that little sucker? Personally, I’ll be carrying my metal straw with me for the next couple of days. It’s easy to clean and fairly inconspicuous. But, there’s always the option to go without. If you’re ordering drinks, just ask the bartender to skip the straw and urge friends and family to do the same. And if you’re hosting the party at your place, don’t even offer straws. Trust me, if the drinks are good, no one will notice the difference.

2.     Glow sticks are cool. Also, terrible.

Glow sticks were a staple of my childhood 4th of July celebrations. And as much as I love their satisfying snap, the truth is glow sticks are pretty ecologically inconsiderate. For one, they’re entirely made of plastic and unfortunately, can never be recycled. Two, inside those flexible vessels of joy, are all kinds of nasty chemicals, including Phenyl oxalate ester (a chemical used in nail polish), that you don’t want on your skin or leaking out of a landfill into your drinking water. 

While we’re on the topic of holiday-themed knickknacks, I also want to urge you to avoid any of the following items: 

  • Plastic necklaces
  • Anything designed to make annoying sounds
  • Cheap sunglasses
  • T-shirts you won’t even sleep in
  • Plastic cups

Unless you can see yourself using it for years to come, save yourself the spring cleaning and leave emptyhanded.  

3.     Take public transit.

Depending on where you live, public transit can be a more relaxing way to travel during the holiday. Fourth of July weekend is one of the most congested travel periods and particularly in busy, metropolitan areas, even a few less cars on the road can help traffic move more smoothly. By taking the bus or train, you’re removing unnecessary vehicles from the road and maybe even reaping discounted or free public fares in return. If public transit isn’t in the equation for you, try to get a group together and carpool instead. 

4.     Pick up after yourself.

This one should be implied but unfortunately, I’ve seen one too many grown-ass adults drop their trash in the middle of the sidewalk to not become skeptical. Point blank—if you make trash, own it. Throw out anything that can’t be composted or recycled and if those options are available, walk the extra block to dispose of food and bottles properly. Please, and thank you.

Stay green and Happy 4th! 

how to recycle plastics

Recycling can be confusing. Laws around the subject vary by state-by-state and even city-by-city. Some cities, Seattle for example, have made recycling mandatory and enforce the law by fining violators. Meanwhile, Vermont, Massachusetts, and a handful of other states have enacted bottle bills to help incentivize local recycling efforts. But despite all this legislation, it seems like many states and cities, even ones with good recycling programs, do little in the way of public education. Sure, I can go to the City of Boston website to see a nicely designed graphic covering the do’s and don’ts of recycling. But beyond that, I’ve struggled to find accessible, clear materials that can help me make better buying decisions and feel confident I’m using recycling in the right way.

Exhibit A

On a recent trip to North Carolina, my boyfriend and I stopped by a community music event. We were on vacation so naturally we started things off at the bar. After getting our IDs checked and waiting in a long line of thristy people, we finally reached the wine and craft beer. Crap, I thought. Plastic. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me that we’d be drinking and that drinking likely would mean using single-use plastic but there I was, face-to-face with a material I knew was up to no good.

A half hour or so later, I finished the wine and started thinking about how I could redeem my lack of foresight. Looking down, I noticed a small symbol on the bottom of my cup. I flipped it over to see what it said. In the middle of all the arrows was the number six. Immediately, I picked up my phone and to my dismay, found that the cup I was holding in my hand was actually made from the same materials as styrofoam. NOOOOOOOO. Not wanting to feel like the only guilty party, I grabbed my boyfriend’s festival-themed plastic cup. It was thicker than mine, so I figured it had to be worse than the styrofoam I had managed to pick up. Nope, on the contrary, the number on on the bottom of his cup—#1—let me know it was actually highly recyclable (as plastics go).

Life is plastic. It’s not that fantastic.

Plastics fall into their own category of recyclables. And as my mishap shows, the numbers themselves are not always straightforward. From laundry detergent to house insulation, all plastics are given a number, ranging from one to seven, and each category varies in its level of recyclability. Knowing what these numbers mean and how to properly dispose of the materials is one of the simplest ways to make better purchasing decisions. And, I’m willing to bet your local garbage and recycling collectors won’t be mad about it either.

No. 1 – PET (Polyethylene terephthalates)

Not a day goes by when the average American doesn’t touch a PET. No, I don’t mean your friendly neighborhood labradoodle. I mean Polyethylene terephthalates. Each of the million single-use plastic water bottles sold daily around the world is made up of this material, along with common kitchen items like store-bought salad dressing and mouthwash. Even though it’s one of the most recyclable plastic materials, shockingly, only 25% of PET products are recycled. Instead, the majority end up in landfills and waterways, where they’re left to emit chemicals into the surrounding areas. PET products that are recycled come back to life as fleece, furniture, and carpeting.

How can you avoid PET? BYOB. I can’t say it enough. At this point, the majority of Americans have at least one reusable bottle lying around—so use it! You can also start making your own salad dressings to avoid plastic packaging and try buying products like life jackets second-hand instead of new.

No. 2 – HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)

Recently, Seventh Generation came out with a low-plastic alternative to their regular detergent. The plastic they were replacing? High-Density Polyethylene. Sturdy and stiff, this material is found in milk jugs, shampoo bottles, and cereal box liners and is considered one of the safest plastics. Sadly, even though HDPE is highly recycable and widely accepted at curb-side pickups, 65-70% of HDPE end up in the trash. The 30-35% that are recycled, get turned into plastic lumbers, trash bins, and pens.

To cut back on your amount of HDPE, consider making your own laundry detergent and dish soap, buying cereal in bulk (with reusable bags or jars), or switching from milk to a plant alternative.

No. 3 – V (Vinyl) or PVC (Polyvinyl chloride)

A common material in kids toys, hoses, shampoo bottles, and piping, PVC is known for its softness and flexibility. But don’t let the cute, bendable action figures fool you; PVC’s main ingredients is chlorine, a chemical known to release harmful biotoxins. In fact, it’s got such a bad reputation that it’s often referred to as “poison plastic”. Because PVC requires almost all virgin materials, it’s not usually accepted through curbside recycling. What is recycled turns into mud flaps, cables, and speed bumps.

The best way to cut back on your use of PVC is to just not buy it. Especially because of its chemical components, it’s in the best interest of your health and the earth to find accessible alternatives.

No. 4 – LDPE (Low-density polyethylene)

Everytime you say, “Plastic, please,” at checkout, you’re actually saying “yes” to low density polyethylene. Shrink wrap, squeezable water bottles, and bread bags are also common culprits. Although not typically collected with residential recycling, communities are becoming more accepting of LDPE. Most supermarkets now offer recycling in-store for plastic shopping bags and recycling programs, like mine, are happy to accept many LDPE products at the curb. However, even with those efforts in place, Americans on average use one plastic shopping bag per day. To put that in perspective, Danes only use four per year. At this rate, the majority of LDPE plastics end up being trashed after minimal use. The few products that are recycled are used to make shipping packages, paneling, and floor tile.

Overall, try to steer clear of LDPE. These materials aren’t typically very durable and in terms of bang for your buck, reusable totes, silicone sandwich bags, and mesh produce bags will serve you just as well, if not better.

No. 5 – PP (Polypropylene)

Medicine bottles to plastic straws, polypropylene is in a lot of daily-use products. For those of you who have ever dropped a yogurt container, you already know the appeal of PP is that its very sturdy but also lightweight. Some curbside programs, including Boston’s, accept PP, but many don’t. As a result, only about 3% of PP is recycled. What will you find PP reincarnated as? Brooms, signal lights, and brushes.

A lot of PP products are avoidable (i.e. STRAWS). But, doing things like purchasing larger cartons of yogurt instead of the individuals serving sizes and avoiding items you know you won’t be able to dispose of properly can help reduce waste destined for the landfill.

No. 6 PP (Polystyrene)

Remember that cup I told you about? Well, let’s just say 666 is the devil’s number for a reason. PP is found in plastic plates, cutlery, styrofoam egg cartons, packaging peanuts, and home insulation. Know where else you’ll see it? On almost every beach in the world. Because of its poor construction, PP breaks off and ends up in waterways and then into animals, some of which we eat. Mmmm, plastic! Not a highly accepted recyclable, PP makes up 35% of all landfill matter. Oh, and the real kicker? It’s also a possible carcinogen linked to reproductive dysfunction.

Do I really need to say it? For the sake of the fish and your ovaries, avoid PP at all costs. Items like styrofoam cups and egg cartons can never be recycled, meaning after you’re done with them, they’re destined for an endless lifetime in the dump. Fortunately, PP is one of the simplest plastics to avoid or find alternatives for. It’s as simple as choosing cardboard egg cartons over styrofoam ones, using real dishware and cutlery, and opting for newspaper if you need to pad any packages.  

No. 7 – BPA, Polycarbonate, LEXAN, and Other

Really the only redeeming quality of this category is compostable plastics, referred to as PLA on packaging, and even those comes with their fair share of caviots. Other than that, this category of materials is best known for being fairly unhealthy and difficult to recycle. Perhaps the most common is BPA, you know, that material your mom warned you about? Well, she was right. Its been shown to disrupt the endochrine system—the part of the body responsible for regulating hormones. But even though BPA is toxic, it still doesn’t stop it from showing up in plastics #1, 2, and 4. And many products in the #7 category are found in baby toys, bottles, and other products.

Hopefully at some point, products in the #7 category will be outlawed. Until then, steer clear. While some curbside programs take them, many don’t, adding to this category’s already terrible reputation.

Cutting Back

There you have it—plastics in a nutshell. I highly recommend you download a picture of these categories to your phone for easy reference. Maybe even print out your city’s recycling policies for your home or office. Remember, every area has its own rules so be sure to check with your local regulating body for details on your area’s program.

If you takeaway anything from this artcile, I hope it’s this: Plastics are only as recyclable as you are. So even if you buy recyclable products, it only really makes a difference if you’re able to dispose of them responsibly. This a whole other article completely, but it’s worth mentioning that China, historically one of the America’s top recycling sources, is moving away from the recycling trade, finding greater wealth in markets like technology. What does this mean for us? Well, China has cut back tremendously on recycling imports, which means that there’s overflow at many of the recycling centers here in the US. With more and more recycling likely not being repurposed, it’s more important than ever that we find alternatives for the convenient products we rely on. This doesn’t mean you have to give up everything. Maybe try to cut back a bit in categories like #6 and #7 that are the most damaging to our health and the planet. Remember, its small changes that make the biggest, most lasting impact.

guide to throwing your own clothing swap

Just being trashy.

As a kid, I loved hand-me-downs. Nothing thrilled me more than a garbage bag full of our neighbor’s Old Navy dresses or my older cousin’s cool tops and skirts from brands I’d never heard of. Every time I received a fresh load of used clothes, I’d sift through, trying on every piece and daydreaming about how cool I’d look sporting my new outfit at school the next day. Each delivery had new styles and brands, letting me experiment with my outfits and find different ways of dressing myself. If I was lucky, these bags also included purses, books, and toys.

Unfortunately, at a certain age, the trash bags stopped flowing in—likely because the girls stopped growing so frequently and started to level out in both weight and height. Even so, I still miss those shipments and the process of literally digging through bags of the unknown to find something out of the ordinary, something capable of bringing out a new side of my personal style.

Just like my neighbors and cousin, the majority of us can relate to that moment when you look in your closet and realize there are at least a few pieces you’ve been neglecting. That romper you wore out once but never again. Or the jacket you thought you’d need for work, before you realized your office was casual AF. And then there are all the things we grow out of. Jeans that are uncomfortably snug or sweaters that have become unflatteringly oversized. Whether it’s the style or the fit, we naturally grow disconnected from some pieces. So even if we still hold tight to them, say because you think it’ll fit eventually or because it has some emotional association, the reality is those pieces aren’t getting the wear they deserve.

For those closet castaways, donating is a great option. Donation centers often support social services to uplift particularly vulnerable populations, such as those with a criminal history, helping them create a livelihood and reconnecting them to their community. What’s more, larger second-hand chains, like Goodwill and Savers, have programs in place that allow them to recycle or repurpose almost anything (yes, even your old underwear!) so very little ever ends up in the landfill.  

But donating your clothing isn’t the only way to do good by an unwanted item. After all, one gal’s trash is a another’s teasure. So if you’re up for something a little more involved, clothes swaps are a fun and cheap way to KonMari your wardrobe, not to mention a damn good excuse to get the girls together.

The Who’s Who.

The key to a great clothes swap is the guest list. When it comes to invitees, try for 10-15 people. Any less and there may not be enough goods to go around. Any more and your event may lose its intimacy and community-feel. However, if you’re hoping for a more public-facing swap and don’t want to be restricted to your home, consider expanding your guest list to 30-50 or even posting your event to Facebook or Eventbrite. Churches and community centers are often happy to open their spaces to events for little or no cost, especially if the events have a social or environmental tie in.

In addition to how many, another important element to consider incorporating in your guest list is diversity in both body type and style. You want every guest to feel excited about your event and that means making sure there’s something for everyone. As you think about who to invite, be aware of each guests’ style and size. It may not work out perfectly but try your best to feature some clothing that will appeal to and fit all your guests. Another way to be inclusive is by offering more than just clothing. At my event, people brought books, shoes, jewelery—even a flask. With more to offer, you can guarantee guests will feel comfortable and leave with something they’re excited to take home.

The moral of the party.

Whether you’re hosting the swap at your home or in a public venue, put your best designer on making cute e-invitations (save some trees!) to get the event on everyone’s calendar and remind them to start scouring their homes for things to bring. In the description, list off examples of items you’re looking for, like clothing, shoes, housewares, books, kitchen items, and accessories, so guests understand the scope of your event.

Another thing you’ll want to include in your invite is a mention of why you’re hosting the event. This objective is totally up to you. If you just want to have a boozy girls day, that’s totally fine. But you could also use the swap as a chance to support your favorite sustainable charity by having guests donate $5 for attending the swap. If you’re particularly interested in the impacts of second-hand clothing and goods, like me, consider making your event educational. At my house, I hung up DIY plant streamers and notecards with facts about clothing waste, fast fashion, and the benefits of recycling. Lastly, if you’re wanting to put forth something even more involved, consider showing a movie like The True Cost or creating your own short presentation that demonstrates the impact each guest has had because they chose to recycle their clothing. As for supplemental materials, you could make a list of local second-hand stores guests could shop at in place of popular fast fashion brands. Or, check with a local thrift or charity shop to see if they have any materials for you to share.

Decor-rate.

When it came to preparing my house for the event, I knew I wanted to keep everything as low-waste as possible. That meant no balloons or plastic dishware. Instead, I used my own dishes and prepared the refreshments myself. While the spread was not completely plastic-free, it was a far cry from the red solo cups and plastic plates I commonly encounter at parties.

On top of the refreshments, I also DIYed my own decorations. Do I have strong artistic skills? No, my own mother could tell you that. But by using what I already had, I was able to create a fun environment without buying or consuming anything new.

Let them shop.

On the day of your event, make sure you know where you’ll be displaying the clothes. Consider asking guests to bring hangers or a rolling clothes rack. If you want to keep it low-maintenance, just have guests lay out their clothes on your floor (I highly recommend vacuuming beforehand). Make sure each item is visible and displayed so guests can get a good look at what’s up for grabs.

Before anyone begins picking, have each guest take a quick sweep around to survey the goods. This will help keep the process moving more quickly. Once everyone’s had a look, have each person pick a number. Whoever has #1 chooses first and so on and so forth until everyone has gone through the cycle once. While each person takes their turn, I found it helpful to have activities on hand. I set up a small painting station and indoor potting area where guests could plant tomatoes, basil, and carrot seeds to take home with them. Again, you could also choose to show a film or—god forbid—let people talk to one another.

Depending on how many you host, I suggest having guests go through the full lineup three to four times before they’re able to choose out of turn. When you do get to this point, feel free to open up the floor to trades as well.

To the thrift.

Last stop—the thrift store. Once guests have gone, gather up all the leftover items and put them into sturdy bags. Be sure to fold the clothing to keep it in good shape and prevent wrinkling. Afterward, head to Google to find your nearest donation center. Most organizations will take everything but keep in mind if there are items one place won’t accept, there’s likely another organization that will. For example, many animal shelters collect old towels for kennels and cleaning. And children’s afterschool programs are likely to accept used sportswear, like golf clubs or cleats. No matter what is left over from your swap, its important to do what you can to move every item closer to a new and loving home.

I hope this article has left you inspired to throw your own swap. If so, I highly recommend you check out The Good Trades’ article on clothing swaps for more examples of how to make your event a sustainable success.

one month of low-spend: a reflection

One month has come and gone. And so ends my low-spend challenge. It’s been a good period of reflection for me, a time to think about my consumer habits and ways to improve where and how I shop.

As I mentioned in my initial post, I chose to do a low-spend month, as opposed to a more ambitious no-spend variation, because the option made the most sense for my lifestyle and where I live. Without sufficient options for trading or growing my own food, a no-spend month would frankly be unrealistic. Instead, I framed the premise of this month around realistic expectations that would help me to stay motivated throughout the next 30 days and offer me a more sustainable target to aim for.

So, the real question—how’d I do? Overall in April, I actually spent significantly less on many of the things I was allowed to spend on (i.e. dining, entertainment, and travel). However, where I did end up spending more money than anticipated was in the clothing category.

There are many reasons why I had hoped to avoid buying any clothing during the challenge. First and foremost, I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of self-discipline. I’ve always had a weakness for clothing and although I’ve gotten better at being selective, my closet often reminds me of the private school I went to in upstate New York, where I can walk around and see a bunch of familiar faces but every so often, I’ll run into a piece I’ve completely forgotten existed. My second reason for avoiding clothing purchases was to lessen the amount of pressure I personally impose on the manufacturing industry. With nearly 85% of garmets ending up in landfills and incinerators annually, there’s more than enough clothing already produced and yet still so many people walking to their closets and exclaiming that they, “have nothing to wear.”

Although unnecessary, what I will say about my shopping this month is that I was very selective about where I made purchases. With few exceptions, all the products I bought came from ethical and socially sustainable brands. For example, I finally got the pair of Girlfriend Collective leggings I’d been pining over for months. On top of their ecological impacts—every product is made using recycled waterbottles—Girlfriend Collective also promotes positive body image and body diversity, which gives them additional brownie points in my book.

Another new item I bought in April was Causebox, a seasonal subscription box (you get four a year, each for about $55) of curated items from ethical and sustainable brands. This, I figured, would be a great way to learn about new change-makers, not to mention an easy way to ensure I had quality gifts on-hand for any upcoming birthdays and holidays.

Other things I bought this month include:

Item: HDMI Cable

Excuse: I thought I was going to get a TV, then decided I didn’t want the extra clutter. I figure it’ll come in handy at some point but in retrospect, I should have waited and found one used.

Item: Hydroflask

Justification/Excuse: There’s a cafe by my work where I go every so often for an almond milk latte. I don’t always anticipate wanting to stop in so I bought a hydroflask to keep at my office. Truly, it was a little excessive of me to not just carry the one I keep at home to and from the office. That said, I do appreciate knowing I won’t have to rely on one-use cups during any subsequent trips.  

Item: Dress for wedding (not mine)

Justification/Excuse: One of my pals is getting married this Fall. The wedding is religious so it was important my outfit air on the conservative side. She also had a color palette set that I needed to take into account as well. When I started looking, I searched Poshmark as well as ethically-made clothing sites to find the look I wanted. But in the end, the garments I found were either a.) out of my price range or b.) something I would never wear again. I run into these double-edged swords a lot actually. Buy the locally-grown sprouts from the farmers market that come in a plastic bag or get the non-local and non-organic one’s from the supermarket without plastic? Get a generic boxed soap or one made by a small business even though it comes wrapped in plastic? In these situations, I’ve found making the sustainable choice is best reached with thoughtful consideration of the social and environmental pros and cons of your purchase. In this particular case, I went to TJMaxx and found a $20 jumpsuit. I know it is not an ethically-made piece and I truly wish I could have found a better option. That said, I do still have the receipt and tags on just in case I find an alternative. And regardless, I do like the piece enough to wear it after the event is over, even though I likely wouldn’t have purchased it otherwise.

Items: Conditioner & Lip balm

Justification: Needed both. The conditioner is from Avalon Cosmetics, a cruelty-free cosmetic brand. The lip balm is Doctor Bronners. ‘Nough said.

Item: Chapter One backing on Kickstarter

Freakin’ justified: I realize that physical books use resources and many end up in the trash. It’s just for me, the experience of holding a book is irreplaceable and not something I’ll ever be willing to part with. Instead, I love my books to death, and when I’m done, I pass them off to friends, donate them to a book sale, or sell them to a bookshop.

Item: Knickey panties

Justification: As I get more into sustainable brands, I find myself trying to spread the word and give people the chance to experience the products for themselves. That’s why, for a friend’s recent birthday, I ordered some Knickey underwear. But—or should I say, “Butt”—because of the cost of shipping, I also purchased two pairs for myself. Did I need them? Not really, but now when I get to that scary point in the week when undies are in high demand and low supply, all will be fresh and well.

Item: Various thrifted pieces

Justification: Over the course of the month, I spent $15 on 5-6 thrifted items. They are unique pieces, most of which I’ve already worn, so I feel fairly guilt-free about the purchases.

After this low-spend experience, I see how important mental preparation is in creating discipline and learning to live with less want. So rather than feel guilty for this month’s downfalls, I’m trying to be patient with the process as a whole. After all, the switches I’m making are more than behavioral—they’re active lifestyle changes where I’m breaking unconscious habits and putting new, more intentional ones in their place. I remember just a year ago when the idea of not being able to go into a Zara seemed so discouraging—that is until I found out I could pay the same price for a garment made ethically and designed to last more than four washes. But even so, the transition has been and will continue to be slow, both mentally and financially. That’s why it’s essential for me to always refer back to the essence of the sustainability movement, remembering it has nothing to do with perfection. Rather sustainability at its core is about everyone doing what they can to make small changes that, in the long-term, will come to benefit us all collectively.  

22 ways to be more sustainable

Happy Earth Day everyone! In honor of the world’s most necessary holiday, here are 22 sustainable tips you can integrate into your life. If you can, I challenge you to do at least one of these things today. As always, remember sustainability is not about being perfect, it’s about doing what you can to reduce your footprint and live more thoughtfully.

  1. Pick up. Gather litter and dispose of it properly.
  2. Anticipate plastic. Ask servers to skip the straw, bring your own silverware, and pack your travel mug.
  3. Share. Host a clothing swap with your friends, use trading apps like BUNZ, and take public transit.
  4. Take only what you need. Buy less at the grocery store and order smaller portions to prevent food waste.
  5. Shop second hand. Not just clothes—books, household items, technology, and dishware, too.
  6. Choose Recyclables. If you have to use disposable packaging, choose highly recyclable materials like glass and aluminum.
  7. Compost. Make your own or sign up for a local collection service (Mine’s about $14 per month for a household of three).
  8. Learn more. Check out your local recycling collection service’s website for information about what is recyclable, what’s not, and how to sign up (if you aren’t already).
  9. Support Local. Buy local to support your community’s economy, save money on shipping, and reduce your carbon footprint.
  10. Green up your laundry. Use cold water to wash your clothes and hang dry inside or outdoors instead of using the dryer.
  11. BYOB. Bring your own bag. Put it in your purse, your car, or by the door so you don’t forget.
  12. Bring lunch. Avoid disposable packaging by bringing your lunch in reusable dishware.
  13. Vote with your $. Cut back or avoid spending money at unethical or fast fashion companies.
  14. Sew it. Learn how to sew and mend your clothes to extend their useful life.
  15. Meatless Monday. Eat less meat, become a vegetarian or vegan, and adopt a more plant-based diet.
  16. Say no to meal services. Individually-packaged everything? Plastic ice packs? Ah. Stop your subscription ASAP and learn how to meal prep.
  17. Wash less. Only wash your clothes when they truly need it to preserve their materials and reduce energy use.
  18. In the bag. Make or buy your own produce bags.
  19. Say no to Keurig. Stop using single-use Keurig cups. They’re terrible. End of story.
  20. Tis the season. Buy in-season produce.
  21. Clean up your clean-up routine. Wash your hair less. Its unnecessary to wash hair every day and even cutting back by one wash per week can save a lot of water.
  22. Get out there. Support your local nature preserves and parks. Donate to organizations making strides to protect our natural environment.

5 tips for sustainable repurposing

During this month of low-spend, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I have and how to make greater use of it. Although I didn’t necessarily think it then, I now realize how fortunate I was to grow up in a household where “elbow grease” was the prescribed solution for any burnt pan or sticky mess and where a piece of clothing hadn’t served its purpose in life until it had been worn, ripped, patched, worn again, and then used to wipe oil off my dad’s lawn mower. My parents and their parents before them had grown up poor. And being poor meant using everything you had and never wasting a thing. For them though, I can only imagine this decision was purely economic, driven by the need to stretch each dollar. But what they may not have realized is just how sustainable their waste not, want not lifestyle really was. So, as I transition to a low-impact lifestyle, I’m trying to channel some of my inner penny-pincher and striving to put every resource to its fullest use.

One of the simplest ways to get more life out of any household item is learning to DIY. You don’t have to be some crafter extraordinaire to DIY. You just need access to the internet and a little extra time on your hands. A simple and cheap example of this is multi-surface cleaner. Tired of all the chemicals and spending money on products whose companies I knew didn’t have my health or the environment in mind, I started making my own surface cleaner out of distilled water, white vinegar, lemon juice, and essential oils. For me, this was a natural and convenient switch. White vinegar costs under $4 per gallon and can be used for so many household cleaning needs, like dish soap and even removing salt stains from leather shoes. Plus, the solution itself is also very environmentally friendly, with all ingredients being chemical-free, 100% compostable, and available in recyclable packaging. And yes, to answer your question, it really does work.

Another easy DIY project is making your own makeup and nail polish wipes. On top of their non-recycle plastic packaging, makeup wipes themselves contain serious amounts of plastic. In fact, wipes are the cause of 93% of drain blockages in the UK alone and in 2018, there was a 400% (yes, 400%) increase in the occurence of makeup wipes washing up on beaches. For me, the saddest part of this situation is that makeup wipes are totally unnecessary—a ploy made up by companies to sell more product. Water, soap, and a washcloth do an equally good job removing makeup, not to mention cost you and the earth a lot less in the long-run. But if you do prefer the size and contouring of a wipe, consider making your own. All you’ll need are some old clothes—preferably something soft—and a sewing machine. Litterless has a great tutorial on this and while she seems to have purchased her material, keep in mind that using something you already have is always the more sustainable option.

While we’re on the topic, I should mention that sewing is a truly underrated skill. I cannot count the number of times sewing has saved my favorite shirt or underwear from ending up in the trash. What’s more, basic stitching is so easy to learn and once you know how, you become a mending machine. There are of course great video tutorials online and, if its an option, consider taking a local sewing or design course to really master the art.   

Next on the list is cooking. Americans are responsible for over 1.3 billion pounds of food waste per year. To put that in perspective, that’s 30-40% of the entire world’s food waste. Yeah, we wasteful AF. Just like sewing, learning how to cook can mean the difference between very ugly-looking, ripe bananas and delicious banana bread. Unless food has truly gone bad or is inedible, it’s important to try to make the most of it. Lemon rind, for example, can be used to make a basic cake, deluxe. Squishy cucumber can be added to a smoothie. And soft carrots can be seasoned and baked for a healthy and hardy meal. So before you throw something away, type, “What can you do with ________” into Google and see if there’s an alternative to the can. Or, if you really can’t stomach it, hop on an app like BUNZ to give your food to someone who can put it to good use.

Lastly, I want to mention that not all sustainable repurposing is DIY. One of my favorite and most affordable switches is repurposing glass jars. While I made the mistake of going out and buying new jars and containers when I first started transitioning, I quickly found that after a few months of peanut butter, olives, and pesto, I had more than enough containers for meal prepping, food storage, and carrying my lunches to work. Best of all, it didn’t cost me anything extra.

The moral of the story? Just like us, our stuff isn’t here to serve a single purpose. That’s why it’s so important we use our clothes, food, and household items to their furthest capacity, caring for them as best we can and knowing ways to repurpose them when they do eventually reach their limits.  

– A