sus Holiday Gift Guide 2017

sus - byta gift guide
photo by @mybyta

There’s nothing like the spam of promotional emails, ads, and social media posts for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday to remind us it is officially the holiday season. While we all like to think the holidays are about spending quality time with friends, family, and loved ones, it is now more emphasized on indulgence, excess, and consumerism. Giving gifts is a beautiful thing, but instead of adding thoughtless tchotchkes to your cart, why not give something sustainable – something that sends an important message about the environment.

Byta Tumbler – a stainless steel tumbler in a variety of beautiful colors. Billions, yes billions of coffee cups are sent to the landfills every year. Help reduce this by bringing your own cup or byta to the coffee shop. Proceeds from each byta also go to the Ocean Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund.

Bkr Bottle – a glass water bottle with decorative and colored silicone sleeves in various sizes. Similar to coffee cups, billions of plastic bottles are also sent to the landfills every year. Carry a cute reusable water bottle that you can’t help show off 24/7 at places that can charge $2-4 for a water, like at your gym or fitness studio, movie theater, airport, park, fast-service restaurant, and the list goes on.

WinterStar-250ml

Apolis Market Bag – a reusable market bag made of natural jute fiber handcrafted in Bangladesh and finished in California. Apolis provides safe and ethical working conditions for mothers in Bangladesh through the sales of these bags. The bag can be used for trips to the farmer’s market, grocery store, flea markets, etc. I have one and I get compliments on it every time I take it out. I love that it’s roomy, sturdy, and timeless.

Baggu Bag – a reusable bag made of nylon that can be folded into a small pouch, so I never leave home without them (hello impromptu shopping trips.) They come in fun colors, designs, and sizes, and are also machine washable. Single use plastic bags often can’t be recycled with other hard plastics and take a lot of energy to manufacture. They can also unfortunately end up in our oceans and disrupt marine life.

Jade Yoga Mat – a yoga mat made from natural rubber tapped from rubber trees. Most yoga mats are made from PVC or other synthetic rubbers, which can’t be recycled or broken down easily in landfills. Jade plants a tree for every yoga mat sold.

Girlfriend Collective Apparel – yoga and workout apparel made ethically from recycled water bottles. They’re very transparent. Look good and feel (sustainably) good at the same time.

Donate to a cause – Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, etc. There’s literally tons of organizations both locally and worldwide that offer gift donations or donations in the name of your gift receiver. Research and choose an organization at your discretion, especially since there’s been a lot of chatter about which organizations are more trustworthy than others.

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Intro to: Zero-Waste

sus - intro to zero waste

Recently, I’ve been fascinated with the zero-waste lifestyle. I was introduced to it when I came across Trash is for Tossers and learned that all the trash she produced in two years fit into one mason jar. Then I went down a wormhole and found a whole community of zero-waste bloggers and supporters of this lifestyle. Although this is still a niche community, it was reassuring to see a significant amount of people who cared deeply about minimizing the amount of trash they produce.

Initially the term, “zero-waste,” was kind of intimidating to me. No waste whatsoever? That sounded like a lot of pressure, stress, and frankly impossible. But like most things under the umbrella of environmentalism, it’s better to do something than to do nothing, so I like to think of this as waste-reducing first. From what I gathered, this movement is more of a mental transition than a physical one because it’s derived from your relationship with material objects in general. It’s about living with less and living simply with only the essentials. The planet thanks you for contributing less waste to the landfills, but ultimately you’ll see major changes in your attitude about consumption, which will have a lasting effect for years to come. Once you understand your relationship with “stuff,” it’ll be easier for you to understand and participate in the zero-waste concept. Follow the preliminary tips below to get started on the transition.

1. Evaluate your trash and your spending habits.

Go through your pantry/fridge, closet, medicine cabinet, desk, and any area that stores a lot of stuff. Is it overstuffed or cluttered? Now take a look at your trash can(s). What is it mostly filled with? Do you often chuck out leftover food, beauty products, paper, packaging, etc.? Lastly, take a look at your credit card statement and notice what you mostly spend your money on. Then, start to connect the dots. If you’re mostly spending it on food/groceries, but you end up throwing a lot of it out, you’re wasting both money and food. There’s a correlation between money and waste, which is why many people of the zero-waste community believe you can actually save money through this lifestyle.

2. Reduce where you can.

Now, take a closer look at the type of things you buy frequently and the motivation behind your purchases. Do you order take-out a lot or buy single serve packages like snacks or juice? Maybe you’re a sucker for promotional sales and good deals. Whatever it may be, take note of it first and ask yourself, “why am I really buying this?” and “does this add value or have purpose to my life?” Then from there, you can start to reduce what you have (properly of course! Either by recycling, reusing, or donating whatever you can.) And start to change your habits by buying less and/or less frequently, and thinking about the product’s life cycle.

3. Start saying “no”

This is where the discipline sets in. Once you’ve cut down, start saying no to things that are wasteful. No to plastic bags, impulsive shopping, disposable or single-use items like coffee cups and straws. Unsubscribe from promotional emails (this helped me so much!) Even saying no to free things being passed out can help.

Now, I am nowhere near being completely zero-waste, but I have cut back a lot. My home only produces about 1-2 full bags (the “thank you for shopping” bag with the smiley face, not a trash bag) of garbage per week, as opposed to throwing out garbage every day. The people who are committed and supportive of the zero-waste movement are not lazy people. The actions they take are smart and deliberate, but that doesn’t mean it’s also difficult. Anyone can and should start taking steps to be less wasteful, so before diving into zero-waste, you can approach it as waste-reducing instead.

Eco-friendly Spring Cleaning in the Kitchen

Now that the bedroom is clean, it’s time to tackle my second favorite place in the home: the kitchen. Two environmental concerns that automatically come to my mind here are food waste and household cleaners. It just seems natural to throw our food scraps away in the garbage and to buy whichever cleaning product is on sale at Target right? But being more conscious here can help the planet and your personal health significantly. Again, I have a summary below on how to make subtle changes to your lifestyle with minimal effort so the earth can thank you.

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Food Waste

  1. Fast Fact: About 40% of our food supply is wasted and ends up in landfills. (Remember, textiles is 5% of our landfill so I’ve already covered almost half of what goes into our landfill that we can easily fix!) It’s a common misconception that your food waste will biodegrade at the landfill. It will not biodegrade because when it’s combined with other waste, it decomposes without oxygen and releases methane gas, which is known to be a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
  2. Easy Solutions: Compost! Compost! Compost! This is the best way to get rid of some of your food or food scraps without contributing to the landfill. Composting is simply the act of decomposing organic matter to be used as a soil conditioner. I’m hoping to do a detailed post about composting, but this is a good resource to start. Basically, you take your veggie and fruit scraps (no meat or bones!) and mix it with some dry leaves or paper and water to create an environment for it to decompose in. If you live in NYC, you might live near a curbside compost collection, or you can conveniently drop off your compost in a public space on designated days. Check here to see if your neighborhood has a curbside collection and check here for a map of local drop off and dates.
  3. Fun SUS Tip: Get creative and clear out your fridge/pantry by making something with what you already have. If all goes well, this could be a skill to impress your friends.
  4. SUS Results: Besides the obvious result of decreasing the amount of methane and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we will also be less dependent on the use of pesticides. Compost is added to soil to enrich it without the use of pesticides, creating this nice natural cycle of life. Imagine composting your potato skins to be used to grow more potatoes! That’s trippy, but I’m so down with pesticide-free food.
  5. Future SUS Tip: Only buy what you need for the week. Buying in bulk may be appropriate large families, but do you and your one roommate really need a box of 50 granola bars? It really depends on your lifestyle and budget, but wasting food is equivalent to wasting money and none of us got time for that.

Household Cleaners

  1. Fast Fact: Lysol products contain ingredients that could cause respiratory issues. Some products even have a precautionary warning label that reads, “Hazardous to humans and domestic animals,” which according to the EPA, means even the slightest results of toxicity occurred.
  2. Easy Solutions: Create your own easy household cleaners or buy products that use plant-based ingredients. As some of you might have been able to tell, I really like Mrs. Meyers products so that’s usually my go‑to brand. Bronner’s is also another great option. I mean they are as natural as natural can get in the household cleaner world. From the ingredients to the packaging, they are certified fair-trade, organic, recyclable, pet-friendly, and one bottle of their castile soap can be used in 18 or more ways.
  3. Fun SUS Tip: Is it just me, or are essential oils really trendy now? You can use them for a variety of things besides aromatherapy, like adding your favorite scents to your homemade cleaner. I sense (haha) some DIY projects coming soon…
  4. SUS Results: You’ll have better piece of mind knowing your clean home was cleaned with ingredients you can trust and pronounce. I think we’re seeing a shift in consumerism where there’s a higher awareness of what goes into our products. Food is the top one; more people are paying closer attention to what enters their bodies and it’s starting to expand to where our clothes come from, what we slather on our skin, and how we clean our home.
  5. Future SUS Tip: Use reusable cloths instead of disposable paper towels. My favorite are these microfiber cleaning cloths that clean up almost anything and can be easily washed and used again.

After adopting these practices into my home, I’ve seen a significant difference in the amount of trash I have. It just goes to show that most of our trash is food. There’s something so satisfying to me when I throw my food scraps into the compost bin, knowing that it’s going to be used for the parks in my city. I also had problems breathing whenever I used Lysol or Windex or products that weren’t natural. Easily swapping out products made such a huge difference and now I don’t hold my nose up when I wipe the counters. Seriously though, who wants their home smelling like an airport restroom? Go green, go natural, go (sus)tainable.

Eco-Friendly Spring Cleaning in the Bedroom

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Now that it’s officially Spring, the first thing that comes to mind is spring cleaning. I clean by tackling different areas in the home so this week I’m starting with the bedroom. I love when my dresser and closet are organized and de-cluttered of outdated clothes. I also love the feeling of opening my windows on a breezy day and putting on fresh sheets. I know some of you may be cleaning out your closets and doing loads of laundry this week, but these two simple and mundane actions can impact the environment negatively. Luckily, there are easy ways you can help combat this and I’ve summed it up below:

Clothing and Accessories

  • Fast Fact: About 21 billion pounds of textiles (apparel, footwear, bedding, towels, etc.) end up in landfills every year. That represents 5.2% of our landfill!
  • Easy Solutions: Start different piles for resell and donate/recycle. The resell pile includes anything in good condition or high-end that can be sold on eBay or a local consignment or resale shop. I’ve had a lot of luck selling my junk on eBay. Anything else should be donated or recycled. I prefer recycling because most of the time, the Goodwill or Salvation Army does the same thing due to the volume of items they receive. If you don’t have convenient access to local textile recycling programs, check out CR, Community Recycling where they’ll provide you a shipping label to send your clothing and accessories. All you need to do is find a box!
  • Fun SUS Tip: Have a clothing swap with your friends or community! Always complimenting your stylish friends? This is your chance to bond and then take their clothes.
  • SUS Results: There are so many possibilities for recycled textiles – recycled denim is used for home insulation, t-shirts can become wiping cloths, and sweaters can become carpet padding.
  • Future SUS Tip: Buy less and buy smarter. Invest in good quality and timeless pieces that will last years. You’ll have less and less to “throw out” with every spring cleaning!

 Laundry

  • Fast Fact: The average American family washes about 400 loads of laundry per year. It takes about 15-45 gallons of water per load, depending on the type of machine. Multiply that by the amount of people who live in the US…and yeah that’s a lot of water!
  • Easy Solutions:
    • Wash only full loads of laundry. Machines use the same amount of water per load, so think twice if you need 15-45 gallons of water to wash only a few items!
    • Switch to cold water. This helps save energy and keeps your clothes lasting longer. Heat breaks down fabrics easier and causes shrinkage.
    • Switch to biodegradable detergent and green dry cleaners. Many household detergents and dry-cleaners use toxic ingredients that pollute the air and our water streams and can be irritating for our skin.
  • Fun SUS Tip: If you have a backyard or even a little terrace, pretend you’re chic European and line dry your clothes. (I really really wish I could do this! Instead I’ll have to settle for a DIY humidifier from all my wet clothes drying.)
  • SUS Results: Switching from hot to cold water can save up to 1600 pounds of CO2 emissions per year.
  • Future SUS Tip: Make it a habit to follow the easy solutions above. You’ll be saving water, saving energy, and keeping our water systems clean. Some of my favorite brands are Method (I love the pump design!), Seventh Generation, and Honest.

These are really easy considerations for spring cleaning in the bedroom while also protecting the environment. Stay tuned for next week where I’ll be cleaning the kitchen!