environmentalism

Product Review – S’well Bottle

Featured Image from Business Insider – (http://www.businessinsider.com/swell-water-bottle-ceo-sarah-kauss-2016-6)

After skimming past an advertisement for S’well reusable bottles, I decided to check out their website and do some more research. I mention them in a previous post, but I really wanted to highlight the benefits of this bottle and discuss their background a little more.

These aluminum bottles come in three different size options: 9 oz, 17 oz, and 25 oz (which holds a whole bottle of wine, as many of my friends have tested out and they state on their website). The bottles are also insulated to keep the temperature of your drink consistent for 12 hours (hot drinks will stay warm for 12, cold drinks stay cool for 24). So far, I have found no discrepancy in that claim. I have had iced tea in the bottle, poured from the fridge in the morning and kept at room temperature while I am studying or writing blog posts, but when I drank it later that night it was still absolutely refreshing. Same goes for warmer drinks; a couple mornings ago I ran my hot test with my annual bottle of coffee for the first day of classes. Not only was my coffee still warm by the end of my school day (6 hours later), but the interior temperature does not impact the exterior of the bottle. Long story short, my boiling hot coffee did not burn my hand while I held the bottle. A+ for temperature control.

Nalgenes have been a trendy reusable source, and they are really practical too. What almost all other bottles on the market lack are the unique and eye-catching designs S’well has for their bottles. Personally, I have the 17 oz Resort Waikiki print and I love it; it’s the print I saw advertised that initially got me into S’well in the first place. Isn’t it cute?

rewa-17-b16---updated.jpg

So environmentally speaking, obviously S’well eliminates the need for plastic bottles for cold drinks, and any styrofoam or other not eco-friendly beverage vessels. They are also BPA free, so they are you-friendly too! The company is owned by a woman who wanted to eliminate plastic bottles from everyday use, and is one of the largest growing woman-owned companies in the United States today. Not only does the purchase of one of these bottles directly help you on your quest to be more environmentally-friendly, but proceeds from S’well purchases also are donated to different charities and organizations. The list of charities include UNICEF, American Forests, and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. For more information about their donations and mission, you can check out this link: https://www.swellbottle.com/stories/about-us/ .

The only downfall with these bottles is they are a little on the pricey end. I have a reusable water bottle (BPA free) with no kind of thermal regulation and I got it on Amazon for about 1/4 of what I paid for my S’well. S’well does give you free shipping with every purchase however, and I am almost certain this bottle will outlast any of my other reusable ones. So all in all, I do think the cost is worth it, especially when you consider that your purchase is going to be giving back to a handful of good causes.

So, based on the designs, the convenience and the donation factor, I recommend these bottles to anyone looking either for a new travel drink container, or for someone looking to take steps towards a more sustainable life. I’ve seen these bottles at the gym, around campus, and am super glad there is one sitting on my desk next to me right now. Remember, environmentalism does not have to be going straight to a waste-free life and eating organically out of your garden; everyone has access to different resources and different goals, but we all need to have this common goal – help keep our environment healthy.

 

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environmentalism

College & Helping the Environment – Move In Methods and Easy Ways to Help Reduce Environmental Impact

Featured Image from Western Washington University/Huxley College of the Environment – (https://huxley.wwu.edu/thoughts-doings)

Yes, we have all heard of the “3 R” method when it comes to being environmentally friendly: reduce, reuse, recycle. As a college junior who just moved on campus for the first time in her academic career, I was pretty disgusted by the lack of concern people seem to have for keeping the environment in mind during move in. Walking past the huge communal dumpster yesterday and seeing piles of cardboard boxes and paper hanging out the dumpster, hearing the people above me run water for 20+ minutes straight…needless to say, environmentalism is not on the top of every students’ list of ”to-do” after moving in. There are also trash cans provided in both the suites I am living in and the trash rooms for each floor, but no area to dispose of recycling. So far, I have pledged to use the following methods for my “3 R” campus living, and think it is important for everyone to develop some kind of variation on them.

REDUCE: the amount of water you are using during a shower. I understand that it does take a certain amount of water to maintain proper hygiene, but you don’t need 20-30 minutes in the shower before class. If you really feel like you need to spend absurd amount of time in the shower, try turning the water off in between steps (lathering up/shaving your legs, shampooing/conditioning your hair). Fresh water is becoming a limited resource, and we are all personally responsible for helping to properly manage this resource. My boyfriend turns the water off between different steps, and sometimes I do too. When I am not using that method, I created a playlist that I play on my phone for while I’m in the shower that serves two purposes. The first is obviously practicing my awesome shower vocal skills, but the second is to ensure that I do not spend too much time in the shower. My current playlist is set somewhere between 3-5 minutes, and if I plan on taking longer, I make sure I am turning the water off when I don’t need it. I always find deep conditioning and lathering up to shave easier without water running anyway.

REUSE: trash bags and any kind of plastic kitchen materials. I know that in my kitchen trash, there are a ton of things from wrapping and cleaning products (Clorox wipes) from move-in day. There is a perfectly good trash bag in the can, and down the hall in the trash room, there are bigger cans with bigger bags. So my plan is to dump out trash that does not product odor (wrapping, cleaning products, tissues, paper towels) into the bigger trash receptacles, and only switch out trash bags when totally necessary (food waste, hygiene products). Plastic plates and utensils are also fine to be washed and be reused, and will reduce the amount of trash you are making per week.

ELIMINATE (is not an R word but I am adding it): On the topic of kitchens and food, I have seen tons of styrofoam cups and plates being moved in for kitchenette purposes. Styrofoam does not break down and has a huge negative environmental impact, so please take that into consideration during your personal college shopping, but also when you visit Dunkin Donuts for your caffeine needs. They do refill reusable mugs, which are a great investment and a more environmentally-friendly one too. Plastic water bottles should also get cut from your list; get a reusable one and fill it at the cafeteria or the water fountains. A lot of college campuses are adding water bottle refill stations, so it is easier and cheaper to keep reusing one instead of spending money to keep getting a new bottle every time you are thirsty (I recommend S’well; their bottles are good for both hot and cold drinks and come in a ton of cool patterns). Also, don’t litter. I’ve found a ton of plastic cups and bits laying around campus already, surrounded by cigarette butts. It’s disgusting, stop doing it.

RECYCLE: last but not least. Just because a campus does not make recycling convenient does not mean you shouldn’t be doing it. It is super easy to get a trash can for your living space and be putting your paper/plastic/cardboard in there, and finding a way to dispose of it. Most municipalities and campuses have designated recycling cans and areas, so take that extra couple minutes to help make an environmental difference. If there isn’t a recycling initiative on campus, try to get enough support to start one. Every little bit you do helps.

GET INVOLVED (is not an R either): Most schools will have some kind of club that ties in to science themes or environmentalism directly; show up to a meeting and propose ideas that will help benefit not just the sustainability of the campus, but hopefully you and your fellow students, and academia as a whole. Too often are we doing a ton of printing of papers that just get crumpled in the bottom of our backpacks, or not easily having access to recycling instead of a trash can – but students are the collective voice that have the most potential for impact on a campus. Just last year, I wrote a proposal with a few other students to plan a native-plant based pollinator garden on campus. With the right push from my environmental science adviser, that proposal got accepted and funded by the school, and is now being implemented and designed for a ton of areas on campus.

I hope these steps help people reduce their eco-footprint overall. Just because the title applies it to college students does not mean these steps can ONLY be used by students; everyone should adapt their lifestyle to be more environmentally friendly, even if it is one step at a time. To all students out there, have a wonderful and successful semester. To everyone who has read this post, thanks for stopping by.

 

environmentalism

Fake News & the Great Barrier Reef – Why You Should be Validating Stories Before Hitting ‘Share’

Featured image from GreatBarrierReef.org – (http://www.greatbarrierreef.org/about-the-reef/)

I have been tagged in an article from the NY Post on Facebook a billion times. Okay, that number is gross exaggeration, but the article is always the same. The headline reads “Great Barrier Reef dead at 25 million” and it shows up all over my News Feed and Facebook in general ( http://nypost.com/2016/10/14/the-great-barrier-reef-is-dead-at-25-million-years-old/ ). Tons of shares, upset reactions – except all of this response is in vain. News flash: the Great Barrier Reef is not dead yet. Other news flash: sharing posts of false scientific and environmental nature distracts from the real environmental issues at hand, and puts people’s energies into writing angry responses on Facebook instead of actually trying to help the issue.

Let’s talk about the Reef first. Yes, the Reef is dying. Yes, the Reef is dying quickly. The Great Barrier Reef is divided into three sectors, let’s call them A, B, and C. What we do know as of 2016 is that based on climate change and pollution levels, parts A and B of the Reef are almost entirely bleached and are becoming unable to sustain the life that is normal to that part of the Reef. Part C is doing okay; there is some bleaching occurring but most of that section is still able to function. So part of the article in question is true; there is death in the Reef and there is a lot of it. But the idea of the Reef being dead means that we can mourn our loss and get upset, but we should not be mourning. The parts of the Reef that are still alive need our help, or else all the major and credible news sources will be running headlines that do discuss how this great natural wonder has died.

I live in North America, some 10,000 miles away from the Great Barrier Reef. So two of the big questions that now come up are “how can I help from so far away?”, followed by the infamous “how does this impact me?/why should I care?” If the death of hundreds of thousands of species does not bother you, then there are more human-based reasons for concern of losing the Reef. The Great Barrier Reef acts as a home and migratory ground for key parts of the food chain, including species that we rely on as huge food sources. What many people fail to see is how everything is connected. Take sharks for instance; we are scared of the ones that are able to do us harm. When these sharks cause harm to humans, most of the time due to not being able to differ a human from a true prey source, some humans find it necessary to wish death or actually try killing these sharks. Without sharks, the entire marine food web would be thrown off, and we do rely on the oceans for more than just pleasure and food. Coral species native to the Reef have been used in the medical fields to help develop and research compounds to treat all kinds of health issues, from epilepsy to cancer.

So how do we help? First, we recognize that climate change is a real issue, and we start acting in ways that will help reduce the carbon footprint. In the United States, we have a president who is…uneducated and mindless on issues that are not the size of his hands or his social media ego, but that should not stop us, and everyone around the world, from acting. Climate change is a huge issues to tackle, but there are steps that you and the people around you can take to help. A couple easy ways are to eat less meat, rely less on automotive transport or carpool, switch to LED from halogen bulbs…there are many more ways out there and all it requires is a search engine to get started. I do provide some links for suggested methods at the end of the article.

Second, we stop polluting the oceans. Start using more ocean-friendly sunscreens when you go swimming or diving in the ocean, or switch over to SPF swimwear (see my recent post about Summer Skin Care). Stream 2 Sea has also just released a sunscreen line that has been tested and proven to not cause any harm to aquatic and marine life; check out their backstory and products at the end of this post.

Thirdly, we start acting. Start reading articles about what is actually happening with the Great Barrier Reef. Read the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s page, sign petitions that will be used in credible fashions, even find organizations to donate to. Most importantly, check the sources of articles you are sharing. It takes a quick Google search to plug in ”Great Barrier Reef dead”, and a few more seconds to see the many headlines contradicting that very article. That does not mean there is no cause for concern, it just means that we have more time to act and try to save this environment. I say it many times on this blog, we only get one planet. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the oldest ecosystems on this planet, and because of our negligence, we are at risk of losing it. So yes, share environmental awareness articles, yes, get riled up and angry about the state of the environment. But I have read one too many comments on the death of the Great Barrier Reef and how it is such a loss, but it is not lost, and with all of our help it will not be.

environmentalism

Protecting Yourself and Marine Environments – Summer Skin Care

Featured image from National Geographic – (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/01/080129-sunscreen-coral.html)

Going diving in a reef? Heading in the ocean for a cool down or body surfing? Common summer vacation trends, yet we do not always think about the consequences of our protection measures. The sun and UVA/UVB rays are harmful to skin, no doubt about that. What there is doubt about is whether our vacation habits, whether they be sunscreen or body oil for tanning, are not impacting the ocean when we carry those products in the water with us.

Re-application for any summer skin product, especially sunscreen, means that at some point that product comes off of our skin in the water. Unlike a bathing suit that sometimes slips off in a big wave, or the socks I’ve seen floating in the water, the compounds from these products cannot just be picked out of the water. The chemical components of your coconut oil blend for tanning or your SPF 100+ remain in the water, and are having devastating impacts on marine ecosystems, like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Divers and tourists alike commonly coat themselves in skin protection before diving, which creates a direct pollution source of chemicals being introduced into the water that all of the coral, fish, whales, and endangered species native to that area are then exposed to. These compounds are seen as changing the acidity of the ocean water, which makes it difficult for coral to survive. Their protective algae layer, with enough environmental stress, will eventually die or remove itself from the coral; this strips the coral not only of its protection but of its food source as well, because corals are primary producers that rely on the products of photosynthesis for food. Primary producers also support the rest of the food chain, so needless to say these aquatic environments are in danger.

Reef protection is a whole other conversation, and is a subject worthy of a novel and not a singular blog post. Sun protection, as I have found, is a lot more thorough and easier to manage with wearing of surf clothing and something more than a string bikini. I’m not condemning showing off your beach body, but I am condemning polluting the environment. Rash guards, UVA/UVB guards that are not chemically treated – both of these things offer more protective and reliable sun protection than sunscreen anyway. Studies have also shown that most sunscreens that claim to be above SPF 40 or SPF 50 offer no more protection than basic level sunscreen. If sun protection is something you are concerned about, it is worth considering the switch. I have had multiple skin surgeries due to sun damage from when I was younger, and I am much happier and have had more successful results with a longsleeve surf shirt and shorts than I have had with sunscreen protecting me, even when applied thoroughly. I can also go in the ocean with a clean conscience now as well.

As for the tanners out there, the same goes. Dipping into the ocean after a tanning session may seem wonderful, but at what cost to all the species that frequently habituate the ocean? It’s as easy as taking a quick rinse to get that body oil off before you go in, or maybe try to differentiate your tanning sessions from your swimming or surfing sessions.

The bigger picture here is that when you enter the ocean, you’re entering the home of millions of species. Probably billions. These species have no other place to go, and we are guests to their habitats and environments. If you had a house guest that came in and dumped some kind of chemical there that ruined your food, would you invite them back? Certainly not. The species that live in the ocean have door they can lock, they have no way of keeping us out. So we have to maintain a respectful treatment of their environment while we visit, or else we will be responsible for destroying their homes and the species themselves.

Here are some quick shopping links and informative links. I personally bought my sun gear from Athleta and have not been disappointed with quality at all, so I included the link to their gear. It is a little pricey, so there are some cheaper options out there, and I included an article or two about ocean pollution:

 

environmentalism

GMOs – greatly monocultured obstinance

Featured image from Earth Justice – (http://earthjustice.org/features/engineering-an-environmental-disaster-2)

The dreaded GMO, or genetically modified organism.

Cause of high debate levels and discord among the trending vegan or environmental movements, scientists, and consumers alike. Working in retail in a bath & beauty shop, I cannot count how many times I get asked these questions in succession: “Are your products organic?” followed by “are your products GMO free?”

I believe the argument against GMOs in terms of health and human welfare are largely formed without any literature, any research, and any background. There is no evidence or research that proves that consuming or relying on GMOs as a food source or in your everyday healthcare or beauty products will cause any kind of harm. The strains of fruits and vegetables that we eat every day are in some way, shape or form GMOs. In order to get certain crops to survive in new climates or against invasive pests, their genetic structures have to be modified. If you use cotton or flax, eat tomatoes, or smoke/chew tobacco – guess what? It’s been genetically modified at some point in its existence. Most crops in the United States have been at some point or another, and there is still no linkage of health issues to what we have been eating. There is more literature on how meat consumption is linked to health issues, so before you hoist the ”anti-GMO” flag for health concerns, maybe consider switching around health priorities.

The argument against GMOs and in terms of the environment however, is a different story. With certain crops or plants, GMOs are considered necessary in order for the strain to survive without using pesticides or insecticides. This leaves herbicides, or the chemicals used to destroy “weeds”, that are then used to create what we have been taught is the perfect agricultural situation. Herbicides cause immediate damage to the environment around them by killing pollinators and then getting left behind in the soil. Chemicals in the soil then become part of the water cycle through runoff and cause damage to aquatic ecosystems. So really the focus against GMOs should primarily be how they contribute to harm in all ecosystems, not that we may get cancer from it. One of these is proven to be true, one of this is entirely hearsay.

A large part of the cause for the bee population decline is due to pesticide and herbicide usage, yet humans are more concerned about non-existent health issues from genetic modification. Monarch butterflies accidentally ingest herbicides and pesticides and are dying off at exponential rates; this species is at risk for extinction. Another issue for that population is that native milkweed (NOT tropical milkweed) is considered a weed to humans because it is not pretty colors or elaborate in its leaf patterns, so we automatically get rid of it. This plant is necessary for the monarch’s growth and life cycle; the plant has compounds in it that help the larvae form the exoskeleton of the butterfly. How should these insects, and vital parts of our environment, feel when we are raising a ruckus about a non-existent problem, but then destroy their habitats and food and spray them with chemicals for our own benefit?

This debate is a prime example of humans picking up an environmental cause for human concern and not the bigger issue: the environmental concern. I am definitely pro-GMO for human consumption because there is no reason to fear them. I am definitely anti-GMO for what it does to the world around me. The greater lesson here is to fight for a cause for something more than yourself, and seriously do research before you stick a bunch of bumper stickers on your car and talk about how you’re so anti-GMO. Be anti-GMO for the right reasons, not the non-existent ones.

Articles for further reading that come from credible sources (which is highly important in this argument):

environmentalism

Palm Oil Consumption – Orangutans or Oreos?

Featured image from National Geographic -(http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/10/141009-orangutans-palm-oil-malaysia-indonesia-tigers-rhinos/)

 

Let’s take a trip to the grocery store. An average shopper looks for the typical vegetables and fruits, main course ingredients, dessert, and snack food. Let’s fill up our cart: bean burgers, lettuce, orange juice, maybe some Halo Top ice cream that has a high protein content, certain snack food products like Oreos and Cheez-Its…all of these easily make their way into our carts. Maybe we browse the ingredient content, maybe we do not. There are ingredients people actively look to avoid, like high fructose corn syrup or a really high sugar content, because of personal health concerns and what it does to our bodies. What we do not always take into consideration is how that specific product impacts the environment or other animals on this planet. That Halo Top we put in our cart earlier, those Oreos and those Cheez-Its, they all contain one ingredient that hurts not only the environment, but our relatives the orangutans as well: Palm oil.

Also known as Palm Kernel oil, this ingredient is not only used in the food industry, but also personal care and beauty products. All of the ones I use are handmade and produce their sources, so there are not any I have a specific list of at the moment. In food, it is used as a vegetable oil for cooking, and sometimes for flavor benefits. Big commercial companies often exploit poorer countries (i.e. Indonesia), where people are willing to burn down the rainforests and destroy habitats in order to plant African oil palm trees, which are the parent plant of the palm fruit. The technique most commonly used to approach clearing the land is called slash and burn agriculture, where forests are set on fire and then the debris is cleared and the desired crop is planted. These smoke emissions also contribute to air pollution and climate change, especially when it is hundred of acres burning for days.

The word “orangutan” means “person of the forest,” so naturally this forest clearing is a huge issue for these species. These animals can live anywhere from 30 to 40 years in the wild, and are native to Sumatra and Borneo, both of which are being cleared for palm oil plantations. There are two species of orangutan, both named for their native regions, and both considered “endangered” or “critically endangered.” A critically endangered species is one that scientists declare at risk of extinction in the near future, while endangered species are slightly better off. So to summarize, these magnificent creatures are at risk of survival because we as humans are not using ethical sources for our ingredients, nor are we taking the time to educate ourselves about the world around us.

Humans tend to think that because we are at the top of the food chain that our actions are condoned, even when it is killing off other species. This is false. Even though not all of us share an environment directly with orangutans, we are responsible for supporting the industries and companies that are fueling their loss of homes and their deaths.

So what do we do? We STOP supporting companies who refuse to investigate where their palm oil is coming from and ones that refuse to switch to more ethical sources. We petition and write to companies whose products we love to make these concerns heard. We do support companies who take the time to source their palm oil ethically, and in some cases, we look for other products. Personally, I prefer Ben & Jerry’s to Halo Top anyway. Many corporations are taking note of customer concerns involving the environment lately, and that means now is the time to make your voice heard and take a stand for those who do not have a voice in our economy, and who are at risk to lose their voice in our environment.

The following links are ones that discuss what companies are using palm oil, which are using ethically sourced, and what consumers should be looking for to ensure that their palm oil products are not responsible for any deaths.

environmentalism · vegetarianism

Why Am I Not a Vegan?

[I promise that all of the posts this blog produces will not entirely follow diet trends]

As of right now,  I’ve given up my leather products, meat, any animal cruelty cosmetics and body care products, invested in reusable water bottles, and recycle constantly. I also make sure I stay on top of reading and learning about environmental issues, and trying to communicate them to other people.

After so many ooh’s and ah’s about the length of my vegetarianism, there have been people who definitely treat me as if I am half-assing my activism, and take the time to ask me why I am not a vegan, or if I have tried it, or if I have switched to that diet. Sometimes condescendingly, sometimes not condescendingly. I didn’t really have an answer at the time, so figured it was something worth looking into. Aside from it being a relatively expensive lifestyle choice, I wanted to do research. Could I healthily and eco-consciously make the switch? I spent hours upon hours of reading, product browsing, and weighing the benefits against my current vegetarian status.

So here is my answer. As an environmentally-minded person, I believe vegetarianism is the better solution for a healthy planet. Veganism relies heavily on soy-based product and substitution, and increased need for those crops fuels deforestation. Soy is also a crop that destroys the nutrient and mineral composition of the soil, so it takes a lot of fertilizer and planting of other crops after the soy has been cleared to restore any semblance of health to the fields. With these two very important factors, I found it unnecessary to switch to veganism to affirm my status as an enviro-activist to please those who consider themselves better than me in the fight for the planet. Do I agree with how a lot of animals in the dairy/egg/etc. industries are treated? No, absolutely not, but I do see animal activism and environmental activism as two separate things. Yes, vegan diets do eliminate the needs for those industries, but what do you sacrifice in return? To me, the current number of natural lands (i.e. the forests being destroyed for soy crops) is already too low and is not something we will see replenished or regrown in my lifetime. The added fertilizer requirements and additions to the soil to re-nourish those fields after soy is cleared also becomes a huge issue in terms of water pollution and how it impacts not just terrestrial ecosystems, but aquatic ones as well.

I’m slightly bitter about the way I’ve been approached by a lot of vegans, and I believe environmental protection is important to everyone, but if someone is doing something good for the planet and you believe you’re doing better, that does not give you the right to put that other person down or make them feel like they’re doing any less than you. We live in a society where the environment is something we see through screens and sometimes forget is a tangible object that we are responsible for and interacting with, whether it be by hiking or driving in a car. There are definitely right and wrong ways of approaching activism, but it all boils down to education, research, and opinion. My opinion is that vegan diets are too heavily based on deforesting crops like soy, and therefore do not do any better in the field of eco-friendliness than being a vegetarian does. There is always room for growth and improvement, there is always room for changing opinion, but right now mine stands as it is. I respect vegans, other vegetarians, people who promote environmental protection without modifying their diet. We are all a part of this earth, and we all should be individually and collectively working to protect it without making enemies and snubbing people because of their diet labels.