‘Tis the season for Allston Christmas, double parking, and bets about whether or not your couch will fit up a very narrow stairwell. Yep, you guessed it, it’s moving day.
Even with a global pandemic going on, people are still on the go. Whether you’re moving across the world, the country, or—like me—just to a different neighborhood, the following tips will help you reduce some of the waste & clutter that can come with one of life’s most unavoidable transitions.
Alright my procrastinators, unless you enjoy panic, sweat, and heavy objects, its time to get your butt into gear! Especially if you’re upcoming move is going to require national or international travel, proactive planning can be the difference between a move with minimal hiccups and an in-motion disaster. Now is the time to think about what you really want to bring with you to your new place, how you are getting there, and what you’ll need to move efficiently and with minimal waste.
Reuse. Reuse. Reuse.
There is already enough cardboard out there—no need to create more! Instead of purchasing boxes, start saving any delivery packaging from online orders and ask your friends to do the same. If that’s still not enough, reach out to managers at local grocery stores, pharmacies, and restaurants to ask them to save out any leftover boxes. More than likely they’ll be happy for you to take them off their hands.
Find your stuff a second-home
What better opportunity to clean out and start fresh than a move? Just because you find that neon waffle maker your mom gave you offensive doesn’t mean someone else can’t appreciate it. Send out a mass text with photos or a list of things you’re getting rid of to every contact on your phone. Or, if you’ve got a decent social media following, maybe you sell items via your story and let your followers duke it out. Finally, you can also use resale apps like Merchari or Poshmark to sell your unused things for cold hard (virtual) cash, but just keep in mind this way may take longer.
Donate (almost) anything you don’t want
Nearly everything that doesn’t sell or get dibbed by a friend should be donated. But before you go, check your donation centers’ policies on items they accept and make sure they’re a good fit for your donations. Places like Savers, for example, will take things like used underwear (they won’t sell them, don’t worry) & socks and have great recycling programs in place. If you have questions about what a center accepts—ask. Otherwise, any unusable or unfit items you bring to donate will likely create challenges for donation center employees and potentially be trashed.
Check your local curb-side rules
In the current climate, there may be items you can’t get rid of, for example, mattresses. But don’t just put those sad springs out on the street. Look into any low-cost or free pickup service that can extend your item’s lifespan through donation or repurposing.
Unless you’re an ultra-minimalist (props!), you’re gonna need at least a minivan to move. For most people, this will mean renting a vehicle. When booking your moving van or truck, be sure to pick an option that’s just what you need. Go any bigger and it’s just like boiling a full kettle of tea when you only want a cup. It’s a waste of money, stress, gas, and space. If you don’t know how big a rented vehicle is, check Youtube. There are plenty of videos out there showing how many mattresses can fit in a Uhaul and more practical information to help you make the right choice.
Anything, just not plastic
If you go out and buy packing peanuts, my heart will break. Tissue paper, towels, clothing—there are so many things you can use to pad breakables that won’t cause waste or add to your load. Reuse any plastic wrapping you get from online orders or purchase a natural paper wrap, if needed.
Borrow, don’t buy
If you don’t have packing tape, scissors, tools, boxes, etc., I guarantee one of your friends does. Proactively reach out to contacts to see if they have items you need in order to make the move. Consider asking them to save any delivery packaging they receive or even if you can borrow their car for moving day. After all, that’s what friends are for.
Offset your flight
If you’re flying to your new home, consider offsetting the impact of your travel by using a site like My Climate or another carbon emissions calculator. After realizing your impact, you can offset by donating to an environmental organization or planting your own garden/trees.
Leave no carrot behind
Eat your food, people! Plan out groceries and meals leading up to your move to make sure you’ll have enough to eat without unintentionally being wasteful. Leave a few utensils and pots out so you have cookery available to you even in the days leading up to the move.
You’re ready to go! For everyone who is moving this summer and fall, I wish you all the best! Remember to eat protein the morning of the move, wear your mask always, and stay cool.
I want to start this article by saying that I am a white, middle-class, cis female. I will never be able to understand the challenges, brutality, and barriers faced by Black and POC individuals. But if the mission of this blog is to create an approachable space within sustainability, I need to intentionally create room for those who have been systematically excluded from the movement. This means acknowledging the problematic and elitist structure of sustainability while putting thought into how I can make sustainability more accessible for all.
Without representation within this community—racial, size, gender, or otherwise—sustainability will only be able to progress so far. We’ve seen it happen in the feminist movement and within political parties. When one privileged group, no matter what their intentions, speaks for those beyond themselves, invaluable perspectives are lost and people are left behind.
So, how and where do we start as creators? I’m not sure there’s one “right” answer. But below are the strategies I believe can be used to accept our mistakes while putting those learnings into action to welcome the perspectives sustainability needs to be a truly inclusive movement.
Promote sustainable content created by non-white influencers
If you have an IG you use primarily for business, you know the value of engaging and sharing content. By supporting sustainability-oriented accounts made by Black and POC creators, you’re using the algorithm to expose your followers to perspectives they may relate to or be completely unaware of. It’s not the job of POC individuals to educate white people. But in my opinion, it is the job of those with the inherent privilege to listen to and support underrepresented groups within this community. This could look like IG takeovers, IG Live chats, or weekly content sharing the work of non-white people in the sustainability space. The important element in all these acts is to let the content speak for itself. You don’t always need to throw in your own commentary over a story or in a conversation. Know when adding your own thoughts may be taking away from someone else’s voice instead of amplifying it and be thoughtful in how you share these perspectives.
Don’t make assumptions
Composting is so easy! Being vegan is something everyone can do. Sustainability is your responsibility. I’ve said some of these things. At the time, they felt like a fair declaration. But after watching Teanna Empower’s video on elitism in the sustainability & zero-waste movements, I know better. Assumptions like these may seem harmless, but when you take a closer look, you’ll see they’re actually a great example of why the sustainability movement is overwhelmingly white and middle class.
Assumptions of any kind exacerbate barriers people with privilege can’t often see. If you haven’t experienced a food desert, you don’t know just how hard it can be to find even basic necessities nearby. If you don’t live meal-to-meal, don’t assume that buying a $32 stainless steel water bottle is a realistic choice for everyone. Learn to think broadly and lead with facts. Percentages. Statistical trends. Any and all solid evidence. From there, you’ll be more likely to draw justified opinions instead of unfounded assumptions.
Stay away from “should”
‘Should’ is a nasty little word. I learned from my therapist that when you use the word ‘should’, you put unwarranted pressure on yourself and others. In sustainability, the word is yet another tool used to separate the “haves” from the “have nots”. And when applied to groups that have been excluded from the sustainability movement, ‘should’ basically says, “Pull yourself up by your bootstrings,” when many people don’t have boots, strings—or even feet (metaphorically speaking).
When writing or speaking, choose your language wisely and steer clear of opportunities to reiterate someone’s ‘otherness’. Rather, find different ways to illuminate the options available versus creating a noninclusive script you assume everyone can follow.
Give credit where it’s is due
If you wouldn’t plagiarize, why would you take credit for an idea or technique that isn’t yours? Sustainability is an idea that started with indigenous peoples. Period. When you depend on the earth for your food, shelter, and stability, it’s only natural that you develop a deep understanding and appreciation for how climates, waterways, and seasons work. Indigenous traditions labeled “primitive” by colonizers were in fact what held the world in balance and prevented many of the natural and manmade disasters that impact all of us today.
While we all have a right to participate in sustainability, we do not have a right to take credit for something that is not truly our own. When creating, be sure to cite sources, do interviews, and make sure your content is a reflection of the rich backgrounds and origins within this community.
Offer free events & make essential content accessible to all
There are ways to open up your platform to more people, both now during the global pandemic as well as afterwards. Start by making all your essential content free. If you have brand guides or heavily researched studies, make that information available to anyone and everyone. Because not everyone has access to the Internet, it’s also helpful to think beyond the screen to postings in public spaces, free in-person events, and phone services. Try to meet people where they are and make yourself available as a resource during every stage of their sustainability journey.
Open yourself up to feedback
Again, when it comes to systemic racism, people of color don’t owe white folks education or feedback. But if you can find ways to make yourself available without being presumptive, your platform will be more inclusive for it. You could create a survey and send it out to your blog contact list. Instagram polls are another great way for people to pipe in on their own accord and react to results. Regardless of how you go about it, remember that even though you may hear things that don’t make you feel good in the moment, having that honest feedback and revising yourself accordingly will help make you a greater ally.
Go beyond your platform
Fundraise. Rally. Protest. Get up and put your words and money where your post is. Showing up in person says that you acknowledge the impact of systemic racism, even if those problems don’t affect you personally. Whether you see it clearly or not, racism connects many social issues. The killing of innocent Black men. Epicenters of poverty. Lack of representation in the workplace. Wage gaps. Sexual exploitation. Food deserts & insecurity. Child labor. The list goes on. Black and POC peoples did not create any of these issues. White people did. Therefore, I and my fellow white creators must play an active and consistent role in the solution going forward.
Time is a fickle thing. If you’re like me, you probably complain a lot about not having enough of it. And yet, in the face of free time, we don’t always know what to do with the extra hours. It’s daunting, isn’t it? Free terrain. Space to roam. But cows manage. So why can’t we?
As somewhat of a skilled procrastinator, I thrive in the busy and chaotic. But now, standing here in week four of quarantine, I’m starting to reassess where and when I’m most productive.
While I definitely do work well under pressure, in my personal time, I often use other non-conflicting commitments as excuses. I’m too tired after work to do anything. There’s only an hour before I have to go meet someone. If I start that project now, I won’t be in the right headspace. Blah. Blah. Blah. It’s shocking how good I am at convincing myself there’s no time for the things I really enjoy.
Today though, those excuses only go so far. I’m no longer going out or commuting. I don’t really have plans and honestly, there’s only so many hours a day I can spend binging shows. So all those previously neglected activities, now I guess I have no choice but to give them my time.
To both combat and embrace the added hours I now have to myself, I’ve found these four areas critical to staying positive and productive. They not only pass the time but also assure I’ll leave quarantine happier and more myself than when I started.
Without the pressure of grades, learning can be a great way to develop new skills and interests. Maybe you’ve wanted to learn a new language or get a little more creative. Obviously, in-person classes aren’t an option right now. But for some of us, they weren’t anyway. I looked into Spanish classes a while back and the total cost was in the thousands for less than a year! But fortunately, sites like Skillshare and apps like Babbel make it possible for you to learn affordably from anywhere, all at your own pace.
Skillshare is an open platform where professionals in the field teach courses on graphic design, video editing, copywriting, and other creative topics. After your free trial, Skillshare is $99 a year for unlimited access, which means you can tune in and complete courses when you have the time. Really good at something? Skillshare makes it easy to become a contributor and upload your own courses to share with others.
As for new languages, Babbel, Duolingo, and other apps on average cost less than $10 a month. Because you test into these programs, they’re great for everyone—true beginners to advanced speakers. I personally use Babbel to keep up with my Spanish language and writing skills. I love that the app offers speaking, writing, and matching exercises and how each course builds on the next. It really is like being in school but A LOT less pricey.
Anyone else looking to get smarter about sustainability? Slow Factory is offering a three week, free crash course in sustainable literacy starting Friday, April 17th. Regardless of where you are in your own journey, this class offers valuable information from expert sources and can add some much-needed structure to your day.
If you’re willing and able to pay for them, the University for the Arts London (UAL) offers online short-courses spanning all areas of fashion sustainability. UAL is known internationally as one of the best fashion and arts colleges and is one of the only accredited institutions I’ve found that offers courses addressing the intersection between sustainability and the fashion industry. Their courses are taught by professors and are very much doable, even while working a full-time job.
Finally, Coursera—yet another great online learning resource—is also offering a free, 14 hour Sustainable Fashion course through the Copenhagen Business School. The three instructors teaching the course work within the fashion industry and boast some pretty impressive resumes. For your convenience, the class is entirely pre-recorded so you can start whenever you’d like. You also have the choice to take the course for $49, which will get you a certificate of completion for you to post on your LinkedIn—or give to mom to put on the fridge.
Like with any learning experience, success relies on your motivation. For example, I set aside 10-15 minutes almost every day to practice my Spanish on Babbel. It’s not a lot of time but because I do it consistently, I am noticing progress. If you’re a student already or working full-time, be reasonable with your time commitment. Don’t learn something just to get a certificate or check a box. Dedicate yourself to studying something you love and that you know will contribute to the skillset you want.
I’m not sure why, but sitting at my computer all day at home is almost more draining than it is in the office. On top of the absence of people and energy, most days leave me feeling kind of like a wilted plant in need of some serious creative juices.
I’ve found hands-on activities to be the most therapeutic for my drain. I actually have enjoyed cooking lately (?!) and there has been a surge in my embroidery activity. For some of my friends, puzzles have been a great use of their time. Others have started making their own cleaning products, sniff, and making me oh-so-proud.
And it’s not even necessarily about backing away from the computer, just using it differently. For someone, recording a shitty podcast to share with friends could be a great release. My designer friend uses her iPad to create some really cool art that she then sells on Etsy. The beauty of creativity is that it can be anything you want it to be—and, most important, you don’t even have to be good at it to enjoy the process.
I don’t count my steps on a daily basis but I don’t need to to know that my mobility is blob-like right now. Even so, during this time, I’m trying not to worry about how much I work out and instead, focusing on my intentional movement. Some days, I wake up ready to go and log a 10k easy. Other days, take yesterday for example, I’m slower and spend 40 minutes flowing with Adrienne. It doesn’t really matter what I do, it’s just doing it that changes my outlook on the day.
Leaving the house, walking your dog, riding your bike, reiki, pilates, stretching—it’s all intentional movement. I recommend logging this movement in the AM. Especially if you’re able to go outdoors, the mornings usually mean fewer people and it’s less likely that you’ll run into conflicts or constraints during those early hours.
So—mark it on your calendar, tell your roommate to wake you up. Do what you need to do to hold yourself accountable. You may grumble all the way outdoors or to your yoga mat but I promise that once you’re there, you won’t regret it.
Even introverts are social creatures. Yup, you heard it here first. Although I’m not struggling socially as much as my extrovert pals, there are some days when I swear I’ve spoken more to my cat more than human beings.
The world we live in is inherently social. We work in open office spaces and live our lives in constant communication. So of course it’s a shock to the system when our physical community is taken away and suddenly we have to learn—or maybe re-learn—how to connect.
As much as social media is helping ease the burden right now, I encourage you to do more than like your friends’ photos. Check in with people individually to see how they’re really doing, set up virtual happy hours or game nights, and send cards, if you can. These gestures, that we might normally ignore or take for granted, count for so much right now. It’s very easy to assume people are doing fine so long as they’re physically well, but with the added stress of job and financial insecurity, online courses, and shifting home environments, you’d be surprised just how many of your friends would really appreciate a touch-base.
Another fun thing I’ve noticed people doing is trying out different social media. Tik Tok is apparently a huge thing (AM I OLD?!) and I’ve been loving watching random celebrities force their families into group dances. If it’s not going to be disruptive, maybe you create a satirical Twitter or IG, join a dating app, or start a Youtube channel. It’s never too late and the time has never been better for these means of virtual connection.
But for as great as social media is, there is someone even the latest iPhone can’t help you get in touch with. When it comes to self-care, taking a short break from your phone and computer can be really helpful for decompressing. Either because of work obligations or boredom, my screen time has gone up significantly since the stay-at-home order began. I get panicky about missing a text from a co-worker or not being there if my parents need to call. And those are all valid concerns, but so is caring for your personal wellbeing.
Every day, I challenge you to set aside at least an hour where your phone is in a different room than you are. Go for a run and leave it at home. Eat dinner while your phone’s on Do Not Disturb in another room. Just get away from that crack devil, even if it’s just for a little while.
There’s no doubt about it, now is one of the strangest and most difficult periods of time many of us will ever encounter. That’s why finding simple pleasures within your day is so critical. Don’t think of these activities and routines as requirements or scold yourself for not doing all of them every day. Instead, just take a little bit of each area and find the groove that works best for you.
Typically, I don’t buy much online…well clothing. But other than that, I do most of my business IRL. Take that, millennial haters! And so far, my non-digital approach has served me well. I’m lucky to live in an area where it’s easy to find local grocery stores to support and with very few exceptions, I can purchase any household, cosmetic, or everyday essential within just a few miles of my house.
But right now, everything’s a little different. Amidst the pandemic, bulk sections at my usual grocery stores are empty. Healthy and cheap go-to’s like oatmeal are difficult, if not impossible, to find. This on top of having to stand in line for hours just to get into virtually any store. And suddenly, something that was so simple and enjoyable for me just a month ago, is now a stressful time commitment.
For the most part, I’m still trying to get my groceries around the neighborhood. I feel some obligation because of my good health (knock on wood) and access to a car to leave online stockpiles to those who really need them. Online orders also require additional gasoline and resources to ship and the more I can avoid adding to my footprint, the better.
But if you do need toilet paper or some things for your pantry, the good news is you can find affordable, lower-impact options online. The following brands offer more sustainable alternatives to the Amazon’s and other one-stop-shops of the world. And even after shelter-in-place orders relax, you might find them to be a great addition to your lifestyle.
In an attempt to mimic the “value, selection, [and] convenience” of her then current employer Amazon, founder of The Wally Shop, Tamara, split from the herd and started her own climate-conscious venture.
Selling a range of bulk goods—olive oil to chocolate chips—in returnable and reusable containers, The Wally Shop is blazing trails where few digital businesses have ever been before. The site offers different size jars, letting you buy just what you need, and tells you the ideal number of products you’d have to buy in order for the carbon footprint of shipping to be worthwhile. At checkout, buyers pay a jar deposit that they’ll get back once their containers are returned as well as a flat rate for back-and-forth shipping. When your jars are empty, just send them back and you’re ready to start the process over again. Super simple & sustainable.
A smaller and more niche version of Costco, Public Goods is a members-only, semi-sustainable online grocery store. Membership is $59 annually (or about $4 a month) but you can try their products for free through their two week trial.
In terms of quality, I think of Public Goods like a Trader Joes. Most of their products are unfortunately wrapped or packaged in plastic but, from what I can tell, the contents are more planet-friendly and/or healthy for your body. Their toilet paper, for example, is wrapped in plastic. But the paper itself is made from sugar cane and bamboo—bamboo being one of the more environmentally-friendly paper products out there. So it’s a trade-off. They also offer a lot of refillables which, if used properly, can reduce, but not eliminate, your plastic consumption.
Overall, Public Goods scores lower for sustainability but offers really great value and access. If you are trying to limit your plastic use, I’d recommend sticking to their designated ‘zero waste’ section, glass or canned goods, vitamins, and avoid their travel & smaller sized cosmetic products.
Need a fresh shampoo bar, biodegradable dog poop bag, or reusable food storage pouch? The Package Free Store has it all. While their prices definitely fall on the higher side, Package Free has an incredible selection of sustainable products that are helpful in and out of quarantine. Keep in mind that the higher cost of eco-friendly products typically accounts for their longer lifespan and body-safe ingredients. But if that’s not enough justification, you can always try finding products of interest on other sites for a better deal.
Package Free does offer a subscription program which will save you 10% on every order and prevent future oh-shit-I-ran-out-of-biodegradable-toilet-paper moments.
I owe my friend Mikayla for this one! (Hi, if you’re reading!) Like Package Free Shop, I trust the Zero Waste Store implicitly. They carry some of the best sustainable brands and offer a surprising number of smaller and more difficult to find names as well.
The Store offers shampoo and conditioner bars, candles, makeup, kitchen supplies, and more, all with minimal to no packaging. It’s also a woman-owned business and has a great blog if you’re looking for some reading material.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I heard Tinder’s not doing great with the whole social distancing thing. But that doesn’t mean the world has stopped having sex altogether. Like always, staying safe and comfortable is of the utmost importance. That’s where Sustain comes in.
Sustain, which in the past year was acquired by the subscription-based site, Grove Collaborative, was founded with the intention of destigmatizing intimate health. In addition to organic cotton tampons and pads, Sustain also makes fair trade latex condoms, water-based lube, and even a menstrual cup. Their products aren’t as affordable as K-Y or Trojan but they contain far less compromising materials. So they’re good for you, and better for the planet.
Once I run through the shampoo and conditioner bars I’ve been meaning to try, Plain Products will be my next stop. As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve been skeptical of how a solid bar of product will interact with my hair. But, at the same time, I’m tired of big plastic bottles and long, chemical-packed ingredients lists.
That’s why Plain is super cool. For $30—$27 with an ongoing subscription—you can get 16oz of liquid conditioner or shampoo. The product comes in metal bottles that you use and then send back to be refilled. No plastic. No waste. Plain has a range of body products, including lotions, body oils, face wash, and toner, all of which follow their low-impact system.
If you’re looking to cut back on plastic within your beauty routine and can swing the higher price, Plain is a really good option. As someone who washes their hair 2-3 times a week, I can go four to five months on 16oz of product. That’s just cents per wash!
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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
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.
One of the most valuable takeaways I’ve gained from travel is how to pack light. In a crowded metropolis or old cobblestone street, there’s nothing more stressful than dragging a clumsy suitcase around while you try to find your way to a train or hostel. And checked baggage? Here’s what I think about spending an extra $60 on heavy stuff I have to carry on my back: farting noise.
So after deciding on a spot for my next jaunt—southern Spain—the logical next move was to put these travel observations to work. Instead of my trendy, but oversized duffel, my trusty Patagonia backpack was the one accompanying me on this time. Equipped with convenient pouches and pockets, not to mention handles and backpack straps, this bag is damn near close to perfect. It’s unassuming and small but fully capable of pulling its weight.
For me, packing has been marked by trial and error. Like that time I left my glasses at school while home for holiday break—it was dumb, but it never happened again. When it comes to traveling abroad, here are a few not-so-obvious things I’ve learned come in handy:
A padlock – if you’re staying at a hostel, these should save you a little cash
Local adapter – it’s the digital age, you’re going to want to be charged up
Portable charger – avoid wasting time charging by carrying backup energy
Bandaids – I like to walk a lot so blisters are an inevitable souvenir
A printed address of the place you’re staying – because even with portable chargers, phones have been known to die
As I pack, I lay everything out on the bed. Googling local weather, I learn temperatures in Spain are predicted to be in the high 80s (amen). Dresses, shorts, and tank tops it is! I proceed to pack:
8 pairs of underwear (one more than I anticipate needing)
2 bras (one with padding and one without)
A sweater, comfortable jeans, and long sleeve shirt for plane
2 tank tops
Two pairs of shorts
A white milkmaid dress
Sneakers, sport shorts, t-shirt, sports bra, and ankle socks (I’ve been training for a half marathon and can’t stop, won’t stop!)
Tevas (ugly, but essential for all the walking I plan to do)
The method to my approach is to create as many outfit combinations as possible, almost like a mini capsule wardrobe. To make this easy on myself, I mostly stick to essentials, like white or black tops, a classic fit jean (that I wear on the plane to save space!), and layering pieces.
On trips where I’m walking a lot, I always end up groveling over packing comfortable shoes—believe it or not, but I do care about whether or not I look cute. Ultimately though, the Tevas win out. I’ve suffered one too many times from impractical shoes and I’m not out to make the same mistake again.
After tying my running shoes to the outside of my bag, all of this fits very comfortably and gives me about five different outfits to choose from. Wardrobe? Check. I move on to necessaries:
Earbuds for the plane TV & audio
Copies of my passport & license
Bar of soap
Nothing too special here, just enough to keep me looking like a human. Then it’s time for entertainment:
2 paperback novels
I don’t need much. Most days, I’m up at 7 AM and don’t come back to the hostel until 9 or 10PM. I end up finishing both books on the trip, mostly reading during meals, and leave them behind at hostels and train stations for someone else to pick up.
Lastly, I make sure to add in my sustainable must-haves. After all, it’s kind of my thing:
Travel coffee mug
Bamboo silverware (Incudes a spork, fork, knife, and spoon!)
The Baggu, I’ve found, is critical if I expect to bring back gifts for my family or any great thrift finds. It doesn’t add any extra weight and yet fits everything when I need it to. Out and about most days, I use my reusable silverware at nearly every meal and multiple times in the airport. They save so much plastic and are super easy to keep clean!
It’s not a science, but I do have this packing routine pretty much down to a T. It doesn’t always allow for much wiggle room but it’s everything I need to be comfortable. And that’s more than enough for me.
July was a scorcher. As one of those AC-deprived people, this time of year is particularly focused on me not melting. That means putting my makeup on directly in front of a fan, wrapping my hair in all kinds of unflattering contortions to keep it from touching my neck and back, and, of course, wearing as little clothing as socially acceptable.
Fortunately, one of my more recent wardrobe evolutions has been the adoption of light-weight fabrics, many of which happen to be made from natural fibers. Without me saying anything, you can probably think of a whole slew of reasons why natural fibers are superior to their synthetic counterparts. They can support small-scale agriculture and farming, tend to use less energy in their production process, and most are designed to be very breathable. Check, check, and check.
Lately, my feed has been full of woven purses and totes, like these ones featured on The Good Trade. Needless to say, wicker is definitely having a moment and I’m not mad at it.
I found this gem at a farm stand just outside of Saratoga, NY. I regret throwing away the label but I can remember the bag was crafted in Africa and every purchase helped support small, women’s cooperatives. The bag itself is woven from thin straws and the straps are made of either leather or vegan leather.
I love wicker because it offers a unique type of construction you can’t find in other matierls. It makes this bag a rare breed of accessory, one that’s suited for the beach and a five-star restaurant—not that I see a lot of the latter.
Yacht Club Shorts:
Savers for the win. Again. These pre-loved Gap shorts came into my life on the way back from Acadia, ME. A big fan of high waisted shorts, I admittedly had never had much interest in non-denim options, that is until I stumbled upon these 100% cotton bad boys.
I think we all know cotton is natural. However, not all cotton is produced the same way. Uzbekistan, for example, one of the world’s leading producers of cotton, has been front and center in human rights debates due to child labor and worker exploitation, amongst other issues. On the other end of the spectrum are companies like Knickey, who are getting smarter about cotton by paying attention to both its sourcing and manufacturing processes.
Because these shorts are Gap and likely a few years old, I’m willing to bet they were not made from sustainable cotton. But, I did buy them second hand—no money is going back to Gap—and despite any ethical issues, they are made from a natural fiber so they won’t shed microplastics in the wash.
Silky Smooth Tank Top:
When I was a kid, I remember stealing my mom’s silk scarves…well, momentary, until she took them back only minutes later. Honestly, I still feel a little child-like when I wear silk. But I’ve found the imposter syndrome wavers a bit when I find the right pieces.
This tank top, another post-Acadia find, has a sophisticated cut that’s easily paired with any bottom in my closet. To be honest, I really only bought this piece because a fashion sustainability panelist once said to buy vintage silk whenever you can find it. That said, the top’s grown on me since then and I have no regrets about the purchase.
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:
Anything designed to make annoying sounds
T-shirts you won’t even sleep in
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.