The Benefits of a BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) Habit

bagmonsterThe following post is by Katie Peige, Herban Lifestyle’s Sustainability Associate.

You are sitting in a park enjoying a lovely picnic. You are taking in the peaceful moment: the birds are chirping, children are playing on the nearby swings, a butterfly flitters by, and then you look up and your stomach lurches. It’s the lurch you feel when you see a plastic bag stuck amongst the highest branches of the maple you are sitting under. You start thinking about the birds that could get tangled in the plastic, the turtle that thinks he is about to chow down on a jelly fish, and your mind starts flashing images you have seen of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and all you have your mind set on is how long it would take for that bag to eventually break down and where can you find the nearest ladder.

Plastic bag pollution is a serious problem the world over. It is estimated that 1 million plastic bags are used every minute of every day worldwide. Plastics in the ocean is a terrifying situation as today there are more pieces of ocean plastic than plankton (you know the little guys who are responsible for our every other breath). Of the 100 million tons of plastic that are manufactured each year, ten percent finds its way to the ocean, and only 20 percent by means of ships and platforms. That means that 80 percent of the plastic in the ocean comes from the land. With all of this plastic floating in the ocean that does not go away but rather break up into smaller bits (46,000 pieces per every square mile according to the United Nations Environment Program), it is no wonder that a million sea birds and 100,000 sea mammals and turtles die each year from plastic bags and other plastic pollution.

Some quick facts about plastic bags and the environment

Some quick facts about plastic bags and the environment

So what can you do and what should be done? The first thing you should do is bring your own bag to the store. It is estimated that one reusable bag can replace 1,000 plastic bags in the reusable bag’s lifetime. Keep a small foldable bag with you in your purse or on a keychain, so if you are out and about and decide to do some impromptu shopping, you are prepared. ChicoBags makes some really cute ones that fold up super small. Next, keep a stack of bags in the trunk of your car so you have them with you when you head to the grocery store or any other store where you would need more than one bag.  For the non-car owners keeping a stack by the door is a helpful reminder as well. For the ladies, you can get a little drastic and stuff them in your bra, however, I am not exactly sure what the most lady like method of removing the bags would be when you actually need them. Once you have the BYOB habit down, start bugging your friends to remind them as well, you have a vast, powerful network, use it to help the planet out (and while you are at it, get your friends to start a campaign to ban plastic bags in your city!).

If you have a ton of plastic bags under your sink, try to reuse them as trash liners or packaging material. And if you have a desire to get creative, check out these crafts that all use plastic bags! You can also take them to most grocery stores and Staples to recycle them.

Just remember, for every bag you refuse to take you are taking a direct action to help stop the plastic pollution problem and subsequently saving resources, animal lives, and keeping those plastic bags out of our trees and waterways!

Editor’s Note: For more information on the issue of plastic bags, presented in a fun, entertaining way, we highly recommend Bag It!, the movie.

A globe made of plastic bags, as seen at the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

A globe made of plastic bags, as seen at the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Trashionista: On a mission to save the world, one trash can at a time!

The following post is by Katie Peige, Herban Lifestyle’s Sustainability Associate

Let’s be real, trash is probably the least sexy of all sustainability topics, especially when we are talking about hospital waste (biohazard anyone?!) I’m not going to lie; it’s been gross. And let me tell you I have weird, funny, shocking, disgusting, heartbreaking, inspiring, and just plain odd stories about having my first full-time sustainability job revolve around hospital waste, but those are stories for another blog post so, I digress.

Anyway, this Sustainababe had persevered through all the craziness of setting up three primary waste streams and teaching hundreds of nurses (and a variety of supporting staff) what is considered infectious, non-infectious, and recyclable. Sustainasnob Rant/Confession: I hate WASTE unless you can feed it back into the materials economy. As William McDonough, father of Cradle to Cradle design says, “Pollution is a symbol of design failure.” Waste causes pollution from all the hauling, burning (waste incinerators!), and rotting of the stuff (that is, if it ever breaks down in a landfill!) Additionally, dealing with hospital waste means that I either have to promote diversion from the incinerator or the landfill (not good environmental options either way you look at them) or recycling (which, at 30% recyclables for 3+ million pounds per hospital, comes out to 1 million pounds per year!) This problem drives me nuts! My school and life training taught me to believe that the best way to solve a problem is to prevent it from happening in the first place. My mantra is “Reduce, reuse, recycle.” And at work, it really bothers me that I cannot address the huge waste issue using the first two steps. I am an idealist and dreamer to the core, so this blog post is not going to be completely negative. On the contrary, it is about the blast I had tackling the second R – reuse. [Quick side note, check out Annie Lenord’s Story of Stuff, to fully understand the complete cycle of our products including disposal].

So now to the fun stuff! I have been working a lot in the Operating Rooms (ORs) lately (no smelling salts were ever needed, to my surprise!), stressing the proper waste guidelines and tackling the oh-so-annoying problem of blue wrap!

What the heck is blue wrap you ask? Basically, it is like wrapping paper for surgical instruments to keep everything sterile. It is the consistency of a paper towel, but made from plastic. A plastic that can be recycled. Yay! So I spent a few months getting the proper ducks in a row and now my ORs are recycling the stuff. The excitement from that project had me bouncing around the hospital for weeks knowing the blue wrap was not going to spend hundreds of years breaking down in a landfill, or worse, being burned!

The hospital where I spread the green love, received an award for their “Greening the OR” efforts and in celebration I was inspired by this video (the kids are so adorable in this video), to make my own dress from blue wrap!

I started with two different colors of blue wrap since this hospital is fazing in the darker color over the lighter color. I wanted to make a dress but had no idea how, so I got some help from Charlotte, the Sustainability Coordinator at the hospital. And later, my mom helped with the sewing, which wasn’t easy since we had no pattern. I started with tracing out panels from my favorite summer dress and things just kind of morphed from there. I had once seen a girl on Halloween sport a globe dress (her costume was Global Warming), and ever since I wanted my own Earth Mama dress (why yes, even my ideas are recycled!) So the dual colors of blue wrap presented the perfect opportunity to pull this off. To achieve realistic looking continents, I cut up an old National Geographic Map of the World poster and used the pieces as a template, traced those out onto the dark blue, cut those out, and glued the dark blue continents onto the light blue dress (while using the middle seam as the prime meridian, can you say Geography Geek?!)

I also added earrings made from fans that came from an old towel warming unit provided by my favorite Tinkerer (a mechanic who fixes broken medical equipment in the Biomed Department).

The Celebration Day came, and I put on my dress and safety pinned myself in and prayed that my dress would not fall apart. I walked into the ceremony and was swarmed by the attendees. “Oh my goodness, Katie!” “That’s made out of blue wrap!” “How did you do that?!” “Can we get your picture?!” “Look,it’s the Earth!”

I felt like Miss America! To my embarrassment, I was just getting over laryngitis so all I could do was squeak a few yeses and thank yous. Yet through it all, I had a blast playing with blue wrap and creating the coolest piece of Trashion, I own ☺. It’s all about perspective! Here’s to rocking the Creative Reuse! So glad this dress is made of plastic, it will last FOREVER and will be required attire for every Earth Day for the rest of my life!

How to Make Orange Blossom Star Cookies


One of our favorite Christmas time rituals is the making of the cookies. And one of our favorite recipes is for stelline d’oro (little golden star cookies) which comes as a bonus in Tomie dePaolo’s children’s book, Clown of God. If you have young children, I highly recommend you buy the book (or any by dePaola).

I wanted to share the stelline d’oro cookie recipe with you, but because it is copyrighted, I can’t include it here. So instead, I offer you my adaptation. The orange blossom water (available in gourmet shops, or Italian or Indian groceries) gives the flowers a unique delicately floral flavor. The original recipe contains saffron, which adds a warm earthy flavor. I recommend you check it out. Anyway, here is my recipe:

The cookie dough:
2 cups unbleached organic flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp aluminum-free baking powder
1/2 cup organic butter*
1 cup fair trade evaporated sugar
1 cage-free organic egg
2 tablespoon orange juice

The glaze:
1 tablespoon warm water
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
1 cup fair trade confectioners’ sugar
Natural vegetable coloring (optional)

Colored sugar (optional)

Mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, and salt) together. In a separate bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and the orange juice to the butter/sugar and mix well. Add the dry ingredients a bit at a time, mixing well. Wrap the dough in wax paper and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Divide the dough into 4 sections. Roll out each section until it is about 1/8-inch thick. Cut with a star shaped cookie cutter (sometimes we use different sized stars to make it look like the night sky). Place cookies on a baking sheet that is either lightly greased, or covered in parchment paper (my preference). Bake at 375-degrees for about 6 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly brown on the edges.

Cool on a cookie rack. Once cooled, glaze the cookies, using the following recipe:

Mix the glaze ingredients together until all lumps are gone. You can tint the glaze with food coloring (I use India Tree natural vegetable colors).

Glaze the cookies and, if you want, sprinkle with coarse colored sugar (I use Joby and Marty’s Amazing Colored Sugar, which I buy at Whole Foods).

Voila!

*Make sure you use real butter, as butter substitutes will keep the cookies from holding their shape

New Offering: Customized Gift Bags

Today I am delivering these gift bags to a client who order them for a bridal shower she is hosting this weekend. I am particularly happy with the way they came out, so I wanted to share some pictures with you. I have created a few gift bags now, and have discovered that I really enjoy coming up with the theme and customized labeling. This set includes a mini organic sugar scrub, organic Dolce de Limone lip balm, and a sample of my new Herban Lifestyle Naked line Pretty Pink Facial Masque.

The items are packaged in compostable cellulose bags and tied with paper ribbons. As always, the labels are printed on 100% recycled paper, and the containers are recyclable.

I have decided I will start to offer these through my Etsy shop. Please feel free to contact me if you would like more information on pricing, timing and customization!

Hello Spaghetti Scrub!

The innovative Spaghetti Scrub

The following is a totally unsolicited review

One of my favorite DC stores is Greater Goods on U Street (one of my favorite streets in DC). They have a great selection of environmentally-friendly household supplies like biodegradable garbage bags, composting bins, shower filters, reusable produce bags, and much much more. I can always count on them to have some fun eco-friendly product that is new to the market. On my last visit to Greater Goods, I discovered the coolest dish scrubber I’ve ever seen – the Spaghetti Scrub.

The Spaghetti Scrub is part of a new line of environmentally friendly scrubs made with natural materials such as recycled corn cobs, peach pits and walnut shells (unlike conventional scrubbers and sponges, which are made from petrochemicals). The scrubs are distributed through an American company, Goodbye Detergent!, but the products are the genius creations of industrial designer Hiroki Hayashi and are made in Japan. These innovatively-designed products have apparently won international design awards.

image copyright Goodbye Detergent!

Not only does the Spaghetti Scrub look cute, it works really really well. And, unlike course scrubbing sponges or steel wool, it feels very soft and comfortable in your hand. Plus, I found that, just as promised, soap wasn’t necessary when dealing with even heavily baked-on messes, and the Spaghetti Scrub seemed to require less effort than any other scrub I’ve used. At first I thought this was simply due to the fact that I was having so much fun with it, but I’ve been using it for over a month now, and I’m still enamored with it!

I know this sounds like a commercial, but I am really happy with my new discovery and can’t say enough good things about it. Now if I could just find out more about this Hayashi guy. A Google search turned up several people with the same name, and I couldn’t tell if any of them were the genius Spaghetti Scrub guy. If you can point me to his other work, I would be truly grateful!

How to Green Your Packing and Shipping

As an online retailer, shipping is an integral part of my business. And as a sustainable company, I am acutely aware of the impact that shipping (and the accompanying packaging) can have on the environment. I have struggled with this issue from the beginning, trying to find the best way to keep my impact to a minimum. So, in order to make my shipping as green as possible, I have implemented a few different tactics.

Packing
First, I reuse packing materials whenever I can (the exception is those horrible Styrofoam packing peanuts, which I pass along to a neighbor who uses them for shipping his products), as it is always best to reuse existing materials whenever possible. However, during busy times, such as the holiday shopping season, I find that I run out of materials and need to purchase them.

I have always made it a priority to purchase recyclable and recycled packing materials for my business. Plastic bubble wrap, non-post-consumer boxes, and any kind of plastic materials were out. Staples has a decent selection of recycled shipping products, and I had been using their recycled mailers, boxes and shredded paper fill.

However, I was thrilled to discover Salazar Packaging, which offers a huge range of very green packing supplies through their company Globe Guard Products. I am a huge fan of their corrugated boxes. Most corrugated boxes contain 25% to 35% recycled material, but Salazar offers boxes all made with 100% post consumer waste, and they have just about any size you need. Their boxes are very well made, and feel sturdier to me than any other boxes I’ve used. And more recently, I have become devoted to Salazar’s new bubble wrap. It is recyclable as a #4 PE (polyethylene) material and it is oxo biodegradable as well. It has the advantaged of being lighter than paper wrap, so has cut down on my shipping weights, and consequently, my carbon footprint. For the full story on Global Guard’s biodegradable bubble wrap, see their blog post on it.

Globe Guard biodegradable bubble wrap - photo copyright Salazar Packaging

Dennis Salazar, owner of Salazar Packaging and Globe Guard Products, is committed to sustainability and is an active member of the Green America community. And they are members of 1% For the Planet.

In a recent conversation, Salazar offered his thoughts on the state of green packaging. “The world of packaging materials is evolving very rapidly and fortunately changing for the better, in terms of their short term and long term environmental impact,” he said.

However, he pointed out the current reality that “Almost any shipping container, regardless of style and construction is very likely to exist only for a few months before it is used and, in most cases, discarded. That container is very likely to last for years or decades if it happens to wind up in a landfill.”

Companies have started to recognize the impact of this reality, and “that is why today in 2010 we see plastic- and paper-based products that are 100% recycled content, which also happen to be much lighter in weight compared to comparable 2004 products. There is also a whole new field of bio-plastics that are designed to breakdown in a matter of a few months, even in landfill conditions.”

Unfortunately, as Salazar points out, the use of such materials is not necessarily the norm yet. “The majority of people, even those with the best intentions, are not using the best or most economical product for what they do. They buy what they use out of habit or convenience, based on price rather than cost, and rarely consider the long term impact of their choices.”

However, once you have made the concerted decision to go with the most environmentally sound and economical packing options, the choices still aren’t always so straightforward. Salazar says that “the ‘best’ product for any specific application or customer will vary, based on what you ship, how many you ship, where you ship it and even how you ship it.”

Since there is no one right answer to all shipping situations, Salazar recommends the following simple steps companies can take to minimize their environmental impact:

• Use as little packaging as possible by weight and volume
• Assume most of what you use (60% or more) will unfortunately wind up in a land fill
• In most cases, paper is still better than plastic (but not all)
• Use recycled content products because they encourage recycling by creating a market for the waste
• Reuse everything you possibly can

Shipping
As far as shipping services go, I exclusively use the U. S. Postal Service (USPS). For one, it’s very convenient since I can use Click-n-Ship and ask for pick-up, or easily drop off my packages at my local station.

In addition, they are the greenest option I know of for shipping. USPS is the only mailing or shipping company in the nation to achieve “Cradle to Cradle” Certification at the Silver level from MBDC (McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry) for human and environmental health. They achieved this certification in 2007, but I feel they haven’t done a lot to tout it.

Anyway, in order to achieve certification, all 200 suppliers contributing to the manufacture of Postal Service envelopes and packages completed a demanding series assessments of materials for human and environmental health. All materials were examined using 39 criteria for human and environmental health, including toxicity, renewable energy, water stewardship, recyclability and other manufacturing attributes. You can read the original press release to learn more about what their certification entailed.

Besides it being green I find USPS to be an economical and convenient way to ship my customers’ orders, both within the US and overseas. If you sign up for their Click-n-Ship service, you not only have the convenience of printing postage and shipping labels from your computer and printer (which also looks professional), but you also receive a discount of up to 14% by creating your postage online.

Introducing Herban Lifestyle™ Man

Herban Lifestyle™ Man Shaving SetSince I introduced the Herban Lifestyle™ line of products in August 2008, my customers have primarily been women. Even though the products can be used by anyone, I have been told that my packaging is “girly,” so it doesn’t always appeal to men. They don’t see it as something that is made for them. Over the past year, I have had numerous requests from customers, both men and women, for the addition of men’s products to my offerings.

So, in response to customer demand, I am happy to announce the launch of my new line of products made just for men. Just like all of my products, they are truly natural — made only from natural and organic ingredients, with no artificial fragrances, synthetic preservatives or petroleum-based ingredients. However, the Herban Lifestyle Man products come in distinctly manly packaging!

The line, which is currently available in my online store, on Etsy and at World of Good, includes shaving oil, facial soap, after shave and facial lotion.

Thank you, Team Eco Etsy!

listing-promoI am a brand new member of the Eco Esty street team, a group of artisans who are committed to using green practices in their products and packaging. The Eco Etsy Team’s Statement says: “Our members are just as dedicated to using recycled materials in their creations as they are about recycling packaging. We take the safety of the environment in mind in the way that we run our small businesses and create our sales items. During our team’s growth, we have become heavily focused on promoting eco-living as a whole; every facet of our lifestyle can be more eco-friendly, and our team has come to focus strongly on this all-around outlook.”

And, within my first couple of days of being a member, I had the honor of being chosen as one of the three winners of their Themed Nomination, which was announced on the Eco Esty blog yesterday. This week’s theme was “It’s Your Time,” in honor of the 10th annual National Women’s Health Week. This initiative encourages women to take simple steps for a longer, healthier and happier life, such as taking time to pamper themselves! So, they were looking for products that reflected the idea of self-care and self-nurture. My massage oil was chosen, along with LaPomme’s lavender sachets, and My Name is Muddy’s French green clay bath.

The Eco Etsy blog is a wonderful resource for eco-tips, information on eco-friendly creations, how-to’s and much more, all written and posted by EcoEtsy members! Eco Etsy team members’ products can be found by doing an Etsy tag search for “teamecoetsy“.

Thank you for the warm welcome, Team Eco Etsy!

Cleaning, With a Green Twist

twistRecently, I stopped by Greater Goods, a store on U Street that specializes in earth-friendly household goods. There were all sorts of cool products including degradable trash bags, composting bins, rain barrels, solar powered outdoor lights, and all sorts of household cleaning supplies. And I discovered a new product I’d never seen before — household sponges and reusable sponge clothes made from totally biodegradable materials. I knew that most household sponges are made from foam polyurethane, and I liked having the option of using sponges that will break down naturally without harming the environment.

The cute packaging really caught my eye, and the sponges themselves are attractive, too, and look great out on the counter. Plus, there is a fun bonus feature for those with crafty tendencies. Printed on the back of the cardboard labels are projects you can make. The large cloth package has a little bird feeder, and the smaller sponge package has a bird mobile. Fun and functional! (You can see some examples of customers’ creations here).

You can learn more about the Twist line of products, including where to buy them, by visiting their website.

Happy Etsy Day!

3821-etsyday24Over the past few years, there has been a rising interest in crafting and DIY. And more recently, as the economy has taken a a downturn, many more people are turning to the ideals of simple, handmade. There is a satisfaction you get from making things yourself that you can never attain by just buying stuff. And you have the comfort of knowing exactly what when into it (e.g., natural ingredients, no sweatshop labor, no lead). I like the idea of getting back to basics.

Etsy is a platform for artisans who are part of this cultural shift, and has enabled individual crafters to reach an broad audience from the comfort of their own home. And not only is it a platform for selling one’s crafts, it is also a huge community of like-minded individuals who come together over the ideals of DIY. 

I joined Etsy last May, and started selling items in August. Since then, I have met tons of really talented, friendly crafters, working across a wide array of mediums. We have a love of crafting in common, even though we are located all over the world. Although, I’ve also connected with lots of local crafters, and have been contacted by local businesses asking to carry my products, which they have found on Etsy. 

If you are not on Etsy yet, I recommend that you take a look around. It’s a visual smorgasbord! And if you try it out for a while, you will see why such an enthusiastic community has grown up around it.

Happy Etsy Day!