Category Archives: lifestyle

If you’re not buying recycled products, you’re not really recycling

If you’re not buying products made from recycled materials, you’re not really recycling.

I read this statement the other day, and it stuck with me because it’s so true (and people forget).

Recycling is an energy consuming process. It is not the solution to our waste issues, our plastic oceans and high consumption of resources, but a last resort that can minimize the carbon footprint of our modern, on-the-go, lives. IF we use the materials that come out of recycling, that is.

Here’s the twist; most of USA’s plastic “recyclables” are exported to China. There, they are used to make everything from fleece jackets to stadium seats. China imports around 40% of the world’s plastic scrap, so if you buy “recycled plastic products” from China, chances are the material came from your curb. It’s a crazy world (and sadly, China is drowning in western trash).

Another twist to the plastic recycling business is that many processing centers actually don’t have the funds to recycle low grade plastics anymore, like plastic bags and produce containers (think cherry tomatoes and strawberries) so they end up in landfill or being incinerated (dioxin pollution!) anyway.

Why? Because there is NO DEMAND for the products that can be made from low grade plastic.

So yes, we must stop consuming plastic like it is “recyclable”. We need to avoid it like the plague! Plus, whenever possible, we must choose recycled products.

In a perfect world we should not be shipping off our “trash” to other countries but recycle it locally, so in an effort to get there, we should buy locally manufactured products made from recycled materials.

Of course not just plastic, the other recyclables too; paper, glass, metals, clothes.

Need ideas? Ok!

Reusable water bottles

Liberty BottleWorks make lightweight and durable bottles from recycled aluminum in Washington State. In fact, it’s the only US-made 100% recycled metal bottle in the market.

Liberty BottleWorks take pride in having a zero waste factory and allocating a portion of their sales to environmental organizations and community services.

Did you know that recycling aluminum saves a lot of waste? While 2.2 lbs of aluminum extracted from the earth creates almost 200 lbs of waste in the process, 2.2 lbs of recycled aluminum creates only 7.5.

Batteries

Can an environmentalist live without using “disposable batteries”? Almost. Smoke detectors, wireless keyboards and baby gear use them though.

Energizer now has batteries made from 4% recycled batteries. I know that sounds low, but it’s a start! By voting with our dollars and buying these instead of regular batteries, hopefully that percentage will go up, up, up. (Always check where batteries are made. There is absolutely no reason to buy made in Asia, when made in USA costs the same.)

Toilet paper, kitchen towels, trash bags

We actually really like Seventh Generation’s paper products and I encourage everyone to make the switch to 100% recycled paper. Think you can’t afford anything but the bargain brand? Well, the solution to that is to use less paper, by opting for cloth napkins and cotton towels 99% of the time. We keep paper kitchen towels around for picking up the occasional dead cockroach or wiping greasy pans (then compost).

Did you know that if every household in the USA switched just one packet of eight kitchen towels to recycled paper we’d collectively save 3,400,000 trees in a year?

Seventh Generation’s large trash bags is a better choice as well, as they are made from 65% post-consumer recycled plastic. Think you can’t afford anything but the bargain brand? Well, the solution to that is to use fewer bags by creating less trash. Avoid one-time-use items and start a compost for food scraps.

Did you know that if every household in the USA replaced just one package of 14 count trash bags made from virgin plastic with 65% recycled ones, we could save 221,000 barrels of oil?

Plastic bottles (when/if we must)

If you’re buying shampoo or drinks in plastic bottles, look for the symbol that tells you part of the bottle was made from recycled plastic. Every bit of fossil fuel saving helps.

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An example of what the back of a plastic bottle might say.

For the kids

Green Toys Inc. have a bunch of different products likes buckets, water toys, kitchen play sets, cars, airplanes and an awesome green recycling truck. All their toys are non-toxic, safe, BPA- and phalate-free, and made in USA from curbside collected recyclables.

Re-Play make their products using only recycled milk jugs. While Green Toys focus on play, Re-Play has all the essentials for baby dinner time.  Eco-friendly and made in USA.

Did you know that for every pound of recycled milk jugs used to make products, enough energy is saved to power a TV for three weeks straight?

Cookware

SCANPAN utilizes 100% recycled aluminum – aluminum that might previously have served as beer cans, bicycle frames or something else. These pans are made in Denmark though (from aluminum consumed over there naturally!).

Did you know that 75% of the world’s produced aluminum is still being used, over and over, thanks to recycling efforts?

There are countless products using recycled materials! We just need to make it a habit to read labels so we can pick them out from the rest. Remember, if you’re not buying products made from recycled materials, you’re not really recycling.

Got a favorite “recycling” brand? Please share it in the comments! :)

Read more about recycling and material’s recyclability here, at Going Zero Waste.

 

My ultimate guide: The WHY and the HOW of cloth diapering a newborn

For all the moms and dads who successfully cloth diapered, the ones that might with future kiddos and all the others who decided not to, I hope this will be an interesting post!

When you decide to use cloth or reusable diapers for your baby, the first thing people will say to you is how hard it is going to be. How much work you’ll have washing them. How they’d never do it. How brave you are. Most of the folks telling you this have either never attempted to cloth diaper their kids OR are the kind of people that think bringing bags to the grocery store is lots of work. I took it with a grain of salt.

The eco-community, on the other hand, sang a different tune and was a great inspiration to me before I even had my cloth diaper baby. Blogger Meredith simply said “You need to find a way to use them, wash them and dry them”. Great advice as it turned out. (Read her take on diapering here.)

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Brand new baby – brand new diaper

There are many reasons to go with reusable diapers such as saving money, that they’re so darn cute and the fact that they’re easier on the environment than disposables are. As an environmentalist you may think the third reason was my biggest motivator to do this (and more on why it is eco-better later in the post!), but the truth is, it was “all of the above” as well as the “do to others what you’d want done to yourself” thing. I cannot, I swear to god, think of anything worse than for two (or more) years straight wear petroluem-based, toxic, sweaty, itchy, disposable undergarments.

Buying ’em

Now, we went with all made in USA diapers and wipes for eco-baby (more brands here) because made right here is my thing!

We’ve been using Thirstes’ all-in-one natural diapers (easy, organic and stylish) and Blueberry Simplex (super absorbent) all-in-one. I’ve gotten pretty much everything I needed at Nicki’s Diapers, but there are plenty of websites.

PRO TIP: Buy a few diapers you believe in, in advance, try them on baby when she gets here and then order more of the brand/style that works for you. (We needed the newborn sizing for our baby, because he was small, not all babies do.)

I knew I wasn’t comfortable buying diapers second hand for my son, but I did feel comfortable accepting hand-me-dows from a friend who’s daughter had used cloth for about a year. It might be silly, but it felt different when I knew who’d been washing and using the diapers. So, I have a stash of BumGenius pocket diapers (made in USA of imported parts) in a larger size for later.

You’ll need about 22-25 diapers to comfortably maintain a routine of washing every other day. An organic, made in USA diaper costs about $20, though there are sales, bundles and tons of other, imported, cheaper options out there.

PRO TIP: If your budget requires you to later sell your diapers, to get some of that cash back, know that baby poo can stain natural materials like cotton and hemp (even though diaper is clean!) whereas synthetics wash completely clean and white again (without bleach).

Using ’em

How to use diapers might seem self-explanatory to some, but it’s not for a new parent looking into cloth. Here’s the deal; there are lots of options for diaper styles. All-in-one, pocket diapers, wraps. I read this blog post from Homegrown Heaven and found it helpful.

You’ll need wipes and inserts too. Inserts, or boosters, help with absorbency and you’ll need them for night time. Again, organic cotton works great.

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Doesn’t this picture make it look so simple?

PRO TIP: For a simple wipes-solution, use 1.5 cups filtered water, 2 tablespoons of coconut oil (liquid) and a splash of organic baby soap for scent. Moisten wipes and keep in an airtight container. Keep coconut oil around for dry skin and rashes too.

You’ll also need a wet bag or some sort of container for keeping wet diapers until your next laundry day. For us, two large wet bags from Planet Wise work great. We fill one, empty it into the washer (no touch!) and fill the other while the first one is drying.

PRO TIP: Cloth diapers add inches to the length of your baby’s torso (fluffy butt!) meaning she’ll grow out of those onesies faster than her buddies in disposables will. Look for long and lean instead of short and wide clothes.

Washing ’em

Before I started doing this, I read a lot online about washing diapers. Everyone seemed to make it a big deal; you need to “strip them”, have them out in the sun to dry, yada yada yada. No, it’s simple. First, cold rinse cycle to get all the junk out. Second, hot wash with detergent and an extra rinse (to make sure all suds from detergent is gone!). Third, throw them in the dryer on low heat or hang try. DONE!

You do need a detergent without any type of softener in it. Softeners will make the diapers less absorbent, which we don’t want. I have been using Allen’s Naturally in my Samsung, front loaded, HE washer, and occasionally I add their special “Stink Out” liquid to make sure the diapers don’t smell. Apparently, regular, powder Tide works great for diapers too (a good choice if you don’t obsess about biodegradable detergents). Don’t go cheap on the amount of detergent, use plenty, get them clean, extra rinse.

PRO TIP: Don’t wait to start cloth diapering. The washing routine will NEVER be simpler than when baby only eats milk and poo is water-soluble and doesn’t need flushing in the toilet. 

All-in-one diapers have lots of layers and fabric, so they do need an hour at least in my dryer. We have a few (less eco-friendly) synthetic ones that dry super fast.

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Love the different designs from Thirsties!

Diapers and the environment

Some parents may feel judged because they didn’t do the eco-thing and use reusables but they shouldn’t. Our society promotes a use and toss lifestyle so don’t feel bad about using disposables if your kids are done with diapers already. Some other parents may feel defensive and tell you that the water used in the wash is WORSE for Mother Earth than filling landfill with their kids’ poopy diapers. This is simply not true.

When it comes to water, my HE (High Efficiency) front loaded washer from Samsung uses 13 gallons of water for a FULL load (two days worth of diapers are not exactly that but I do add a rinse cycle). If you wash diapers every other day for a year, that adds up to about 2,400 gallons of water. Basically the same amount of water is takes to produce cotton for one pair of jeans or produce one pound of steak. The water use with today’s washers is negligible in our water intensive society. A baby will go thru about 6000-8000 disposable diapers before he is potty trained, while 30-50 reusables will do the same job. How much water is used to produce 8000 disposable diapers? I have no idea, but I know the amount is nowhere near zero.

Some might argue that there are eco-friendly disposables (oxymoron!) now like Honest, Babyganics and Seventh Generation on the market and I agree they are a better choice than the leading big-box brands. However, even if these “eco-friendly diapers” use FSC stamped cellulose as the base material, they still contain oil based polypropylene, glues, polyester, polyurethane, ink and are packed in plastic wrap. Diapers are not recyclable because of their mix of materials and will always be landfilled.

Landfills are already full of diapers that won’t biodegrade (500+ years) and their contents (poo!) contaminates our lands and rivers. (Landfills are responsible for about 20% of our country’s methane emissions.)

What’s next?

When our baby starts childcare at six months, we will have to provide disposables for him to wear, simply because care centers in Texas won’t accept reusables. I will go with something plant-based, and I’m sure it will be just fine.

At that time, baby will also start eating solid foods, meaning poop will change (ugh!) and I’ll have to figure that situation out and write an update to this post! We do already have a (second hand) sprayer for getting contents into the toilet (oh my, this is getting serious!) we just haven’t used it yet.

Finally, let me say that any routine that involves reusables is a good routine. No time to wash that one day that got crazy? Use a disposable. Traveling and no washers at the hotel? Use a disposable. (This happened to us!) The world will not end, and we are not failures just because we can’t be 100% cloth. Every saved diaper counts!

That’s it. But please, read Meredith’s post too.

Now, hit me with ALL your questions!!

Baby ESSENTIALS made in USA? You bet!

Shopping for baby this winter, I was happy to discover that most baby essentials are indeed available in a made in USA version. Something I had feared would not be the case.

And don’t worry, I know I’ve published a few posts on baby gear lately, but I am not about to become a “mommy blogger” by any means! Babies aren’t THAT interesting (just cute and completely illogical) and when I look in the mirror I still feel like I’m the hot nanny. Just kidding! There’s no mistaking these dark circles ;)

Anyway, back to baby gear! Baby “essential” gear that is; made right here. They’re essential because I actually need them for baby-life to work, and they’re all items that I wasn’t comfortable getting second hand.

Here’s what:

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Yes, all made in America baby gear!

Breast pump (1):

I went ahead and bought a hand/manual pump as I wasn’t planning on pumping very much, just as needed for special occasions. The Medela manual pump is made in USA, while the electric version is made mainly in USA and Switzerland but does have parts from all over the world (including China). If I can get away with using the hand pump only, not having to buy an electric one, I’ll be thrilled. I never want to buy unnecessary electronics (neither should you)!

Baby bottles (2):

If you pump, you need bottles! These Life Factory baby bottles were actually a gift from a dear friend. They are mostly glass, BPA and phalate free and made in USA of domestic and European parts. I can actually store my milk in them too, as they have a lid. I’m not new to the brand though, I have had my Life Factory water bottle for a few years and I absolutely love it.

Cloth diapers (3-5):

Brand #1 (3): We have quite a few Thirsties Natural all-in-one newborn diapers; they’re our “main stash” right now. They are wonderfully easy to use, they simply snap close like a disposable diaper would (velcro!) and are made of organic cotton and hemp (with poly outer for leakage protection). Thirsties also offer wipes, inserts, boosters, wet bags and more; basically all you need for cloth diapering.

Brand #2 (4): The Simplex all-in-one from Blueberry diapers has been our go-to night diaper as it has eleven(!) absorbent layers of cotton and fits extra boosters inside the liner. Super absorbent and cute.

Brand #3 (5) The Bummis is actually made in Canada, but of US fabrics… so yes, they classify as made right here – wouldn’t you agree? These are more on the plastic side of things, as they’re poly covers (or “wraps”) with loose inserts which can be replaced while the cover is used again. We’ve only tried these diapers on baby once and little one seemed to be sensitive to them… so I need to get back with you with a final review. For now, know they’re locally made.

Swaddle blanket (6):

This cute Swaddle Design’s blanket is made of super soft 100% cotton. We thought we’d be swaddling the baby when he was tiny, so a friend got us a blanket as a gift, but we ended up never doing that since he seemed so fond of his hands (and we were too tired to practice swaddling). Doesn’t mean the blanket isn’t being used! It’s large, warm and cozy so we’ve been using it in the stroller mainly.

Wet bags (7):

My favorite wet bag design is the large wet bag from Planet Wise Inc! We have two, which we use for our daily diaper routine (fill one with dirty stuff, wash, fill other while first one dries). Smelly? No way! These bags hold the “not so pleasant” smell inside miraculously well (just don’t forget to zip!). The bag in the picture is a travel version which fits only one (or maybe two) diapers, and we keep it in the diaper bag.

Pacifier (8):

Not all parents use pacifiers, and breastfeeding class advised against it, but we decided to get two pacifiers, just in case (thanks sis for that advice!). Turns out that little one does calm himself down a lot with his little binkies – essential for sleep time! We’re using Phillips Avent, hospital grade, BPA free, made in USA “Soothies”. You can buy them anywhere, which is handy!

Bite rings (or whatever they are) (9):

I wanted to include these “rings” in this post, because they are made by a company called Re-Play which, just like Green Toys Inc, make their products using only recycled milk jugs. While Green Toys focus on play, Re-Play has all the essentials for baby dinner time. I got these rings as a free gift when buying diapers from Nicky’s Diapers (where I’ve bought almost my entire stash) and decided to accept them (though I hate “free gifts”) since they’re eco-friendly and made in USA. Maybe not exactly an “essential” item, but Re-Play’s dinnerware might turn out to be :)

Wipes  (10):

In the picture I’ve got a made in USA organic bamboo organic cotton wipe from Bottom Bumpers, which I find to be a bit too thick for wiping bums but great for spit-up and spills. For regular diaper time, I prefer the Geffen Baby organic cotton hemp wipes and I also have some no-name, organic cotton, made in Europe terry wipes I bought when I visited Sweden. If you’re making the effort of cloth diapering, using reusable wipes is a must.

Diaper cream and nipple cream (11):

I’ll be honest, I thought these little jars from Earth Mama Angel Baby were made of glass with a metal lid, but they’re all plastic… that’s what you get sometimes when shopping online. Anyway, the creams inside of the jars are organic, baby safe and smell lovely. We hardly see any rash on little one since he’s cloth diapered but we use cream once in a while, and of course he likes the massage that comes with it. I used the nipple cream when I was starting out breastfeeding, a great vegan alternative to lanolin.

That’s all! A mommy blogger would have totally made this into 11 posts and probably would have tried to sell you all something through a link that she made money off of. Ha! I just want to let everyone know that “made in USA and eco-friendly” IS POSSIBLE.

PS. Babies actually don’t need that much stuff (just like I always thought). Our little one is mostly into being held, hugged, played with and talked to. No purchase necessary.

 

A car seat that’s made right here. AND made right there.

It’s extra exciting for me when I get to promote a brand that is locally made to both my American and European readers. I don’t know if it has ever happened before, but it did now, namely Britax car seats!

Made right here in Fort Mills, South Carolina for the American market and made in Germany for the European market under the name Britax Römer.

Maxi Cosi is the world’s most sold infant car seat, however I know from flipping it over in the store, that it’s actually made in China. My sister also told me that she found it to be very heavy. Based on those two facts, we decided to look at using another brand.

My boss told me that Britax is made in the USA, so that seemed like a good starting point!

Turns out that Britax is a top safety pick with its newborn inserts, cushions, easily adjusted straps, ISO-fix base (that stays in the car), and side collision protection. Of course, it is rear-facing.

In terms of weight, I don’t think it is any lighter than my sister’s Maxi Cosi! I struggle when I’m carrying baby from the car and he’s still tiny. Thank goodness we made sure the car seat fit on top of our stroller, that way we can drive the baby around when we’re out and about.

I probably don’t have to say it, but I love it when I go browsing, fearing that the market will be saturated by made in China and Taiwan options, and immediately find a good, solid brand that is NOT. It’s my favorite thing.

Unfortunately, all the Britax traveling accessories (mirrors, storage pockets, seat protectors etc.) are made in China. So are the accessories of all other carseat brands. Kind of disappointing, especially when these are need to have items, such as the sun and rain cover my husband insisted we get for the sake of protecting our little pooper from Texas’ elements. Yes guys, I’ve committed my first 2017 baby-related shopping felony ($29.99). I only made it until February!

The Britax infant car seats sell for about 400 EUR across the pond and $200 here stateside, including the ISO-fix base. It’s one of the more expensive seats in the market for sure, but considering the safety aspect and that it’s made right here (or there!) it’s worth it. I like knowing that we’ve invested in a great cruiser for our baby :)

Five easy ways to reduce grocery store waste – without planning ahead!

Ever found yourself at the grocery store or market completely unprepared? 

“It’s just so hard to remember the reusable bags when I go to the store! And sometimes I have them in my car but leave them out there and don’t remember until I’m almost done!”

I’ve heard this statement a few times. I am not really sure why it’s a big deal to go get the bags in the car, but apparently it is. Probably because the kids are DONE with shopping at that point, and the freezer section items are already in cart (do enlighten me, lazy bunch!)

Let’s leave the car-bags scenario off the table for now and consider if you’ve come to the grocery store completely unprepared: no reusable (shopping and produce) bags to be seen. Maybe you just stopped on your way home from work or an outing. How annoying!

But, are there ways you can reduce your waste output anyway? 

Yes!

Here’s my quick guide to bringing home less packaging, waste and fewer plastic bags, even when you are completely unprepared.

1. Most produce don’t need a bag!

Pineapple, melon, kiwi, carrots, potatoes, oranges, onions, avocados, eggplant; anything protected by a peel does not need a bag, so skip the produce bag altogether. Tomatoes, cucumber and bell peppers (most veggies) actually have a protective layer and the dirt you bring upon them from riding the cart is minimal compared to what they’ve already been through before you picked them up. However, I get that it can seem strange be to let them go bare. Start with produce with peels and work up the courage to never bag anything – except tiny things like mushrooms and berries that could literally fall through the bottom of the cart if you don’t. (Reuse any bags you do take!)

While you are in the produce department, ask if you can have the lid of a banana box – you’ll use this to pack in later.

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We don’t want plastic covers – we want to ride bare!

2. Go for paper cartons, glass containers or metal cans

Rice, beans, eggs, sugar, flour, baking soda and other items will provide you with the choice between paper cartons and plastic packaging like bags or styrofoam (yuck!). Always go for carton, it’s recyclable (and/or compostable).

So is glass and metal, which makes these two materials good choices as well when selecting items like sauces, oils, PB and jams. Of course, you have to remember to recycle them!

3. Place the things you don’t absolutely need on hold

I’m sure you’ve got a few items on your list (or on your mind) that you planned on buying this time, which you could actually do without another couple of days. Leave them at the store until your next shopping trip, one when you hopefully remember your reusable produce, bread, bulkbin and check out bags. 

4. If all else fails – Skip the dairy

If your cart is filling up with plastic anyway, maybe you need some pre-made foods to get you through the week ( NO judging here!) you might feel bad about all the waste you’re creating. Lessen the blow by skipping the dairy aisle! Yes, dairy is a waste nightmare: a farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people. There are many good alternatives to diary, just a browse away (in the dairy section).

5. Be alert at check out

No time to snooze! Tell the crew to not use any plastic bags, you have a banana box in your cart! Big, bulky items like juice jugs, six packs of beer, paper towels and such, can go straight in the cart since you’ll be driving the cart to your car.

In order to encourage stores to stop printing receipts remember to say “no thank you” to receipts and printed coupons too. Did you know that the material that makes receipts “shiny” to the touch is actually BPA – a dangerous plastic coating PROVEN to be hormone disrupting? Knowing that, you don’t want to touch that receipt anyway, on a waste saving mission or not. 

(If your favorite foods in the whole world come in plastic or simply has too much packing, email the maker. Tell them to rethink their packaging: reduce or switch. If we all reach out when we see bad eco-habits, we can make a change!)

Do you have any other tips and tricks for the unprepared when it comes to avoiding waste at the grocery store? Let me know!

Is green living even possible with a baby in the house?

It’s a good question. Right?

One I asked myself before we had our baby and one I am still thinking about. Hardcore environmentalists actually argue that having a baby is so bad for the environment that none of us should have any. Articles promoting not having kids have circulated the green community for a while, been enthusiastically shared and, of course, I see their point; an average American’s carbon footprint exceeds 20 tonnes each year so don’t add another one. That number is calculated with today’s consumption behavior and technology – it can most certainly decrease as these improve.

So, a baby is bad for the environment. But what if he’s the new Elon Musk or Bernie Sanders? What if he invents the best carbon trapping technology ever, one that solves our climate issues forever? Yes, this is how we (and other green parents) are justifying our actions.

On that note meet baby August, our little love bug, who turns two months today.

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One month old August!

Now, despite the carbon footprint of a new (western) life – Is it possible to make mindful, eco-friendly, low carbon choices to soften the blow? All amidst intense emotions, new routines and a strange little person to keep alive?

For us, yes and no. We’re trying our best. Let me start by confessing some of our less successful undertakings.

Failure # 1: Trash, trash, trash

I will admit that there was not much cooking going on during the first month of baby’s life. Yes, we ate pre-made food, ordered take out (some of it packaged in Styrofoam!) and lived off of Cliff energy bars. We even had Starbucks (twice!) in their disposable cups. Honestly, I think we created more waste in that first month than we had in the previous six! I felt bad about it, but at the same time I knew it wasn’t a big deal to live like most Americans do all year, since it would be for a very short time. Either way, a green living fail.

Failure # 2: Baby gifts

Baby August has been spoiled with gifts from neighbors and colleagues, people we know but aren’t aware of our lifestyle, thus these gifts have included quite a few sweatshop-made, Asian imports. We took a few things back but kept many of them as they were usable (and we didn’t have gift receipts). Our close friends and family have been super thoughtful and only given us baby gear made in USA, second hand items, handmade crafts or brought us food. I’d say we’ve managed to stay as minimalist as one can hope, having a new baby and being surrounded by kind, generous people who want to congratulate us (and how lucky are we that people feel that way!). All in all, I wouldn’t call it a complete failure, despite some “Made in China” tags sneaking into our home.

Now on to the greener side if things.

Success story # 1: Baby’s food

Going back to the topic of food; we have continued to shop local, vegan, bulk and organic to the same extent we were before, and we have kept up with the compost. August is eating (or should I say “drinking”?) the most eco-friendly, zero waste and natural food possible: mama’s milk! I am thankful that after some practice, baby and I got the hang of breastfeeding. Green living win (and all around nutritiously awesome!)

Success story # 2: Cloth diapers

Though trash was initially piling up in the kitchen, we were (and are) mastering almost zero waste in the bathroom! I was determined to cloth diaper the baby from the very beginning and I am happy to say we started doing so after only one week. We were sent home from the hospital with a packet of Huggies newborn diapers, but about five days in, both my husband and I were ready to switch to cloth – Huggies don’t hold shit (literally) and that gets tired very fast. I definitely have to do a blog post on cloth diapers, the environment and our routine when I have more experience with it! I will tell you now that it is not hard to do if you own a washer and dryer. Cloth diapers and wipes: another green living win.

Now that we’ve settled in and things are becoming less chaotic, we’re back to old habits of me cooking (from scratch) and the gifts have stopped coming (phew!).

My conclusion is that living green with a brand new baby can certainly be done with a little help and superman/woman type motivation. We needed about five weeks before we could get back to being “green” and each week it gets easier to maintain healthy, eco-friendly, low carbon habits. That said, no matter how much we try, August cannot produce zero carbon, just like we, you and I, are contributing to climate change every day.

I am sure there’ll be more eco-compromises as we go along, finding ourselves in new and unexpected “we have a kid” situations! But, I am ok with that, as long as I feel we are doing our very best – for us, the baby and the environment.

My new iPhone case was Carved in wood – right here (in Indiana)

Let’s talk cellphone cases!

Just because our phones are manufactured by underpaid factory workers (who can never afford to own the phones they make) and imported from China doesn’t mean our cases have to be. Right?

I finally had to admit that my iPhone 5 was on its last term this winter and accept an upgrade from my employer. My phone had been sleeping spontaneously from time to time and I kept running out of storage space, even though I am very good with transferring and deleting pictures. A good thing at least, from an environmental standpoint, is that I skipped the iPhone 6 all together and went straight to the 7. Every phone upgrade takes a toll on the environment you know (mined raw materials, electronic waste, import fuels, sweatshop labor).

Now back to talking cases! Made in USA is a must; eco-friendly a need. Neither myself nor hubby wanted to have one of those full-on-plastic-armor style cases (which are possible to find US-made) but were looking for something more slim and chic.

We found Carved.

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Super cool, eco-friendly packaging

All Carved cases are handmade in Indiana by talented craftsmen and women. Reclaimed woods (like old skateboards!) or already fallen trees become the most beautiful, unique, wood cellphone cases. 

A cool detail is that they’re using a clear epoxy around the wood inlay, which shows off the color of the iPhone underneath. Since I finally have the rose gold, I was delighted that I didn’t have to cover that up.

I went for the Mount Bierstadt style ($39); it reminds me of some of our trips to America’s national parks and its colors go well with my phone, while hubs went for a sleek and classic walnut back ($24) for his matte black cellphone.

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Love this handmade in USA case! Mount Bierstadt design by Carved.com

Our cases were made by Carved upon order (no wasteful stock!) and shipped to us for free in 100% plastic-free packaging. Yay.

Any complaints from this eco-friendly, not made in China shopper? None! Both me and my husband love the cases we picked. (He dropped his phone on the pavement already with no damage to it, just a small, internal crack line in the case’s epoxy liner. I dropped mine last week (maneuvering the baby!) and it survived without any damage.)

It may be a bit early, but isn’t this the perfect Father’s Day (or Mother’s Day) gift? Very reasonably priced ($24 and up), made right here and both a “nice to have” and “need to have” item. You can make it even more personal by ordering a custom carve that you design yourself (using their handy online program) or you can upload your own logo or picture to have your cover be totally one of a kind. You aren’t getting that at the Apple Store, are ya?

Check them out or you’re missing out ;)

Rocking a compost (when your thumbs don’t know green!)

We’re finally composting!

Anyone who knows me, knows that my thumbs are a color not even remotely related to green. Just ask my mom if I’ve ever watered her plants correctly or ask my dad if I did a “great job” mowing the lawn, summer of 2000. That’s why I am so excited and proud to be rocking my backyard compost!

I decided that a proper compost was the next thing we needed to implement in our daily routine in order to handle our family’s waste better and living a greener life. Reading zero waste blogs, by people who are like experts in the matter, inspired me so much to get this done!

For the longest time we’ve been all about reusables, recycling, bulk buying and BYO bags so my husband and I hardly ever took out the trash (I’m also an expert at turning leftovers into new meals). We were also letting living in Houston hold us back – so humid, so many possums we feared – would a compost work? But it was just us being lazy, dragging our feet, and making excuses! Fall 2016 – we got down to business.

Here it is. My soil factory!

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Made in USA Envirocycle tumbler compost bins

What do we compost?

A compost should consist of about 75% green material and 25% brown. The green is ALL the food scraps and grass (except meat and bones if we ever have that) and the brown is the paper towels, toilet rolls and dry leaves. I don’t pay too much attention to my compost “mix” at the moment. I am just filling it with kitchen scraps and watching it all decompose.

Why do we compost?

It’s important to compost because even the “natural” waste we throw in our kitchen bins cannot decompose in a landfill. All bio products need oxygen (air) to do so, and if none present, which is the case in landfills, all you’ll have is trash build up (that’ll last forever) causing methane emissions. Even if you use bio-degradable bags, food scraps will NEVER become soil in a landfill. About 20% of human methane (powerful greenhouse gas) emissions in USA come from waste decomposition!

The CO2 created in a compost is negligible in comparison and is part of a natural system of turning food into soil. After you’ve had a compost for a while, you end up with fertile, rich soil you can sprinkle in your yard or use to plant flowers or veggies. (Or even sell to hobby-gardeners who don’t compost themselves!)

How do we compost?

I am lazy. I need pre-made comfort. So, we use two tumbler type compost bins from Envirocycle. These little guys come pre-assembled, in a box, so the effort is minimal (hurray!). I got them online and yes, off course they’re made in the USA!

The Envirocycle compost is rust-protected, BPA free, and comes with a five-year warranty. Most importantly the design is small, modern-looking, possum free and easy to use, even for a garden disaster like me. We fill one up (for about 2-3 months), rotate the drum every 3-4 days, and then watch the trash turn to black soil, while we fill up the other. It came as a total surprise to me how fast the smell inside the tumbler goes from “trash” to the smell of the rich dirt I remember from playing outside in my childhood. Black gold. Thumbs up.

We also collect compost tea in the bottom of the compost, which we use as fertilizer for indoor plants. The large tumbler is $229 and the small is $169.(We bought the small one first to try the system, then added a second one when I figured out how I wanted to do it. The larger tumbler does roll a lot better than the small one does. Read more at Envirocycle.com.)

Inside, we use an air-tight Tupperware for collecting the greens and a large open bowl for the browns. We decided to just use containers we already had at home. Every few days, or up to a week sometimes, I empty them outside in the compost.

There are lots of ways to rock an eco-friendly compost bin and reduce kitchen waste; anything from fancy indoor compost systems like the Zera Food Recycler to classic outside worm bins. Search online, check zero waste blogs, and I am sure you’ll find a system that works for your family too.

If we can do it – you can do it!

Checklist: Five easy steps to becoming a conscious consumer

Ever wondered what goes on inside the head of a conscious consumer? Maybe you consider yourself to be one or maybe you are well aware that you’re quite the impulse shopper, buying things without really thinking it through. 

No matter which group of people you belong to, let me tell you that conscious shopping is quite the process!

I consider myself an extremely conscious consumer. I may be taking it a bit too far sometimes. Anyway, I decided I should write a post about what happens inside my head when I shop. Write down all the steps, for your entertainment ;).

One purchase that I am particularly excited about is our new thermometer! Since it’s a must to have one when you have a new baby (so we read) we figured we better get one sooner rather than later. It so happened that I had been given a Babies R’ Us $25 gift card, so I decided I’d go there first. What else would I possibly be buying at Babies R’ Us? (Also known as China-central.)

Here we go. Here are all the steps I went through at the store, picking out our PERFECT thermometer. My brain works overtime. Just to be clear, these five steps apply to all items I buy!

Step one: Check which options are not made in China.

This is a great start because it normally eliminates nine out of ten options! (Sometimes it eliminates all options, in which case we are entering the “challenge” part of the concious consumer thing). No different this time, I did the tag-check and it eliminated all but two thermometers. Great!

Step two: Contemplate the origin of manufacture for the remaining options.

After the China-check, the choice came down to a Braun in-ear thermometer “Made in Mexico” or an Exergen temporal artery thermometer “Assembled in USA”.

First I considered the transport; it’s a big deal to me how far my purchases travel. Since I’m in Texas, the Mexican one could in fact be more locally made than the US one, but my guess would be they’re about the same. (I looked up Exergen when I got home and I think it came from Massachusetts.)

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What about the “assembled” in USA versus “made” in Mexico part? Well, it doesn’t actually tell us that one is more local than the other; it’s just a matter of label laws! The Mexican one can very well be made of the same imported (Asian) parts as the one assembled in USA was. Here stateside, companies must use the phrase “assembled” when foreign pieces are used as part of the product. The Mexican thermometer on the other hand, because it was exported here, may very well be labeled “made” in Mexico even if many parts were imported to Mexico before assembly. Make sense?

What I do know is that the Exergen thermometer was assembled, packaged and tested in USA, which means that this product has provided some various level jobs here. I like that. In 2015 the US trade deficit with Mexico was over $60 billion, as we imported over $296 billion’s worth in Mexican-made products. No real need for me to “add” to that number either.

Step three: Decide which item has the most eco-friendly packaging.

Here’s where I got super excited! The Exergen thermometer was packaged completely without plastic! All cardboard! Yes, plastic-free! That practically NEVER happens. The Braun on the other hand came in a clear, hard molded plastic packet. Easy peasy choice!

Step four: Consider if the products are equal when it comes to functionality.

I didn’t have a clear preference when it came to function, I figured they would both get the job done. Both also proudly showed off similar “recommended by pediatricians” statements. The in-ear thermometer did come with disposable plastic in-ear shields (not sure what to call them or if they need to be used) which seemed wasteful to me while the other one had no disposable parts. Both had a common type battery; one we can buy partly recycled and also recycle after.

Step five: Figure out which is the better deal.

Yes, price is often the last thing I consider when shopping! In this case, the Braun, the one already losing this race, was actually more expensive! It was around $55, while the Exergen cost only $35. Slam dunk!

That’s it! Selection done.

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Exergen thermometer – assembled, tested, packaged right here.

The clear winner was the Exergen. I bought it and we’re so happy with it – although we haven’t actually tested it on a baby yet (only on hubs!) ;)

Conscious consumption takes a bit of thought, but when you succeed and feel content you made the BEST possible choice for the environment and yourself, there’s NO better reward.

Now, if you made it through this entire post; are you a conscious consumer or an impulse shopper?

My ultimate guide to shopping ethical and American-made style (OFFLINE!)

For anyone starting out on a Made in USA shopping journey, finding places to shop and brands to trust can be overwhelming. I know when I first started out I felt quite discouraged for a while, as it was difficult to find American-made clothes.

A few years later, and a gazillion online shops later, I know where to go for my next “Made in USA fix”. Mrs. American Made, a style blog, has guided me to many brands, so has random Instagram browsing. The question still remains though, what are some physical stores where we can find locally made clothes, shoes and décor?

Online shopping is great for supporting small businesses and of course very convenient, but sometimes it’s nice to shop down the street, isn’t it?

If you are lucky enough to live in a place that promotes local, like Boulder, CO or Asheville, NC, you’ll have access to small boutiques, fair-trade markets, apothecaries, vintage shops or brand stores like PrAna and Patagonia and you’re off to a good start. (NYC residents probably don’t need this list either!) However, many of us reside in more of a “big-box retailer” region so I’m sharing my favorite stores with that in mind! Anyone can succeed and master American-made shopping (even in the suburbs ;))!

1. The BEST store for Ethical Fashion and all around browsing: REI

Yes, the camping and outdoors giant is our favorite place to go browse and try on new clothes! REI carries brands like United by Blue, PrAna, Toad & Co and many more small batch, fair-trade, natural fiber options. They’ve also got a massive selection of great quality, made in USA socks, from Sockwell, Smart Wool, Thorlo and more. You’d be surprised how many of the camping and hiking essentials are actually made in USA as well! Here’s the store locator.

2. The BEST store for affordable Made in USA clothes: Nordstrom Rack

Here’s where I score all the best deals on American-made fashion. I’ve found sweaters, tops, dresses, jeans, sweatpants, undies and more by digging through the store and the clearance rack. Anything from $60 Citizen of Humanity jeans (!) to $10 Hanky Panky underwear – they’ve got it. Ever thought you’d run into a jumpsuit, or romper, sewn in the USA? Well, my friend Mary Beth did. Succeeding here does require some energy as stores tend to be overflowing with options. Here’s the store locator.

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Mary Beth in Loveappella Romper, Made in USA, from Nordstrom Rack

3. The BEST store for high quality home decor and furniture: Crate & Barrel

I know it’s on the pricier side of things, but we haven’t bought anything at Crate & Barrel that broke or disappointed us. They’ve got lots of made in USA kitchen gear, decor and furniture, as well as beautiful glassware from Europe. We got our king size bed frame from there, it was built and upholstered in North Carolina and made to order. Here’s the store locator.

4. The BEST store for American-stitched denim: Last Call by Neiman Marcus

Splendid, AG jeans, Paige, 7, True Religion, Eileen Fisher, J brand, rag & bone and several others – Last Call has most of these brands available at all times and the majority of their denim is sewn in the USA! You’ll also get a much better deal here than shopping at the mall or online. I am not the type to order jeans online – trying them on is a must. Even the same brand and style, to me, fit differently depending on the fabric and wash. Here’s the store locator.

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US-made Splendid denim shirt with Alice & Olivia jeans (+ wind in the hair!)

5. The BEST place to go browsing and spend all day: Premium Outlets

You might get lucky at Premium Outlets and get a good deal on made in USA items at New Balance, 7 for all mankind, Tory Burch (some jewelry is US-made!), Saks off 5th or True Religion. The downside is you might NOT and end up spending the whole day, only to find nothing but sweatshop made clothes at Banana Republic and Chinese leather bags at Coach… (don’t buy them!) It’s worth a try if you keep an open mind and if you’re in that “shop all day mood”. Here’s the outlet locator.

Phew! These are my top five! Which ones are yours?

Shopping Made in USA doesn’t have to be complicated just because it’s happening offline! Try it out, let me know what you find :)

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This is the third post in a four post series focusing on American-made style, featuring pictures of my friend Mary Beth in her own locally made clothes, photographed in some neat Houston locations by our friend Ashley. Check out my previous posts in the series about an LA-made t-shirt here and a great read on domestic leathers  here.