Tag Archives: eco

How to Have a Green Birthday Party!

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This year I was tasked with organizing Adrian’s first birthday party with his new school friends! Was I up for the challenge? I was! I had three goals:

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How did I handle each one?


The first goal was easy. FUN! After having attended enough boys’ birthday parties, I learned that the quickest path to fun for boys was simply being together. The more friends the better and I took complete advantage of that. Instead of renting a space that would require me to buy their food and products, we took all the kids to the park. Step One! A Park! Thankfully great weather in LA allows park parties easily until the fall.


Goal 2. VEGAN. The only challenge here was figuring out which of the many options I’d want to use to celebrate Adrian’s birthday! Vegan baking/sweets is a growing industry (even Ben & Jerry’s now has a vegan non-dairy ice cream)  and if you don’t live near a vegan bakery and/or you like baking (which I don’t) a quick internet search will pull up more than enough recipes to make any 8 year old happy. Meet the Minimalist Baker for example!  I went with Donut Friend here in LA because we could cut them up into smaller pieces for the kids, and parents, to try different flavors.


Goal 3. GREEN. Kid’s parties need things but not as much as we think. First, kids don’t eat much at parties. They play. Parents talk. So instead of setting up a buffet, I opted to do one salty food and one sweet food. Chips and Fruit. I cut up fruit that would keep – apples (soaked in salt for about 10 minutes to prevent yellowing), pineapple and melon – the night before and bought bags of chips, opening them one at a time to prevent waste (and we still have 3 bags left!). Also I elected to buy water in a container with a spout. This eliminated all the waste in juice boxes (and avoided the extra sugar which they didn’t need with donuts on the table!) and also offered us a place to wash hands and dishes. To that extent I used our own Dylan Kendall bamboo plates and bowls,* washing them halfway through the party with a reusable sponge. Was that inconvenient? Sure, for about 5 minutes. Compared to a lifetime of less waste in a landfill and a better planet for our kids? No contest. I make bamboo cups too but we needed the kids to be able to write their names on the cups so they could reuse them – to that extent I used PLA/Corn cups which I bought on Amazon.

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The last bit was the party gift bag. Oh, the party gift bag. I never liked the practice of giving kids more stuff they probably don’t need. This year I opted instead to send each family home with seed thank you cards giving families a fun activity to try together and maybe adding a bit more color and plant life to the planet!

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All in all the day was a huge success and I can proudly say we had very little waste! We recycled two water containers and tossed about 15 cups! Please join our newsletter or stay in touch to find out when the bamboo plates will be available here on our own site or at a store near you!


Photos by Miles Schuster

Compassionate Bedrooms for Peaceful Dreams

SyntheticDown_LEADThe bedroom is the heart of our home, our most intimate space. The bedroom is the room that recharges us, holds our secrets, and provides refuge. No piece of furniture is as important as our bed, the bedroom’s centerpiece. For me, a comfortable bed is key to my bedroom and comfortable for me means soft and warm.

Yes, I am a fluff junkie. I want fluff to surround me. I want to cocoon in fluff.

Before I became vegan, and before I really figured out what was making my fluff fluffy, I had down duvets and pillows. I knew they were down because of the occasional quill that would pierce the cover but I did not make the connection that there was anything harmful in consuming down. I never thought about the ducks who provided the down, or that they were being raised on industrial farms.

When I was in grade school, I fell madly in love with the book Make Way for Ducklings. In the story the whole town of Boston comes together to help Mom Duck raise her eight ducklings. I loved this book so much I turned a shoebox into a lake and crafted eight little babies out of yellow clay as tribute. Make Way for Ducklings perfectly describes many of our childhood feelings during trips to the lake to feed the ducks — ooos and ahhhs when they spread their wings and seem to float above the water and smiles when we see ducklings trailing after their mothers. How do we reconcile our childhood nostalgia for ducks with down? We can’t.

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Down is the undercoating of duck, goose or swan feathers. Body feathers are also used for pillows, bedding and clothing. I suppose I believed that people just followed ducks around and picked up the molted feathers. Of course this is not what happens. Duck feathers are a commodity and industrially acquired. Down and feathers are acquired in one of three ways: (1) after the bird has been slaughtered for body meat and fois gras. The carcass is boiled and the feathers pulled. (2) Gathering, which sounds quite pleasant but really involves corralling hundreds of thousands of birds and pulling their molting feathers out at the same time which really often leads to …. (3) live plucking. Live plucking is the most profitable for farms. With live plucking, birds are forcibly plucked over and over, 6 to 7 times before they die from trauma or are killed for meat. This is done without anesthesia and often results in torn flesh and unbearable pain for the bird. Imagine having your hair pulled out over and over and over. Eighty percent of all duck farms are in China and the “production” of down is completely unregulated.

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What?? This is not what I imagined. But now that I know, how could I expect to have peaceful dreams wrapped in the pain and suffering of another? I couldn’t.

Thankfully there are plenty of alternatives to down with more arriving in the market at a rapid pace. In addition to being compassionate for animals, down alternatives don’t make you sneeze. In fact, most alternatives to down are far better for your sleep, as well as for the environment.

My favorite straight-forward down alternative is PrimaLoft®. PrimaLoft® is a form of synthetic microfiber thermal insulation originally developed in the 80s for the US Army and now most famously known for ski jackets sold by stores like Patagonia. And the good news now for vegans and animal lovers is that PrimaLoft® is also used in bedding and performs similarly to duck feather in its ability to regulate body temperature in your quilts. PrimaLoft® is a trade name and there are many other competitors now on the market. A perusal through the internet for synthetic down is quite eye-opening!

Your pillows? Throw away your down pillows and give your neck a break! To dress my bed I keep two overstuffed PrimaLoft@ pillows as front decorative pillows but for sleeping I tested a half dozen to find my favorite (a clue? the material is also edible). Depending on whether your preference is firm, medium or soft, the varieties of pillows range from bamboo to latex to gel. Please avoid memory foam for toxicity concerns. My bed sports buckwheat pillows, as I find the material gives my neck the most support. Because buckwheat pillows tend to be smaller, I layer them under accent pillows.

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Blankets. If you want to keep warm the old fashioned way and eschew anything synthetic, my best tip for keeping your bed chic and cruelty free is to use cotton blankets. As simple as that. Cotton blankets layer wonderfully, which is especially useful if you have children – the two or the four-legged kind. Bed layers make washing up spills and messes very easy. Because I am very sensitive to the abuse the planet takes to support industrial cotton farming, I look for either organic cotton, which is grown with less pesticides, or up-cycled cotton. Remember your favorite grandmother’s quilt? Up-cycled. Kantha blankets, found now in most home décor stores, are up-cycled saris turned into incredible, extravagant and very durable options both to add a bit of chic to any bed and support a small business, typically run by women, in India.

What to do with your discarded down bedding? Consider calling animal rescues or your local animal shelter to see if their pups and felines could use a little extra warmth. A beautiful testament to the tortured lives of ducks is to have their lost lives provide some comfort to another animal in need.

Sleep peacefully! Your bedroom is now considerably more beautiful and compassionate.

Are Your Cleaning Supplies Slowly Killing You?

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Stains, grime and fingerprints – a  detective’s best friends, my worst enemy. A clean house to me is a happy and healthy house. Streaks on my bathroom mirror, cat hair settling on the dining room table, cat hair on my sheets!– these are the things which keep me up at night. Pre-vegan I depended on Windex and Tide. I never questioned either the values of the companies who manufactured these products or the ingredients found in the products themselves. I trusted these companies in my belief that clean was clean.

Clean, though, is not clean. Clean can kill you. In fact studies now show that the air outside is less toxic than the air in our homes if we use commercial cleaners. I visited the site for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and learned that “every 13 seconds a poison control center in the US gets a call about a possible poisoning,” and that “more than 90% of these exposures occur in the home. Poisoning can result from medicines, pesticides, household cleaning products, carbon monoxide, and lead.” So lets read that again: Every 13 seconds a call goes into to a poison control center and the number 3 reason for that call is household cleaning products. Woah!

In addition, the majority of all these household cleaning products in which we so confidently trust have been tested on animals – which doesn’t conclusively prove either positively or negatively that the chemicals below can cause “acute or immediate hazards such as skin and respiratory irritation, watery eyes, chemical burns, and even cancer.” Instead, even if the chemicals below choked, burned or flat-out killed a small domestic rabbit, cat or dog in lab tests, that chemical is still in the cleaner and could still poison your own pets or children.

Good grief.

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A brief but not exhaustive list:

  1. Phthalates:MOUNTAIN FRESH! LEMON SCENTED!” Phthalates often hide behind the word “FRAGANCE” in cleaning products (and is not on the label) and according to the CDC phthalates have been linked to asthma, breast cancer, obesity and type II diabetes, low IQ, neurodevelopmental issues, behavioral issues, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development and male fertility issues. That’s about it. Yum, that crisp lemon scent seems even fresher today.
  1. Perchloroethylene or “perc:”  Gets in bed with dry cleaners and spot removers – according to the EPA, breathing PERC for short periods of time can adversely affect the human nervous system.  Effects range from dizziness, fatigue, headaches and sweating to incoordination and unconsciousness.  Contact with PERC liquid or vapor irritates the skin, the eyes, the nose, and the throat. Breathing perchloroethylene over longer periods of time can cause liver and kidney damage in humans. Repeat exposure to large amounts of PERC may cause cancer. Why dry clean? Most clothes can be washed in cold water and isn’t your health worth a wrinkle or two?
  1. Triclosan: Disguises itself as “antibacterial” in liquid hand soaps and dishwashing detergents – promotes growth of drug-resistant bacterial, may disrupt hormonal functions, found in high numbers in lakes where it destroys natural algae. According to the University of Davis, tricolsan impairs muscle function and skeletal muscle contractility. Standing is so over-rated. Get rid of anything with the word ANTI-BACTERIAL in it…want a list? To name a few: Dial® Liquid handsoap and bodywash; Tea Tree Therapy™ Liquid Soap; Clearasil® Daily Face Wash; Dermalogica® Skin Purifying Wipes; DermaKleen™ Antibacterial Lotion Soap; CVS Antibacterial Soap, Ajax Antibacterial Dishsoap, Kimcare Antibacterial Clear Soap, Bath and Body Works Antibacterial Hand Soaps, Gels and Foaming Sanitizers.
  1. Quarternary ammonium compounds or “quats:” Makes your clothes soft in the dryer but has all the same health and environmental risks of tricolsan and according to the Chemical Safety Database quats cause skin and respiratory irritation and haven been found to be endocrine disruptors, meaning they interfere with hormone function within the body. Third, they are toxic to aquatic life, and our oceans are our life blood. Use Pine-Sol or Fantastik and a fish dies when you wash the product down the drain.
  1. 2-Butoxyethanol: Want your window cleaner to smell fresh? Add 2-Butoxyethanol. However according to the EPA, in addition to causing sore throats when inhaled, at high levels glycol ethers can also contribute to narcosis, pulmonary edema, and severe liver and kidney damage. Simple Green and Windex are two offenders to definitely avoid.
  1. Ammonia: Having shiny home-decor bling and windows can also lead to chronic bronchitis and asthma. According to the NY Dept. of Health, ammonia is corrosive. Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia in the air causes immediate burning of the eyes, nose, throat and respiratory tract and can result in blindness, lung damage or death. Inhalation of lower concentrations can cause coughing, and nose and throat irritation. Swallowing ammonia can cause burns to the mouth, throat and stomach. Skin or eye contact with concentrated ammonia can also cause irritation and burn. Windex! Mr. Clean …. You can smell ammonia when you clean, it may be tough on dirt but its terrible on you.
  1. Chlorine aka Bleach: Those cute little scrubbing bubbles are hiding many a toxin including chlorine which may be a thyroid disrupter. Chlorine also gets into the skin and lungs fast causing chest tightness, wheezing, dyspnea, and bronchospasm. Severe exposures may result in noncardiogenic pulmonary edema, which may be delayed for several hours. Clorax can be your best friend or worst enemy. Tread carefully.
  1. Sodium Hydroxide: Also known by its nom de guerre: LYE. Sodium hydroxide can cause severe burns and heaven forbid this stuff gets in your eye.  Sodium Hydroxide is extremely damaging to human tissue. Most often found in oven cleaner (try baking soda instead) and often has a big POISON mark on it – so don’t consume it.

Animal by-products in cleaning supplies? The big one is animal fat which shows up in a couple of products – animal fat aka dihydrogenated tallow dimethyl ammonium chloride (TALLOW) is used to make your clothes softer and is either impregnated into dryer sheets or added to liquid fabric softener. If you really have such unforgivable static cling and “stiff as a board” clothes try vinegar and a fabric dispenser ball. Animal fat also shows up in plastic bags to aid in their ability to slip apart –yes, animal fat. Instead just go to Baggu.com and get your own forever-use, never sticky bags printed with cute animals – save the earth and animals. Go Fat Free.

After having read all this, you’re asking: is there a better way to have a clean clean?

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Fortunately yes. Finding cleaning products which are earth and animal-friendly has never been easier. At least a half-dozen brands have crossed into the mainstream and are selling cruelty-free, non-toxic, biodegradable products at big box retailers such as Target. An internet search will quickly identify another few dozen boutique brands that can be mail ordered. And if you really want nothing to do with any of that, clean is as close as your last salad. The most basic and best cleaning products can be found multi-tasking in your own cupboard. What are these magic products? Vinegar, baking soda and lemons. And if you like scent, essential oils. Tea-tree oil is a magical anti-bacterial and lavender helps you clean calmly.

To be fair, I use a combination of both types of cleaning products. For my dishwasher and washing machine I shop for brands which are biodegradable, such as non-toxic liquid soaps, but for my countertops and sinks I do-it-myself because anything I want near my toothbrush I want to be able to also use to brush my teeth. Thank you baking soda.

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Sustainably-Grown and Animal-Friendly Flowers

FlowersDylanThe joy of flowers! A bouquet of flowers may be one of my favorite home accents. Flowers add color, convey secret (or not so secret) messages and a flower can be found to fit your every mood. I personally love flower arrangements in unexpected places. I discovered this accidentally after receiving a bouquet of lilies from a friend. Lilies are toxic to cats, but to my cats—used to eating kale right from my Farmers’ Market bags—lilies look like salad. Not wanting to be a part of kitty suicide, I moved the lilies to the top of my Elfa® shelves and discovered something really quite wonderful. Flowers as centerpieces are beautiful, but predictable. Flowers in unexpected places add real joy to a home, the joy we find in a good surprise.

 

Flowers, though, can be complicated.

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Artificial Flowers

Even though I live in sunny California where flower farms are found statewide, for most of they year I use artificial flowers in my home to achieve the same effect as real flowers. As an animal-loving person there are two things to be aware of when buying artificial flowers: What they are made from and how they are made. For hundreds of years, artificial flowers were made from silk and silk is an insect-derived material made from the cocoons of silk-worms. After cocooning, the worm and cocoon are plunged into boiling water to release the threads of the cocoon which are woven into silk. The worm dies. Luckily the use of silk in artificial flowers has taken a back seat to polyester, which became the fabric of choice in the 1970s and 80s. If you’re unsure whether your flowers are made from silk or polyester, simply check the tag as its illegal to misidentify a material on a label. However, less lucky for animal lovers is the practice of dipping the raw fabric – whether silk or polyester – into gelatin to stiffen the material for petal formation. Gelatin is a by-product of animal slaughter, obtained by boiling skin, tendons, ligaments, and/or bones in water to create a multi-purpose protein-based thickening agent. Want a good way to make an artificial flower ugly? Dip the material in a dead pig. All is not lost, however. More and more manufacturers of artificial flowers are using Polyethylene-vinyl Acetate Emulsion (PEVA or PVA) in place of gelatin. What is this magic gelatin replacer? Elmer’s Glue. Tip of the Day? All of IKEA’s artificial flowers are animal-product free. Shop happy!

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Fair-Trade Flowers

A rose is a rose is a rose said Gertrude Stein. A rose is also part of the $8 billion annual domestic cut flower business. Flowers are big money, and not all flowers are cut equally. Flowers are sourced from flower farms and most of the world’s flowers are grown in the Netherlands, Kenya, Tanzania, Columbia and Ecuador. There are U.S. flower farms but they are not at the scale found in the industrial greenhouses and farms overseas. Many international flower farms and greenhouses are not audited. Workers at overseas industrial flower farms may be exposed to dangerous pesticides, long hours, little pay and unclean working conditions. However, before we boycott all overseas flower farms, we should remember that flower farms are huge economic engines for developing countries. Money from flower farms is used for community development initiatives such as schools, clean water and hospitals. Flower farms are also critical to bee health. Buying flowers from bee friendly farms (marked BFF) supports healthy bee populations by providing colonies adequate food and space to reproduce. The solution is to pay attention to the flowers you buy. Look for indications on the sleeves of the flowers that they were sourced via FairTrade Standards. This means they adhere to the international protocols monitoring the cut flower industry which both protects the natural environment and workers’ rights. A few of the symbols to look for are: the FFP of the Fair Flowers Fair Plants initiative; the FSI from The Floriculture Sustainability Initiative; or the frog from the Rain Forrest Alliance group. I like to buy flowers from my local farmers market but if you don’t have a market near you, check out your local florist and ask questions. The more we request ethically sourced flowers, grown either locally or internationally, the better the world will be.

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Pet-Friendly Flowers

If your cats are like mine, they absolutely cannot resist flowers. A spring bouquet to them must seem like Elaine’s “big salad” from Seinfeld because I have seen my cats literally scale walls in their desire for a tulip. Amusing on the one paw, dangerous on the other. How many times have I found a disembodied petal with bite mark evidence next to a pile of kitty throw up? Too many times for comfort. So while cats can and should eat some greens (kale and spinach are particularly good for cats), attention should be paid to the flowers you bring home as some, quite literally, will kill your feline friend. Dog owners take heart. Dogs tend to be less interested in cut flowers but they also tend to blindly consume anything in their path. To be on the safest side, there are many lists online of flowers and plants that are toxic to our companion animals. Or you can always try my suggestion of putting your flowers in interesting and unusually high spots. Just be aware that kitties magically develop suction-cup paws when you are asleep.

 

 

How To Take Off Years With One Trash Bag

Biodegrable Trash Bags A while back I became obsessed with trash. At my house we recycle diligently (ok maniacally, have you ever seen a land-fill? Gross). I have two trash cans in the kitchen and I am proud to admit the one for recycling fills up faster. But one thing that was always on my mind as I took out the bags in both cans was that even the recycling was being dumped in a plastic bag. Not good.

At first I decided to dump out the recycling into the blue trash can and re-use the bag but wow, that was a messy, quickly abandoned idea! And then I discovered biodegradable trash bags. I won’t bore you with a review of any one of the brands but I will ask you to click over to Amazon and check this out: biodegradable trash bags (and lots of other people have written reviews to peruse). I can tell you that these bags are just as strong as non-biodegradable trash bags and if you have to double them, so what? That may cost you a bit of extra change but will save the landfills and oceans tons in plastic waste. Sure, biodegradable trash bags may not be as cheap, cheap, cheap as their petroleum-based alternatives  — which can live in our oceans and in the landfills for OVER 500 YEARS, that is many generations of people living next to our trash bags from 2014 — but isn’t saving our planet from the islands of plastic waste killing ocean life and destroying cultures a better way to go? Biodegradable trash bags, one of the easiest choices we can all make to save the planet.

(And yes, the photo reveals my attempt to show you how strong the bags are….cheesy? Perhaps).