What to do with all this plastic?

Plastic Ocean diagram

Last week I talked about how big a problem we have with plastic.  Now that you have spent the week looking around and realising how much plastic we have in our lives, I will discuss some of the simple changes you can achieve that will make a big difference in the world, and your health. First though, I wanted to mention what inspired me to write these articles about plastic.

I have a friend and colleague who undertook a plastic free March challenge.  Her and her husband and 3 young children tried not to bring anything plastic into their home or use any disposable plastic for the whole month.  She posted about their successes and struggles throughout the month.  It was great to see such an encouraging conversation get started with so many people interested in reducing their plastic use.  Although I have known that plastic is an issue, her challenge and the ensuing conversations made me so much more aware of some of the things I buy and has inspired me to try to reduce the amount of plastic I use.  You can check out her website if you would like to read more about some of the lessons she learned from their challenge.

I mentioned the 6Rs last week. Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot.  First, we as a society need to Rethink our plastic and other garbage use.  Do bananas really need to be wrapped in plastic at the grocery store? Are there better ways to make certain products?  Does water need to come in a tiny plastic bottle? Do we need so much stuff? We need to start by questioning the way we currently do things.

Next we need to Refuse.  Refuse to buy things that you don’t need.  Everything produces waste.  I recently learned that each individual piece of clothing at the department store comes wrapped in plastic that a worker then takes off to hang the article on the rack.  Do you really need the $5 t-shirt?  Maybe you do, and that’s ok.  But I just want you to take a moment to think before you buy.

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There are many steps you can take to Reduce and Reuse. Start with taking your own plastic shopping bags. Most of the plastic found in the ocean is broken up single-use plastic bags. Coles and Woolworths (grocery stores in Australia) have already pledged to remove single-use plastic shopping bags from stores. They will both be selling reusable plastic bags for those who forget their own.  Most grocery stores in Canada charge you to use single-use plastic bags. But what about the plastic produce bags? These are even difficult to reuse for much. Although they can be recycled in Australia at a redcycle bin, the best idea is to bring your own reusable one.  I own the onya produce bags and they are fantastic. The other big thing to remember is to bring your reusable shopping bags with you to the shopping centre when you are buying clothes or gifts.  I really like envirosax bags because they roll up and fit in my purse easily.  I also keep one in the car for unscheduled shopping trips.

Take a reusable drink bottle with you … everywhere. Bundanoon was the first town in the world to ban the sale of single-use water bottles, with other cities and universities following.  San Francisco has banned the sale of water bottles on city property. Most popular areas have filtered drinking water stations for filling up your bottle. My mother recently made fun of me asking how many water bottles does one family need.  Well, we are 5 people now and we take them with us everywhere we go so sometimes they get temporarily misplaced.  Having a few extras around is helpful. Reusable water bottles come in all shapes and sizes these days so there is no excuse not to have one or three.

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Use reusable straws. Plastic drinking straws also make up a lot of the plastic found in landfill and the ocean.  There are many options for reusable ones.  I like silicone ones as they don’t break, are easy to clean, and feel the most like a plastic straw with the added benefit that they go back to shape after being bitten by small teeth.  You can also buy glass, metal and bamboo straws. I even saw pasta straws the other day!  If your kids love straws, take a couple in your handbag when you head out to dinner so you don’t have to use the plastic single-use straws at the restaurant.

Do you work in an office and get takeaway? Take your own container with you to bring back to the office. This is becoming more common with some restaurant offering a discount if you bring your own container.

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Buy in bulk. Find your local bulk store and head there with your reusable bags.  Many products can be bought online in bulk and delivered to your door.

Other ways that you can Reuse is to wash plastic party plates.  They are advertised as being disposable, but that’s definitely not good for landfill.  I bought a stack for a party years ago and just toss them in the dishwasher when we’re done. If you use ziplock bags, make sure you wash them when you are done and reuse them.  This is such a common practise you can even buy dryer stands on Amazon.

Recycling is still important.  Make sure you rinse your plastic before putting it into the recycling bin.  And as mentioned, any soft plastic can go into a redcycle bin. Equally as important though is buying recycled products.  I mentioned last week that Replas is a company the recycles soft plastic. The concept of recycling only works if people buy the recycled products. Also remember to buy recycled printer cartridges, batteries and paper.  We also need to encourage local councils to put recycling bins in all our local parks and public spaces.

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The last R is for Rot. Any food scraps should be composted.  There are many composting options these days including ones that will fit on apartment balconies. Sutherland Council offers free workshops on composting, worm farming and Bokashi. Toronto, Canada picks up your compost from the curb like garbage. This is great because large scale composting can breakdown almost everything including meat and diapers, which don’t break down in backyard compost bins.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of plastic in our lives.  Just start small with one or two of these suggestions. If we all do a little bit, it will make a big difference.  For more inspiration on how to decrease your use of plastic, check out the film The Clean Bin Project or join a Facebook group such as A Survival Guide for the Plastic World. If you have any ideas you would like to share, please comment on this article.

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Healthy Travel

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Many of us travel from time to time for business or pleasure. No matter where you are going, you don’t want to arrive sick. This can be especially problematic during plane travel as everyone is in a small space with limited air circulation. Here are a few suggestions that can help keep you healthy and rested during flights. I like to keep everything all in a small case that fits in the seat pocket so I can access them at all times.

Vitamin C is great for helping your immune system to function properly. You can take 1 gram every 2 hours while you are flying then take 2-3 grams/day while you are away. If you feel like you are getting sick while away, increase this to 5-6 grams per day. If you get loose stools, decease the dose. Saccharomyces boulardii is a specific strain of probiotic that is great for helping diarrhoea. It doesn’t need to be stored in the fridge so it is easy to travel with. If you have symptoms, take up to 2 capsules, 2x/day. Flying can be stressful not matter what your circumstances and stress does a number on the immune system. Rescue Remedy can be calming as well as help stave off headaches or colds.

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Bring your own water bottle. The occasional small glass of water is not enough, especially for long fights. The air on planes is dry, so you need to drink more than usual. If you are on a flight that is more than a couple hours, take electrolyte tablets with you as plane (get it, plane) water just won’t cut it.  This is especially important if you ever get headaches on the plane.  These are my favourite as they are low in sugar – https://nuunlife.com (I have no affiliation with them, just really like the product). I put half a tablet in the little plastic cups you get on the plane.

A saline nasal spray can also be helpful in such a dry environment. Bugs love dry nasal passages. Keep them moist to ward off getting sick and also to prevent cracking and bleeding. Thyme oil is also great at killing bugs. Put a few drops on a cloth and breathe deeply.

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If you are traveling a long distance it is important to sleep on the plane and adjust to the time change easily. Melatonin can be helpful for this. It occurs naturally in your body to maintain your circadian rhythm, but if you don’t sleep properly your body won’t make enough. Take 1-2 mg as you try to sleep on the plane, and then when you go to bed at your destination. Keep taking each night until you get a good night’s sleep. This can be taken in conjunction with some prescription sleep medication to improve the quality of sleep, but please talk to a naturopath before doing this. It is also helpful to take an eye mask. Bodies like to sleep in the dark, so your sleep will be much better if you wear an eye mask.

Last but certainly not least, exercise! The longer the flight the more important it is. You aren’t expected to stick to your regular fitness routine on a plane, but you want to get up every 1-2 hours to keep your blood circulating and prevent clots. If you can’t get up because the person next to you is sound asleep, you can still keep your blood moving – flex your muscles, starting at your toes and working your way up to your buttocks. Do this 10-15 times every hour to keep your blood moving.

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Here are a few non-health related suggestions from a veteran traveler:

  • Give a photocopy of your ticket and passport to a friend or family member staying at home. You can also scan them both and email them to yourself so that you can get a copy anywhere you go.
  • Arrive early and ask about the seating. If flying economy, the best seats are usually the ones either right behind business class or by the emergency exits as they have more leg room and can sometimes get up without disturbing the person beside you. These are sometimes saved until the day of the flight. Ask at the gate if you can change to a better seat.
  • Put all your carry-on luggage in a small rolling suitcase or a comfortable backpack as you will have to walk far through the airport.
  • Wear comfortable clothes. Even if you have to go to a meeting at the other end, it is nicer to travel in something comfortable, and then you can change either on the plane or before you get your luggage.
  • Take a toothbrush and toothpaste to brush your teeth on the plane
  • Always pack a spare pair of undies and a shirt in your carry-on.  You never know if your luggage will be arriving with you.

If you have any questions about travel, talk to your local naturopath.  Happy travels!

 

 

 

 

Which Toothpaste Do You Use?

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There are so many brands of toothpaste out there advertising different benefits. How do you pick the best one for you? Many natural brands boast being free of certain ingredients. I’m going to discuss these ingredients and whether or not you should be avoiding them.

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a surfactant, meaning that it has one end that grabs onto water and the other grabs onto oil. This helps soaps and toothpastes to grab onto dirt and carry it away. They also create bubbles. Research has found that SLS does not cause cancer, but that doesn’t mean that you want it in your toothpaste. In my research I found studies that found that SLS decreases the amount of fluoride taken up by the enamel of the teeth thus decreasing its ability to help prevent cavities. It can also cause skin irritation, especially for people who are extra sensitive.

Parabens are preservatives used in toothpaste and other cosmetics. Research shows they are hormone disruptors, which can lead to reproductive issues amongst other health problems. They have also been found in breast cancer tissue and seem to collect in the axilla (armpit), which is the most common area for breast cancer. This doesn’t mean that they have caused the cancer, but it is certainly worrying that they are found, unchanged, in this tissue when they are most commonly used externally. The European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Countries have both banned the 5 top parabens. Despite this precedent, and the Australian government acknowledging these potential risks, parabens are still allowed in Australia.

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Triclosan is an antibacterial agent commonly found in toothpaste and is probably the most important ingredient you should be avoiding. In 2016, the FDA in America banned the use of triclosan and other antibacterial agents in hand soaps. It is still allowed in other products such as toothpaste, mouthwash and hand sanitizer. It has not been restricted at all in Australia to date. Not only does everyday use of triclosan lead to antibiotic resistance, it persists in the environment creating carcinogenic toxins, it bioaccumulates in the body including in breast milk, it is a hormone disruptor associated with reproductive and developmental issues and it increases sensitivity to allergens. Antimicrobials should only be used if a person has a specific health condition, not everyday. A group of over 200 scientists and medical professionals developed the Florence Statement on Triclosan and Triclocarbon last year, recommending it be highly restricted. Unfortunately big brand toothpaste manufacturers are still trying to tell you it is safe. Read more about antibacterials in cleaners in my article about cleaning products.

If you are worried about your oral health, using a toothpaste containing Aloe Vera has been found to be as effective as triclosan in reducing plaque and gingivitis without the side effects.

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Toothpaste is not meant to be consumed so it is not considered a food. This means it does not have the same rules and restrictions regarding the safety and labelling of ingredients. If you want to avoid the ingredients discussed, you need to pick a toothpaste that specifically says doesn’t contain them. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want anything in my mouth that isn’t safe to swallow. If you have any questions about toothpaste or oral health, talk to your local naturopath.

 

Are Your Cleaning Products Affecting Your Health?

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There are so many cleaning products on the market these days it is hard to know what is best for your health and what will clean your home. Although some products may clean well, they can have harmful effects on the health of you, your family and the environment. If you have a cupboard that the kids can’t go into, then you need to read this article.

Many households have a bottle of bleach in the laundry. This is the first thing that needs to leave your home. Bleach has been well known to irritate people who already have existing asthma, but in 2012, The Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics declared bleach an asthmagen. This means that bleach actually causes asthma in previously healthy individuals. Given the prevalence of asthma, and the sensitivity of respiratory tracts in young people, bleach should not be used in the home or at day care centres. Instead, most areas in the home can be cleaned with soap, a vinegar and water solution and a bit of elbow grease. For really messy areas such as the oven or the toilet, mix vinegar with baking soda.

In Australia, we can find many hand soaps that state they are antibacterial. These soaps have been found to be no better than regular soap at cleaning hands and specifically no better at decreasing the incidence of childhood pneumonia and diarrhoea. They have been found though, to increase the incidence of drug-resistant bacteria or super-bugs. If you get infected with a drug-resistant bacterium, we do not have medication that can help you. These antibacterial chemicals also negatively impact organisms, such as algae, in our waterways and may disrupt hormone signalling in mammals. In 2013, the FDA in America banned 19 antibacterial substances from over the counter soaps. These same chemicals are still allowed in Australia. Studies have found that the time spent washing your hands is the most important factor in getting them clean so just use regular soap and take your time.

Love the smell of freshly cleaned and scented laundry? This smell may be affecting your health. Your favourite scented laundry soap, dryer sheets and fabric softener might contain chemicals that disrupt hormones and cause asthma. Unfortunately these products are not required to have their entire ingredient list on the package, so it is difficult to know what you are buying. Buy unscented products and put your clothes out on the line for that fresh smell.

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Air fresheners are another way that people can unknowingly be putting chemicals into their bodies. The ingredients of these products are largely unregulated and many of them contain phthalates, which are hormone disruptors, and benzenes, which are known carcinogens. If you feel like your home needs freshening, buy some pot plants that are known to clean the air. Chrysanthemums remove ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde and xylene from the air. Spider plants and Boston ferns remove formaldehyde and xylene.

Tea tree oil is another great substitute for chemical cleansers as it can disinfect without causing asthma or antibiotic resistance. You can also just squeeze a lemon. Lemon juice can kill most of the bacteria in your home, while still being safe for the family.

Natural cleaning products

Everyday, research is coming out that discovers the effects of chemicals on our bodies. Keep your household cleaning products natural and keep you and your family healthy. Talk to your local naturopath if you have any questions about natural cleaning products.