Tour of the No Trace Studio!

 

It’s like open studios – online!

 

This year I was finally ready to participate in Santa Cruz’s annual open studios event.  I was looking forward to propping open my workspace doors for each day’s visitors. I was ready to tidy up my space and set out cold beers & bubbly waters, popcorn and cookies.  I was looking forward to having my inventory neatly arranged for shoppers to browse and shop.  And then COVID-19 cancelled EVERYTHING.

 

So instead of seeing you in person and sharing a real life moment with you, I decided to give you a virtual tour of my new workspace!  So grab yourself a beer or wine or bubbly water, make yourself a snack, and welcome to my studio tour!  

 

 

I’m sooo excited and grateful to have this space.  Since the start of No Trace in 2017, I’ve worked out of my home.  I would take over the kitchen to make wax wraps.  And take over the living room to package large orders.  And take over the master bedroom everyday for everything else.  

 

At first it was manageable to work out of shared space with my family.  But as I got more and more orders, my home started to feel crowded.  My bedroom was cluttered.  I was falling asleep each night surrounded by my machines and my in-process orders and my fabric and EVERYTHING.  I felt a little like a hoarder in my own bedroom.  It was time to move out.  And then COVID hit and everyone was home all day, everyday and moving out got more complicated and even more essential.  

image of original sewing studio
The original No Trace headquarters. AKA my bedroom.

But it finally happened just last month.  Now No Trace is in a separate workspace and it feels amazing to have a little elbow room.  It’s not in a perfect or final state, but it is 10,000% better than being in the house.   So following along for a sewing studio tour & a peek at my wax wrap-making station!

The sewing studio tour

In my new studio, I have areas for storage and for completing different tasks.  One of my FAVORITE parts of my new space is how easy it is to get my fabric off the shelf.  I used to have the fabric on a shelf on the wall above my large cutting table/work table in my bedroom.  So I’d have to bend and reach hard to grab a bolt.  Putting them back was a pain too.  Now I’ve got super direct access to my bolts on two large shelves right at arms height.  I got these shelves off craigslist years ago for our garage and just repainted them to spruce them up a little. The shelves also hold fabric scraps and my inventory.

photo of a shelf with fabric
One of two shelves that hold just about everything.
photo of shelf holding fabric
The second shelf loaded with fabric, inventory, scraps, and more.

 

Moving on…Lots of my tasks start right at my cutting table.  I work with full bolts and rolls of fabric (15 yards per bolt and 75 yards per roll) so I need a large enough space to unroll my fabric and make cuts.  Our old dining table works great.  I also have a cute little ironing board that allows me to iron my pieces and even get into tight nooks and crannies.  I think it’s called a chest & sleeve ironing board and I found it online at Amazon.  I tried to get it from a non-Amazon seller, but they had a 2 month wait.

 

photo of cutting table and ironing board
My old dining room table, repurposed for cutting & ironing & sewing.

After being cut, my pieces are made by either sewing or waxing them.  Let’s start with the sewing station first.  I have two machines that I use regularly, with some back-up machines in storage.  The one with the 4 large rolls of thread is my serger.  I use it for making my napkins, snack & sandwich bags, and for finishing the seams on some of my bags.  It’s a super affordable little model – bottom of the line, really – and it’s worked great – sewing up thousands of pieces over the last 3 years.  I’m including an affiliate link to purchase this – if you need a serger and like the sound of this one, I’ll get a small commission if you buy it.  

 

photo of serger sewing machine made by Brother
This little machine has served me well over the last few years.

 

Next to the serger is my regular sewing machine.  It’s a pretty solid machine with a lot of bells and whistles.  I love simple, old fashioned machines too.  But when I’m fulfilling lots of orders, these bells and whistles shave seconds off each piece.  Like a knee bar – this lets me lift the presser foot with my knee so I can turn my piece without having to take my hands away from the piece.  Very handy.  And an automatic cutting button – saves the time of pulling a piece off and cutting the threads by hand with the thread cutter.   Also super handy.

 

Another thing I love about this machine is the speed control.  This lets me slow the machine way down to turtle speed for tricky pieces with tight spots.  It’s also awesome for teaching my kids (and other kids) how to sew at a slow pace.  I LOVE that.  And it has lots of stitch options and specialty presser feet.  I don’t use much of that but occasionally I’ll sew clothes for myself and it’s super handy to have those different stitch options.  I’m including an affiliate link just in case you want one.

 

photo of Juki brand sewing machine
My Juki has lots of bells & whistles and I use them!

Next to my machines is my pegboard for tools and small pattern pieces.  This lets me keep my table space open for cutting and sewing and takes up minimal space.  I got the idea from withwendy.com who does great DIY sewing tutorial videos.  And I found this pegboard in the trash!  I spruced it up years ago and gave it to my partner to hang his bike tools on it in the garage.  But he never used it. So I reclaimed it, painted it, and started using it a couple years ago for my sewing tools.  It’s really convenient.

 

photo of pegboard with sewing tools
Found this pegboard in the trash! Cleaned up & repainted, it works great for my sewing tools.

 

Wax-wrap making station

Now on to my AWESOME waxing station.  I can’t tell you how stoked I am to have a special place just to make wax wraps.  It is a GAME CHANGER for me.  It saves me so much time.  I used to have to scrub down the kitchen counters and stovetop and oven and then kick everyone out of the kitchen when I need to make wraps.  Now, all I have to do is turn on my gadgets and start.  So much faster and easier.  This ginormous thing is a commercial grade electric stove top by Yescom.  It plugs into a regular wall socket but pulls a lot of juice.  Everything else needs to be turned off when this thing turns on, like the hot plate right next to it and my iron.  I use an electric hot plate to melt my wax blends.  Once it’s melted, I turn the hot plate off and turn the Yescom on.  The great thing about the Yescom is that I only turn it on for 5-10 minutes at a time.  It keeps the heat for at least 30 minutes before I need to turn it on again.  And I only turn it to its lowest temperature (about 120F) to make my wax wraps.  I used to use the oven and a series of large baking sheets – pulling them in and out every few minutes.  This is much easier and no more bending over again and again.  Plus it felt like I was wearing out the hinges on my oven door.  

photo of Yescom commercial electric griddle
This electric griddle works great for making wax wraps. It only needs to be on for a few minutes at a time and stays hot for a while.

After coating each wrap with the wax blend, I hang it on a few strings that I set up across the shelves.  I have the strings tied onto S-hooks so I can easily take them on and off when making wraps.

photo of beeswax wraps drying on the line
Wax wraps on the line brighten up the studio.

My space for packaging orders 

The next workstation is my packaging area.  This is where I package orders for shipping and local delivery to stores.  I’ve got my packaging supplies in a little rolling cart and my shipping supplies in another little rolling cart.  This stuff used to be crammed around my bedroom in boxes under the work table and my bed.  As you can imagine, this is much more convenient than climbing under my table every time I need to ship an order.

photo of work table and rolling carts
I built this table! It serves lots of functions, including packaging orders.

I also work on my laptop at this table, like right now while I type up this post.  And I take photos of my products on this table.  This used to be the only work table in my bedroom (other than my sewing desk) but it’s still working hard in here on lots of different tasks.  Oh, and I made this table!  It’s made from a piece of plywood by Columbia Forest Products that free of formaldehyde.  I order some table legs online and attached them with screws after glueing reinforcing squares at each corner.  So at the end of its life, this table doesn’t have to go to the landfill. I can repurpose the plywood and legs.  I think the plywood is even compostable based on the soy-based glue but I’m not totally sure about that.  

 

So there you have it – a virtual open studio for you.  Of course, I didn’t lay all my inventory out for you but you can shop for that virtually at NoTraceShop.com/products anytime you like.  Do you have a workspace at home?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

 

Thanks for reading!

Liz

 

P.s. – I do hope to see you in person in the studio eventually!  As soon as that’s possible I’ll be shouting it from all the online places.

Learn how to fix a beeswax wrap – it’s easier than you think!

 

Is your beeswax wrap not working anymore?  Did it get left in the sun?  Or washed in hot water?  Or scrubbed a little too vigorously?  Or is it just getting really old? Or did you make one but it didn’t turn out great?

 

In this tutorial, I’m going to show you how to fix a beeswax wrap that’s gotten damaged or worn out.

There are 2 key ways to fix a beeswax wrap:

 

  1. Carefully warm it and smooth it any problems.

OR

  1. Apply more wax blend and warm it and smooth out any problems

 

I’ll walk you through the steps for both of these.  

 

If your wrap got a little damaged, you might just need to warm it and smooth it out again.  This is a little easier than applying more wax blend.

 

If your wrap got really damaged OR is worn out (over time, with use and washings, it’s normal for your wax wrap to get worn out), you’ll want to apply more wax blend and warm it and smooth it out.  

 

Wax wrap that needs to be rewaxed
As wax wraps get used, they may lose their stickiness and have areas that need to be rewaxed

 

Let’s go through the steps for fixing a wrap with just a little damage.  You can fix it using two methods – the iron method or the oven method.  

 

If you use the iron method to fix a beeswax wrap, here’s what you’ll need:

  • An iron
  • Parchment paper (you can find a compostable version by Reynolds Kitchen at Target and other stores).
  • Somewhere to hang your wrap to dry

 

If you use the oven method to fix your beeswax wrap, here’s what you’ll need

  • your oven
  • a baking sheet 
  • parchment paper if you’d like to protect your baking sheet.  
  • somewhere to hang your wrap

 

Let me walk you through the iron method:

  1. Place your wax wrap between two pieces of parchment paper.  The parchment paper protects your ironing surface & your iron from the wax.
  2. Iron across the parchment paper to smooth out the wax blend.
  3. Peel the paper away from the wrap
  4. Hang the wrap to dry for a couple of minutes.
Use a string or clip your wax wrap to a handle

Here’s a troubleshooting tip for you:  if you find that the wax wrap starts to stick to the parchment paper and doesn’t peel away easily, try ironing just smaller sections at a time and peeling away those small sections, letting them cool, and then ironing a different section of the wrap.  As the wraps cool, they’ll start to stick to the surface they’re touching, so it’s important to peel them away quickly and hang them to dry.

 

If you’d rather use the oven method, here’s how (this personally is my preferred way).

 

  1. Turn your oven on very low – 200F or lower.
  2. Place the wax wrap on a baking sheet.  You’ll want to cover the baking sheet with parchment paper to protect it from the wax unless the baking sheet will be used for making lots of wax wraps.
  3. Put the baking sheet into the oven for a few minutes (up to 5 minutes MAX).
  4. Pull the baking sheet out of the oven and quickly pull the wax wrap up off of the baking sheet.
  5. Hang the wrap to dry for a few minutes.

 

The reheating process, either by iron or oven, should help repair damage to the wrap by redistributing the wax blend.

 

If your wrap needs more luvin’ than that to get back to working, here’s what you’ll need:

  • More beeswax blend (either buy a bar or make your own blend of beeswax, pine gum rosin, and coconut/jojoba oil).

 

Plus:

  • a shredded that you don’t mind getting waxy.

OR

  • a small pot & clean paint brush that you don’t mind getting waxy.

 

The gist of the process is that you’re going to put more wax blend onto your wrap, warm the wrap, check your results and smooth the blend around, warm it again, and hang it to dry.  You can repeat the process of adding more wax blend, warming the wrap, smoothing the blend if needed, and warming it again, until you get the wrap where you want it to be. 

 

Here’s more specifics:

 

Using a shredder, get the blend spread evenly across your wrap and especially on any worn out spots.  Then apply heat to your wrap with either the iron method or oven method.  Check that the blend has melted all across the wrap.  Once you get it evenly spread, you can hang your wrap to dry.

 

Using the other approach with a small pot and a brush, melt your blend on a VERY LOW temperature just until it’s melted.  Then turn off the heat.  Keep a close eye on it so that it doesn’t overheat and start to smoke.  Wax is flammable!  

Dip the tips of a clean paintbrush into the blend and “paint” the blend across your wrap. 

Dip just the tips of your brush into your blend
Dip just the tips of your brush into your blend
Painting the wax wrap with beeswax blend
Paint the blend onto your wax wrap

The was will start to cool as you apply it – that’s okay!  Once you get a decent amount spread around, you can warm the wrap with either the iron method or the oven method.  Let it warm for a little.  Check the results to see if you used enough blend and if it’s spread around evenly.  If so, you can hang your wrap to dry! 

 

That’s all there is too it!  It’s really easy to fix your beeswax wraps.  It just takes a little time and patience.

 

If you want to learn how to make your own wax wraps from start to finish, head over to NoTraceShop.com/courses to sign up for my online DIY beeswax wrap workshop – you can take it from the comfort of your home at any time!

 

Have you tried fixing wax wraps?  I’d love to hear about it!  Leave a comment below!

 

Thanks for reading!

-Liz @ No Trace

Today I’ve got a special guest post on ways to reduce your carbon footprint at home!  This was put together by Julia Weaver with contributions from me and many others.

17 Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint at Home

July 14, 2020 by Julia Weaver

In today’s environment, there are many ways homeowners can reduce their waste and energy use. Whether it be from planting a garden, composting, or reusing items that were previously recycled, the opportunities are endless. And, if you live in a hot climate that receives a considerable amount of sunlight – like Phoenix, Arizona or Miami, Florida – maybe switching to solar power might be the right option for you. We asked experts from across the country to share their tips on how homeowners can reduce their carbon footprint and live a more sustainable life. 

 

 

 

Avoid cleaning products with harmful chemicals

Consider using EPA Safer Choice certified green cleaning products that are biodegradable and non-toxic. These products will not only deep clean your laundry but they will also remove residue you didn’t know was there. This will help you create a healthier home by reducing airborne chemicals and keeping your washing machine clean to keep it running long into the future! – Charlie’s Soap

 

Reduce the amount of food you throw away

We throw away about 40 percent of our food in the US – food that was grown with water, fossil fuels, money, and labor – and this food waste turns into a major greenhouse gas in landfills, known as methane. To help preserve the environment and reduce food waste, store your food properly, keep your fridge clutter-free, freeze excess food, and compost food scraps. – No Trace

 

Opt for green products

Green products are surprisingly powerful and can yield the same results as traditional harmful products if used properly. Not using products properly is by far the biggest mistake people make when using green products, so be sure to follow the instructions on the label. Homeowners love using them as a way to protect themselves, their children, and their pets from health risks that are associated with prolonged exposure to traditional harmful products.  – Modern Maids

 

Invest in solar energy for your home

Installing a solar system on your home allows you to harness the power of the sun and produce your own clean energy, moving away from the dependence on fossil fuels and reducing electric cost at the same time. – REP Solar

 

The Earth’s atmosphere is exponentially increasing in carbon dioxide levels, so now may be the best time ever to invest in renewable solar energy. Going solar has been proven to reduce your carbon footprint, and is an investment that will pay itself back over time. Now is the perfect opportunity for everyone to make an impact by saving our planet. – Altair Solar

Repurpose containers you would otherwise toss out

Instead of tossing food containers – which may not actually end up being recycled – keep a small collection that can be repurposed. For example, a jar of spaghetti sauce can be used to hold pens or small tools, as drinking glasses, to store leftovers, or to keep hair ties. Even if you have a small space, find a shelf where you can store containers in a (reused) cardboard box and grab one the next time instead of purchasing a new container. – Bev Goes Green

 

Make small changes in the kitchen and bathroom

Keeping a waste-free home can be difficult, but a few simple, low-cost changes can lessen your home’s environmental impact dramatically. Consider the two most wasteful rooms in your home, the kitchen and the bathroom. Try swapping plastic straws for reusable straws in the kitchen, and why not invest in a safety razor for your bathroom. – Jungle Straws

 

Grow your own food in your backyard

Having a backyard garden can reduce your carbon footprint substantially. When you grow your own food it takes less resources to grow and to make its way to your table. But one of the ways we have reduced our resource use even further is by installing a rainwater barrel to water our garden. It was super simple to install ourselves in an afternoon and now we save 200 or more gallons of water every month.  – Sustainably Shelbi

 

Discover new ways to live a sustainable lifestyle

Separating and composting your food scraps can be the first step into a world of sustainability. When you begin to separate your waste into three categories–compost, recycling, and landfill, you become more mindful about what is in all three categories. Then you can go about discovering what you’re actually wasting and how you could shop or eat differently to reduce. Reduce, reuse, recycle-it’s a hierarchy! – Collective Resource

Make fertilizers for your garden

Limit your food waste by creating nutrient-rich fertilizers that your indoor and outdoor garden will love. Bananas are full of potassium, coffee grinds are full of nitrogen, and fish bones (if processed properly) are chock full of phosphorus. – Food Cycle Science

Design an edible landscape

Homeowners can help preserve the environment by implementing edible landscapes into their property. Work with a landscape designer to create a landscape with plants that offer both aesthetic and sustainable nutrition, like a lemon tree for example.  – Prana Nutrition

 

Use a solid-state hard drive

Consider upgrading your older laptop or computer instead of buying a new one by replacing the hard drive with a solid-state drive. You will notice your laptop running much faster, adding years to its life. – High Tech Recycling

 

Wash your clothes in cold water rather than hot water

Homeowners can easily reduce their demand for energy by changing their laundry practices. For example, consider washing all your laundry with cold water. GE Appliances estimates that 75 to 90 percent of all the energy your washer uses goes to warming up the water. By switching to cooler water less energy is used and this can result in a lower bill for you! It’s a win, win for the homeowner and the planet. –The Honest Consumer

 

Introduce more vegetables into your home

Homeowners can help preserve the environment by trying to lead a more conscious lifestyle, ditching things they don’t really need to make more space for the things that make them happier and healthier. One practical way to apply this is to decrease your meat consumption and eat more vegetables, which will help you feel better, live longer, and reduce your amount of greenhouse gas emissions. –Simple Vegan

 

Eat more veggies! The vegan lifestyle has the smallest footprint on the environment, as far as land use, water consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions. Plus, your health will benefit from it, too. – Better Vegan

 

Add a solar awning if your roof is too small

Is your roof is too small to get enough electric power from solar? Try adding a purpose-built solar awning facing south underneath your roof eave all along the side of your house. This would also give a little shade and shelter from the rain as you enter your door. – Harvest Sun Solar

 

Incorporate automation to reduce your carbon footprint

Installing automation technology provides an easy way for homeowners to monitor their device usage, which can save you money and wasted energy, and also reduce your carbon footprint. We’re working on a system that can anticipate people’s needs based on how they interact with their home’s devices and take actions proactively to help before you realize you need assistance. –Josh.ai

 

There you have it!  17 ways to reduce your carbon footprint at home.  Do you have any to share?  Leave a comment below!

Thanks for reading!

11 tips to fight plastic pollution during a pandemic.

 

We used to bring home just one or two plastic-packaged groceries home from the store.  Now, with stores closing bulk bins due to COVID-19,  it feels like almost half of our groceries are in plastic.  Plastic is our clogging our waterways, polluting our planet, killing wildlife, and ending up in our bodies.  Even though our world feels upside-down during the pandemic, there are still ways to fight plastic pollution.

 

Instead of giving up altogether, I’ve put together 11 ways to fight plastic pollution during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

At home:

 

1. If your tap water is safe, drink it instead of bottled water.

 

Avoid the packaging and cut down on the amount of microplastics that you eat at the same time! According to a 2018 study, bottled water has twice as many microplastics as tap water.  If your tap water is safe (i.e., you don’t live in Flint, MI or one of many other communities where contamination has occurred), it’s better for you and the planet than bottled water.  See where your communities stands here:  https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/

 

2. Store your food without plastic.

Certain plastic containers may leach harmful chemicals into foods, according to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Save your old plastic containers for non-food stuff, like organizing your kids art supplies or pebble collection.  Use plastic-free containers instead for your food like glass jars, pyrex, stainless steel, and wax wraps.  You can get plastic-free containers at LifeWithoutPlastic.com and wax wraps from yours truly at https://notraceshop.com/beeswaxwraps/

3. Choose to cook at home most of the time.  

 

I admit, this one is kinda tough for me.  I mean, cooking &/or washing dishes everyday and night gets old, amiright?  But we try to limit our take out to once a week.  One of our local pizza shops delivers vegan pizza (no plastic box topper!) so we’ll enjoy it and then compost the box.  And we’re trying to support our favorite restaurants during the pandemic.  Normally we’d dine in.  But we’ve opted for takeout in plastic, just sparingly.  

 

I’ve got a few posts on easy, low waste, vegan dinner ideas here and here  and here.

 

4. Keep microplastics out of our water.

 

Put your synthetic fabrics into a Guppyfriend bag or toss a Cora ball into your wash to catch the microfibers released by your fabrics.  You can get a Guppyfriend bag at Ethos in Capitola (shop online here) and a Cora ball from Earthhero.com. Microplastics are polluting our water and ending up in our bodies.  Stopping them at the source is key.

 

At the store:

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Buy larger quantities.

 

If you can’t shop into your own containers, like we can’t right now, opt for the largest portion you can find that won’t spoil.  Pantry staples like beans and grains are a safe bet, as well as flour, sugar, salt, and other baking supplies.  

 

6. Look for paper over plastic packaging.

 

Since bulk foods aren’t available in bulk right now, we’ve been searching for paper-packaged versions instead.  We’ve been able to find paper alternatives for pasta, sugar, salt, pinto beans, lentils, rice, & flour.  We recycle the paper packaging if it’s clean, and compost it if it’s not.  

 

We’re also looking for glass and metal options over plastic – e.g., certain peanut butter and olive oil brands come in large plastic-free packaging.

 

7. Rethink certain ingredients.  

Can you substitute something in plastic for something not?  Can you find a lower waste alternative?  Opt for unpackaged fruits & veggies in the produce aisle.  Now’s the time to show your flexibility with food.  In our house, rather than buy green lentils in plastic, e.g., we’re eating mostly red lentils that we were able to buy in a huge paper bag.  

 

8. If you can’t bring your own bags, skip the bag altogether.  

 

Lots of stores will let you put your groceries into your cart, then use your own bags at your bike or car or on the curb.  We’ll place loose produce in our cart and then bag it at home in our own cloth bags.  You can shop for cloth bags made by No Trace here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In your community…

9. Write a letter to your local paper

AND

10. Write to your favorite local business thanking them for positive steps and asking for more.

Tell them that we need to return to/move towards reusable options in our shops, restaurants, and cafes.

Wondering if your own containers are safe during COVID-19?  The short answer is YES!

 

More than 100 scientists have signed a statement that “reusable systems can be used safely by employing basic hygiene”.  As long as we follow basic hygiene recommendations, there’s no reason to think that reusable containers are riskier than disposable containers.  In fact, the virus lives longer on plastic than on cloth, glass, and paper (

read the statement by scientists here

.  Also, although washing your hands and not touching your face is still important, the spread of COVID-19 is happening through aerosolized droplets, not from germs that remain behind on surfaces.  Spread the word!  

In the global community…

11.  Reach out to the biggest plastic polluters and demand action.

 According to a

report by Break Free From Plastic

, the 3 biggest polluters in 2019 include Coca Cola, Nestle, and PepsiCo.  Break Free From Plastic demands that corporations “reveal their plastic footprint, reduce the plastic they produce, and reinvent their packaging to be reusable”.  Reach out to them through social media or their websites. Ask your friends and family to do the same.  Take & share pictures of their plastic litter.  Demand that corporations take responsibility for their plastic pollution.

 

 

 

 

There you have it – my top 11 ways to fight plastic pollution during apandemic.  Do you have any to add?  Share in the comments below!

 

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liz

Top 10 reasons to buy organic cotton

whenever you can!

 

Are you wondering if organic cotton is worth the cost?  

 

Or worried about the effects of conventional cotton on you, your family, your home, and the planet?

 

 

Cotton can be a super polluting crop.  But organic cotton benefits the fields, nearby streams and rivers, local ecosystems, farmers, farm workers, fabric manufacturers, you, and your family.  

 

(BTW, recycled cotton is also a sustainable option when you have it!)

 

First – let’s define organic cotton.

 

What’s organic cotton?

Organic cotton is different from conventional cotton in 4 key ways.  

 

1. Organic cotton is cotton that’s grown in a way that has minimal negative effects on the environment.  This means: 

-soils are protected and replenished.  

-toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers are avoided

-crops are grown in a way that supports bio-diversity of crops

 

2. Organic cotton is grown without genetically engineered seeds.

  

3. Organic cotton is grown in a way that complies with the United Nations’ guidelines for human rights.  That means from fields to manufacturing plants, no child labor, no slave labor, and no forced labor is used.  

 

4. Organic cotton is certified by a third-party organization.  That oversight means farmers have to comply with the standards set by third-party organizations. 

 

Sounds great, right?  It is!

 

Now that we understand what organic cotton is, here’s the top 10 reasons to buy organic cotton instead of conventional cotton.  

 

1. Less exposure to toxins

Organic farmers and farmer workers are exposed to fewer toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.  Conventional cotton uses millions of pounds of pesticides per year in the U.S. alone.  These include known and probable carcinogens (OTA website).  Yikes.

 

2. Clean rivers & streams

Organic cotton doesn’t pollute local rivers and streams.  Water treatment is mandatory in the process of dying and manufacturing organic cotton (GOTS standard), but not so for conventional cotton.  You’ve probably seen the damage done from the fast fashion industry to local waterways.  Remember pink rivers, anyone??

 

3. Protects human rights

Organic cotton has strict labor standards whereas conventional cotton still uses child labor and other forced labor in certain areas (EJF report).

 

4. Less conflict over water

Conventional cotton can lead to competition and conflict over water in different regions of the world (EJF report).

 

5. Preservation of water resources

Conventional cotton has led to the depletion of a sea – the Aral Sea – and the loss of local habitats and species (EJF Report).  The unsustainable approach of non-organic cotton allows for this type of destruction to happen.  Without standards in place, the worst is possible.

 

6. Protection of local eco-systems

Cheap, unsustainably produced cotton is destroying local eco-systems (EJF Report).  In the case of the Aral Sea, its ecosystem was destroyed in order to grow non-organic cotton.  Locals who depended on that ecosystem for their livelihood lost that as well.  Organic cotton can only be grown in a way that avoids these types of consequences.

 

7. Fewer medical bills & lower food costs

Organic farmers save on medical bills and food costs (Soil Association Report).  This allows them to save money and invest in their own futures.

More benefits have been found when looking at the life cycle impacts of organic cotton.  A life cycle assessment (LCA) is a study of the environmental impact of a product across all the stages of its life: from raw material, manufacturing, distribution, use, and end of its usable life (recycling or disposal).  The cycle of life.  Get it?

 

8. Fewer greenhouse gases

According to LCAs, organic cotton reduces the global warming impact of growing cotton by 46% through fewer greenhouse gas emissions (Textile Exchange LCA).

 

9. Less soil erosion

According to LCAs, organic cotton reduces soil erosion by 26% (Textile Exchange LCA).  Soil erosion leads to less productive fields and water pollution from the sediment run-off.  That water pollution can impact water life and ecosystems.  The loss of soil also leads to worse flooding. We have to protect our topsoil like the precious resource that it is.

 

10. Lower energy demand

According to LCAs, organic cotton reduces energy demand by 62% (Textile Exchange LCA).  Fewer fossil fuels are used to grow organic vs non-organic cotton.

 

And here’s a big fat bonus reason that organic cotton is better than conventional cotton:

 

11. Income stability for farmers

Organic cotton farmers in India (where much of it is grown) have more stable income than conventional cotton farmers.  It’s because they grow their crops in a more diverse environment, with other crops, in line with organic farming practices (Soil Association report).

 

Before you leave, let’s talk about some claims AGAINST the use of organic cotton.

 

Claims that organic cotton has problems too

 

  1. Organic cotton crops produce less cotton 

 

Compared to their genetically modified cousin (i.e., conventional cotton), organic cotton has been found to produce less per hectare (an area of measurement in farming).  This means it requires more land and resources to grow the same amount of cotton than conventional crops.

 

Here’s the thing about this claim: It’s a tricky point to prove.  There are SO many variables that go into a particular crop of cotton (country, soil qualities, crop rotation, amount of fertilizer, etc).  Comparing the amount grown, or yield, for organic vs. conventional cotton isn’t easy.  It’s varied in different published, peer-reviewed scientific studies (see Seufert & Ramankutty, 2017, for a review).  

 

Scientists have conducted review studies on this topic to try to get a grip on this.  A review study is when lots of different published studies are combined to make broad conclusions across a subject.  In general, review studies have found that organic crops, like corn, wheat, soy, and cotton, have smaller yields than non-organic crops.  The difference can be anywhere from a few percent less to half the non-organic amount (Seufert & Ramankutty, 2017).  

 

There aren’t a ton of studies that look at organic vs. conventional cotton yields.  The most recent review on the topic included four studies (Seufert, Ramankutty, & Foley, 2012).  These scientists  found that in 2 of the 4 studies, organic cotton yielded 8% and 11% MORE than conventional cotton.  And two of the studies found that conventional cotton yielded 35% and 19% more than organic cotton.  If you’d like a few more numbers, that averages to 91% yield of organic to conventional cotton.  AKA a 9% difference in favor of conventional.  

 

But that’s just four studies.  And the average yield difference of 9% seems kinda of small when you think of all the other benefits of organically grown cotton.

 

  1. Organic cotton requires more water than conventional cotton.  

 

Here’s the thing about this claim: according to a report by the Textile Exchange, 80% of organically grown cotton in the world is rainfed.  This means its grown without irrigation or diverting water from rivers etc. (Textile Exchange report).  In fact, the Textile Exchange report found that organic cotton uses 91% LESS water than conventional.  That’s because 1. it’s rainfed and 2. the soil is better able to hold onto water.  

 

So actually, this is ANOTHER benefit of organic cotton.  Make this a top 12 list!

 

If you’re not buying GOTS certified organic cotton, do you really know the impact of the cotton you’re buying?  

 

Do you know where it’s from?

 

Do you know who picked it?

 

Buy organic cotton whenever you can.  

 

And recycled or upcycled cotton when you can – that’s a sustainable option.

 

And avoid generic, conventional, new cotton whenever possible.

 

No Trace uses only organic cotton and, in a few select products, recycled cotton (which is sustainable and eco-friendly).

 

Our wraps cost a little more than the conventional cotton wraps you might find online.  It’s because we use only 100% GOTS certified organic cotton.  Because organic is worth it.

 

What are your thoughts on organic vs conventional cotton?  I’d love to hear in the comments below!  

 

Thanks for reading.

 

P.S. – If you’d like to look at my original sources, check them out here:

 

EJF Report: The true cost of cotton: cotton production and water insecurity.  Available at https://ejfoundation.org/resources/downloads/EJF_Aral_report_cotton_net_ok.pdf

 

GOTS latest version 6.0: https://www.global-standard.org/the-standard/latest-version.html

 

OTA website: Get the facts about organic cotton  https://ota.com/advocacy/fiber-and-textiles/get-facts-about-organic-cotton 

 

Seufert, N. Ramankutty, Many shades of gray—The context-dependent performance of organic agriculture. Sci. Adv. 3, e1602638 (2017).  Available at: https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/advances/3/3/e1602638.full.pdf

 

Seufert, N. Ramankutty, J. A. Foley, Comparing the yields of organic and conventional agriculture. Nature 485, 229–232 (2012).

 

Soil Association Report: Cool cotton: Organic cotton and climate change.  Available at: https://www.soilassociation.org/media/11662/coolcotton.pdf

 

Textile Exchange LCA: Life cycle assessment of organic cotton: A global average.  Available at: http://farmhub.textileexchange.org/upload/library/Farm%20reports/LCA_of_Organic_Cotton%20Fiber-Full_Report.pdf

 

Textile Exchange report: Organic cotton sustainability assessment: Summary of findings.  Available at: https://textileexchange.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/OC-SAT-Summary-of-Findings.pdf

Low waste vegan dinners: what our family’s eating this week

 

We’re heading into week 2 of social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at our house.

No last minute shopping trips for us.

Time to dig deep in the cupboards! And eat what needs to be eaten ASAP.

So here’s our week of low waste vegan meal plans that the whole family will eat.

Very little processed or packaged foods, almost everything available in our local and Bay Area bulk bins, and no animal products :).

FYI: my approach to cooking is pretty free form so apologies if you need strict measurements. I don’t got ‘em :).

  1. Saturday:  Instant falafels, homemade hummus, homemade tahini dressing (Minimialist Baker has 2 different yummy dressings on her site – check them out!), roasted cauliflower, homemade pickled carrots, and mashed potatoes.

It was a little smorgasbord type plate but all the flavors were really yummy together.

A couple recipes for ya:
Instant falafel mix from bulk bins (no recipe, just eyeballing it):
-put the mix in a bowl.
-add a little water, a little olive oil, and stir.
-Keep adding water, a little at a time, til the mixture is pretty thick and holds together.
-Roll the mix into balls – we did about 2” per ball.
-Spread them on a baking sheet & press them down a little to flatten slightly.
-We baked ours for about 15 minutes at 425F because we were also roasting cauliflower. You could cook them at a lower temp, maybe a little longer, until they feel as hard and crunchy as you like ‘em.

Mashed potatoes:
-wash, peel, and thinly chop potatoes
-cook in boiling water with salt for about 15 minutes
-drain over a clean bowl so you can save some of the cooking water.
-mash the cooked potatoes with salt, pepper, vegan butter, and some of the cooking water til you get the consistency you like. We use either a fork or our pastry device that cuts butter into dough :). Use whatever you have for mashing foods.

2. Sunday: spaghetti with tomato sauce, texturized vegetable protein (TVP), shredded brussel sprout salad, sauteed mushrooms & onions.

Easy-peasy spaghetti dinner with shaved brussel sprout salad.
with sauteed mushrooms and onions 🙂

 

3. Monday: vegan pasta alfredo; steamed broccoli with vegan butter, lemon, and salt; chickpea salad with finely sliced red onions, shredded carrots, and a honey mustard vinaigrette. The alfredo sauce recipes comes from Vegan with a Vengeance and is a blend of pine nuts, nutritional yeast, water, cooked onions/garlic, and spices. We used half cashews, half walnuts instead of pine nuts because we’re out of pine nuts :).

Fast vegan alfredo sauce from Vegan with a Vengeance

4. Tuesday: tacos with home cooked black beans, rice, shredded cabbage, salsa or salsa ingredients, if we run out of stuff, chopped on the side; simple guacamole of avocados, lemon juice, and salt.

5. Wednesday: instant chili, cornbread or toast, green salad

6. Thursday: TBD (I like to leave some wiggle room for leftovers or, pre-COVID-19, going out to eat).

7. Friday: pizza dinner with sauteed veggies, olives, tomato sauce, cashew cheese from Nora Cooks Vegan, popcorn, green salad or other veggies.

Homemade pizza with vegan cashew cheese.

 

There’s our week of low waste vegan dinners! All of these take about 30 minutes to 1 hour to prep, but usually we have leftovers for lunches, snacks, breakfasts, and maybe a future dinner. Plus it’s worth it to us to be eating very little processed and packaged foods. So I don’t mind the time to cook. And now that we aren’t shuttling the kids to after school activities or going anywhere ourselves, we seem to have plenty of time to cook.

Are you planning out your low waste dinners? I’d love to hear about it!
Liz

Low waste vegan meal plan:

What we’re eating for dinner this week.

 

The coronavirus has hampered our low waste/zero waste efforts in this week’s shopping trip. We tossed our veggies straight into our shopping cart instead of using plastic bags.

 

All our bulk goods had to go into paper bags or we had to buy packaged.  

 

Fruits & veggies for the week (or longer) in bags: tomatoes, brussel sprouts, and mushrooms.  

Bulk goods: coffee beans, dried mangos, walnuts, red lentils, cashews, instant beans, chia chunks/snacks, almonds, nutritional yeast.

Packaged goodies: bread in paper, toothpaste, rice dream, massive bag of brown rice, pasta in paper boxes, bread flour, pickles, veganaise, earth balance, popcorn kernels in plastic, cereal, soy sauce, wine, olive oil, honey, coconut milk, canned tomatoes, veg broth, & olive oil.  

Plus some canned foods for our outside supply.

Here’s our meal plan for week:

  1. Spaghetti with tomato sauce, texturized veggie protein (TVP), and either roasted or sauteed veggies.  We usually use canned tomatoes with a few dried herbs, maybe some sauteed onions, as the pasta sauce. Plus TVP for some protein.  When I roast veggies, I usually toss them in olive oil, salt, pepper, and spices (whatever suits my fancy) and then cook them at 425F for about 30 minutes, stirring them halfway through.
  2. Tacos with home cooked pintos from the pressure cooker.  We soak the pintos overnight, then drain and rinse them. Toss them in the pressure cooker with chopped onions, cumin, salt, and bay leaves.  Cook for 30 minutes to an hour. Homemade salsa is just cilantro, onions, jalapeño, tomatoes, lemon juice and salt. Shredded cabbage tossed in lemon juice or in veganaise.  Simple guacamole of avocado, salt, and lemon juice. 
  3. Vegan mac n cheese with cashew cheese (check out Nora Cooks Vegan for recipes!), brussel sprout salad (my new fav).  I make a honey mustard dressing and toss shredded brussel sprouts, chopped almonds, and chopped dried fruit like raisins, cranberries, dried cherries, or dried persimmons.
  4. Red lentil soup with toast and a green salad.  We add onions, spices, and a little lemon juice to the soup.  Mmmm yum!
  5. Homemade pizza (I like Bobby Flay’s dough recipe) with cashew cheese (same Nora Cooks Vegan recipe as for mac n cheese) and sauteed veggies (I love mushrooms, onions, and sweet peppers on top) and olives; green salad.

 

And I’ve got a few food storage tips for you in case you’re buying in bigger quantities right now:

 

  1. Store your carrots in water to keep them fresher for longer.  Change the water every few days – pour it on your garden :).
  2. Clean your greens when you bring them home.  Then store them in a cloth bag in the fridge.  A little dampness helps keep them fresh.  
  3. Mushrooms last way longer in a cloth or paper bag than plastic.
  4. Clean and dry/spin your fresh herbs and store them in a cloth bag to keep them fresh and breathing.
  5. Nuts keep best in the freezer.  We put ours in jars in the freezer.  
  6. Fresh nut butters keep great in the fridge but if you go through them fast, you can also store them in your cupboards.
  7. If you have extra room in your fridge – keep extra fruit in there instead of on the counter.
  8. Try pickling your veggies with a quick pickle recipe.  If you haven’t seen Portlandia’s “We can pickle that!”, drop what you’re doing and watch it now ;).  We’ve pickled carrots, cabbage, & beets. Other crunchy veggies like cucumbers (duh) and cauliflower would be delish! 

 

There’s our week of low waste vegan meal planning!  Are you getting into meal planning? Any tips or suggestions for me?

 

Thanks for reading and for all that you do for the earth.

Liz

Here’s the thing – I’m not a chef.  I work full-time (and sometimes more), as does my partner. And we have two kiddos with dance or piano lessons every day of the week (except Sunday).

SO, our dinners have to be FAST.  Easy.  Kid-friendly.  Vegan.  And low waste.  Here’s what we’re eating this week for dinners.

Our low waste vegan meal plan for the week

Fruits & veggies for the week.

We shop for these in our cloth veggie bags that you can buy here.  I take them out of their bag for the pic but we keep them in these cloth veggie bags  in the fridge or in a hanging fruit basket in the kitchen. 

This week we bought:

  • lettuce
  • ginger root
  • cilantro
  • garlic
  • fresh tumeric
  • carrots
  • cabbage
  • sweet peppers
  • onions
  • cucumber
  • jalapeno
  • onions
  • tomatoes
  • cauliflower
  • bananas
  • brussel spouts
  • mushrooms
  • string beans (still in their bags) – see bottom picture.

 

And a day or so before we made our big grocery run, we got kale, bananas, lemons, mangos, oranges, apples, avocados, and bread in a paper bag.

quick mini-grocery run

This is a pretty typical haul for us.  I have lots of green smoothies for breakfasts.  We have lots of veggies at each dinner.  And the kids take fruits and veggies in their lunches pretty much every day.

 

Pantry staples from bulk bins

We take our own clean containers like mason jars, old veganaise jars, old olive jars, and others to fill with staples that are a little messier.  We weigh the jars before we fill them.  Most stores have a scale you can use to get the weight of your container (aka the tare weight).  Or you can ask a cashier to weigh it. 

This week in jars we bought:

  • coffee beans
  • salt
  • corn flake cereal
  • nutritional yeast. 

We put nutritional yeast on everything – pasta, salads, fancy toast, popcorn, veggies.  Nutritional yeast (aka nuty yeast) gives food a little earthy-salty flavor. Plus its got vitamins and minerals.

the main weekly grocery run

For foods from bulk that aren’t too messy, we put them straight into the same cloth bags you can purchase here.  This week in bags we bought:

  • ramen noodles
  • chocolate chips
  • sushi rice
  • cornmeal. 

We should’ve put the cornmeal in a jar – it got the bag pretty powdery and I’m still finding bits of cornmeal in our grocery bags ;).  Next time….

 

Packaged foods

We aren’t perfect and still get a few packaged goods most of the time.  We pick foods that are yummy, will simplify meal prep, and are popular with the kids.  Or essential for my coffee (COCONUT MILK!).  Or when the bulk version is out of stock.  This week olive oil was out of stock, so we got it packaged. 

So this week’s packaged foods were:

  • a yummy vegan dip called Bitchin’ Sauce that my kids will put on just about any vegetable in their lunches and on their sandwiches. 
  • Corn and flour tortillas for taco/burrito night and for lunches and snacks. 
  • Coconut milk for my coffee. 
  • Olive oil for everything every day. 

Our low waste vegan meal plan for the week

Here’s what we’re eating this week.  All low waste vegan meals:

  1. Sushi bowls with sushi rice (I found a recipe online that was yummy and easy – rice wine vinegar and sugar) plus finely sliced carrots, cucumbers, and avocado.  Plus local seaweed we get in a paper bag at the Santa Cruz farmers market.  A little dab of veganaise.  Soy sauce.  Pickled ginger from a little glass jar that we’ll reuse.  We put all of this into a bowl together.  Super yum.  Kids asked for this meal this week and they ate it up!
  2. Tacos/burritos with pressure-cooked pinto beans; brown rice cooked with onions and spices; homemade salsa made with chopped tomatoes, cilantro, onion, jalapeno, lemon juice, and salt; shredded cabbage tossed in a little veganaise; super simple homemade guacamole (avocados + lemon juice + salt), and tortillas.
  3. Ramen noodle bowls with
    • ramen noodles;
    • veggie broth (from bulk);
    • sauteed onions with fresh garlic and ginger;
    • sauteed mushrooms;
    • fresh thinly sliced carrots, zucchinis, and cabbage and cilantro;
    • beef-style TVP (boiled, drained, and then tossed in a quick and dirty “teriyaki” sauce of soy sauce, powdered ginger, peanut oil, rice vinegar and sugar;
    • plus roasted cauliflower for the side or with the bowl
    • lemon wedges. 
    • And a couple hot sauces in glass jars.

This dinner was super popular with the kiddos and grown-ups.  It probably took about an hour from start to finish, but we had leftovers to help out with other meals so I don’t mind the time too much.  Plus I love eating lots of veggies at dinner.  

ramen bowl dinner

.

4.  Homemade pizza, with quick homemade dough topped with vegan homemade cashew cheese (see Nora Cooks Vegan for her awesome vegan cashew queso!).  Plus sauteed bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms.  And chopped olives. Plus a green salad and probably some popcorn and probably a movie too.  

 

So there you have it – our low waste vegan meal plan for this week.  Does this give you any ideas for your upcoming dinners?  I’d love to hear in the comments below!

 

Thanks for reading!

Liz @ No Trace

Easy DIY zero waste snack bag tutorial

Hey there!  I’ve got an easy, step-by-step tutorial for you to make these cute snack and sandwich bags!  

 

These sew up super fast and easy.  You’ll want to make a bunch for yourself and give them to everyone on your gift list!

These are an eco-friendly alternative to plastic bags.  Plastic bags are choking our environment!  Use these cuties instead!

 

The smaller bags work great for:

Trail mix

Almonds

Cookies

Goldfish crackers

Pretzels

Crackers

 

Some folks use them for other purposes like:

 

A mini wallet

Dog treats

Holding your essential oil jars

Hair clips & rubberbands

Seaglass and other special treasures

 

Basically anything small.  You get it ;).

 

The larger bags work great for:

A sandwich

A croissant

Lots of popcorn

A big bunch of grapes

A scone

 

Or you could use the larger size in your bag to hold your zero waste kit together.  I like to put a napkin, utensils, straw, and beeswax wrap inside mine and keep it in my purse.  You could also use it in your luggage to hold your hankies or socks or undies together. They work for art supplies too – markers, crayons, colored pencils and a small notebook.  Basically any medium-sized thing.   

 

By now you see that you NEED some of these baggies in your life!  Some in your kitchen. Some in your backpack. Some in your purse.  Some in your luggage. Right??

 

So let me show you how to make them!

 

Materials needed:

 

Fabric: 

All-natural fabrics like cotton, linen, and hemp are the best.  Organic fabrics are even better. Nylon or water-resistant type fabrics are more difficult to deal with at the end of their usable life.  Those synthetic fibers usually end up in the landfill. Plus some aren’t food safe. All-natural fabrics can be composted at the end of their usable life, so they never need to end up in a landfill.

 

I use two layers of organic cotton poplin/quilters weight or one layer of poplin and one layer of canvas for my baggies.

 

For the snack baggies you need 2 pieces that measure 5.5” wide by 9” long.  

 

For the sandwich baggies you need 2 pieces that measure 8” wide by 18” long.

 

Supplies:

Thread, Scissors, ruler or measuring tape, pins, pencil or chopstick, fabric chalk or marker if you have one.

 

Now that you have your supplies gathered… 

 

Step 1: Cut your fabric to size.

 

If your fabric has a pattern with a right and wrong direction (for example, something like this)

 


 

cut it so that 9” corresponds with the length of the pattern, like this:

5.5″ wide and 9″ tall

For the sandwich bag, make sure the pattern length is 18”.

 

That way when your bag is complete, you’ll see the pattern in the right direction.

 

Step 2: Line up your fabric

 

Whether you’re making the snack size or the sandwich size, these steps are the same!

 

Place your two pieces of fabric together with right sides facing each other (so you see the back sides of the fabric).

picture of fabric with right sides facing each other
right sides facing each other

Get some pins and pin them together in a few spots.

 

Mark a 3” opening on one long side with pins or your fabric marker.  This 3” opening is how you turn the bag right side out later. You WON’T be sewing over this 3” opening.  

Pin along sides and mark a 3″ opening on one long side.

Step 3: Sew the two pieces together.

 

Take your two pieces to your machine and start at one side of your 3” opening (remember: you are leaving a 3” opening for later).  Backstitch at the start and then stitch along the edges with a ¼” seam allowance until you get to the other side of your 3” opening.  Backstitch again at the end. 

Finished stitching along all 4 sides, leaving the 3″ opening.

Step 4: Turn your bag right sides out.  

 

Before you turn it right sides out, cut the extra fabric to the right of your seams just at the corners.  This gets rid of the extra fabric at the corners. Make sure not to cut any of your stitches.

Cut off the extra fabric at the corners

 

Use the 3” opening that you didn’t sew over to push the right sides out through the hole.  Use a chopstick or the eraser end of a pencil to pus. Make sure to get the corners poked out with the eraser end of a pencil or a chopstick.  

Pull the fabric right side out through the opening.
Use your chopstick to push out the corners

Press your bag at the iron for nice crisp edges.

 

Step 5 (optional): Topstitch the outer flap of your bag.

 

If you want a more polished look, topstitch the outer flap of the bag with a ⅛” seam allowance.

 

The outer flap of the bag will be the bottom of your fabric if it has a directional print to it.  If the print doesn’t have a right or wrong direction, just pick which edge you want to lay on top of the other flap and top stitch that one.  

Top stitch along this edge of the bag.

 

Step 6: Fold your bag up and pin the sides.

 

For the snack size, you want to fold the bottom up about 3″ (the part that doesn’t have the top stitching). 

Fold the bottom of the bag up by 3″

And fold the top flap (the edge with the top stitching) down about 2 inches.

Top edge is folded about 2″, for total bag height of 4″

This gives you a final bag size of about 4”. Pin along the sides.  

 

For the sandwich size, you want to fold the top flap down about 3 inches and the bottom up about 7”.  This gives you a final bag size of about 8”. Pin along the sides.  

 

Make sure that the unsewn edge/opening is folded in so that it’ll get caught in your seam when you sew.  

 

Pin the flap down to keep it in place as you sew.

 

Step 7: Stitch the sides closed

 

Take the pinned bag back to your machine and stitch up the sides, one at a time, with a ¼” seam allowance.  Make sure to backstitch at the beginning and end of each side. You’re only sewing up the sides of the bag – not the top or bottom folds.  

Stitch along the sides with 1/4″ seam allowance

Afterward, check that you caught all of your fabric in the seams by looking inside your bag. 

  

Step 8: Trim off the loose threads.

 

Cut any loose threads off the sides. 

Carefully trim loose threads from the bag

 

Then you’re done! Repeat and repeat as many times as you need :).  

 

Have you made one of these cuties?  Has it replaced plastic bags for you?  Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you :).

 

p.s. – just want to buy some?  CLICK HERE TO SHOP FOR SNACK & SANDWICH BAGS!

10 reasons to avoid bioplastics

Despite being considered “eco-friendly,” bioplastics might be causing more problems than they solve.  Below are 10 reasons to avoid bioplastics. Each one based on scientific research. But first let’s get to know these materials, shall we?

 

Bioplastics are plastics made from plants instead of fossil fuels.  The two most common and general types of bioplastics are PLAs (which are made from sugars) and PHAs (which are made from microorganisms that are fed plant-based oils).  

 

Bioplastics are often described by manufacturers as “compostable”.  Compostable means it’ll breakdown in a compost at the same rate as other organic material (i.e., food scraps) without any special conditions.  And compostable means they won’t leave any toxins behind. Sometimes bioplastics are described as “biodegradable”. Biodegradable means something will breakdown eventually in the right conditions, but not necessarily in a traditional compost system.

 

Compared to regular plastic, having an alternative like bioplastics that won’t biodegrade into toxins is a huge improvement.  Having an alternative that’s not made from fossil fuels is also a big improvement! The potential to compost food scraps and it’s packaging in the same bin could help cut tons of waste.  And the potential to make bioplastics from organic waste (rather than crops) is also an amazing promise that some companies are working on.

 

With all this good news, lots of businesses have jumped on the bioplastics bandwagon.  Globally, the bioplastics market was worth $17 billion dollars in 2017 and produced over 2 million tons of bioplastic (see this report for details).  Bioplastics are showing up in grocery store aisles, as cups, straws, forks, product packaging, doggie bags, mailers, and more!

Bioplastics are showing up as packaging everywhere.
Bioplastic candy wrapper

But the potential of bioplastics to solve our trash problem isn’t happening.  Right now, bioplastics are creating a slew of problems instead of solving them.

 

Here are 10 reasons that bioplastics are not a solution to plastic pollution.

 

  1. Not always made from plants

To be called a bioplastic, it only needs to contain a minimum of 20% renewable material (i.e, plant-based).  So this means that some could have as much as 80% petroleum-based materials. That means they won’t compost as promised and they create the same plastic pollution problems as regular plastic.  If these bioplastics end up in composts, they have the potential to contaminate organic material.

 

2. Their production is more polluting

One2010 study found that the production of bioplastics results in more pollution than the production of traditional plastics.  This increased pollution comes from the agricultural processes to grow the crops that become bioplastics. Creating bioplastics also led to more ozone depletion and required more land to create than traditional plastics.

 

3. Some have carcinogens

Although they don’t contain BPA (a chemical found in regular plastics that may cause health problems for humans), some bioplastics are associated with increased carcinogens.  The same 2010 study found that bioplastics made with fossil fuels (these are called B-PET plastics) had the highest impact on “carcinogenic health hazards” across its life cycle. 

 

4. They increase pressure on our lands

In order to produce most bioplastics, crops have to be grown.  This creates more demand for farmland. In order to feed the planet without destroying it, we’ll have to take a hard look at how we use our land.  Using land to create packaging instead of food probably doesn’t make a lot of sense.  

 

5. Won’t compost at home

They won’t compost in your yard or worm bin.  Home composting is a super green way to cut waste on lots of levels.  You can turn those organics back into soil. You don’t need any transportation to move them from your house to a facility.  It’s cheap (or even free) to do at home. But bioplastics won’t compost at home. They have to be sent away and processed like all other trash.

 

6. Hard to compost anywhere

Very few cities have facilities to compost bioplastics – i.e., industrial composting facilities.  An industrial composting facility allows “materials to reach 140 degrees F for 10 consecutive days”, according to this report. Although the exact number of facilities that can achieve these conditions isn’t easy to know, there aren’t many.  

 

And even among those facilities that do exist, many of them don’t want any bioplastics because they take longer to breakdown than other materials.  This slows down composting and costs facilities more money. Fastcompany.com reports that less than 90 cities in the US accept compostable packaging.  

 

7. They can contaminate recycling.  

Folks get confused about what to do with their bioplastics, and so they often end up in the recycle bin.  Then they get mixed in with traditional plastics at the recycling plant since they’re hard to tell apart. As a result, our cities can accidentally send loads of traditional plastic that are contaminated with bioplastics to plastic recyclers.  When plastic recyclers see the contamination, they start to reject our entire plastic loads. This puts a major strain on our ability to recycle any plastic. And it’s already become a challenge to recycle traditional plastics across the US.

Bioplastics can contaminate our recycling.
Bioplastics can contaminate our recycling.

8. They release methane

When bioplastics end up in landfills, which is where most of them end up, they release methane.  Methane is a super powerful greenhouse gas.

 

9. They won’t biodegrade on their own

When bioplastics like PLA end up in the ocean or forests or meadows or streams, they won’t biodegrade.  Instead, they become another source of litter, just like traditional plastics.

 

10. Still single-use

Here’s the biggest problem of all: they promote a single-use mentality.  Folks see bioplastics as an eco-friendly single-use option. The problem is that there’s no such thing as eco-friendly single-use.  To create anything that will only get used once and then discarded is wasteful. Of course, in some situations single-use is the only option or the best option, like medical settings.  But single-use plastics should be an exception for certain situations, rather than the norm for everything we consume and use.  

 

We need to switch from a single-use mentality to a reusable mentality.  We need to recognize that the world has finite resources. All of these resources should be conserved and protected as much as possible.

 

This isn’t to say that bioplastics are worthless.  If we had better systems in place for capturing and composting bioplastics, and more efficient, less polluting ways of creating bioplastics, that would be awesome.  Bioplastics have the potential to fill an important need in plastics with renewable resources.

 

But at this point in time, with our current resources, bioplastics don’t solve all our problems.  And they have lots of issues that need to be addressed.  

 

The main problem for us to solve is to reduce our dependence on single-use plastic as much as possible.  Bioplastics don’t get us any closer.

 

Do you have thoughts on bioplastics?  I’d love to hear in the comments below!

Thanks for reading and for all that you do for the planet,

Liz

P.S. Want more nitty-gritty info on bioplastics?  Check out my sources:

https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2017/12/13/the-truth-about-bioplastics/ 

https://www.fastcompany.com/90393297/will-compostable-packaging-ever-be-able-to-solve-our-waste-problem 

http://ncrarecycles.org/2019/03/oregon-composters-push-back/ 

https://www.thebalancesmb.com/what-does-biodegradable-mean-2538213 

https://ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/state-of-composting-in-us.pdf

https://greenamerica.org/take-plastics-challenge/bioplastics-benefits-and-pitfalls