Gardening & Sustainability

6 More Changes I’ve Made to Live More Sustainably

It has been a few months since my last “Changes I’ve Made to Live More Sustainably” post and although I don’t have 10 new things to share with you, I just couldn’t wait to share my most recent swaps and lifestyle changes.

1. Shampoo Bars

Did you know that most traditional bottled shampoos are 80% water and most bottled conditioners are around 95% water. You’re paying for a product that is mostly water! That and my desire to eliminate single use plastic wherever I can from my life is why I needed to make the change to shampoo bars.

It was on my first sustainability changes post as a goal for the future and I am happy to announce that both I and my husband are making the swap to shampoo bars. To start off, I have returned to the Lush shampoo bars I used in college and my husband went ahead and ordered a sample pack of shampoo bars off Amazon to see which bar works best for him.

So far neither one of us had had any big problems transitioning to the shampoo bars, but one of the biggest complaints I hear from people that have tried to make the switch to shampoo bars is that they leave a residue in their hair. There are multiple reasons and solutions to this. One reason this happens is simply the formula of the bar and the person’s natural scalp and hair chemistry. It may take awhile and a lot of trial and error to find the right bar for your hair and scalp and no matter which bar you choose there will probably be a learning curve and transition period, both while your head adjusts to a new product and while you adjust to a new application process.

One of the most common solutions I hear to the residue problem is to try an apple cider vinegar rinse. This can help with some of the build up and even if you aren’t using the bar I’ve heard that an occasional apple cider vinegar rinse is great for any hair routine. I tried it out last summer when I sort of stopped washing my hair and wasn’t a fan of how it made my hair feel or smell, and I like vinegar.

Because I didn’t want to have to run into the potential problem of having to use an apple cider vinegar rinse, I did some research on making the switch before going out and purchasing my bar. One thing I quickly learned is that hard water can also effect how a shampoo bar works and rinses from the hair. (I also found out that hard water dries out your skin and can cause hair loss.) With just a little more research I found out we have extremely hard water where I live. Easy solution, I went ahead and purchased a water filter for my shower head and even before starting to use the shampoo bar, I was amazed by the difference in the shower. (I don’t know how to describe it, but the softened water feels different.)

2. Safety Razor

1,200 pounds of waste is produced by the average person over their lifetime in razors alone. Yes, you read that right. The average person goes through 40-50 disposable razors a year equaling around 2,400 razors over a lifetime. At around 1/2 a pound each, 2,400 razors means 1,200 pounds of razors going into landfills per person. That’s crazy!

Same reason I wanted to switch to a menstrual cup, I wanted to switch to a safety razor to save money and stop producing large amounts of pointless and avoidable waste.

For those of you not swayed by waste, there is also a pretty good financial argument for making the swap. According to one study I found, shaving with a disposable razor will cost the average man $111 per year where a safety razor will only cost about $25 per year.

Chart via Sharpologist “$having For Life: A Financial Face Off Between Razors” – https://sharpologist.com/shaving-for-life/

Just like many sustainable swaps there is a transition period and a learning curve, but like most of my other swaps the change hasn’t been that hard (but I also haven’t tried shaving everywhere yet…if you know what I mean).

For those looking to swap to a safety razor or form of a safety razor, there is the traditional double sided safety razor and companies are also starting to release razors that look more like disposable razors, with the shifting head, but still made of metal and using razor blades.

Although a part of me really wanted to go with a razor with a flexible head to start with, it just looked familiar and safe, I opted to try a more traditional safety razor first. I mainly did this because my husband made the swap while in the military (closer less irritating shave for someone who had to shave daily and he also uses it to shave his head) and had a safety razor I could start using.

My first time using it I was horrified I would cut myself or not be able to get around my ankles or knees, but I am happy to announce that after three tries, I still have not cut myself once. I’m still getting the hang of it and it takes me a bit longer to shave now and it’s not the closest shave yet, it’s working for me and I am sure that with time and practice I will be able to use it just as easy as I’ve used my disposable razors.

I also plan to buy my own soon. =)

3. Bidet

Thanks largely in part to the fact that they seem to sponsor nearly every podcast I listen to on a regular basis, the bidet attachment company Tushy got me thinking about bidets and yet another swap I could make for the planet. But, the idea of using a bidet seemed weird and uncomfortable so I kept pushing that thought aside and then my husband asked if I’d thought about getting one. That got the conversation started and the ball rolling. After a few months of sporadic conversations we decided we would invest in an attachment, but the prices varied so much we weren’t sure which brand to go with.

Than early this month, Tushy, the brand that started it all for me, had a deal, buy two or more bidets and get them each for $88 (normally starting at $129). We started texting and calling everyone we knew until we got a friend that agreed to buy one too.

The Tushy bidet was super easy to install and I have to say, after one use I was sold and I refuse to ever give up my bidet.

So what is a bidet and why should you use one? If you didn’t know or haven’t figured out yet, a bidet (and in my case a bidet attachment) is a device that sprays water on your butt after you poop. Some of the arguments for the use of a bidet claim that it feels cleaner and fresher (I agree) and there are even some medical benefits to it. Wiping with toilet paper can actually be damaging and irritating, while the use of a bidet is much more gentle and soothing.

On the environmental side, Americans use around 36.5 billion rolls of toilet paper and it takes around 37 gallons of water to produce one roll of toilet paper. That is a lot of dead trees and a lot of water usage (a bidet only uses about a pint of water).

4. Toothpaste Tabs

The majority of toothpaste tubes cannot be recycled and as a result over one billion toothpaste tubes end up in landfills every year. So what do you do if you want more environmentally friendly oral care?

Toothpaste tabs.

Toothpaste tabs are chewable toothpaste tablets that are usually packaged in glass or aluminum containers. Some are even sold in compostable packages. Rather than coming in a gel/cream substance toothpaste tabs are dry tablets that you chew to produce a paste/foam and than you brush as normal.

I’m still working my way through the different brands, but so far I have tried Hello Activated Charcoal tabs and Lush Dirty tabs. Hello’s tabs tasted better, but I don’t really like the clean-up associated with activated charcoal. I was not a fan of Lush’s tabs, but the clean feeling they left in my mouth beats any traditional toothpaste I have ever tried. Some other brands on my list to try include Bite and Native.

5. Food Waste

This is somewhere between a change we’ve recently made and just more awareness and purpose to something we’ve been doing for years.

Almost immediately after getting married and moving in together the husband and I started a form of meal planning and prepping. At times it was the healthy, portion control purpose driven idea of meal prepping you see everywhere and other times it was just a way of making sure we had all the ingredients and food we needed to avoid having to make a second or third trip to the grocery store. We were military and had access to the commissary while living in Hawaii, but we didn’t live on base which meant making it over the the commissary wasn’t the most convenient thing for us, hence the weekly meal planning.

Our form of meal prep / meal planning consisted of listing out all the lunches and dinners we would have for the week to come. We’d try to factor in what leftovers we would have with each meal and work those into our plans, as well as try to plan meals that used similar ingredients. We would than throw in some breakfast items that sounded good as well as a few fun snacks. By doing this we kept our grocery bill down and our trips to the store to a minimum.

When we moved back to California and into the place we live now with a tiny kitchen and living area, this way of grocery shopping became even more important, we didn’t have the space to have extra food just laying around.

Than COVID hit, we got board and we decided to start dabbling in composting. Not that we thought we had a ton of food waste, but it was something to do and seemed like a better way to handle food waste.

Than earlier this month we stumbled across a food documentary that really opened my eyes to problems I was aware of on the surface, but with details I’d never really dove into and our approach to meal prepping and meal planning took on a new life.

I was already well aware that food waste was a major problem not just here in the US, but on a global level, but I had no idea the scope and the actual numbers.

Did you know that “Each day in the United States approximately one pound of food per person is wasted. This equates to 103 million tons (81.4 billion pounds) of food waste generated in America in 2017, or between 30-40 percent of the food supply, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).” – Rubicon

After watching this documentary it gave our approach to grocery shopping and meal planning new purpose it also gave us a reason to tweak some things and get a tad more serious.

Same as we have always done we were still planning our weekly meals, but we had gotten lazy. We occasionally would buy produce that looked cool with no new plan, or I’d be to lazy to rummage through our cupboards to see what was expiring soon. We weren’t wasting a ton of food, but it was pointless food we didn’t need to waste.

This documentary didn’t just strengthen our shopping habits it changed the way we eat out too. We are now much more aware of the amount of food we are ordering when we eat out. We would rather be left slightly hungry than have an overwhelming amount of leftovers. And if we are going to have leftovers, we make sure they are leftovers that can be stored easily and reheated well. We than work those leftovers into our meal plan for the next few days.

6. Reef Safe Sunblock

This is one swap I wish I would have thought to do sooner, reef safe sunscreen.

When I was still living in Hawaii, Hawaii passed a bill (the first state to do so) banning the sell of sunscreens that contained chemicals that were harmful to coral reefs. This brought the problem to my attention. However, the bill did not go into full effect until January of this year (2021). Although I was super happy to hear about this bill, I did not take the time to really research what sunblock was doing to the reefs (for the life of me I have no idea why it didn’t) and although I did start to look for reef safe sunblock at the store, it wasn’t readily available at the time and what I did find was very expensive. Beyond that I pretty much stopped thinking about it.

That is until recently, as my obsession with plastics and the environment and most importantly ocean health began to take off. I once again decided to look at reef safe sunblock, why it is important, what traditional sunblock is doing to the ocean, and what purchasing options I have.

Please, if you haven’t already take 6 minutes to check out the video I included with this list point. It shares a lot of good statistics and breaks down what is happening to our coral reefs from the use of sunblock. To sum it up, common chemicals used in sunblock, like oxybenzone and octinoxate are toxic to sea life and coral reefs in even tiny amounts.

Now you may be thinking “I don’t swim in the ocean.” or “I live in a landlock state, why does it matter if I use reef safe sunscreen?” Even if you aren’t swimming in the ocean or you don’t live near the beach, pretty much all water ends up in the ocean eventually. Whether you are swimming in a lake or a river, or even when you wash off that sunscreen in the shower, all water usually ends up in the ocean eventually and these chemicals don’t just go away. So even if you aren’t going directly in the ocean with sunscreen on, those chemicals may still make their way out to sea.

If you are ready to make the switch to reef safe sunscreen (which I really hope you are) more and more brands have started selling reef safe sunscreen making more affordable than it was when I first started looking a few years back. Do be careful however when shopping. The term “reef safe” and “ocean friendly” is not regulated so do your research. Just because a brand says it is reef safe take the time to look at the ingredients and keep an eye out for:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Octocrylene
  • Homosalate
  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
  • PABA
  • Parabens
  • Triclosan
  • Any nanoparticles or “nano-sized” zinc or titanium (if it doesn’t explicitly say “micro-sized” or “non-nano” and it can rub in, it’s probably nano-sized)
  • Any form of microplastic, such as “exfoliating beads”
Image from Save the Reef via – https://savethereef.org/about-reef-save-sunscreen.html
Image from Save the Reef via – https://savethereef.org/about-reef-save-sunscreen.html

Cover Image by joakant from Pixabay 

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