Pods the Not So Eco-Friendly Solution

As consumers that are trying to stay aware in a world full of information and mis-information, it is easy to be led astray. We are generally used to convenience and when presented with a solution rarely go beyond that solution as presented to us or contemplate the end of life of products. In reality, it is a goliath task to do. We often rely on the information provided by manufacturers and marketers to make our decisions as we are overwhelmed with all of the information being pushed our way.

Ironically, it was not looking past the solutions presented at various times in history that got us into the mess that we find ourselves in today. As an example plastic, which we now know to be an insufferable problem, was presented as the way to be eco-friendly and stop cutting down trees. Many well meaning people embraced it for this reason and the multitude of ways it made life seemingly more convenient.

Those of us paying attention to those big thick tubs of laundry detergent and wishing for something else that doesn’t take centuries to break down and pollute the environment more have shouted woo-hoo with the invention of the all magical pods. I too got on this train and ordered from Dropps whose subscription eco-friendly pods come in recyclable cardboard packaging for both laundry and dishwashing detergent. Admittedly, I was super happy to see their commitment to environmentally minded packaging and it still is a step in the right direction from the giant plastic jugs of laundry detergent we used to have.

I tried the more basic super eco-friendly soap nuts and eco-friendly dissolving laundry sheets, but unfortunately in my household of several pets and people the clothes just didn’t get washed as well as I was hoping for. Dropps pods has been a good step in the right direction away from the plastic giant jugs, but it got me thinking what are in the pods themselves?

The pods it turns out are made from something called PVA which stands for polyvinyl alcohol (PVA or PVOH) film. PVA is a synthetic polymer (AKA type of plastic), that dissolves in water. Now here is the catch, PVA can indeed be fully biodegradable and environmentally friendly, but this requires special conditions to be met at the water treatment plant your water is being sent to. A study done by Arizona State University recently found that up to 75% of the PVA going to water treatment plants is not biodegrading and is passing through. This means that it can potentially enter groundwater resources and water systems and contaminate crops and other environments.

Part of this is because in places like the U.S., the water treatment plants have not been setup to process specific polymers and are generally setup to process only human waste and other biological matter. So while companies like Dropps are doing their part to be eco-friendly, the end life of the pods are not so eco-friendly. The study, published in June 2021, shows that this PVA could account for up to 8,000 tons of the plastic material being released annually onto land and into waterways across the country.

This seems a crushing blow to the fight on plastic, but if anything this impresses why the change needs to come from us as consumers. We as the consumers and as citizens of the planet need to hold the laws of our country and the companies that function within them responsible for making changes and accountable for making sure it happens.

In the meantime, we as enlightened consumers have our own responsibility to make our dollar be our vote in our daily lives. I have decided to try out another up and coming brand Blueland, which has the same environmentally friendly mission of others and easy convenience of pods with the added benefit of no PVA. In addition to dishwasher and laundry tablets they also have refillable tablets for various household cleaning products in which all packaging is either compostable or recyclable. They have an amazing line up of eco-certification from cradle to cradle, leaping bunny, EPA Safer choice and more. A review will be coming soon!

We the People Hold the Power…

Unlike my usual posts, today I wanted to talk about who has the power for change. We all think that it is the corporate powers that be that dictate everything and in many ways that is true. They can buy markets, stomp out small businesses, influence through advertising and push their weight around in ways that make it feel like we as the consumers are at their will. It can feel like we are trapped and victims of a world we never asked for.

The truth of the matter is that even with all that push and pull we, as the consumers, create the demand that those global capitalism machines run on. When you make purchases you are casting your vote and speaking your voice for what we all together value and ethically allow. If we continuous make choices in habitual ignorance than we are as much to blame as those corporate conglomerates for the state of so many issues effecting our world from sex trafficking to climate change. It is time to become more informed, more conscious, more self aware and more enlightened of our own power in the eco system of consumerism.

I have been meditating on all the marketing pushes by corporate powers to, in theory, do good. Things like recycle products, use reusable straws, use reusable shopping bags. These are all great habits for us all to adopt don’t get me wrong. Something feels off though when you look into it. It struck me that at the end of the day these powerful corporate companies are now using their influence to put the responsibility of global solutions for things like plastic reduction on the common consumer leaving them as the source of these pollutions completely free from responsibility. This is why now more than ever your choices as consumers matter.

We have come to a time where no longer do our choices purely create demand for what we value, but are also the fingers that point and the strong voices that say in unison no longer will we be apart of child labor. No longer will we poison the waters with chemical waste. No longer will we allow human trafficking. No longer will we be party to the suffering of creatures in this world. No longer will we harm ourselves, our families and our neighbors. No longer will we watch in silence as all life on planet earth goes silent.

I urge you to think about what world you want to live in. What matters to you? What will you allow? Dedicate yourself to those ideals or re-dedicate yourself as the case may be. Be the enlightened consumer that is the power and is the voice of a better tomorrow for all.

Spaza Store – An Interview With the Eco-Friendly & Ethical Creator, Julia Schaffer

In my search for beautiful and useful homeware items, I stumbled across Spaza. Perusing the online shop, I immediately fell in love with the beautiful designs, colors and materials being used. It would have been so easy to fill up my digital shopping basket with one of everything, but as time has taught me, you can’t take anything at face value. Too many times I have seen an item that looked wonderful only to end up disappointed when I find out its made somewhere that abuses its workers, is made with horrendous chemicals, and due to the poor quality will end up in a landfill shortly. This put me on a sleuthing hunt to find out more because as an enlightened consumer I want my choices to create demand for a better world.

As it turned out I didn’t have to go far to read up on their home website. Every product I looked up was made with eco friendly materials like cotton. As a composter, I am a fan of materials that I know when they end their lifecycle it will be able to break down and go back to the earth. To add to the already beautiful designs was another detail that made me smile. Spaza products are made by women who work from home and are often faced with some very challenging social situations in several communities within the southern parts of Africa. Conveniently, Spaza sells through both their online website and Etsy for US and worldwide shipments.

Spaza store’s natural scourers, kitchen cloths, bowl covers and more!

I found myself inspired to know more about the creator of Spaza. Who is this woman stepping up with such great initiatives in a world where that is not as frequent as it should be. I reached out across the world via email and was honored to have the very creative and kind creator Julia Schaffer reply to my request for an interview.

Q: Julia, I know you have a background in fashion design and hat manufacturing. What was it that first inspired you to go in the direction of creating products for modern day living?

A: My Grandmother used to hand-knit these fantastic kitchen cloths in Canada. Living in South Africa with small children I really wished I had these cloths. My Grandma sent me a sample and her pattern. I had the idea that it could be a great home based job creation program for women living in challenging circumstances. I was further motivated when I discovered that South Africa grew and processed its own cotton yarn.

Q: What inspires you when you design something new?

A: My ideas always come to me as I go about my daily tasks. They come from a need – the mother of invention. 

Q: Are all your products produced in Cape Town, South Africa? 

A: Yes…..however, some products are made in Johannesburg and Windhoek, Namibia.

Q: How did you end up involving woman in challenging social conditions to help produce your products?

A: I have worked in traditional manufacturing facilities before and often thought that there must be a happier way.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit on how that has shifted and changed their lives?

A: I think besides the having an income, it has also uplifted their social positions in the community and families. The ladies who are busy working from home have become role models for their children and others. 

Q: Was there a particular event or moment that made you say “This is it. This is the path I want to take!”? Or have you always felt this was the direction you would eventually go?

A: That’s a great question. I recently remembered that when I was a young struggling fashion designer I used to look at street people and think I should gather them together and teach them to sew:)

Q: What keeps you motivated to continue the work that you do?

A: The idea that I could do so much more keeps me motivated and I get a lot of exuberance from our customers enthusiasm.

Q: As a consumer yourself, what key principles do you think people should factor in when purchasing items for themselves and their homes?

A: Does it provide an easy, economical and convenient solution to a need? What is it made of? How long will it last in life and in death?

Q: Lastly, What do we get to look forward to next:) Are there other items to look forward to this year not yet available?

A: I have a head full of ideas and my studio is pretty packed too. Lots of great stuff to come!
Spaza Store bowl re-usable cover for keeping your goodies covered, fresh and beautiful!

We need more Julia Schaffers in the world, but until then go visit Spaza Store and support a business doing some good in all walks of life and in your home!

Vintage & Antique, a New Eco-friendly Use For the Old, Bold and Beautiful

I have always been a lover of antiques and vintage treasures. I grew up surrounded by them and was heavily influenced by my grandmother’s love of the same. Her house was always filled with beautiful pieces that were at least a hundred years old or more. She had an intense love of china and I’ll admit I absorbed far more of that information than I had ever planned to.

While my tastes were not as invested in flow blue and chintz china, I grew to love vintage and antique clothes, hats, mosaic glass, parasols, gilded trinket boxes, vases, hand painted portrait brooches and a plethora of other things. I still delight in perusing antique malls in hopes of finding some beautiful treasure. It was only the other day it struck me how helpful this love and appreciation of vintage and antique is.

Ask anyone today about Pyrex and they will tell you they just don’t make it like you used to. The vintage versions are highly sought after. Their durability and resilience to make some wonderful casserole for the family dinner endures. I hear that same “They don’t make it like they used to.” over and over. I see it myself when I pick up an antique teacup and then go to my local Homegoods and pick up a new one. Cheap, light and not made to last seems to be the order of the day from clothing to just about any item in your home.

We are now and have always been consumers of something, but in a factory world over run with lack of ethics, short cuts in production, allowances for dangerous chemicals, and garbage perhaps it is time to take a page from the past. One of the number one ways we can reduce our waste as consumers is by re-using items. Don’t buy that cheap set of dishes at Target because they are $8 and if they break who cares. That sort of throw away thinking is part of what landed us in this mess in the first place.

Instead, invest in the past with that retro set you’ve been eyeing at the local flea market. Make use of something made well that you love the look of and enjoy the benefit of having something likely to last much longer, saves the environment from both production waste and product end of life waste and is stylish to boot! It’s a win, win for all! There are so many places to look for still amazing re-usable and lightly loved items such as thrift shops, flea markets, farmers markets, antique shops/malls, vintage stores, donations stores and swap meets. Indulge your inner collector, fashionista, preserver, quality snob, fixer upper, chef, mechanic, artist and environmentalist by giving a new life to the old, the bold and the beautiful.

Bamboo – Greenwashing

Bamboo is something I and everyone looking for sustainable eco-friendly fabrics and more sees about on the daily. This got me to thinking about bamboo as a plant and in awe of how something so hard and fibrous could be turned into soft fabrics. With bamboo being touted as a sustainable product I decided to look into it further. What I found is the reality of bamboo is a bit of a complex mess.

Is bamboo sustainable? Well, yes if you are looking purely at the plants ability to grow quickly, hardily and in mass quantities. Comparing it to other sources such as forest wood it does seem ideal when we are trying so hard to cut back on the loss of our forests world wide, but the environmental impact may not be being completely accounted for. It is very possible bamboo is just the newest material in the grand scheme of greenwashing (AKA making something sound more environmentally friendly than it is).

At present there seems to be no studies or observations on how much land is being potentially cleared to make bamboo as a crop, nor is there really any regulations on how it is grown. While it is known to not need pesticides etc. it doesn’t mean it isn’t being grown with them or that the land it’s on isn’t being treated with some other chemicals.

The next huge issue is in the processing. Remember that ridiculously soft and comfortable bamboo clothing or bedsheets you have? Well it turns out that to get to that point requires a major and highly intensive chemical process. About 50% of the hazardous waste that is a byproduct of making bamboo rayon goes straight into the environment and cannot be re-captured. When you see something labeled bamboo it typically means this process.

From the perspective of a seller bamboo is less costly to produce then say cotton, but from an environmentally conscious consumer perspective hemp and organic cotton are at the top of the list for being the most eco-friendly options. The moral of this story is do your homework. What may seem like an eco-friendly choice often has a nasty side to consider. Due to the chemical process of bamboo production you are barely a step up from plastic when it comes to environmental impact.

Perhaps in the future a better production method will be able to make bamboo a truly good option, but right now we aren’t there yet. We have to get manufactures and technology on board and our choices as consumers are how we do that.

The Plague of Micro-plastics

Mirco-plastics…the word brings up feelings of helplessness to all who know that it means teeny tiny pieces of plastic that are nearly unstoppable. They are in nearly all water systems and now in the very earth and air around us. I read an article last year from the Global Citizen that stated when eating a single meal you are likely ingesting 100 pieces of micro-plastic and over the course of a year the average person consumes 70,000 pieces. It all makes you want to live in a bubble, but unfortunately even at the farthest reaches and deepest depths micro-plastics can be found.

I know at times it feels like it is a defeat before the battle has begun, but while we may not be able to stop them from being part of our reality we can help prevent them from spreading further in larger amounts by starting with items like our clothing and how we wash them.

I’ve recently invested in a Guppy Friend Washing Bag. This bag is essentially an innovative filter bag designed to delicately collect all the tiny mico-fibers that are released during a wash cycle from your laundry. In some cases those micro-fibers may not be a huge danger, but have you looked at what your clothes are made of lately? Nearly everything is made of synthetic-materials which equates to plastic. These plastic fibers shed during the wash and are dumped into our waterways with no way to get them out.

Guppy Friend

The guppy bag has a handy liner that collects the fibers that shed allowing you to scoop them up rather like removing lint from your dryer. From there you can dispose of them instead of releasing them into the waterways. The bonus of this is because of how your clothes are being washed it actually reduces breakage of the fibers allowing for a longer life of your clothes.

Ultimately trying to purchase natural fibers reduces the amount of waste, but it is not always an option and even natural and organic fibers can have a wealth of issues that also aren’t the best, but that is a conversation for another time. For now, to do your part, I recommend ordering one of these online. You get to do your part to stop more plastic entering into the water of the planet(that we all drink from) and get to preserve your beloved clothes. It’s a win-win for all.

Something New, Something Blue…Fashion With A Conscious

I’ve been on the search for more than basics that are made ethically with sustainability in mind. While one might think with the prevalence of ethically available brands like PACT carrying all the basics that finding something a bit more fashionable should be easy. My own search found it was far from.

Like so many other issues of inclusivity still effecting even the fast fashion brands I am on a borderline size that puts me out of range of many of the up and coming ethical fashion brands, which limits a short list even shorter. It was eye opening to go through and research brands I thought might be at least ethically based even if not sustainably to find out I was dead wrong.

I was ecstatic to find out Anthropolgie was releasing an extended sizes line thinking surely with everything their brand appears to represent they would be an excellent candidate for purchasing some lovely dresses. As I researched them more though I was met with shock and disappointment over what appears to be ill treatment of their workers with promises for change made, but not kept. The lack of transparency put a bad taste in my mouth and I decided to keep searching elsewhere.

While I know enough about fast fashion to be disturbed when I see a $20 dress. I’m not yet sure what price range equals fair wages, ethically made clothing and supports a business for the future. I tend to value quality over quantity; so I am very choosey about what clothes I invest in these days. About half my closet is vintage, if not antique, but I still have modern and new pieces as well. I value the vintage as it is a testament to how well clothing used to be made that those pieces survive today as well as helping keep my values on sustainability for the planet.

In my searching, thus far, I have come across two brands that I am adoring. The first is Symbology, which I will discuss a bit more in another post. The other is Christy Dawn, which I am so in love with.

Christy Dawn Petersen decided to invest her own money into creating a brand that is unlike anything I have heard of. In her own brilliance she decided to put focus on sustainability.

In that vein, she creates small batches of well made feminine dresses that are made using dead-stock fabric, AKA fabric remnants, from major fashion houses. By doing this she insures that tons of perfectly good fabric scraps aren’t just getting dumped into the landfill. This is a much needed solution to a problem that is far more serious than people might realize.

She and her husband have created a small factory that is also their office where they employ highly skilled sewing teams that are paid for their work with full benefits. Their focus on creating a business where their workers are taken care of and sustainability is a must just makes good fashion sense with an eco flair. You cannot help, but admire their determination and hard work to make this into such a successful business.

I had to see one of their famous limited dresses for myself so decided to purchase the “Dawn” dress as one of their most popular styles. I was not disappointed and was treated to some of the most lovely packaging I’ve ever seen. You cannot help but be romanced by the clear love, care for the planet and craftsmanship given by the team that makes up Christy Dawn. You’ll find no plastic here, which makes me love Christy Dawn all the more. They continue to grow, which to me says that there is a tide of change coming and I hope that in these enlightened production choices they are but the first of many.

Walking With Purpose

Take a walk…go. Right Now. Leave your phone or put it in your pocket, but leave it somewhere that will leave both your hands, eyes, and mind unfettered by texts, calls, app alerts etc. Walking itself is a great and gentle exercise that easily includes people of all ages and abilities. So no excuses on it being to hard or not inclusive enough. As you step out into the air and let the sun light hit your face and you realize things outside of the internet exist, take some steps along your street. Take it all in. Now look down. I will take a gamble that within 5 feet of you probably is some trash that has made its way to the world.

All of us are guilty of walking around through many parts of life with blinders on. It’s time to take those blinders off and walk with purpose. Recently, my partner and I volunteered and went on a trash pickup with our local Surfrider chapter. I was amazed at what we picked up in only a couple blocks in the city and in a very short amount of time. This one experience volunteering with other like minded individuals making a small difference in the world inspired us both.

We started looking around at our own neighborhood. Living in the suburbs you typically don’t think of litter as an issue, but as we walked around our neighborhood we realized it was not litter free. We promptly got a bucket and invested in some grabbers so we could pick things up without needing to bend over constantly or touch questionable items.

It’s becoming part of our daily walks with the dogs. One of us walks the dogs and the other is on litter duty. We trade off and so far we have not had a walk that hasn’t impacted others in some way. We have had numerous thanks and nods of appreciation and approval.

I know putting litter in a garbage bin that eventually goes to a land fill is not the end all solution, but perhaps it means one less cigarette butt making its way into the waterways where it poisons the water and helps manage the waste and contamination of plastics that are quickly ruining our world. My hope is that my walks inspire others to become more awake and aware of the litter and maybe just maybe make the earth a little cleaner for all to enjoy.

Cigarette butts collected with Surfrider

The Journey Begins

My journey and sometimes adventure towards conscious living and conscious consuming began about two years ago. What inspired it? Well I could say that I have always loved animals and nature, but really it was all because of a turtle. I was on my first sessions of really snorkeling in Maui when I encountered so many of these gentle giants in the reef. 

There was one special turtle that was resting on the sandy bottom about 20 feet below me and I could swear it looked straight at me with intention. With what intention I will never know. We locked eyes and it began to swim straight up towards me. I was in absolute awe of this beautiful giant turtle coming my way. It so effortlessly and calmly swam through the water with the light playing off its shell. It was truly beautiful to behold. 

My awe was broken as I realized it was coming straight to me and would likely bump right into me if I didn’t get out of the way very quickly. Turtles are protected and you are to give them their space; so I frantically paddled myself out of the way as it broke the surface. 

The turtle took some deep breaths of ocean air looking at me with wise eyes only a couple feet away as though it was acknowledging me and then dipped back below the surface swimming away into the blue abyss of the sea. It was a magic moment. 

I felt like I had been blessed or at least given an experience that would always be with me for the rest of my life. It wouldn’t be the last turtle I would see or swim with and even inspired me to become a scuba diver the following year, but that turtle set me on a journey that has changed and is continuing to change my life in the best ways possible. 

What follows is my discoveries, ponderings and research on a variety of topics, items, and more!