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Eco-friendly Wet Weather Gear

In case you have missed it (and if you don’t live in South East Queensland, then it’s entirely likely you have), Brisbane has been experiencing some seriously wet weather. My shed has flooded for the first time ever. On Tuesday, we had the wettest day in 23 years. It’s been pretty crazy.

And I have a broken umbrella.

Fortunately, Yankee Elv had a spare unbroken umbrella, so I’ve been using that, but it did get me thinking about the broken state of my umbrella. One of the metal spines (arms? prongs? what do you call them?) is snapped in half and the nylon fabric has become detached from another metal bit. It was a pretty cheap umbrella to start with. The plastic handle was really uncomfortable and it was super flimsy. As one blogger, Sharon Russell, said:

Many people have adopted the belief that buying several cheap umbrellas is less costly than buying one umbrella of good quality that will last a few years. Instead, they simply plan to replace broken umbrellas whenever they need to.”

I must say, I have fallen prey to this attitude. What’s worse, when I stopped to think about, it occurred to me that pretty much every bit of an umbrella is non-biodegradable and non-recyclable. Also, considering the cheapness, I’m pretty sure it’s not made from recycled materials. A bummer all around.

So this led me to thinking… what kind of environmentally sustainable wet weather gear might there be available? The answer: not much.

Treehugger has a nice list of umbrellas, but everything is American (except one, which is British). I found a Dutch raincoat (but seriously, brown and yellow? what possessed them?), however it looks a bit thick for our climate. It mostly rains in summer here. Ecouterre has a list of raincoats but they are all so expensive! There are some good, inexpensive, Australian umbrellas made from recycled umbrellas available at Positive Impact, but they only sell them in sets of 1000 or more for corporate clients. I think that might be a couple too many. Even ebay can’t help me. 😦

I guess I could go for the Urban Dictionary definition.

Does anyone know where I could get some eco-friendly wet weather gear?

Short of making my own raincoat out of the one Ikea bag I happen to have available and would rather like to keep?

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Vegan Fast Food

Vegans and fast food don’t often go together. There are exceptions, like Lord of the Fries in Melbourne, but those kinds of places are far and few between. Takeaway food from regular restaurants is a bit expensive to eat very often.

So usually I make my own fast food.

This is what I had for lunch the other day:

refried beans, pinto beans, rice, sweet potato, salsa

  • Roasted sweet potato (I had two in the basket in the pantry starting to get a bit old, so I roasted them up to eat as I pleased)
  • Refried beans with jalapenos (thanks Old El Paso!)
  • Mexi-beans (thanks again Old El Paso!)
  • Mexican style express rice (this time, Uncle Ben’s was my friend)
  • Roasted capsicum salsa (I’m taking out shares in Old El Paso).

So these aren’t the most eco-friendly items I’ve ever eaten… two things from cans, one in a plastic packet and one from a jar… but aside from the rice packet, it’s all recyclable and/or reusable, which is more than you can say for the paper/cardboard/plastic/styrofoam packaging you get from places like Macca’s.

It’s also loads healthier.

And it was fast! It took me less than 5 mins to make. Sometimes that’s what you want. Plus, there’s leftovers!!

refried beans, pinto beans, rice, sweet potato, salsa

But best of all, it was tasty. Nommmmm….

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Eco-Friendly Dental Hygiene

You’ll remember a while back (a long while back; I had another hiatus, sorry ’bout that) I posted about my eco-friendly toothbrush.

For what it’s worth, I’m still loving it, although right now I’m using a Preserve toothbrush (til it wears out) cos local stores sold out of the Monumental Dental kind. It’s pretty good actually, I like it – but it’s three times the price of the wooden one, and recycled plastic is still plastic. It might be a good choice for Americans, who can send it back for re-recycling pretty easily, but internationally shipping a worn-out toothbrush seems a little over-the-top to me, honestly. So I was pretty happy to find the Environmental Toothbrush stocked at The Green Edge when I dropped by about a month ago.

I bought four.

I didn’t want to run out!

Anyway, that’s not what today’s post is about. Today I wanna go beyond toothbrushes… to toothpaste or bust!

Ok, I might discuss dental floss too.

So the impetus for this post is the fact that I’ve had a toothpaste convergence recently. That is, my toothpaste ran out and I had to buy some more, which made me feel bad about buying more plastic that I’m eventually just going to throw away. Then I saw this post from Pioneer Woman. I was feeling guilty over one plastic tube, let alone two..! But I can’t say I blame them. I mean, dude, look at that tube! P-Dub’s, I mean. MM’s is perfect fantastic normal fine. No, I’m not talking about his butt. (What? Lesbians can appreciate a good butt, even if it does belong to a man. Go on and look, you’ll see. There’re lots of pictures.)

Anyway, I digress.

I looked around to try find a non-plastic toothpaste tube. None in the supermarket, duh. I’ve looked in Flannery’s and The Green Edge. All plastic there too. I’ve read about the Tom’s of Maine metal toothpaste tube that Beth Terry of Fake Plastic Fish uses in her very comprehensive post entitled Plastic-Free Dental Floss? Not Quite, but again, I’d have to ship it from the USA and I try not to do that. Buy local, y’know? I know some people use baking soda, but I’ve heard a lot of stories about how abrasive it is, so I’m not sure that I’m keen. (There are lots of comments on Beth’s post, so have a look if you want lots of opinions!)

macleans mild mint toothpaste

At the moment I'm using this toothpaste. I recycle the box, and try to use the toothpaste sparingly.

So right now, I’m just trying to use tiny bits of toothpaste at a time. I also brush my teeth twice a day, but I only use toothpaste one of those times. It’s mostly the brushing motion that’s important anyway… toothpaste is a bit more of a breath-freshener (as far as I know, anyway…).

You didn’t think I was going to offer any solutions, did you? These days I feel like I’m asking more questions than I am suggesting possible answers.

Which brings me to my second question: dental floss. What do you use?

Beth (of the aforementioned Fake Plastic Fish) uses Eco-Dent floss, which is available here in Brisbane from The Green Edge and The Cruelty Free Shop.

eco dent floss in cardboard box

This is the eco-dent floss that comes in the cardboard package... but cinnamon-flavoured!

It’s not perfect, but Beth explains why it’s the best of the bunch. On the upside, the packaging is recyclable cardboard and the wax coating on the floss is from vegetables, not beeswax or petroleum. On the downside, the floss is still made of nylon, and the packaging has a thin plastic wrapper, two plastic stickers and a plastic spool. On the very very downside, it costs nearly $12 a box, is shipped to local stores from America and – here’s the worst part – it’s cinnamon-flavoured. I’m sorry, but what is with that?! Cinnamon might work as a flavour in the USA (although how, I don’t really understand), but I remember that Close Up era in Australia in the 80s. My cousin used that toothpaste. It was red and hot and nasty. Just like Dr Pepper, it was fad, fortunately gone quickly. Cinnamon should only be used in food, like apple crumble. Ew ew ew, I cannot use cinnamon-flavoured floss!

So I dunno what that leaves me with.

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

(I couldn’t help it; it’s been a while since I used that quote. Forgive me.)

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Reduce: Toothbrush Waste

Am I an eco-freak or is thinking about environmentally friendly dental hygiene a normal trait amongst the eco-conscious?

Thank you, I thought it was normal. (No comments from the peanut gallery.)

Alright, for those of you less eco-freak normal than me, here’s why you should be thinking about the environmental impact of toothbrushes. Let’s take Australia as an example.

There are about 22 million people in the country. Let’s say, as a very rough estimate, that 1.25 million are little babies and don’t have teeth. So that’s 20.75 million Australians with teeth (including dentures, which still need to be brushed, so they count.) We all know the dentist tells us to change our toothbrush when it starts to get shaggy; about every three months. We also know that we are lazy, so we probably only change them every four months. So let’s say everyone changes their toothbrush three times a year (every four months).

Here’s the equation:

  • Australian population with teeth  x number of toothbrushes used per person per year  = number of toothbrushes used in Australia per year

…which equates to:

  • 20,750,000  x= 62,250,000

Yes, you read that right. By my very rough estimate, Australians are using 62 and a quarter million toothbrushes per year. (Some estimates say 30 million, but I’m going to presume Australians care about their dental hygiene more than that.) To boggle your brain a little more, keep in mind that Australia has a small population. Think of how many toothbrushes the US, Chinese, Indians, Brazilians and Indonesians are using. Yikes!

These toothbrushes are made of plastic (the handles) and nylon (the bristles), plus they come in that dodgy plastic packaging – one of those single-use, disposable consumer items The Story of Stuff claims make up the vast proportion of our purchases.

Remember, no plastic is boidegradable. Photodegradable, sure (that means, broken down by sunlight into tiny pieces) – but it’s still there, being ingested by ever smaller organisms – entering and messing with our food chain from the very lowest level. All plastic rubbish goes into landfill or one of the ocean garbage patches (there are five – even though you may have only heard of the largest one in the North Pacific).

So what can we do about it?

Well, Mr Teeny-bop and I are trialling the Environmental Toothbrush and we are very excited! (Yankee Elv will get one too when her current toothbrush wears out.)

I found the wooden toothbrushes at Flannery’s for $2.95 each, which is very comparable with standard plastic toothbrushes (actually less than some). They are made of sustainably-produced bamboo (the handle) and a biodegradable polymer (the bristles) and will apparently compost completely in your home compost heap or bin. The packaging is cardboard and paper, which can be composted or recycled.

The one environmental downside is that they are manufactured in China (although this would be an upside if you lived in China, so I guess it all depends on your perspective). Regardless, every other toothbrush I’ve been able to find on the shelves is also made in China, so it’s not like they’re any worse than what we’ve been buying anyway, in terms of travel miles. My findings on manufacturing locations are backed up by an Australian Low Impact blog.

As far as the efficacy goes, I think they are great! The bristles are soft, which is my preference anyway, but these are a bit softer than I’ve been able to find otherwise, so I’m very impressd with that.

The handle is comfortable and the head is small, which works for me as I have a small mouth. Sometimes I find toothbrushes are a bit big to fit comfortably between my top and bottom teeth and I have to really open wide to brush my back molars. This toothbrush doesn’t require that, which is great.

Also, my front teeth curve a little bit and it can be difficult to clean the back of them, but the small head and soft, bendy bristles make cleaning a breeze. I think I actually like the way this brush works better than any other I’ve used. So it’s a win for me!

Mr Teeny-bop also reports that is it very comfortable. He likes that it’s not so ‘plasticky’ in his mouth and he also likes the smaller head and softer bristles. We are using coloured elastic bands (stolen from Yankee Elv’s old hair supplies) to tell the toothbrushes apart.

I am conscious that we will have to be careful to keep the toothbrushes dry. I think leaving them standing in a cup (our current method) is not going to be an effective way of keeping the ends from staying damp and potentially rotting. We’ll have to modify our toothbrush storage method, but I think that is a small price to pay.

So why don’t you give them a try? If you don’t live in Queensland and thus don’t have access to a Flannery’s shop, you can order the toothbrushes from the site, like the folks at My Green Australia are going to. Alternatively, try find your own locally produced environmentally-friendly toothbrushes, and spend your four minutes of toothbrushing per day congratulating yourself for diverting more plastic from landfills and oceans. Cos we all deserve some self-congratulation sometimes, right?

Remember to spread the word to your family and friends. These toothbrushes are not only good for the environment, they’re also good value and comfy to use!

P.S. These toothbrushes are also vegan. No boar bristles!

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Sustainable Menstrual Pads

I read an article on BlogHer today called iPads and Maxi Pads: Changing Women’s Lives in Uganda. Alison McQuade (the author of the post) uses the hype around the new iPad to draw attention to a more important issue – that Ugandan girls are dropping out of school at puberty because they have no access to sanitary items (pads, panty liners, tampons, menstrual cups etc). It struck a chord with me today particularly because I’ve just been trying out a new cloth pad. I’ve had it for ages but have been so enamoured with my menstrual cup, supplemented with cloth panty liners, that I hadn’t worn it before today – and I just felt like trying it out. The sock monkey called to me.

Arty farty shot of my (then new) sock money pad, from Moon Pads. (The sock monkey part is one of the wings.)

Arty farty shot of my (then new) sock money pad, from Moon Pads. (The sock monkey part is one of the wings.)

Anyway, I digress.

I’ve heard before that many girls in third-world countries don’t have access to any menstrual items, but I was surprised that the solution suggested in the post was to donate to a non-profit group (the Kasiisi Project) who provide disposable pads to the girls. The other group I know of who used to try to combat the same issue was Goods 4 Girls, who provided cloth menstrual pads to African girls (Crunchy Chicken, who ran the group, has since had to let it go – I’m not sure if anyone else has taken up the mantle). The advantage of cloth pads, of course, is that they can be reused over and over again with just a simple washing between wears. Quite aside from the environmental impact, I envisaged the aftermath of introducing disposable pads as something like a less serious version of the Nestle baby powder tragedy of the 1970s/1980s. What would happen if the Kasiisi Project ran out of funds? The girls would run out of pads and be right back where they started.

However, I did a little more research and while I still think cloth pads are a better option, I like the holistic set-up the Kasiisi Project has set up better than the ‘make a pad and donate it’ style of Goods 4 Girls. (Of course, this likely came about because the Kasiisi Project is a well-established non-profit organisation and Goods 4 Girls was a one woman who took donations – so you know, fair enough, you do what you can.) The Kasiisi Project donates Maka Pads, which are produced in Uganda as part of a cottage industry – often employing the families of the girls who will benefit from them. They are made from locally-sourced papyrus and waste paper, using little electricity in production. They can be worn for 8 to 10 hours, much longer than a regular pad (depending on your flow of course), so you use less of them. They’re cheap (US 0.5 cents per pad) for the city women who buy them, but most of the rural girls access them through donation.

Clearly the people behind this part of the Kasiisi Project have thought beyond the immediate need of the girls who would otherwise miss out on an education – they have also considered how to help the community and the environment. If you’re interested, I found this video much more informative than the websites (unfortunately there is no captioning).

Now, don’t think I’m dissing Goods 4 Girls because I’m not. It was still a worthwhile effort, as is the Kasiisi Project – every little bit helps (in most cases). But you know what would be best of all? A combination of their methods, which would, in my opinion, be the best option. Keep up the local cottage industry, but produce cloth pads, which can be reused for a long time. Of course, that then brings up the question – where does the cloth for the pads come from? Is it possible the Kasiisi Project already considered this and found locally-sourced papyrus and waste paper to be the more sustainable option after all? I guess if you had to ship in the cloth over a long distance, that would be a significant impact in and of itself. Also, has the Kasiisi Project factored in the disposal of the used pads?

I may email them to find out. Will keep you posted!

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Fibres: Natural vs Synthetic

Wool vs acrylic? Cotton vs polyester? Hemp vs nylon? I know the natural fibres are typically more comfortable to wear, but what’s better for the environment?

Cotton, wool, hemp, acrylic, polyester...?

Cotton, wool, hemp, acrylic, polyester...?

You might think it’s a simple question – surely the natural stuff is better, right? But when you consider the impact of sheep on the environment or the amount of water required to sustain cotton crops, it does get you starting to wonder… especially when you factor in recycled (and sometimes recyclable) synthetic fabrics, like polyester made from old PET bottles.

But then again… maybe all the hoo-haa about recycled fabrics is just a bunch of greenwash. Check out this article on O Ecotextiles for more information.

Ultimately, I don’t know. I think I need to explore O Ecotextiles a little more and hope to be enlightened. At the moment, though, I’m leaning towards natural, especially when you look at the energy required to produce fabrics, the actual content of the fabric (oil in the synthetic fabrics is kinda off-putting) and the life of the fabrics after we’re finished using them (natural fibres will biodegrade, whereas synthetic ones won’t). Based almost purely on personal opinion, I think probably the best choice would be yarns produced from the by-products of some other industry (like soy yarns, which are made from soy fibres left over from making tofu), or yarn that is removed in a mutually beneficial way (alpaca removed by brushing, shearing pet sheep in summer etc).

Anyone know more and care to share?

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