What is Earth Day?

What is Earth Day?

Besides being our favorite day all year, Earth Day is a global holiday that celebrates one very important thing: our planet. It also marks the birth of the modern environmental movement back in the 1970s – a time where environmentalists were labeled “tree huggers” or “hippies”, and the concept of sustainability was all but drowned out by the desire for economic growth.

Although most of America (and the world for that matter) was not tuned into the changing needs of our planet, environmentalists like Rachel Carson began to set the stage for the modern sustainability movement we recognize today. Her New York Times Bestseller Book, Silent Spring, was released in 1962 and wrote on the negative impacts of chemical insecticides on animals, habitats, and humans as a whole. Although it focused specifically on the chemical pesticide DDT and bird habitats, it began to raise public awareness around all types of pollution – and the way we treat our planet as a whole.

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Earth Day

Silent Spring, in addition to major environmental crisis like the 1969 oil spill in California, inspired then U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (with the help of his friends!) to create an event that celebrates the grassroots enthusiasm for the planet he was witnessing, and fuses that enthusiasm with national policy initiatives. After a year of planning, on April 22, 1970, Earth Day took the world by storm as 20 million Americans hit the streets and public parks to rally for what they believed in. Various groups from all walks of life came together to rally against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, and the extinction of wildlife and biodiversity – and left the first Earth Day with a much larger community they realized they shared values with. And so the modern environmental movement was born!

By the end of 1970, the enthusiasm around Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Endangered Species Acts. Woohoo! Simply because of passionate grassroots activists some major environmental  policies were enacted that we still have in place today. But the power of Earth Day didn’t stop there.

Earth Day goes Worldwide!

Flash forward to 1990. A group of prominent leaders in environmental advocacy wanted another big push around Earth Day to rally not just America, but the entire world! They called on Denis Hayes, co-coordinator for the first Earth Day, to serve as international chairman and spread Earth Day with everyone. With his help, they mobilized 200 million people (mostly grassroots activists!)  in 141 countries and focused on important issues like recycling and the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit. This was a hugely successful campaign, and by 2000, they knew that Earth Day was a rapidly growing global force that had the ability to create real change.

In 2000, Hayes wanted to combine the excitement and passion he saw around the first Earth Day back in 1970, with the hands-on activism and involvement from the 1990 Earth Day. The campaign focused specifically on global warming and clean energy, sending a clear message that citizens across the planet wanted meaningful action from their leaders on these issues. About 5,000 environmental groups across 184 countries teamed up with millions of activists (both online and in person!) to rally for this cause. Hundreds of thousands of activists collected on the National Mall in Washington D.C. for a First Amendment Rally. A drum chain traveled from village to village in Gabon, Africa, to celebrate. The message from the entire world was clear that Earth Day: we need to protect our planet, and politicians better step up to help us.

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Earth Day Information

By 2010, Earth Day was a well-known holiday…. But the environmental issues that faced us were becoming more severe than ever. Issues like climate change (and climate change deniers), oil lobbyists, an under-educated public, and a large political divide preventing change all inspired the Earth Day Network to remind the world what Earth Day is – and why it matters more than ever. They brought 250,000 people to the National Mall in D.C. for a climate rally, and launched the world’s biggest environmental service project, A Billion Acts of Green. That inspired  The Canopy Project, a global tree planting initiative that engaged 75,000 partners in 192 countries back in 2010, and has continued to make a significant impact on our global forests sense.

Today, Earth Day is considered the largest non-religious holiday observed worldwide, and is celebrated by over a billion people every year! From people choosing to celebrate the day enjoying nature with friends and family, to others who opt for a good ole’ fashioned peaceful protest, there are tons of ways to make an impact this holiday. Checkout some of our favorite Earth Day facts and initiatives below!

Earth Day Facts

  1. This Earth Day (2019) is the 49th annual Earth Day! The 50th Anniversary of this holiday is next year (2020) and we couldn’t be more excited!
  2. Earth Day was chosen to be on April 22nd by Gaylord Nelson because it was between Spring Break and Finals Week – so that students could be as involved as possible. It’s also the global Spring Equinox!
  3. According to the device recycler ecoATM, 30% of those polled celebrate by planting a tree for Earth Day, and 23% clean up local areas. About 47% of those polled associate Earth Day with recycling.
  4. Some environmental policy victories since the first Earth Day include:
    • Creation of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA!) which regulates the environmental quality of our water, air, and lands in the United States.
    • The National Environmental Policy Act: a law that requires any actions done by the U.S. Federal Government to be evaluated for their impact. That includes building roads, dams, and other infrastructure, and it’s potential impact on species habitats, water and air pollution, and more!
    • Clean Water, Clean Air, and Endangered Species Acts!
    • Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act: required the study of pesticides and their impacts – plus regulation of what pesticides and chemicals can be used!
    • Formation of A Billion Acts of Green, and the Canopy Project!
    • And tons of education initiatives!
  5. Despite all the enthusiasm around Earth Day, according to Gallup Polls, 42% of Americans believe that the dangers of climate change are exaggerated, and less than half say the environment should be given priority over energy production. Yikes!
  6. Earth Day was officially renamed in 2009 by the United Nations to be International Mother Earth Day.
  7. On Earth Day 2012, over 100,000 people ditched their cars and rode bikes in China to reduce CO2 emissions and fuel usage.

EarthHero’s Favorite Earth Day Products

At EarthHero, we’re celebrating the day by teaming up with the organization that started it all – the Earth Day Network (founded by Denis Hayes!) to donate towards their amazing 2019 campaign called “Protect Our Species”. The entire week of Earth Day (4/22-4/29) we’ll be running a special promotion (stay tuned!) that gives you a chance to help us give back to their cause. Until then, support brands who are putting our environment first with some of our favorite eco-friendly products below!

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Earth Day Custom Gift Box

To celebrate the “Protect Our Species” campaign, we curated a custom gift box chock full of zero-waste, plastic-free products that directly or indirectly support happy habitats, species biodiversity, and sustainable ecosystems. Our oceans are one of our largest habitats, and host millions of unique species – but can be easily impacted by mounting environmental issues like plastic pollution and climate change. This gift box brings together products like reusable straws and food storage containers that reduce the amount of plastic you produce, with innovative products like the Cora Ball microfiber catching laundry ball.

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4Ocean Recycled Earth Day Bracelet

Every year, an estimated 16 billion pounds of plastic waste enters our oceans, where it damages habitats and hurts a variety of species. 4Ocean’s custom Earth Day Bracelet is on a mission to reduce the amount of plastic on our planet by making bracelets from recycled plastic and recycled glass – that also remove a pound of plastic from our oceans for every purchase. To date, 4Ocean bracelets have removed 2,246,704 pounds of trash from our oceans, and are just getting started! Plus, this bracelet is in support of the Earth Day Network, and donates a portion of profits to their numerous causes. Get one for yourself, and for a friend this Earth Day!

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Zero Waste Essential Starter Kit

Want to share Earth Day with someone who is just getting started living more sustainably? Then this is the essential starter kit you need! It’s full of our favorite plastic-free essentials like reusable produce bags, silicone Ziplock alternatives, a bamboo utensil set, reusable straws, bamboo toothbrushes, and silicone food savers… aka all the essentials to get you creating less waste, and living more mindfully! They also come in size small and large, depending on what sustainable goodies you’d like to give or get!

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Coral Reef Friendly Sunscreen

For many of us, Earth Day is an amazing reminder to get outside and enjoy nature – whether that means hiking, biking, swimming, diving, climbing… or just chilling. No matter what you decide to do, wearing a earth-friendly sunscreen is imperative to protect your skin, without harming the fragile ecosystems we love to play in. You can read more about why natural sunscreens are the way to go here, but make sure you opt for an oxybenzone-free, reef-friendly option like this one!

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Reusable Insulated Water Bottle

Plastic water bottles: they’re made of single-use chemical-laden plastic from oil, they’re mostly not recycled, and we add about 20 billion new plastic bottles to our landfills each year. Needless to say, the planet probably isn’t a huge fan of them. This Earth Day, make an effort to switch to a reusable bottle and kick single-use plastic to the curb! These insulated stainless steel bottles by Earthwell are leveling up on plastic bottles because they can keep drinks iced for 72 hours (that’s three days!), cold for 24 hours, and hot for 16 hours. Grab one and take it with you to any Earth Day celebration! And then… take it with you everywhere after that…. The planet will thank you.

Want to make an impact this Earth Day? Kate Williams, CEO of 1% for the Planet (which we’re proud to be a part of!) says that anyone can make a difference by simply incorporating little changes into your daily routine. “Read your labels, and require transparency from your favorite brands. Make a pledge to keep water clean and accessible for years to come. Commit to making an at-risk species your mascot, and become an advocate for that particular species. There are so many ways to make an impact – you just have to choose one!”, says Williams.

How will you make an impact this Earth Day? Comment below or share it with us on our Facebook or Instagram!

What are microplastics?

Microplastics, microbeads, microfibers…You might have heard of them, and you probably know they’re not great. But, what really are microplastics, and how can we limit the amount of microplastics that we bring into our lives–and our ecosystems? Read on to get all the details on these macro-menaces, and how you can reduce your microplastic footprint!

What are microplastics?

Microplastics: as their name suggests, this word refers to any small plastic pieces less than 5mm long (roughly the size of a sunflower seed); and includes microbeads (manufactured round pieces of polyethylene), as well as synthetic microfibers from non-organic materials like nylon. Microplastics can either come from larger pieces of plastic beginning to break down into smaller pieces, or, like microbeads, be intentionally manufactured for use in various products. Another major source of microplastics come from our clothing, and are often referred to as microfibers. Lots of conventional clothing contains non-organic, synthetic threads that come loose in the wash, pass through filtration systems, and heading to our waterways.

No matter what type of microplastic it is, these nuisances are bypassing filtration systems and ending up in our oceans. From there, the pieces are being ingested by aquatic and marine life…which, in many cases, are eventually consumed by us! Whether you’re looking at the impacts of microplastics on our ecosystems, or our bodies, the result is the same: something needs to be done to mitigate this problem before it gets even worse.

What are microplastics? EarthHero

Ecosystem Impacts & Bioaccumulation

Although they’re small (sometimes so small they cannot be seen by the human eye), microplastics are likely to be the most numerically abundant type of plastic pollution in the ocean today–and will only increase as larger pieces of plastic begin to slowly break down (it usually takes at least 250 years, depending on the type of plastic!)

Beyond the quantity of microplastics in the ocean comes another problem: they are literally everywhere. Studies have found microplastics inside of animals that live in the Mariana Trench, a 7-mile deep spot that is known as the deepest point in our world’s oceans, as well as inside of animals who live in shallow tide-pool ecosystems. These microplastics can block digestive tracts, diminish the urge to eat, and reduce reproductive behavior. The problem is so bad that recent reports say plastic pollution will outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050, due in part to the 8 million tons of new plastics that are dumped into our waterways every year. Yikes.

Larger pieces of plastic, aka non-microplastics, are known for killing or suffocating the animals they come in contact with. Remember the recent story of the whale filled with plastic bags, or the sea turtle with the plastic straw stuck in his nose? But small, nearly invisible microplastics can often be ingested without immediately impacting the creature who consumed it, which means microplastics are more likely to travel through the food chain, leading to something called bioaccumulation! Plastic pellets are highly absorbent, and can collect persistent organic pollutants (POPs); aka hazardous human-made chemicals that are also poured into our waterways and oceans. When animals ingest the combination of microplastics and POPs, the chemicals begin to accumulate in the fatty tissues of marine animals. Over time, these chemicals can cause cancer, malformation, decreased immunity to disease, and impaired reproductive ability in their host animals. Beyond the ability of plastics to attract POPs, many microplastic pieces already contain their own chemical additives like BPA, phthalate plasticizers, flame retardants, and more, all with their own slew of long-term health impacts.

When an animal containing these particles and chemicals is consumed by another animal in the food web, bioaccumulation ramps up even more. Think of it this way: if a whale eats 1,000 plankton a day, and each plankton contained .5 grams of plastics, now the whale has 500 grams of plastic particles inside of it. The whale is unable to metabolize and excrete these toxins, so it accumulates inside them. This is a major problem, not only for animals, but for humans, as we are at the top of the marine food web and consume a wide variety of marine species.

What are microplastics? EarthHero

Human Health Impacts

Because microplastics are so widespread, it’s no surprise that they’re also in some marine and freshwater species that humans consume, both wild & farmed. Scientists have discovered microplastics inside 114 aquatic species, and over half of those species are readily consumed by us! So what does this mean for human health? Hint: it’s definitely not good…

A recent report by the United Nations Food + Agriculture Organization has found that people do consume trace amounts of microplastics from aquatic life. Luckily, we don’t consume nearly as much as other animals due to the fact that humans really only eat the muscle tissue of animals, leaving out the guts of fish, where the bulk of microplastics and chemicals accumulate. But, this doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem! Microplastics over time become “nanoplastics”, which are almost invisible pieces of plastic. These nanoplastics can penetrate cells, and move into tissues and organs, and their effects have been relatively unstudied.

The truth is, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what microplastic accumulation is doing to us. Part of this is due to the fact that we’re so highly exposed to chemicals and plastics that it’s hard to separate each cause and effect. Plus, running tests on humans is difficult due to our longer life-span than many marine animals, so tests require more time to analyze the long-term health impacts. But we think it’s pretty safe to say that reducing your exposure to microplastics and their associated toxins can be nothing but good for you.

How to Reduce your Microplastic Footprint

Microplastics, although they’re making waves in recent news, are not a new problem. Plastic microbeads first appeared in consumer goods about 50 years ago, as companies began to shift away from organic ingredients. Flash forward to 2012, and most consumers were still unaware of the prevalence of microbeads, partially because companies were not required to disclose if their products contained them (crazy, right?). Despite a general lack of awareness, in 2015, President Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, which banned plastic microbeads in cosmetics & personal care products. But this is only half the battle.

Microbeads are just one source of microplastic pollution, and are easier to tackle because they can be banned through legislation. The other two main sources: larger plastics breaking down over time, and synthetic microfibers, are where we need to direct our attention now.

Checkout 6 ways to reduce your exposure to microplastics below!

What Are Microplastics? EarthHero

Although the government has banned microbeads in “rinse-off” personal care products, the ban didn’t immediately take affect. The Microbead-Free Waters Act is so recent that products with microbeads were still sold in stores as recently as January 2019! We suggest you play it safe and only shop with brands that are proud to say they’re truly non-toxic. Better yet, look for brands with third-party certifications like USDA Organic or NSF Certified to prove it! Switch to products with natural exfoliants like walnut shells, clay, or rice grains. If you’re still unsure, check ingredients lists for ingredients like Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

  • Reduce your overall plastic consumption, and therefore plastic waste!

As we mentioned above, many microplastics come from larger pieces of plastic slowly breaking down into even more hazardous pieces. That thin plastic grocery bag, over the course of 50 years, will break down into thousands of particles that will never truly biodegrade. By reducing the amount of plastic that you bring into your life, you can help tackle this problem at the source. For tips on how to ditch plastic, checkout these blogs!

  • Support small scale plastic cleanups, and large scale plastic cleanups!

Whether you’re taking part in a local community beach cleanup, or lobbying to your local politician for more ocean plastic cleanup technology, it’s important to address the plastic that already exists on our planet.

  • Wear organic clothing that doesn’t contain plastic or synthetic microfibers!

Microfibers are a maaaajor source of microplastics, and come almost exclusively from non-organic fabrics being washed. Washing machine filters can’t catch these nearly invisible fibers, and they’re easily ingested by animals once they reach our waterways. Instead, buy clothing made from organic sources (think organic cotton, wool, and hemp). You’ll reduce the amount of synthetic fabrics that get washed, and therefor reduce microfiber pollution. Plus, producing organic clothing typically uses less water and energy than synthetic materials!

Cora Ball Microplastics Laundry Ball | What Are Microplastics | EarthHero

  • Use a Cora Ball to collect any leftovers microfibers that may be going from your washing machine to the ocean!

Unless you have a wardrobe made up entirely of organic cotton clothing (we can dream, right?) there probably will be some of those pesky microfibers leaving your washing machine no matter what. That’s where the Cora Ball comes in–a microfiber catching laundry ball made from 100% recycled plastic. Just toss it in the washer with your clothes, and watch as it begins to catch microfibers in its spindles. Then, simply pull the threads out and toss them in the trash. It’s an easy and awesome way to cut down on microfiber pollution in your home. Get yours here!

  • When disposing of small plastic pieces, or any small non-biodegradable waste items, try to contain them so they can’t be easily digested!

If you buy a six-pack of soda, you’ll likely cut up the plastic bottle holder to make it harder for animals to get stuck in it. Take this approach and apply it to any non-biodegradable/non-recyclable waste you come across in your life! Think of little items like plastic straws, bread twist ties, rubber bands, hang tags from the store, etc. By containing them inside another item, like a plastic bag or enclosed bin, we can reduce how easily they fly away and enter our ecosystems.

 

How-To: Compost

Fact: food scraps and other organic waste currently makes up 30% of what we throw away every year, where it will sit in our landfills unable to decompose properly–but there is a better way to toss organic waste. Composting is becoming a major trend in environmentalism, with restaurants, some grocery stores, even very special office spaces participating! So what’s the deal with composting, and how can it make a massive impact on our planet’s waste situation? Read on to learn why it’s changing the planet for the better–and how you can get involved.

 

Why should I compost?

Whether you’re trying to have the most nutritious soil on the block, or if you’re just looking for another way to lower your carbon footprint, composting your leftover food and organics is the move. While it’s true that food will eventually biodegrade in our landfills, there are some seriously nasty side effects that come with it.

When organic materials break down in a landfill, they do so “anerobically”, or without oxygen. When compost is unable to break down naturally, it actually leads to the release of a very harmful greenhouse gas: methane. Believe it or not, methane has heat trapping capabilities that are 23 to 71x times that of carbon dioxide (yikes!)–and is linked to global climate impacts, as it traps heat in our atmosphere. By diverting organic waste from our landfills, and into commercial or home composting piles, we can greatly reduce the amount of methane gas emissions that come from landfills, which can directly (and positively) impact the levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

Here’s what composting can do for you!

  • You get to take your trash out less! Keeping food waste out of your trash can mean fewer trips to the curb! If you pay for garbage pick up, composting could decrease how much “trash” needs to picked up by the garbage truck (and that equals more money in your pocket).
  • No more smelly trashcans. Keep compost in a designated bin, such as this snazzy, stainless steel one or this recycled plastic one! Both of these bins have aeration holes which help neutralize unwanted scents, too! *More tips for smell-free composting below!
  • Into gardening? While store-bought fertilizers can be pricy, your leftover food is chock full of nutrients (and it’s free!) Try out a backyard compost to create your own nutrient rich, chemical-free soil.

Backyard Composting vs. Commercial Composting

So you’ve decided to start composting, and stop throwing food in the garbage. You. are. AWESOME. But, depending on where you live, there might be different rules or regulations for what can be commercially composted–or there might not be any city-wide compost at all, which is a great reason to start your own backyard compost.

Commercial Composting: The breakdown

Commercial composting is a great option if you want to divert your organic waste but don’t have the time or space to maintain your own outdoor compost pile. This method often means decomposition happens more quickly AND ensures that bioplastics (think corn-based cups and plates) definitely break down.

It’s important to find out which foods and materials are acceptable to compost in your city. This differs from facility to facility but it’s good to steer clear of adding things like pet waste, liquids, dirt or rocks. 

There are typically three techniques used in commercial composting:

Windrow: This open-air process is primarily used for yard and gardenwaste and involves five foot high piles (“windrows”) that get regularly turned. Turning encourages decomposition and helps ensure that every layer has a chance in the warm center of the pile, where all the good bacteria hangs out.

In-vessel: This is an enclosed space setup which means it can process all forms of organic waste, from meat and other food scraps, to manure and bio-plastics (with no bad smells!).  This system allows for optimal control of temperature, moisture, and airflow regulation and also means compost is ready within a few months. In-vessel composting is able to reach incredibly high-temps (over140 degrees) and this helps kill off harmful bacterias!

Aerated-static pile: This system is optimal for large generators of homogeneous organic waste, so it is likely the option found in cities and towns with a commercial compost facility. The aeration process employs bulking agents like wood chips and shredded newspaper and also a network of pipes that periodically blow air into the pile. Food waste, paper products, and bioplastics are traditionally what goes into these piles and compost production is fast, typically only taking a few months.

DIY: Backyard composting

Creating your own home & backyard compost is great, especially if you’re trying to save money on soil fertilizer. It also means you have greater control over what goes in. If you’re into gardening, you can really tailor your compost to the nutritional needs of your own soil and garden. For example, if an organic garden is important to you, make sure the compost is comprised of all things organic, too!

Here’s how to start your backyard compost:

  • Step 1: Begin by finding a shady spot on your land. Close proximity to a water source can be helpful, as moistening any dry compost additions can help the microbial processes. The ideal size of your pile or bin is 1 cubic yard, as that will allow enough space to hold in heat without keeping our air.
  • Step 2: For the best compost, you’ll want to combine two parts “brown” (dry leaves and twigs, for example) with one part “green” (grass clippings and your food scraps). This recipe results in a perfect blend of nitrogen and carbon.
  • Step 3: Chop up your large veggies or big sticks, to help them decompose more quickly!
  • Step 4: Turning over the compost regularly will help air and moisture move throughout the pile and will help break up any clumps of organic material.
  • Step 5: Depending on outside temperature, your nutrient dense, natural fertilizer will be ready within in 2-5 weeks and will only continue to gain potency as time goes on!

Countertop compost bins: What to look for

So, you’ve chosen your compost method–great! Now make it a little easier on yourself and choose the perfect countertop compost bin to store your scraps between they head to the compost pile or curbside bin. But there are so many options! Here are some pros and cons of our favorites:

  • This bin attaches to the edge of the counter so that sweeping food scraps away is a snap, plus silicone is an excellent alternative to plastic. It also fits neatly into the door of your freezer, which is an excellent storage location for compost–frozen food doesn’t smell!
  • This 1 gallon bin is great for countertops and is made from molded bamboo, so it looks beautiful on your kitchen counter! Use charcoal filters in the lid to keep odors in.
  • Need a little more room? This 1.8 gallon stainless steel bin is super easy to clean, and adds a classy look to any kitchen! The lid holds a charcoal filter as well, so it’s a great odor-reducer as well!
  • Looking for more functionality, less fancy? This 1.5 gallon bin comes with a release button that pops the top open, making it easy to open and close quickly. Plus, it has a bar that holds your compost bag in place, so you’ll never have to worry about losing the corner of your bag under an old banana peel!

Tips for Success

  • Worried about the smell? Keep your bin in the freezer. This is a particularly useful tip during those hot and humid summer months when it seems like even your fresh food is excited to decompose.
  • Add a slice of lemon to neutralize any bad smells. That detoxifying morning lemon water now has another purpose!
  • Keep charcoal filters near the bin. This is especially helpful if you have a larger bin because these filters seriously stretch the time between when the compost needs to be taken out. We like these!
  • How will my family know what to compost? Coffee grounds are basically compost gold, but chicken bones? Not so much. Here’s a simple guide we really like. Gardening? Check this out for the best DIY compost fertilizer! Also read our tips on how to reduce your food waste in general.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot

If composting is out of the picture for you right now, either due to location, space, or time, there are other ways you can get on board. Choosing compostable items such as bags and dishware means less plastic gets used and discarded. While we love reusable choices whenever possible, compostable plates and utensils definitely come in handy during travel or on a picnic. However, Earth Hero’s beware! Not all biodegradable dishware is created equal! Some require extremely high temperatures in order to break down completely, and not all commercial compost facilities are able to reach this high heat. These bowls, plates, and utensils are great options because they can all break down in backyard soil!

Composting Starter Essentials

Whether you’re looking for recycled plastic, bamboo, silicone, or stainless steel, EarthHero has a bin for you! These are all small enough to hang out on your kitchen counter or even in your freezer and have aeration holes to promote decomposition and keep smells at bay.

Line your compost bin or trash can with compostable bags and help keep one less plastic bag out of the landfill. Even your dog can be zero-waste with these compostable dog-waste bags! Since pet-waste can contain parasites, it’s best to be sure it never ends up in any actual compost piles.

Don’t just stop composting there, bring composting into every aspect of your life with compostable products like fun straws, hemp pot holders, and food wraps. Even these amazing body products come in compostable packaging!

Now that you’ve learned a bit about composting, share some of your favorite tips, tricks, and ideas in the comments below, or on our Earth heroes Facebook Page!

 

What is a conscious consumer?

Trying to enjoy your favorite tv show? Que advertisement. Scrolling down your social media feed? Another advertisement. Checking your mail to see if your sweet grandma sent you a nice letter? BOOM… advertisement!

We can’t seem to go anywhere or do anything without being told to shop here, buy that, or consume this. It’s the status quo of our society, to buy, buy, buy–without considering the impact of our purchases. Luckily for all of us, there is a global movement happening called conscious consumerism.

With conscious consumerism you can still shop–but in a way that is a whole lot kinder on the planet. We can all do better when it comes to shopping, so to help you out, we’ve come up with some handy tips to lead you down the path of righteousness. Read on to learn about the movement, and how you can become a conscious consumer!

What you’ll learn:

  • What a conscious consumer is, and how to contribute!
  • Understand the tools and third-party certifications necessary to identify ethical & sustainable products
  • Ways to implement being a conscious consumer into your everyday life

What is a conscious consumer?

Recent studies show that 67% of Americans believe that progress on social and environmental issues will slow down without government regulation, and their confidence in national organizations to act on environmental issues is low. As a result, 43% of consumers believe that individual action has the greatest potential to solve social and environmental issues.

Despite this fact, in recent years, our global consumer culture has continued to accelerate towards a relentless focus on quantity and convenience–wanting the most products, for the least amount of money, delivered in the quickest time frame. While it may seem like more = better, when it comes to our impact on the planet, the status quo for how we currently consume is taking us down an irreversible path (animal extinction, more toxins, more waste, and yes, global warming!)

But don’t panic. A new wave of consumers have been taking the global markets by storm, calling themselves “conscious consumers”, aka “agents of change who consider the social, environmental, ecological, and political impact of both buying and boycotting products.” Simply put, they ask the question: “Can my individual actions make a difference?” and believe it or not, the answer is “YES!”

Price vs Cost

Look back 150 years, and you’ll see a very different picture of global trade. Almost all countries were responsible for making their own products, and those they were unable to make required time and labor intensive practices to be sourced from another country. Flash forward to recent times, and most large factories (think Nike) have been moved into lesser developed countries–often with different currency rates and costs of living. This makes it difficult to accurately judge what price is fair for an item made in another country–leading to huge disparities in the amount paid to overseas workers, and the cost of a particular product back in America.

EarthHero Conscious Consumerism

No matter who you are, instinctively, you will always look for the cheapest price–it’s just human nature. But being a conscious consumer means taking the time to consider what kind of negative impact that price could have had on the lives of those who produced it, and the planet. A cheap price is almost never a fair price when you take the time to look at every aspect of sourcing and production.

Transparency in Technology

One of the biggest barriers to becoming a conscious consumer is companies’ unwillingness to share the information needed for you make an ethical shopping decision. All businesses want you to feel like you’re making a positive choice, using buzzwords like “organic”, “natural”, and “fair-trade” to convince the consumer, with one glance at the packaging, that their product is an ethical one. But, the truth is, when you start asking questions, it becomes clear that there’s so much more to being a conscious consumer then just browsing the labels.

EarthHero Conscious Consumer Blog

Technology is breaking the barrier between what brands tell us, and what we can truly learn about their products. From ingredients, to materials sourcing, and even the initiatives the company is involved in, technology and the internet is making it easier for consumers to find out about what’s really going on with a particular brand or product. Educate yourself with environmental blogs, books, and other tools–like the Better World Shopper App!

While there’s tons of resources out there to find companies that are doing good for the planet (shoutout to all of our brands!), the internet is also an awesome place to encourage companies who aren’t meeting the mark to do better. You can write to your local politicians, CEOs, or other representatives, encouraging them to change for the better–or even give them a shoutout on social media. Businesses want you to want to shop with them, but sometimes they just need a push in the right direction!

How-To Be a Conscious Consumer

Did you know that only 1% of our purchased products are still around after 6 months–meaning that 99% of what we buy, we throw away in less than half a year. Ease and convenience has become our guiding principles, and it’s killing the planet. But how can your everyday purchases help turn this around–before it’s too late? Check out some of our favorite daily actions to help you become a conscious consumer!

1. One Step at a Time

Take baby steps! Just being aware of what you buy is a HUGE start! When you first start paying attention to the products in your life, you’re going to feel overwhelmed with how much truly isn’t sustainable. Instead of throwing away everything in your house, make a game plan for what needs to be transitioned immediately, and what you can continue to use for a while before finding a more ethical option. While tossing all your polyester clothes and replacing them with sustainable alternatives sounds like it would be a good move for the planet, it just creates more waste than if you just wore what you already had until it needed to be donated–then replacing it with an ethical version.

If you have plastic products in your life, use them–don’t toss them! Then, when it’s ready to hit the recycling bin, swap it for a better alternative. It’s all about taking small steps, and in no time, you’ll be impressed with just how much has changed thanks to conscious consumerism!

EarthHero Conscious Consumer Blog

2. Third-Party Certifications

It can be hard to trust what a company says, especially if you’ve never heard of the claims they’re flaunting. That’s where third-party certification groups come in–awarding Sustainability Certifications based on rigorous national standards for environmental and social responsibility. This sets a more level playing field for conscious companies, as they can apply for these certifications as a way to prove to the customer their claims are correct–no greenwashing involved.

From certifications around material and ingredients quality, like USDA Certified Organic, GOTS Certified (for organic cotton), and NSF/ANSI 305 (for personal care), to certifications around production such as the OEKO-TEX Standard for chemical-free production, third-party certifications are making it easier to be a conscious consumer.

Some brands are even going the extra mile (well, like EarthHero) and are labeling each product with the third-party certifications they’ve been awarded, alongside other important values–like whether it has plastic-free packaging, or gives back to charity. But whether you’re shopping with the EarthHero community, or just browsing at the mall, keep an eye out for recognizable certification labels!

3. Budget for it

We hear all the time that shopping sustainably and ethically can get pretty pricey, especially for families or anyone on a budget. And we totally understand–while it can cost more to live an ethical lifestyle, it doesn’t necessarily need to be. Why? Something to consider when shopping sustainably is that while it may be more expensive at first, over time it should become less expensive, as you begin to replace single-use products with reusable counterparts.

For example, on average, an American consumer will spend $100 a year on water bottles–while one stainless steel water bottle that will undoubtedly last for several years only costs $25 to $30–and can be filled with free or minimally expensive tap water. In addition, as you become a more conscious consumer, you will tend to simply buy less. Strangely enough, when you ask yourself, “Do I really need this?”, a natural tendency is to just lose interest. In addition, as more conscious consumers speak their piece, and vote with their dollars, the market will shift to reflect more accessible prices on ethical goods.

So, where to start? Our solution for this is budgeting! You may balk at the idea, but once you get into the hang of it, budgeting makes shopping each month easier–and less stressful. Think about what you’re currently spending money on, and split it up into sustainable and unsustainable expenses. Begin to tackle the unsustainable expenses: how can you rebudget your grocery trip to include more organic produce and fewer processed snacks? What expenses can be minimized? Can you reduce your gas expenses by biking or carpooling? Make a monthly plan, and then a yearly plan, for how you can begin transitioning away from certain activities, and leave extra cash aside for the sustainable swaps you’ll be moving towards.

4. Reuse, repurpose, respect!

A conscious consumer is always conscious… but doesn’t always have to consume. One of the most important ways you can be a conscious consumer is simply by not consuming. It’s all about reusing and repurposing what you have, not replacing it with new products. Even the most sustainable product will be less sustainable than using the thing that’s already been sitting in your cabinet waiting to be used. Take it a step further, and utilize what you can in your backyard, town, neighborhood, and city!

Does your city have a bulk store for either food or personal care products? This is an awesome way to be a conscious consumer–without breaking the bank. Just bring your own produce bags and containers to the Whole Foods or other bulk store, and shop plastic-free. Are you located near a community garden, or have a big backyard? Try your hand at growing your own produce or herbs!

You Got This

At the end of the day, being a conscious consumer may take a little extra forethought–but can have some serious impact on the products that come into your life, and the impact those products have on the planet. Plus, it just feels really good! Ethical brands want to show you how truly ethical they are, so utilize the tools they provide you: like third-party certifications, online resources, and the information provided by the companies directly.

There is no better time to get started down the path of being a conscious consumer than now. Not only do we have the holidays coming up, undoubtedly one of the most wasteful times of the year due to product packaging and excessive shopping, but the culture of our country is changing faster than ever. From your daily trip to the supermarket, or all of your holiday gift shopping, there is a sustainable solution out there! All of our EarthHero vetted brands are a great place to start shopping like a conscious consumer, or our Green Gift Boxes!

How do you take the time to be a more conscious consumer? Share your tips and tricks with us below!

 

What are Parabens?

The American Chemical Society estimates that parabens are in 85% of personal care products–meaning that you’ve probably applied parabens to your skin, hair, or teeth at some point today without even knowing it. But what are parabens, and should you avoid them? Read on to learn why you might be seeing “paraben-free” more and more often.

parabens-in-beauty-and-careWhat are parabens?

For decades, parabens have been a key ingredient in the beauty industry for their use as a low-cost preservative–preventing bacteria and fungi from growing in your products and giving them a longer shelf life. They’re also widely used in pharmaceuticals, food additives, and even food packaging…all in the name of keeping things “fresh”. And while they’re known for hiding in cosmetics and skincare, researchers have found that around 90% of grocery store items also contain measurable amounts of parabens.

Simply put, a paraben is any group of synthetic compounds that are used as a preservative in cosmetics or pharmaceuticals containing water. According to the FDA, the most widely used parabens include methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben (there’s also isobutylparaben and ethylparaben). These chemicals can be inhaled, ingested, and even absorbed through the skin.

Why are they a problem?

Here’s where it gets tricky–the FDA and American Cancer Society say that there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that parabens cause health risks or cancer in low doses (like what’s found in skin care or food preservatives). Now, we don’t know about you, but we’d rather exercise caution and play by the “dangerous until proven safe” rules, not the other way around. We’ll tell you why.

Parabens are able to artificially mimic estrogen, a female hormone, in your body. This disrupts natural hormone systems, and the excess estrogen is known to cause both normal and cancerous breast cells to grow and divide at a higher rate. This could lead to extra fat storage and male breast growth, alongside hormone-related neurological, hormonal, developmental, and metabolic disorders.

Ladies, listen up. Because parabens are highly prevalent in products targeted towards women (think tampons, makeup, or skin cream), we suggest being a little careful. In 2004, a British scientist named Philippa Darbre Ph.D. found parabens present in malignant breast tumors. This doesn’t prove that parabens=breast tumors, but the study led to experts worldwide recommending legal limits on parabens in cosmetic products. Despite this, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consider parabens safe at low levels. While the FDA allows limited paraben concentration in products, some scientists still worry that parabens can be stored in the body or interact with other chemicals, which could mean that they can accumulate over time and create even greater, cumulative health risks.

Our final verdict? Seek out paraben-free products. It can’t hurt you, and the worst case scenario is that now you’re using awesome certified non-toxic and organic products instead of preservative-packed synthetic ones. Researchers still have a long way to go on paraben research, but while they’re figuring all that out, we’ll be off enjoying our chemical-free personal care and natural skincare.

paraben-free-beauty-and-careHow can I avoid them?

At the end of the day, avoiding parabens comes down to one thing: reading the ingredients. Whether it’s a snack bar at the grocery store or your shampoo, you deserve to know exactly what is in a product. If you see any hard-to-read word that ends in –paraben, then don’t buy it. If the ingredients can’t be found on the product packaging, try going online for a full ingredient list, or opt to not purchase products from brands that aren’t forthcoming. A good tip when reading ingredient labels is that the ingredients will always be in the order of their prevalence, meaning that the first ingredient is highly concentrated in the product, while the last few ingredients are present in smaller concentrations.

Once you’ve switched over to paraben-free products, just remember, there’s a reason that parabens became so popular. Truly natural products will expire! Yes, just like food, organic skin care products have an expiration date because they don’t have the added preservatives to keep them fresh. Some organic skincare will even come in dark or clouded pump-containers to reduce the contact with light and air; two things that can degrade a product faster. If you’re like us and absolutely love natural products, try putting them in the fridge: it’ll help them stay fresh longer, and give you a refreshing boost during your skincare routine.

parabens-deodorant

What are paraben-free alternatives?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) performed a study that states the average adult uses 9 personal care products daily. Your skin comes in contact with personal care products a lot throughout the day, even if it’s just the essentials like hand soap and toothpaste. The good news is that natural and organic cosmetic companies have found effective alternatives for pretty much every single paraben-product out there. Natural preservatives include oregano, thyme, rosemary, goldenseal root, grapefruit seed extract, and even lavender oil! These natural preservatives also have their own health and beauty benefits–which is just another added plus to switching to paraben-free products. Not to mention, they smell great too!

When it comes to parabens, you might assume that ingesting it or putting it on your face would be the worst thing you can do. However, the one of the biggest concerns with parabens is actually… deodorant! Dr. Phillipa Darbre, a senior lecturer in oncology, notes that a disproportionate amount of all breast cancer tumors occur in the upper outer portion of the breast–the section closed to, you guessed it, our armpits. Nothing is proven, but we do know parabens are estrogen-imposters, and we also know that estrogen exposure is linked to breast cancer development. So, you do the math. Want to play it safe? Check out our favorite natural deodorants, here!

parabens-free-natural-beauty-and-care

The Final Verdict

While there seems to be scientific uncertainty on if parabens are a complete no-go, we like to err on the side of caution when it comes to potentially dangerous chemicals. That’s why we’re hopping on the paraben-free (and phthalate-free) bus, and swapping our personal care products to natural alternatives! But, as we learned, parabens can be found in food packaging, food products, and other consumer goods too. Until more research comes out, we recommend reading the ingredients, shopping with companies who pledge against parabens, and choosing natural whenever possible.

Check out 4 beauty brands breaking free from plastic packaging next!

EarthHero Methodology: How we Choose our Products

We all know being an informed consumer means lots of reading, research, and a whole lotta’ time. From lack-of-transparency, to lack-of-information, some companies like to make it almost impossible to tell if their products are truly sustainable.

But hold up–don’t get out your deerstalker, tweed jacket, and magnifying glass just yet, Sherlock. Here at EarthHero, we do all of the sleuthing for you. For every brand and product on our site, we run them through a rigorous five step evaluation to make sure you have the highest-quality, eco-friendly options to choose from.

Read on to learn how EarthHero’s methodology makes sustainable shopping elementary, my dear Watson.

What you’ll learn:

  • What sustainability values we look at when sourcing our brands & products
  • How to detect greenwashing, and shop smarter in today’s marketplace
  • Gain a greater understanding of the complexities that make a product “sustainable”

The EarthHero Methodology

It’s the number one question that we receive here at EarthHero. As more and more people make the switch to shopping sustainably, there’s one question that needs to be answered: what makes a product, sustainable?

What types of materials can be touted as eco, and why?
Which ingredients are best for your body and the planet?
Does it help you live a more sustainable lifestyle?
What kind of packaging is better than others?

The list goes on and on.

With all of this confusion around sustainability, it’s harder than ever to avoid greenwashing. Brands are popping up left and right promising “green”, “natural”, and “eco-friendly”–but have little to no information to back them up. We think: if they were truly sustainable, wouldn’t they want to tell us about all the amazing things they’re doing for the planet?

That’s why we do business differently, thoroughly vetting each brand in the growing EarthHero family using our 5 stage selection process. We then highlight everything that we’ve learned with you, our community. In the spirit of growing the movement towards more sustainable production, we’re sharing that methodology with you, right here, right now. Because voting with your dollar should be as simple as, well, shopping.

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1. Materials & Ingredients

how-earthhero-chooses-our-products-nau
Nau uses 10 intentional fabrics for their clothing, including organic cotton, recycled polyester, hemp, and wool.

One of the first things we look at before we source any product is: what is it made of? We begin our search by looking for products made from the most sustainable, or “best-in-class” materials or ingredients in each particular product category. For example, the materials that we seek for our clothing is going to be very different than home supplies or shampoo!

In many cases, this means avoiding certain materials and ingredients as well. Think: virgin synthetic polyester, nylon, or other man-made materials that use toxins, pesticides, and petroleum to produce.

For clothing and other fabrics, we look for natural materials made from fast growing plants like hemp, or repurposed materials like recycled polyester. For traditionally chemical heavy textile crops (we’re talking about you, cotton!) we opt for organic varieties. We’ve learned that some materials are great in one form but not in others (Interested? Read our blog about why bamboo isn’t always a go-to eco material).

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Alchemy Goods uses upcycled bike tubes for their super durable, modern bags and backpacks!

For many of our backpacks and sporting equipment, we turn to recycled or upcycled materials, because we firmly believe you aren’t truly recycling unless you’re also buying products made from recycled content (closing the loop!).

When it comes to beauty products, we seek out products that use local, vegan, and organic ingredients, and that avoid chemicals and microbeads.

We also look for materials and ingredients that are what they say they are. If a brand claims to make organic skin care, is it USDA Certified Organic, or does it meet the NSF/ANSI 305 Guidelines for products made with organic ingredients? Are the wooden frames on those sunglasses made from sustainably harvested, FSC Certified wood? Third party certifications are our best friend–and we’re always on the search for products that can be certified organic, cruelty free, BPA free, and more.

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Look for the USDA Organic logo to identify products made with at least 95% Organic Content, like this toothpaste from Radius!

It’s important to us that the materials and ingredients that our brands use preserve the planet for future generations. Raw, non-renewable resources are increasingly scarce, and the processing and refinement it takes to make them into most conventional products can be seriously toxic. But, lucky for us (and you!) there’s no shortage of brands who are making products using better, safer materials.

By making this the first step of our 5 stage methodology, we can promise you that the products you buy on EarthHero are made from better ‘stuff.’ Because we know that when you buy good stuff, more of the good stuff–and less of the bad–gets made. It’s simple economics!

And, just to make sure you’re getting the most out of your Earthhero experience, we provide resources so that you can see for yourself why the materials are absolutely awesome! Did you know bamboo is naturally water-resistant, anti-microbial, pest-resistant, stronger than steel, and the fastest growing plant on the planet? This makes it great for almost anything. We’re loving it as a replacement for single-use plastic utensils! Curious about why a certain material made the cut? Simply check the Sustainability Logos or Sustainability Features located on each product page, read the EarthHero Blog, or reach out to us!

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2. Company Responsibility

Looking at materials is just the first step. In addition to the foundation of each product, we want to look at the foundation of each company. What are their company values? How do they show responsibility in the production of their products, the treatment of their workers, and corners that they refuse to cut?

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Plan Toys (soon to be available on EarthHero!), uses the surplus wood from their manufacturing to create electricity to power their factory and the surrounding village!

Conventional manufacturing and production can be extremely bad for the planet, using immense amounts of energy, water, and resources–while creating a ton of waste, pollution, and emissions. We look for brands that are shaking it up. From the use of renewable energy like solar and wind power in their factories, to using water and energy efficient printing practices, to utilizing low-impact inks, we look for brands that take steps to make their manufacturing more sustainable.

Osom Brand, for example, has created an ‘awesome’ waterless, dye-free, and chemical-free manufacturing system. By using recycled fabric, they don’t turn to water to grow new materials, and they’re able to create fun patterns and colors without harming the ecosystems and waterways around them.

While we love supporting local and American-made brands, we also support companies that make their products responsibly abroad. We look for fair wages and labor conditions, direct and transparent deals, and Fair Trade Certifications, if applicable. Some of our brands are so local they drop their products off at our doorstep (looking at you, Khala Cloths!), while some are responsibly sourced and manufactured in China (what’s up, Bambu)!

We believe that location of production does not, on its own, determine the sustainability of the product (it makes sense to produce bamboo products in countries where bamboo grows as a native plant, right?), and try to weigh all of the benefits of each product and company together when making decisions about what to sell on EarthHero. At the end of the day, the decision is yours–we label all of our American made products with “Made in the USA!” so you can easily find products that match your values!

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Sound a little confusing? Well, one great way that we determine if companies meet the mark is by looking for certified B Corp companies. Based off of the idea that government and nonprofits alone cannot change the world, Certified B Corporations are businesses that focus on the triple bottom line, people, planet, and profit. Through the certification process, they are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. Each Certified B Corp is tested to meet stringent standards for social and environmental responsibility, transparency, and accountability.

3. Give-Back

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United By Blue cleans up one pound of trash for every purchase, keeping plastic away from our waterways!

In addition to searching for brands that put their values first, we find brands that build responsibility into their brand in another way–through give back programs. EarthHero celebrates brands that make giving resources, time, and service to various environmental or social organizations a part of their everyday duties. From removing plastic pollution from the ocean, to planting trees for every purchase, many of our brands are actively involved in protecting our planet for future generations.

For example, tentree plants ten trackable trees for every item sold, while Bureo founded Net Positiva, a recycling program that collects and recycles used commercial fishing nets in small coastal towns in Chile–did you know fishing nets make up more than 10% of plastic pollution?

how-earthhero-chooses-products-one-percent-for-the-planetAnother great way that we pick out purpose driven companies is by looking for certified 1% for the Planet members. As a part of 1% for the Planet, businesses commit to giving 1% of their annual sales to environmental nonprofits. This allows brands to form great connections with organizations that are making changes that they’re passionate about.

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But, the giving doesn’t stop with our brands! Every single purchase on EarthHero gives back even more. We’re proud to donate 1% of our sales towards supporting environmental non-profits through our own partnership with 1% for the Planet. In addition, we offset all our shipping emissions with Carbonfund.org, so your purchase can reach your door in a way you can feel great about! So, no matter what you shop on EarthHero, you support a brighter future with every purchase.

4. Packaging

how-earthhero-chooses-products-bestowed-essentials
Bestowed Essentials uses completely zero-waste packaging for their products, including glass, recycled cardboard, and bio-based, compostable bags.

Now… we’re guessing you don’t want tons of foam packing peanuts (why would anyone?) in a box headed to your house. Packaging is so often overlooked by other companies, which is exactly why we made it one of our key focus points.

We start by looking for products that have zero waste, plastic-free packaging whenever possible. From the hangtags on your new shirt to the bottle containing your vegan, organic shampoo, we want to know–is it packaged in glass, aluminum, or another easily recyclable material? Does the packaging contain recycled content? Does it have compostable or biodegradable packaging, or no packaging at all? Does it use bio-based plastic, or recyclable plastic? Can the packaging be reused, refilled, repurposed, or otherwise reinvented?

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Plaine Products refillable bottle

Sometimes, we find awesome products, usually personal care products, that are packaged in hard-to-recycle plastics. Although that’s something we hope to change, today’s infrastructure makes it difficult for manufacturers to break free of plastic completely. That’s why we’re closing the loop by offering a take-back program through TerraCycle for any plastic personal care products sold on EarthHero. Just ship it to us, and we’ll work with TerraCycle to make sure it’s recycled properly!

 

 

5. Sustainable Lifestyle

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These produce bags from ChicoBag are made from recycled water bottles, AND they help reduce your grocery store plastic!

Our last key focus for product choices is simple–does it help you live a more sustainable lifestyle? Does it help you cut down your use of single use plastic? Does it encourage you to commute via bike?

A great example of this is Love Bottle: the glass bottle is made with recycled glass and ships in zero waste packaging, but it also helps you reduce the use of plastic water bottles, encouraging a sustainable lifestyle for years to come. From reusable food wraps to stainless steel straws, we’re finding ways to break the single-use cycle. In this way, EarthHero is truly a lifestyle, as our products encourage a better way of living. So, go ahead, shop–and live–better. We’re here for you!

The Breakdown

Real talk–now that we’ve shared our methodology with you, it’s important to go over one final thing: there is no perfect product. We search to find brands that check as many of our boxes as possible, and hope to provide our customers with “best in class” products that are made in ways that are significantly better than the average. We can assure you that for every product on our site, we’ve put in the time and effort to make sure it’s a sustainable option, pioneering the movement towards even better methods and materials.

However, we know that some of you may have a specific value set that makes some of our products more appealing than others. That’s why we offer the option to sort by values, like recycled content, cruelty free, organic, made in the USA, and more.

We also provide sustainability logos to help you identify and understand the eco-features of each item. Found on every product page, these logos make it super easy to see why each product made the cut. From BPI Certified Compostable, to Vegan, to 100% Organic Content, you need only look at the logos to shop with your values.

Made in the USA B Corp USDA Certified Organic Vegan

Have questions about our methodology? We’d love to answer your questions–just comment below!

7 Steps to Ditch Plastic

Every year, Americans throw out 32 million tons of plastic trash–trash that won’t ever biodegrade or disappear, but instead will turn into teeny tiny “microplastics” that can cause a massive slew of environmental problems. While some people say plastic can break down after around 500 years, that still means your plastic fast food straw will stick around for the life of your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, (great!) grandchildren. In addition to the sheer volume of plastic pollution created, these plastics contain dangerous toxins like phthalates, BPAs, and flame retardants that can negatively impact your health, and the planet’s health too.

The negative impacts of plastics start from the very beginning. Almost all traditional plastics are made from non-renewable fossil fuels, such as oil and natural gas, which require intense amounts of energy and releases dangerous toxins when pulled from the earth.

Even at the end of their life, recycling these plastics can be a hazard for workers–and with the Chinese “Green Wall” in place, more and more American recycling centers are unable to sell or utilize any of their recycling, leading to massive buildups of plastic waste, and eventual dumping of recyclables into our landfills to make space. That’s why we suggest you start at the source–cutting out plastic (especially single-use plastics!) from your life one step at a time.

Chico Bag | VITA rePETE shopping bag | EarthHero | 7 Ways to Ditch Plastic Forever

1: Rethink your grocery store trip…

Next time you visit your local grocery, spend a couple of minutes looking around at how much pure waste there is… but also look at how many ways you can reduce your own just by being aware!

Plastic might seem like it’s unavoidable when it comes to food, but hear us out. Looking for peanut butter? Scan the shelves for a glass jar, or bring your own container and try out the bulk PB section (it grinds the peanuts in front of you!) Always go for the pre-portioned salads? Take note of the ingredients and turn to package-free lettuce and bulk cranberries to set you up for multi-meal success! Things to avoid: plastic wrapped pre-cut fruit, pre-portioned snack pouches, and those styrofoam trays holding bacon or chicken (the store butcher will usually use less packaging if you go straight to them!)

Now for the produce bags. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, but those flimsy plastic bags you use for your tomatoes are totally avoidable! While we sell these amazing bags made to keep lettuce crisp and almonds dry, you can always turn to using any old rucksack, or you can turn your old t-shirts into a homemade produce bag!

And, of course, let’s all just say “no” to single-use plastic at checkout. Grocery bags–we’re lookin’ at you! You only use them for about 10 minutes, but every plastic bag that’s been created will last at least another 500 years in the landfill. Even then, they just become microscopic bits that still become a part of the food chain. Keep our future food clean, and turn to reusable bags instead! Not only do they reduce the amount of plastic in your life, but they’re a lot less likely to end up ripping apart and dropping all your groceries, which we love. Let’s face it: do you really need more plastic bags stored under your sink?

Plastic Microbeads | Single Use Plastics | EarthHero | 7 Ways to Ditch Plastic Forever

2: Opt out of plastic microbeads…

Just because you don’t (usually) see microplastics, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. But–what is a microbead you ask? Plastic microbeads are itty bitty plastic pieces, usually two millimeters or less. They usually contain a cocktail of polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) or nylon (aka all plastic). For reasons we don’t quite grasp here at EarthHero, some companies have taken these dangerous microplastic particles and added them to nearly everything. Shampoos, conditioners, face washes, body washes, lotions, lip glosses, nail polishes, toothpastes, and even anti-aging creams and makeups nowadays contain thousands of microbeads that will *never* biodegrade. Yuck. 

Part of the issue is that the very same products that contain these microplastics are also those that come in contact with water the most–like when you hop in the ocean after applying sunscreen, or rinse out your shampoo in the shower. Most wastewater treatment plants are unable to filter out these microscopic plastics, leaving them to build up in our oceans, lakes, and waterways. From there, fish and other marine animals can consume the microplastic pieces, mistaking them for edible fish eggs or plankton. Once those plastic pieces get inside their bodies, the dangerous toxins are absorbed into their tissues–which poses a huge problem if humans later harvest that fish for consumption. This is because microplastics can absorb toxic pollutants such as flame retardants and pesticides, which become “bio-accumulated”, as they get passed up the food chain. Put simply: if a fish consumes a piece of plastic, it might have .5% toxin level. But if a larger fish comes and consumes the fish that already had a toxin level of .5%, the larger fish now bio-accumulates the chemicals, and could have a toxin level of nearly ten times that original amount, or 5%. Bio-accumulation also occurs in humans, so by consuming fish that contains high concentrations of microplastics, we’re setting ourselves up for some crazy chemicals in our bodies.

But, how do you know if microplastics are in your products, and how can you avoid them entirely? Luckily in the USA, the FDA requires products with microbeads in them to have their full ingredients listed. Start by checking the products you already have for these ingredients: polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)–these are all indicators you’ve been tricked into using plastic microbeads!

In 2015, the USA pushed for federal legislation to ban microbeads, and succeeded–setting the stage for other countries worldwide to create similar bans. Despite this ban, there’s still a lot of products out on our planet with microbeads in it, so we suggest you always double check for plastic ingredients, and shop with certified organic companies whenever possible. We’ve broken down 4 of our favorite microbead-free brands here!

Khala Cloths | Plastic Free Nontoxic Food storage | 7 Ways to Ditch Plastic | EarthHero

3: Package your food like a pro…

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, roughly ⅓ of food created for humans to consume is lost or wasted globally–which amounts to 1.3 billion tons each year! In order to reduce this insane amount of food waste, various forms of food storage have popped up, from plastic seran wraps to resealable plastic baggies… but these single-use plastics can be even worse than the food waste they’re trying to prevent.

Simply changing the way you store leftovers, meal prep, and pack school lunches can have a massive impact on the amount of plastic waste your home creates. Tired of restaurants giving you non-recyclable styrofoam tupperwares with your leftovers? Bring your own toxin-free stainless steel container instead. Plastic-y seran wrap getting stuck in a useless ball? Swap it out with reusable (up to a year) beeswax wrap!

While avoiding single-use food packaging outside of the grocery store can seem like a hassle, the first step is simple: put your reusable containers in your car/purse/bike bag/spaceship/whatever takes you from point A to point B. That way, when you’re eating out and about, all you have to do is bring it in with you! When you’re at home, keep your reusable containers clean, organized, and ready-to-go–so if you’re running out of the house you can toss last night’s leftovers in a plastic-free container. By simply planning ahead you can stop hundreds of thousands of pounds of food-storage pollution from heading to our landfills!

Simply Straws Glass Straws | EarthHero | 7 Ways to Ditch Plastic

4: Refuse single-use…

If you’re a fan of following zero-wasters, you might be hit with single-use plastic facts constantly, like the always shocking “500 million plastic straws are used each day.” But how can we change these single-use statistics, before it’s too late? Refusing single-use plastics is one of the easiest, and most impactful, things you can do every single day. From bringing your own water bottle on-the-go, to saying no to plastic samples at the store, and of course bringing your own reusable straw, there’s no shortage of ways to ditch single-use plastics.

Check out our top 7 products to help you go from single-use to reusables here!

tentree sierra crossback romper | EarthHero | 7 Ways to Ditch Plastic

5: Search for plastic in your clothing…

We don’t want to alarm you, but there might be plastic touching you… right… this… moment! That’s right, it could be in your clothes! Synthetic fabrics like polyester, though they offer a unique alternative to growing cotton, contain non-biodegradable microplastics that are quite similar to those found in personal care. With every single wash in the washing machine hundreds of thousands of these little microfibers go down the drain, and due to their size, go past the filters and straight to our waterways and oceans. Much like the story of personal care microbeads, these polyester pieces can become consumed by animals, and can be potentially consumed by us–essentially meaning we’re eating our own pollution.

According to a study by the IUCN, roughly 15%-31% of marine plastic pollution comes from products commonly found in the home, instead of from larger plastic items that break down slowly over time. Additionally, they calculate that 35% of that above microplastic pollution comes from synthetic textiles–with hundreds of pounds of microplastics funneling into our oceans each week, globally. This number is so shocking, it can make you want to never buy clothes again! Trust us, keep your clothes on… just shop microplastic-free with ethical companies that use natural materials like hemp or organic cotton!

EarthHero | BioBag Plant Based Plastic | 7 Steps to Ditch Plastic

6: As a last resort, switch to recycled content, biodegradable or plant-based “plastics”…

Do you know what happens to your used plastic garbage bags after you use them? Or the thin seran wrap film that keeps your produce fresh? What about those tricky plastic products labeled with the recycling symbol “#7 Other” (what does that even mean!)?

Just because something is plastic, doesn’t mean it can be recycled–in fact, most plastics films end up in our landfills, where they will stay for centuries without truly degrading or composting. And if they do degrade, we learned above that they can degrade into dangerous microplastics that can travel through waterways, and into the bellies and habitats of various animals.

Don’t panic: there’s tons of awesome companies out there finding innovative ways to make things that look, feel, and act like plastic–without all the fossil fuels, chemicals, and health-disrupting additives that classic plastics contain. Because the truth is, for some things, we haven’t found a better way to do it for certain situations (doggy poo bags, we’re looking at you!) without giving up something important. From biodegradable trash bags made from plant resins, to plant-based toothbrush bristles, and even non-toxic children’s building blocks made from sugarcane resin, “bioplastics” are sweeping the eco-industry. Our final verdict? Compostable and biodegradable bioplastics are awesome when they’re produced the right way… but we always recommend you look for a plastic-free or reusable option first before making the switch.

We include recycled content plastic here because we think it’s a step in the right direction towards a circular economy and away from a single-use plastic system. There’s tons of plastic on our planet that we’re going to need to find something to do with… so recycling and upcycling it into new, usable products can add more value to its (often short) lifespan!

Compostable Tampons | Tampon Tribe | EarthHero | 7 Steps to Ditch Plastic

7: De-plastic your personal hygiene…

Did you know that menstruating Americans use 7 billion single-use plastic tampons and 12 billion pads every year? From raw materials to production to packaging, these necessary hygiene and care products create a huge environmental impact–polluting our landfills, waterways, and even our bodies. Our motto is: if you wouldn’t want to put it in a landfill, you definitely shouldn’t be putting it in your body.

There’s three ways most people discard of their plastic tampons–in the trash, recycling (aka the trash–you can’t recycle those), or the toilet (aka also the trash). Out of all of these options, flushing is by far the worst. In 2009 alone, The Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup Project found 20,000 tampon applicators out of the 4 million pieces of plastic waste they collected. These 20,000 applicators will take 25 years or more to break down once they reach the ocean, that is, if they aren’t eaten by marine life who think they’re a tasty snack! Beyond the environmental impacts, flushing your tampon itself can break your plumbing, since cotton can grow to over 15x its original size in water, and take at least 6 months to biodegrade. So, even if the sustainable swaps we suggest aren’t for you–whatever you do, do not flush it!

When it comes to recycling tampon applicators, what you’re really doing is just adding another step before it ends up in the trash. Most recycling facilities can’t recognize and sort pieces of plastic the size of tampon applicators, so they end up either contaminating other recycled materials, or headed to the landfill anyways. So, if you’re still using traditional plastic tampons, save the folks at your recycling some time and energy by simply throwing that applicator away!

Beyond the mess of pollution and waste that traditional personal care can create, there’s also a number of serious health impacts correlated with most tampons. Those perfumed and scented tampons aren’t actually infused with rainbows, flowers, and pixie dust–but rather dangerous chemicals that shouldn’t be in any product, much less one that goes there. When you use scented tampons, you’re actually killing the beneficial bacteria down there, allowing bad bacteria to overgrow and cause serious issues like bacterial vaginosis and toxic shock syndrome (ew!) Your time of the month is how your body cleans itself, so let it do its natural thing!

Now that we’ve talked about how not to handle your period, let’s dive into all the amazing, innovative ways you can celebrate your body, and the planet during this time of the month. Whether your jam is compostable tampons, non-applicator tampons, a DivaCup, plastic-free cloth or cotton pads, or even a specially designed sea sponge, by not purchasing plastic packaged tampons you’re reducing the 300 pounds of feminine hygiene products that person can create in a lifetime! Check out our time-of-the-month go-to, Tampon Tribe, here! 

How have you permanently ditched plastics in your life? Comment below!

 

10 Tips to Buy in Bulk

How to Buy in Bulk (and save money doing it!)

Bulk shopping: it’s all about saving money and reducing plastic packaging. But, if it’s done the wrong way, it can end up costing you twice as much and creating just as much waste! From using PLU numbers, to understanding price-per-unit, we’re breaking down how to get some serious bulk bargains on everything from everyday food to specialty essential oils.

According to the Bulk is Green Council, buying in bulk at the grocery store can save you up to 89% compared to purchasing plastic packaged foods. You may not realize it, but you’re paying for all that fancy packaging! And, on top of the savings you’ll see at checkout, most popular bulk food stores have a quick food turnover, leaving you with fresher grains, and an overall fresher meal. Things like spices, which can be pretty pricey and lose flavor over time, can be cheaper and fresher if you can find them in bulk. Plus, there’s often plenty or exciting options in the bulk aisle that can help you get creative in the kitchen! While your pre-packaged grain section may just have your classic jasmine rice and white rice, it’s common to find unique alternatives in the bulk section–think bamboo rice, volcanic rice, black barley, and more!

So now that you know why… let’s tackle how. Bulk shopping can be super easy with the right tools, knowledge, and practice!

How to Buy in Bulk | EarthHero

1. Stay Organized: 

A successful bulk run starts with proper planning. Keep a “bulk shopping” notebook, where you track what you’re purchasing, meal planning, food budgeting, and more! Don’t have your recycled paper notepad handy? Use your camera-phone to take photos of the shelf tags of bulk food so you can remember the price per pound, and then compare prices to get the best deal! Using your phone is also great for some simple reasons–like keeping a grocery list, or looking up recipes.

 

10 Tips to Buy in Bulk | EarthHero | Produce Bags

2. BYOB (Bring Your Own Bags!): 

From produce bags to mason jars, there’s no shortage of plastic-free ways to buy in bulk. Plan ahead: what do you plan on getting at the store, and what kind of bag or bin would be best to take it home in? If you’re getting grains, lightweight produce bags are an awesome option. For cheese from the cheesemonger we love non-toxic stainless steel, while liquids like olive oil or vinegar tend to do best in a leak-proof mason jar or recycled plastic container.

 

10 Tips to Buy in Bullk | EarthHero | PLU

3. Price-per-unit: 

One of the goals of bulk shopping is to save some cash, but if you misread the cost-per-unit, it can end up getting pricey. To calculate correctly, make sure you really understand what that price means. The “unit” is the amount of a product you’re getting, usually in pounds or ounces, depending on what you’re buying. Use the nearby scales to weigh as you go, putting in one scoop of food at a time so that you only get as many “units” as you need. To get your price, multiply the number of units by the price-per-unit, and wah-lah, that’s the cost! Luckily, most markets (even traditional grocery stores) show the “price per pound” or “price per ounce” right on the price tag. 

 

10 Tips to Buy in Bulk | EarthHero

4. Read Carefully: 

At larger bulk stores, the label will tell you if that bulk product is organic, where it was grown or produced, and occasionally what company produced it. Just because it’s available in bulk, doesn’t always mean its a certified organic product, or GMO-free. Cookies, candies, and sweets are usually still those classic, sugary treats you love, just in earth-friendly plastic-free packaging! Make sure to read the label, carefully, to ensure you know what you’re buying (before you scoop out a few pounds of it!)

 

10 Tips to Buy in Bulk | EarthHero | Refill revolution

5. PLU – Learn it, Love it, Use it: 

Most bulk stores, whether it be food, personal care, or cleaning products, will have a PLU (aka Price Look-Up Code) number. The clerk will need this PLU number when you checkout, so make sure to jot it down in a visible spot on the bag, label, or twist-tie. Some bulk storage products even come with a handy-dandy spot to add your PLU number! Bonus points if you bring an oil pencil or permanent marker to avoid extra stickers or ties. Writing down your PLU codes gets you in-and-out of the checkout lane faster, and makes ringing you up a little easier on the clerk. Keep in mind, if you’re buying multiple types of one product (like multiple types of rice), you may want to add the item’s name with the PLU. Varieties of flour, soap, and nuts can end up all looking the same when you get home if you’re not careful!

 

10 Tips to Shop in Bulk | EarthHero | Tare Weight

6. Take it One Pound at a Time: 

Unless you’re only able to make it to your bulk store a few times a year, only get as much food as you could actually eat in a certain time frame. Even though most bulk items keep pretty well–things can still go rancid or end up with bugs if you’re not careful, and there’s nothing worse than tossing the 5 pounds of cashews that you wanted to stock up on! As you get used to shopping in bulk, it’ll start feeling more natural to guesstimate serving sizes. We all know a handful of uncooked pasta can look like the perfect portion, then end up being way too much! So, take it slow, get only what you need (and like!), and start making mental notes of how much your family actually eats.

 

How to Buy in Bulk | earthHero | Whole Foods Bulk Section

7. Keep an Eye Out: 

Tons of bulk stores, or sometimes even your local large grocery stores, have useful take-home information in their bulk sections, from recipes, to DIY personal care, and even deals and coupons on more bulk items! Grab what you need, and keep them in your planning notebook at home for future use. Keep in mind, you won’t automatically have cooking instructions like you would on packaged grains or pastas, so you’ll need to figure out cooking times on your own. Don’t know how long your jasmine rice takes to cook? Just do a quick search–the internet can be super helpful!

 

EarthHero | How to buy in bulk | Meal and grocery planning

8. Plan your Pantry: 

If you’re anything like us, you’ve seen tons of perfectly planned pantries on Instagram, with rows of spotless mason jars filled to the brim with package-free snacks and goodies. While it looks absolutely adorable, there’s also a practical purpose behind this bulk trick! While reusable produce bags and stainless steel cans are great for buying in bulk, they’re not the best for storage (unless you’re fine not seeing what’s inside). Save and re-use the non-bulk food jars you have, and label and date them when you fill them with bulk, so you know exactly what’s in each jar, and when it’ll go bad. There’s no need to spend money on new jars when you can salvage them from salsas, pasta sauces, and jams of weeks past! Sometimes it’s helpful to use sticker labels so that you can reuse your jars for different items. Pro tip: to get those pesky old labels off your glass jars (and make them totally Pinterest ready!), soak them in warm water and soap, using a scrubbie or your fingernail to pull away the sticker. 

 

10 Tips to Buy in Bulk | earthHero | Mason Jars

9. Research First: 

Did you know that nearly any whole-grain flour, as well as seeds and nuts, will keep longer in the fridge or freezer than in the pantry? Or, if your pantry shelves are exposed to light, you should get opaque storage containers instead of glass to protect your food from being damaged? A little research can go a long way in learning what items should be stored whree. While it may seem like added work, there’s always resources out there to make shopping in bulk a breeze. Once you get the hang of it, it’ll feel like second nature.

 

10 Tips to Buy in Bulk | EarthHero | Mason Jar Bulk

10. Do What You Can: 

If you live in a rural area, or even some cities, it may be pretty hard to find a bulk food store, much less non-food bulk products like laundry detergent or essential oils! Don’t fret–there’s still a bunch of ways you can reduce the amount of plastic you take home from the grocery. Opt for things without plastic packaging whenever possible, like whole fruit instead of pre-sliced fruit in plastic bins, or glass jars instead of plastic jars. Or, if you have a few staples you know you’ll go through quickly, buy them in larger family size packages to cut down on overall packaging.  This will reduce the amount of recycling, and trash, you create–and give you some awesome empty containers for trying your hand at DIY, saving leftovers, or for the next time you go bulk shopping.

Our favorite way to shop bulk? With local Boulder, Colorado bulk personal care + essential oils store, Refill Revolution! No matter where you live (USA, Canada, and even Great Britain!), you can ship her your empty containers to be filled with some awesome bulk goodies–everything from laundry detergent to eye makeup remover. Plus, you can buy empty glass containers to help your next trip to the bulk grocery store!

Upcycling vs Recycling

Reduce, reuse, recycle, repeat… say hello to upcycling–the manufacturing revolution changing the way we turn wasted materials into amazing new stuff! While both recycling and upcycling reduces the amount of junk that goes to our landfills, upcycling turns that same waste into a product of a higher quality–while recycling slightly decreases the quality of certain materials. Simply put: recycling breaks products down into their raw materials to be made into totally new things, while upcycling creatively repurposes old materials while maintaining some of their original characteristics.

Recycling, Downcycling, Upcycling | EarthHero

Why bother?

“Well, if I recycle, why do I need to upcycle?” Not only does the process of upcycling keep tons of waste from entering our landfills, lakes, and waterways (where they’ll sit for centuries!), it reduces the amount of CO2 entering our atmosphere by making use of old materials instead of extracting resources to create new ones. Believe it or not, for every ton of tossed textiles that get upcycled, 20 tons of CO2 is prevented from entering the atmosphere! Also known as creative repurposing, upcycling is about more than just enjoying a fun DIY–it uses less water, energy, and raw materials to create something new than traditional production.

If you weren’t already itching to try your hand at upcycling, here’s one of the best parts: it will save you money! Instead of buying that expensive trendy new lamp, repurpose old mason jars for an industrial looking chandelier. Have old tee shirts? Cut and sew them into plastic-free produce bags for the grocery store! Or, do you want to use less energy to heat your house? Upcycle old tees into a “draft stopper”, and boom, you just saved money on your energy bill for a grand total of $0. You could also try your hand at sewing old jeans into dog ropes and save money next time you hit the pet store! There’s truly no shortage of wallet-friendly repurposing hacks out there.

At the end of the day, upcycling can be a heck of a lotta’ fun, while helping your wallet–and the planet. From scouring local thrift stores for fun pieces to repurpose, to bringing friends together for an upcycling party, it can be an awesome way to rally your community around sustainability.

How can I do it at home?

Conceptualized in 1994 by Reiner Pilz, the term upcycling is still relatively new. Upcycling refers to a system where “old products are given more value, not less.” From weekend DIY projects to large-scale manufacturing, all upcycling projects start with creativity. Pro tip: there are no mistakes when trying your hand at upcycling, only valuable lessons learned. After some practice, you’ll start seeing innovative products hiding within what others would consider junk everywhere you go! We break down our top upcycling tips below:

Step 1: be prepared! This means before you cut, hot-glue, or hammer anything, you need to begin with a plan of action. From the tools you’re gonna use, to your raw upcycled materials, starting with some knowledge under your belt will make the upcycling process go smoothly. It all starts with proper planning!

Toothbrushes repurposed as plant markers!Step 2: get creative. There’s tons of innovative ideas out there, from DIY recipes, to zero waste challenges and tips. Use your imagination, and don’t let the intended use of an item discourage you from transforming it into something totally different and unique! Feeling stuck? There’s Pinterest boards, groups, and tons of resources (like this one!) for upcycling inspiration.

Step 3: reach out to your community! Before you toss away something in good condition that could be upcycled, first reach out to your local or online communities and see if anyone has a way to repurpose the item, or would like you to send it to them so they can use it! Many local stores and businesses will accept certain items–for example, most animal shelters accept towels with holes in them to upcycle into dog beds and toys.

Why we love upcycling!

Do-it-yourself not your thing? You’re in luck. There’s a ton of awesome brands taking upcycling into their own hands, and making some seriously awesome stuff while at it. Check out some of the awesome conscious companies we’re proud to have in the EarthHero family below!

Alchemy Goods | Upcycling vs Recycling | EarthHero

Alchemy Goods

In 2003, product engineer and bike rider Eli Reich had his messenger bag stolen, and decided to try his hand at making a new one out of a material he happened to have a ton of–used bicycle inner tubes. The result was a easy-travel bag that was durable, water-resistant, and ruggedly stylish. Beginning small in Seattle, Alchemy Goods quickly took off, and began to reach out to bike shops across the US to keep up with demand. To date, these uniquely upcycled bike bags have kept over 425,000 bike tubes out of our landfills!

Chop Value | Upcycling vs Recycling | EarthHero

Chop Value

Asian food is amazing. The single-use chopsticks that you get every time you eat it–not so much. In Vancouver, Canada alone, a whopping 100,000 bamboo chopsticks are tossed every single day throughout 2,000 restaurants. This inspired German native Felix Böck to launch Chop Value, a company that repurposes bamboo chopsticks into innovative home products and yoga blocks. In just two years, they’ve transformed over 2.5 million chopsticks into beautiful long lasting decor.

Flowfold Wallet | Upcycling vs Recycling | EarthHero

Flowfold

Charley Friedman was working on a sailboat off the coast of Maine in 2005 when his old leather wallet fell to pieces. Inspired by the sailcloth he found around the docks, he crafted himself a simple wallet that was water-resistant, durable, and eco-friendly. From there, Flowfold was born! From repurposed sailcloth wallets, to discarded climbing rope dog leashes, they’ve worked for the last decade to find materials and production methods that reduce waste, use less energy, and create the smallest impact on the planet.

Green Guru | Upcycling vs Recycling | EarthHero

Green Guru

What do wetsuits, bike tires, and old yoga mats all have in common? They’re the upcycled materials that make up Green Guru’s line of handmade vegan products. Founded just a few miles away from the EarthHero office in Boulder, Colorado, Green Guru has teamed up with outdoor companies and customers nationwide to take back everything from used bike tires to nylon factory scraps. To date, they’ve prevented over 500,000 pounds of waste from entering our landfills!

Indosole Shoes | Upcycling vs Recycling | EarthHero

Indosole

In the USA alone, 300 million tires are disposed of annually, staying in our landfills for centuries, where they can pose fire risks or become bug breeding grounds (yuck!). Indosole is on a mission to change the course with their responsibly made flip flops, created from upcycled tire soles with a touch of natural rubber. Sustainably crafted without any animal products or fuel powered machinery, these kicks are ready to hit the road.

Osom Socks | Upcycled vs Recycled | EarthHero

Osom Brand

Did you know that the fast fashion industry is the second biggest polluter on the planet, right behind the oil industry? Osom Brand combats textile pollution with their upcycled socks, made from clothing scraps that are upcycled without chemicals, dyes, or toxic fabric treatments. Their ultimate goal is to “close the loop” to a circular economy, keeping textiles out of the trash by repurposing them into new things whenever possible. Awesome work, Osom!

 

At the end of the day, there’s no shortage of creative ways you can bring upcycling into your life, from shopping with brands that upcycle materials, to trying your hand at it with what you already have available!

Rethinking Recycling

It’s no secret that recycling can be a little confusing…to say the least. From following guidelines that differ not only from one town to the other, but that also depend on what waste hauler you’re using–recycling properly can take a little bit of research. That’s why, to fully kick off our “Journey to Recycling June”, the EarthHero team took a trip to Boulder, Colorado’s “Recycle Row”.

What’s Recycle Row, you say? The City of Boulder conveniently placed all of its recycling infrastructure in one place. To take the next step on our own recycling education, we toured two of these locations–the Boulder County Recycling Center (BCRC), and the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM).

We’d like to give a big thanks to Eco-Cycle for running the BCRC and CHaRM Facilities, and for leading the charge in working to transition Boulder to a Zero Waste city!

Needless to say, we got the dirt on all things recycling. While it’s easy to simply toss things in your blue bin and forget about it, there’s so much more that goes into turning our trash into brand new treasures. Here’s the EarthHero team with the breakdown:

Not-so-fun Facts with Juliet

I’ll be honest, until recently, I was what some would call a “wishful recycler”. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably hoped that recycling is as simple as throwing anything and (almost) everything paper or plastic into the bin, and walking away guilt-free. News flash: recycling doesn’t work that way, and there’s a lot more to it than you might think.

From what to do with paper towels (they’re paper, right?) to the age old “to crush, or not to crush” aluminum can debate, I had so much to say that this quickly turned into its own post. Lucky for you, you can read my full report of the 7 Surprising Things You Can’t Recycle Curbside! We’ve tried our best to chose tips that are applicable to most recycling centers, but as always, we recommend you do a little research into your local recycling guidelines. Your local recycling center, and the planet, will thank you!

Hard-to-Recycle with Hannah

Visiting the BCRC and CHaRM, I already had a good idea about what goes into recycling the little things. I try to do my best to sort everything properly, and only recycle what actually can be recycled. What I was missing, however, was understanding the impact of some of the larger items–which just happen to be the ones that cause the biggest landfill issues! My biggest takeaway from this experience was actually what to do with all of the stuff that normal recycling centers can’t take.

Recycling the big stuff

Refrigerators

When you think of recycling, do you think of your refrigerator? Probably not, but check this out! I learned recently from our friends and Project Drawdown that properly disposing of refrigerants (think: anything that’s used to keep things cold) is the #1 way to cut down on greenhouse gases. In fact, HFC’s (the main cooling culprit) has the capacity to warm the atmosphere 1,000 to 9,000 times more than carbon dioxide.

Now, we’re lucky to have CHaRM (Center for Hard to Recycle Materials) nearby, where we can recycle these more difficult items, but I know it’s not that simple everywhere. That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible, though! Try one of these if you’re looking to responsibly get rid of a large appliance:

  • Call up your local energy utility services to see if they offer an appliance recycling program!
  • Ask your waste management service if they offer large appliance pick-up and recycling.
  • Seek out a scrap metal recycler nearby! These facilities often have the ability to correctly recycle those cooling chemicals.
  • Many retailers will pick up your old refrigerators when you buy a new one–just ask them to make sure it will be properly recycled.

Mattresses

The awesome part about mattresses is that they have so many reusable materials. When sent to the landfill, however, that wealth of materials can backfire–think about taking up a ton of space! In the US, we dispose of about 20 million mattresses annually. That takes up to 132,000 square miles in the landfill! On average, 85% of what makes up your traditional mattress is recyclable (from the foam to the fabric to the spring!) Next time you’re upgrading your mattress, think about where you’re sending your old one.

What you can do:

  • Like appliances, retailers will typically pick up your old mattress when they bring you a new one! Just ask them to make sure it’s being properly recycled.
  • Call your local waste management center and see if they have a mattress recycling program.
  • Call your local thrift store and see if they offer mattress recycling.

Becki’s Breakdown

For me, this tour of the BCRC and ChaRM was special. Before EarthHero, I worked for Eco-Cycle, the incredible non-profit recycler that runs both the BCRC and CHaRM facilities that we toured. Throughout my time at Eco-Cycle, I worked within the community to educate others about our local recycling guidelines, and how our ability to process waste is largely dependent on the types of equipment that are available to us. The amount of times I had to explain to someone that their perfectly clean, #1 plastic container was not going to be recovered by our facility was, frankly, disheartening.

Technology to the rescue!

This time around, the tour symbolized how a community can mobilize and make big changes in the way we process waste. The BCRC had just undergone a huge upgrade, receiving two optical sorters to help more efficiently process materials. Funded in part by the Boulder County Recycling Tax, this upgrade was possible because our residents rose their hands and agreed that supporting recycling infrastructure is important to them. Now, the amount of aluminum we can recover rose by 90%, and many new shapes and types of plastics can be recovered and recycled properly. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is!

Recycling: the end destination

In the world of recycling, there’s another topic looming over the conversation: China. As some of you may know, The US exports approximately ⅓ of its total recyclable material, with nearly half of that heading to China. However, China has recently banned dozens of types of foreign recyclables from entering the country, causing a huge commotion for American recycling centers. Rumor has it that our recyclables are too contaminated, so the processing is more expensive and results in a lower quality product. We’ve heard a lot of people wondering what that means for their recyclable materials–are they just being “thrown out”?

Luckily, we’ve learned that the BCRC has created many local partnerships that can take our recyclables directly, so the materials being collected in Boulder County aren’t being trashed. Phew! However, we know not all cities will be so lucky, so we wanted to provide some advice on what you can do if your town’s recyclables are piling up.

  • This one’s obvious. Reduce, reduce reduce! When you’re grocery shopping, you can find a ton of products in reusable glass containers, or utilize reusable produce bags to cut down on unnecessary food packaging. We don’t want to sound like a broken record, but never underestimate the waste you can reduce by investing in reusable straws, coffee mugs, water bottles, utensils, and food containers.
  • Find alternative places to recycle the tricky stuff. EarthHero has recently teamed up with TerraCycle, who’s doing incredible things in the world of recycling. Their motto, which is literally “Recycle Everything”, leads them to find recycling solutions for everything from electronics, to sports equipment, to toothpaste tubes. If you have a collection of empty face wash containers, toothpaste tubes, and other empty personal care items, you can send to to EarthHero and we’ll recycle it with TerraCycle! We also have a collection of their Zero Waste Box recycling solutions available here!
  • Buy products made from recycled content (say it again for the people in the back!). Seriously, the final step in the recycling process is using collected materials to create something new. So, if you’re not buying anything made with recycled content, you’re not really participating in the full recycling process. We need to create a market for recycled materials, or this build up of unusable waste will just get worse, and that’s the last thing we need.

Ryan’s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

In my efforts to stay educated on local sustainability issues, I’ve toured the local recycling center multiple times, and this time, my reaction was no different. Each time I’ve visited and viewed the continuous stream of human designed trash flying in all directions at dizzying speeds, I have mixed emotions. On one hand, it’s amazing to see so much material being diverted from the landfill and on its way to becoming new products. However, the dominant feeling is one of sadness. How did we get to this point of having so.much.stuff? How is it possible that this much material is being processed (and wasted) all over the world, every day? While recycling is certainly a massive and necessary band-aid for our consumption habits, it’s definitely not the only answer.

There are proven ways to make and consume products better, and it’s time for them to become the new normal. We’re in desperate need of a paradigm shift–we buy and consume too many things that are literally designed to end up in the landfill. Think about all the one-time use trash we generate. From food packaging, to coffee cups, to water bottles, straws, utensils, etc.

It’s moments like this that reassure me that we’re on the right path with EarthHero. If we can provide a reliable source for one-time-use replacements and products made from these recycled materials, while supporting companies that are creating products in better, more sustainable ways, we can be part of the shift towards a more sustainable future.