Your Zero Waste Questions, Answered (Invitation to an Interview with La Nature)

I was invited by Hayley of La Nature, a zero waste store based in Park Slope, Brooklyn, for a Q&A on zero waste living! This was a great opportunity to answer some questions from the community about barriers to low impact living and how people at different stages of their journey can get started. Read more below!

This Q&A is reposted from the La Nature blog.

Belinda Chiu, creator of sustainability blog A Healthy Blueprint, is an expert when it comes to practicing a healthy and waste-free lifestyle. The road to zero waste can be a long one, but for most, it begins with small, easy to manage steps.

We asked La Nature’s customers to submit their questions about sustainable practices for us pass on to Belinda, as well as some of our own. Read her answers below to learn more about making the switch and how to navigate some of the most common challenges associated with waste-free living. And don’t forget to follow Belinda’s Instagram for more tips!

Q: For a generation not used to shopping zero waste, the lifestyle change can seem daunting. What are some of the easiest “starter” items they can be recommended to make the transition smooth?

The EASIEST starter items I would say is a reusable water bottle and bag. I almost never leave home without my water bottle and bag. In fact, I bet everyone already has a few reusable bottles and bags accumulated over the years from conferences, events, or from work that are waiting to be used. I make it easier for myself by sticking one folded tote in my most-used backpacks or purses so I’m never without it, and I try to leave a reusable bottle somewhere visible so I don’t forget to bring it when I leave the house.Some other starter items I’d recommend are a reusable utensil set (which you can make from utensils in your kitchen for free), a reusable straw if you typically use them for beverages, bar soaps in your bathroom and kitchen, and of course reusable cloth masks since we’re doing this interview during a pandemic!

Q: When considering which clothing to buy, how do you determine whether or not a company is properly adhering to waste-minimizing practices? What kinds of things do you look for?

I actually haven’t been in a fast fashion store in a while! I wouldn’t call myself fashion-forward so I don’t keep up with the latest clothing brands who are all for sustainability, but I will say that I was impressed with Girlfriend Collective’s website and had purchased a pair of their leggings (made from recycled plastic water bottles) a year or two ago and liked that they shared a sustainability report detailing how many water bottles were diverted from landfill, how many pounds of CO2 was prevented, and how much energy was saved. If more companies showed some form of transparency regarding their production and waste customers can make more informed decisions.I don’t add many pieces to my closet these days, but when I do I tend to browse on thredUP, an online thrift store, that way I’m doing my part to give secondhand items another life 🙂 Another thing I would recommend is if you can, try to look for clothing that’s made with one material rather than mixed (which can make it difficult to recycle).

Q: There seems to be confusion on composting certain items, wherein the product manufacturer marks it as compostable, but most centers won’t accept it. What kinds of things generally won’t be taken at compost centers, despite the label?

This gets tricky…it really depends on where your organic waste is ending up! For example, if you’re dropping off your food scraps at a community garden, they may have rules like no cooked food, meat, dairy, fish, or bones. This is to minimize any issues with pests and rodents! If you have a service where your scraps are going to an industrial composting facility, they may be able to accommodate these items. A best practice in general is to always check and ask questions–whether you are dropping off scraps at a local site, if you have a service or are participating with a program. When it comes to compostables, there’s inconsistency around what the green bags and serviceware are made of, and I’ve even heard that some of these compostable bowls had PFAS (also known as a forever chemical which is bad for us and the environment) in them! If you think about the lack of clarity around the materials used to make the materials, and the potential for contaminating what would end up becoming finished compost, it’s no surprise that composting facilities would rather play it safe and not accept them.

Q: For folks that are out and about for most of the day, what are ways they can stay sustainable even when away from home?

Bring your reusable bottle and utensils (and maybe even a takeout container)! My mom always gets upset with me because a lot of the time if I forget to bring my water bottle I will just dehydrate until I find a fountain or get back home. Now I’ve cut myself some slack and will buy something if I’m in dire need, but I will hold onto the empty container until I find the right place to recycle or dispose of it.I remember when I went upstate and ordered takeout, I was able to get my food packaged in my stainless steel container and I felt SO good about eliminating waste for that meal. When you go out to restaurants, you can try to remember to decline your straw if you don’t need it, and bring a container for leftovers if you tend to order larger meals, too.

Q: Some items seem to be impossible to substitute, such as the plastic containers holding essential vitamins or OTC meds. Is there any solution to get around things like these?

This is another toughie! I personally think the supplement industry gets people to spend SO much money unnecessarily, and much of the vitamins we need can be obtained from seeking a balanced diet. If we ate more fruit and veggies, and asked our doctors what other foods could help make up for deficiencies, we could avoid buying 15 different vitamin bottles. I do recognize though that not everyone has consistent access to fresh food anytime they want based on what exists in their built environments which needs to change. Sometimes prescription medicines are essential, and what I do for my prescriptions is I will ask to get my medicine ordered in 3-month supplies so all of it will come in one bottle instead of monthly. We actually have bags full of orange prescription bottles that we’ve collected from my family members that is just sitting at home until we figure out what to do with them. In the meantime I’ve sometimes used these bottles as propagation vessels for my plants, for saving seeds for gardening, and I know other folks have used them for holding onto their jewelry! You can also check out this website to see potential solutions for your bottles.

Q: This idea comes from one of our Instagram followers: “the biggest barrier to entry for zero waste living is the cost.” Can you share any thoughts you have about this sentiment?

Mainstream media can portray the zero waste aesthetic as intimidating for a lot of people. We often see companies and marketing campaigns show the latest products that customers “need” to buy in order to practice a zero waste lifestyle, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth! When I grew up, I saw my grandparents and my parents practice sustainability without many of the products we see advertised. I think for them it might not have been for the environment, but more about ways we could save money and prioritize other essentials like making sure everyone was fed and that the lights were on at home.Instead of feeling the urge to buy everything that is advertised to us, I would encourage us to assess what we have at home and only think about purchasing things as they need to be replaced. Additionally, we can be resourceful like our parents and grandparents by saving items we’ve already bought for reuse opportunities or getting creative by finding other use cases for things we already have around the house.

Why We Should Replace Our Lawns with Gardens

A well-maintained, manicured green lawn has notoriously symbolized wealth and status in the United States. Not everyone has the “privilege” to own extra outdoor, decorative real estate, or the resources (time and money) to preserve the immaculate appearance to preserve its property value. However, I challenge this commonly held belief as someone who grew up with this amenity. As a child, I enjoyed playing on the playground set in my backyard, and as an adult find the convenience in taking my dogs out to the yard, but I fail to embrace the idea that my green lawn makes me “better than”.

While multiple studies indicate that green spaces help reduce stress (see Hedblom et al, Tyrväinen et al, Ewert and Chang for examples), there are many more environmentally friendly ways we can achieve this. Green lawns are incredibly resource-intensive and have a negative impact on the environment—at the most basic level of maintenance, they require almost 3 trillion gallons of water per year, but many do not consider the other detrimental effects to keeping a pristine, green lawn. In order to present a perfect, grassy appearance, pesticides may be used to keep weeds at bay, harming the habitat for local pollinators and creatures, and runoff from these pesticides pollute our waterways. A perfect lawn needs to be cut regularly, and fuel-powered lawnmowers contribute to our continued dependence on fossil fuels (and our punishment: air pollution).

Earlier this year, I watched Rob Greenfield’s video on how he transformed his yard into a food garden and was fascinated. What if we replaced our lawns with food gardens? I say this with so much enthusiasm because since the pandemic, I tried my hand at growing my own food indoors and outside in my backyard from seed (thank you The Free Seed Project and Slow Food USA). Here are four examples:

  • Pause and reconnect with nature
    We traditionally live fast-paced lives and juggle a busy work-life balance, so when was the last time we had a chance to pause and appreciate the food we have on our plates? As a New Yorker I am used to being always “on the go” so it has been a joy to intentionally slow down, learn patience, reduce my stress, and watch my plants grow and produce the very things that I will eat in my meals!
  • Eat healthier
    By growing our own food, we get to decide what kind of fertilizers and pesticides to use in our garden. Additionally, we may feel a sense of pride and think “I grew that!” and feel inclined to experiment with more dishes and eat more greens.
  • It’s good for the planet
    Most of us have to commute by public transportation or personal vehicle to get to our nearest grocery store, and right now in the US, we haven’t made a full commitment to electric-powered vehicles, so traveling to the grocery stores uses fuel, which contributes to greenhouse gases! Another thing to consider is the distance that our produce travels from farm to supermarket, and the gas it takes to make that trip. If we are able to grow something in our yard (or even indoors), we are able to lessen our footprint, even if it is a small amount!
  • Homegrown food just.tastes.good.
    Did you know that a lot of the produce we buy at the supermarket are picked before they are ripe, and lose nutrients in the time it takes before it ends up in our meals? By growing our own food, we’ll be able to enjoy it at peak ripeness and enjoy the full nutritional value.

The next time you see a green lawn, I invite you to reimagine how this lawn could be repurposed: for the family living there, for the community, and for the environment.

To get started (and for some great tips overall), visit Rob Greenfield’s guide here.

Low Impact Living Goals for 2020

We have begun a new decade, and it is one of the most important ones of our lifetime. With less than 11 years left to take climate action before there is irreversible damage done to our planet from the effects of climate change, we have an important role to play as individuals and civil society members to live consciously, with the environment in mind, and with the imperative to call on our leaders and urge a shift in our systems for a livable future.

With this in mind, I have been actively trying to work on my lifestyle and seeing where I can make adjustments to reduce my environmental footprint. Here are some low impact living goals I have set for the year!

DIY beauty and cleaning products

As someone who suffered from eczema growing up, and just has what feels like chronically dry skin, I almost always have some lotion on me when I am on the go. Since I use handbags and totes interchangeably, I must have at least half a dozen little lotion bottles or tubes that I own.

While it would be counterintuitive to the zero waste lifestyle to just throw them all away, I am determined to finish these off and start making my own body lotions and butters so I can say goodbye to purchasing any large tubs and bottles.

Additionally, we can spend SO much money on cleaning products for our home: for the kitchen, bathroom, and all the places in between. With so many DIY recipes to try, and what seems to be the all-in-one magical castile soap, I am excited to see how I can keep my future apartment clean and as free of unnecessary harsh chemicals as possible.

Make my own snacks (now with more kitchen space!)

If you checked out my eco-friendly goals for 2019 post, I really wanted to attempt to make more snacks that I could bring when I am out and about. I think with the convenience of bulk snacks in our office’s kitchen, I did not really see the motivation to make my own snacks, but now that I am moving to a new apartment with a larger kitchen, I hope to work on this goal in 2020.

Cook more meals at home

Last year, I spent a good amount of my budget on dining out, and I want to make a concerted effort to use the cookbooks I already own and make some of my favorite dishes at a fraction of what I would pay at a restaurant.

Start a home compost

Ever since moving out and into an apartment building, my neighborhood does not have the brown bin collection program for me to conveniently handle my organic scraps. With more space in my apartment and an outdoor patio, I have the option to start an outdoor compost tumbler or an indoor vermicompost system. I might do the DIY route and use one of my plastic bins for a vermicompost, but I will keep you posted!

Continue carrying zero waste essentials

One of the easiest things we can all do to start reducing our impact on the environment and planet is by carrying our own reusable items and saying no to single-use plastics. I am talking about bringing your own water bottle, utensils, and grocery bag, for starters! You can work your way up from there. Because I switch bags so often I do tend to forget some of these items from time to time (and I will end up just dehydrating myself out of stubbornness and determination not to purchase a beverage in plastic), but I plan to do better this year.

What were some of your low impact or zero waste goals for this year?

How One Consulting Firm is Helping Companies Go Zero Waste in NYC

Some people know what they want to do when they grow up, and others serendipitously find their calling through their life experiences. Sarah Currie-Halpern was one such person when she came to co-found Think Zero LLC with her partner Ushma Pandya Mehta. After watching the Now This video featuring Anna Sacks, Senior Associate at Think Zero LLC and co-author of the petition to tell CVS to donate their unused merchandise, I reached out to Sarah to learn more about her story.

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Sarah’s experiences in marketing and working for the NYC Mayor’s Office of Sustainability set her up on a path to zero waste. A lifelong vegetarian, Sarah always had sustainability on her mind. After running the Solid Waste and Zero Waste programs with the Mayor’s office and working with different stakeholders, she realized there was a huge need for the private sector to address their waste production and that she needed to work with businesses to reduce their waste.

That is when Sarah and Ushma decided to co-found Think Zero LLC, a zero waste consulting firm specializing in helping real estate companies, schools, residential buildings and other businesses develop strategies and tangible action plans to reduce and divert their waste from landfill and incineration. Through her marketing background, Sarah recognized that behavior change was one of the most important factors in reducing waste, and that incentives (i.e. discounts) and penalties (i.e. fees) can serve as great motivators for clients and their constituents.

Ushma (left) and Sarah (right) at a clean-up event with Parley in Lower East Side, Manhattan

Now three years old, Think Zero LLC has achieved numerous levels of success with their clients, from simple switches in building sanitation practices, such as changing from single trash bins to dual bin dollies, switching to clear trash bags to hold staff accountable of the waste they throw out versus recycle, and even supporting a client’s efforts to achieve the TRUE certification. They will be rolling out a self-guided waste reduction/diversion program for companies and organizations of all sizes to take part in efforts to become zero waste. Check out their website for more information!

How to Encourage Sustainability in Your Office

Many of us work in organizations/companies whose missions vary greatly – some may be lucky enough to work for an organization that puts the environment at the center and focuses its efforts on promoting sustainability. If your organization does not actively work toward this, here are five ways that you can foster sustainability practices and norms in your office.

Bring your own ___________.

I have had years of experience bringing lunch from home, so I have no problem bringing lunch to work in my own reusable containers. This saves me money in the long run when I meal prep, and I also save on the containers that would normally be used for takeout.

The National Coffee Association conducted a study and found that on average 64% of Americans drink a cup of coffee a day. Just think about how many disposable coffee cups are being used at the minimum for a second: there are over 327 million people in the US, so after you crunch the numbers, that is more than 209 million cups being used and thrown away every day! Just imagine the difference it makes to bring your own drink tumbler to purchase your coffee in the morning, or better yet, make your coffee at home and put it in a good ol’ mug!

Shopping deal: use code CB-WEL19 for 20% off on a reusable tumbler at Reduce Everyday!

Opt for “green” office supplies.

We are not at the point yet where we can be completely paper-free, and some people like the ability to write things down, or print things out when they attend meetings. Instead of purchasing virgin printing paper or notepads, purchase recycled printing paper and office supplies.

If your office has a kitchen, take advantage of and use the reusable dishware and utensils! There is no need to use the disposable options (and better yet, request your office administrator to stop buying disposable options altogether).

Save electricity.

How many people are in your office, and how many computers are running on any given workday? Computers can eat up a lot of electricity, so when you leave for the day, put your computer on sleep mode or shut it off.

In addition to computers, lights are always on during work hours! While we can’t shut them off in the shared workspace, we can all do our parts to turn off the lights after leaving a meeting room or phone booth.

Think about food.

Okay, you might be wondering, how do I encourage sustainability practices and norms through food? But think about when your office gets catering for special events. How often do you get handfuls of disposable plates and utensils? Sometimes catering is unavoidable, so make sure you put in the request to decline any utensils and dishware the next time you have to order catering, especially if you have it in your office.

So we’ve covered containers and now we’ve covered dishware and utensils, but what about leftover food, specifically food scraps and other organic waste? Does it end up in the regular trash because there is no compost collection service in your office? (Do you see where I’m going here?) Talk with your office administrator to see if compost collection services are available and being utilized in your building; if it currently isn’t adopted throughout the building, a small step is to advocate for compost collection services in your own office. It might take some time (working with overcoming the fear of pests and odor, as well as allocating budget for this recurring service), but don’t give up! I am still gently nudging my colleagues to get composting in my organization.

Some suggestions to look into if you live in NYC: Common Ground Compost (traditional composting) or Vokashi (using the bokashi method for fermenting your organic waste)

Create community norms in your office.

Change starts with you. If no one has started getting people on the sustainability train yet, it’s your cue to be the conductor. I organized a recycling 101 brown bag session with my friend from GrowNYC and my colleagues LOVED it (I need to do one again!), implemented a contacts blister pack collection system to send to TerraCycle to recycle, for starters (my coworkers enjoy bringing in their discards too!).

Some of my colleagues now bring in their items they want to donate instead of throwing items into the trash, which I love! And another colleague specifically set aside time with me so she could get some tips for phasing out plastic use in her home.

While change does not happen overnight, setting an example and taking initiative can lead to some surprisingly good results.

What are some sustainability initiatives you started in your office?

How to Go Zero Waste on Vacation

Summer is here and many of us have vacation plans lined up every weekend, starting with this past July 4th weekend. It is easy to get away from the hustle and bustle of work life and forget about all of our responsibilities, but there is one full-time job we should keep in mind, wherever our vacations take us: making as small of an environmental footprint as we can. Here are 6 quick tips on being zero waste (or as close to it) on vacation.

This post is in partnership with a fellow eco-warrior, Jen Finds Out, who has shared her experience vacationing with the environment in mind. Check it out linked at the end of this post!

1. Bring your zero waste essentials.

Everyone’s zero waste kit can vary, but the most common pieces of items a person aiming to make zero waste will bring are a reusable water bottle, a travel utensil set, a cloth napkin, some kind of container for food storage, and a reusable bag.

Each of these items serve a specific purpose no matter where you go. If you get thirsty, you can fill your bottle at a refill station or ask a restaurant to fill it for you. If you get food to go, you can firmly but politely instruct the staff to put your food in your food container, and use your utensils to chow down later. If you go window shopping and find something you have to have, you have a reusable bag to hold it!

2. Pack your own snacks.

Every time my family and I stopped by a gas station during a road trip, I made a beeline straight for the snack aisle. My favorite road trip snack has always been beef jerky, but little did I know the livestock production’s environmental footprint.

This past July 4th weekend, I packed two large containers of cherries and blueberries as road trip snacks and they lasted the entire time we were on vacation! The opportunities are endless when thinking about zero waste snacks to pack for a trip – fruit, assorted nuts or trail mix, and more!

3. Bring your own toiletries.

If it were not for companies making bar soaps and organizations like Eco-Soap Bank who recycle discarded hotel soap to improve sanitation access to people in developing countries, I do not know what I would do with all of the travel-sized bottles and tubes of shower gels and shampoo/conditioner that hotels provide!

I have been happily bringing shampoo bars, toothpaste bits, and whatever leftover soap I have accumulated from previous years with me whenever I travel. By doing this, I am one less person (and usually helping the people I travel with) who will be using the toiletries that hotels have to offer during your stay.

4. Use public transportation or carpool.

Find out if you can get to your vacation destination using public transportation such as a bus or a train before you consider driving. If driving is the next best option, see if you can carpool with someone you know who is traveling to that area too! If the destination is too far by car, see if there is a way to travel by boat – flying should be our last option whenever possible.

5. Dine in whenever possible (at a family-run restaurant).

If you are on vacation, there are so many new places to try! I recommend you avoid the fast food chains and check out those mom and pop restaurants to support local. If you have the time, dine in so you will be able to use their reusable dishware. If you have leftovers, you can use your food container to pack it to go. And if you are in a rush, family-run businesses are more likely to oblige and pack your takeout in the container you offer them!

6. Leave nature the way you found it.

Where I live in NYC, litter decorates the streets of our residential and commercial areas. It is disheartening to witness people from afar casually tossing pieces of litter onto the ground without a second thought. Whenever I travel, I do my best to produce as little waste as possible, and to make sure that I do not leave traces of trash anywhere I go. Our environment is not a garbage can and we should not be treating them that way – animals can mistake trash for food and they are at our mercy based on our actions.

What are some ways you practice zero waste living while on vacation?

PS- I’m excited to share a fellow eco-warrior’s experience going on vacation and applying zero waste principles while basking in paradise. While we may be in control of our sustainability practices at home, it gets a bit tricky because we’re not in our element and we may not be in an enabling environment. Read more about the concept of “eco-anxiety” on Jen’s post here!

What Sustainability Means to Industry Experts

After a long day at work, I often want to rush home to throw on some sweatpants and lounge around, but this week I was counting down the days and hours to attend an event co-hosted by Bloomingdale’s and The No. 29 Communications to hear industry experts share advice for practicing sustainability and mindfulness.

Panelists included Zahra Ahmed, VP of Marketing and E-commerce at DL1961, Emma Loewe, Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen, Kwesi Blair, Sustainable Brand Strategist, Angel Veza, Food Waste Expert, and Gay Browne, Author of Living with a Green Heart. Between these five panelists and co-founder of The No. 29, Melody Serafino, a few key themes arose.

Sustainability is a personal journey.

Everyone will embark on a different journey toward sustainability, and we all have different paths to get there. It can start with that aha moment at specific points in our lives, ranging from beach clean-ups and witnessing the volume of food waste while working in the restaurant industry, to waking up to the realization of one’s unintentional complicity working in the fashion industry after the Rana Plaza tragedy.

Sustainability is practicing the ‘leave no trace’ rule.

We enter the world with nothing, and we should also leave it with nothing as well. When we visit beautiful places of nature such as national parks, there is an unspoken rule to leave nothing behind, as if no humans set foot in that space. The same should apply through our entire lives.

We need to be more conscious of the waste we produce and think about how we can reduce it wherever possible. Our current practices of factory farming, deforestation, disturbing nature for crude oil, waste management, among other things, need to drastically change.

Sustainability is about making better choices.

What defines “better”? Better implies that there will be comparison, and there should be when talking about sustainability! We should be comparing brands to see if they have sustainability standards, and if so, how specific do they get? How are our clothes made, for example, and how are the materials sourced? Can we substitute single-use plastic items for something that does not have to be thrown away? Can we educate ourselves on different parts of a vegetable to reduce the amount of food scraps we toss in the compost?

Sustainability is about thriving with the world around you.

Having a community of individuals who are passionate about sustainability really struck a chord with me. I wasn’t just inspired by the experts sitting across from me, but I was grateful to my peers in the audience who came out to learn how to thrive on our planet through different facets of our lives. It’s great to see companies like Bloomingdale’s support sustainability efforts by providing the space and platform for this information to be shared – I’m looking forward to more companies following their lead!

From left to right: Zahra, Kwesi, Melody, Angel, Emma, Gay

The Most Sustainable Restaurant in NYC

If you ever find yourself in Greenwich Village looking for a hot cup of tea or a delicious, locally sourced bite to eat, you’ll want to check out the little shop on W 8th Street that is setting an example for how to be a zero waste, sustainable restaurant in NYC.

I first learned of Ancolie on a Trash Talking with Eco-Warriors podcast episode and knew I had to visit this shop; after all, it was only one train stop away from my office!

It’s funny because I was born and raised in NYC but sometimes I feel like a tourist in my own city, and Greenwich Village is completely foreign to me, so it took a little bit of exploring before I found Ancolie. But once you see the little hanging sign with the sleek lettering and the French flag on the door, you know you’ve found the spot.

When you step inside Ancolie, you’re welcomed by warm staff, and if you’re lucky, the founder Chloe Vichot herself! To your right is a refrigerator stocked with just enough fresh foods and drinks for customers to purchase to dine in, or take out. I knew they had fresh salads and breakfast snacks, but I was surprised to see some more unique items such as apple cider and miso in glass bottles!

Ancolie’s model is simple: every jar purchase includes a $2 jar deposit; if you bring it back, you get a $2 credit on your next purchase!

I chose to dine there, but loved the jar so I kept it for now (until I’m back for more) and I appreciated the fact that they only provide stainless steel utensils and do not supply customers with plastic anything (only compostable cups and utensils upon request, I believe).

With a sustainable, plastic-free, zero waste model in the form of jar deposits, discounts on BYO coffee cups, ensuring their food is locally sourced, and donating food waste to a community garden, it’s easy to see how Ancolie leaves a green impression on their customers. I hope other restaurants take note and follow Chloe and Ancolie’s lead to ensure that we move in the right direction toward sustainability in the food industry.

Cultivating More Eco-Friendly Habits in 2019

If you’ve checked out my last post on some sustainable habits I developed in 2018, thank you and welcome to this post! This year I am ready to continue on my zero waste journey and making more changes to reduce my environmental footprint as an individual, and hope to inspire others around me to do the same. Generally, I’ve been maintaining the habit of BYO items, using reusable containers, and purchasing and disposing responsibly, but there are more steps I’d like to take that I’ll share here.

Reducing the habit of purchasing items in plastic packaging.

Have you ever walked into a convenience store and looked at all the items on the shelves? Was there one item that wasn’t packaged in plastic? I vaguely remember in a distant memory that the only item not packaged in plastic were some bananas in a Duane Reade in Manhattan, but I think that was about it! It is incredible how the plastic manufacturers have taken over nearly every single retail store (except for the first zero waste grocery store in NYC and others around the world) and it has a lot to do with convenience. I need to take charge of my purchasing and reduce purchasing grocery or convenience store items that are in plastic packaging.

Making my own snacks!

You might be wondering, where would one get snacks since they’re all wrapped in plastic?! That’s a great question, and a solution is…make your own! I’ve made my own granola balls before with just three ingredients. You can control what ingredients you want, the amount of sugar that’s in each snack, and the portion you want to set aside for each snack time – what more could you want? 🙂

In the process of making my granola ball snacks

Being more diligent in bringing containers when dining out.

This is something I was hesitant to put on my list, since I usually don’t have leftovers after I eat out somewhere, but figured it’s always a good practice to carry a mason jar or a totable stainless steel container *just in case* I happen to order something that comes in a huge portion!

Using my zero waste dental products!

Some time in the middle of 2018, I decided I did not want to continue buying the traditional toothpaste tubes or plastic toothbrushes anymore, and went on a hunt for some zero waste substitutes. I ended up purchasing Lush Toothy Tabs, X silk dental floss, and X bamboo toothbrushes 🙂

Implementing composting at my office.

My office is going to reach up to 75 staff by the end of the year, and you can imagine how much food waste can be produced per week. I made it a personal goal this year to spearhead the green initiatives at my office, starting with the recycling brown bag I organized with the help of my friend Larissa, the Recycling Outreach Coordinator at GrowNYC (see post here!) I’m in discussion with different organic collection services to implement composting at my office and once that is set up, I will organize another brown bag focused on composting and preventing food waste from ending up in landfills.

Refusing free stuff and impulse buys.

As human beings, I think we have a proclivity to get free stuff when they’re available. I know when I was growing up, I always sought out the free samples at the wholesale stores when shopping with my family! Sometimes I see people handing out flyers from their companies, and I know that they need to distribute their stack before their shift is complete, so I always feel bad and take some off their hands when I walk by them. Over time though, I realized this was not doing anyone good, because I was not bringing in business for them, and it was putting the onus on me to recycle the papers once I collected them, so I just politely refuse most papers when walking down streets or when attending events.

Luckily for me, I am not victim to many impulse buy moments, but this is something I need to consciously practice when I see the next cool thing that is zero waste on my Instagram from an influencer! I tell myself to reevaluate the items I have at home to see if something can be repurposed, instead of buying something brand new to add to whatever collection I already have.

Eating more locally-sourced fruit and vegetables.

This year, I moved to an apartment where I live about fifteen minutes away from a farmers’ market, and I am so excited to start buying my fruit and veggies there! The number of small- and medium-scale family-owned farms are dwindling, and I feel it is so important to support these farmers who are making a living to provide fresh, quality produce. If you go frequently enough, you might make a few farmer friends and have “the usual” stands you can stop by to get your weekly groceries, too 🙂 If you live in NYC, check out which farmers markets are near you here.

Photo Credit: GrowNYC

It is never too late to start thinking green and taking steps to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle. You can make more of a difference than you believe, and it can start with just one habit change (and grow from there). Good luck!

How You Can Protect the Planet’s Health through Food

Growing up, you were probably told that a balanced plate of food consisted of 50% fruit and vegetables, 25% complex carbs, and 25% proteins (which often is interpreted as animal proteins in Western cultures). Despite this general guideline, we have moved away from this rule of thumb for a number of reasons: food deserts and lack of healthy options, poverty, trends that higher incomes correlate with greater meat intake, and more.

“Unhealthy diets now pose a greater risk to morbidity and mortality than unsafe sex, alcohol, drug and tobacco use combined.”

EAT-Lancet Commission Summary Report

By 2050, we are looking at a global population of 10 billion people that the planet will need to sustain, and our current food systems are not cutting it. We dedicate a portion of our grain crops to serve as animal feed for food animals, when we could be using these grains to feed the people who are experiencing hunger, for example.

The EAT-Lancet Commission brought together 37 scientists from 16 countries to evaluate our current systems and make recommendations for the future. This week, they launched the report at the United Nations with Professor Walter Willett elaborating on the report details to explain how we can achieve planetary health and sustain a population of 10 billion people in 2050. I was fortunate enough to sit in on this event and provide a recap of what was discussed.

In order to achieve planetary health and sustainability, we need to see a transformation of the global food system, specifically production (how we produce food) and final consumption (what we eat in our diets).

Healthy diets (final consumption)

Image result for eat lancet plate
This depicts the recommended revised plate: 50% fruit and vegetables, 50% consisting of primarily whole grains, plant-based proteins, unsaturated plant oils, and optional small portions of animal-based proteins
Photo Credit: EAT-Lancet

We need to dramatically shift our diets in order to have a healthy diet for ourselves and for the planet’s health, such as doubling our fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts intake, and halving our global consumption of added sugars and red meat.

Sustainable food production

In many parts of the world, especially in the US, we have completely shifted our agriculture habits from planting diverse crops to large-scale monocropping of corn and soy. This depletes the nutrients in the soil and also risks crop failure due to disease and pests, making us heavily dependent on chemicals and pesticides.

Of the corn we grow in the US, 45% are fed to food animals, 35% are used to produce fuel, 15% are used for manufacturing products i.e. high fructose corn syrup, and only 10% is left for human consumption.

Professor Walter Willett, MD, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

We will need to shift our agricultural priorities in a way that benefits the planet and the human population if we want to sustain 10 billion people by 2050. How can we do this?

1. International and national commitment to shift toward healthy diets

We as a global community need to get on board with the idea that if we want a livable future, we need to shift our diets to a more plant-based diet. Please note, the report is not saying you have to stop eating meat altogether. It is recommending that you eat less of it, and that you purchase responsibly (buy local, sustainable, antibiotic-free meat, for example). But if you can do without meat for a few meals per week, that would be great for your health and for the planet’s as well!

2. Reorient agricultural priorities from producing high quantities of food to producing healthy food

Agricultural and marine food production systems need to focus not only on being able to sustain a growing population, but also giving us a wide range of healthy options to choose from as well. We also need to rethink our current practice of growing crops to feed food animals and shift it toward feeding the human population.

Photo Credit: Cosmos Magazine

3. Sustainably intensify food production to increase high quality output

Our agricultural systems need to be more efficient in how we fertilize and water crops, return phosphorus and nitrogen into soil, and diversify our crops. As mentioned before, we are practicing monocropping around the world: corn, soy, palm, coffee, sugar cane, and more. By not practicing crop rotation, you do not allow your soil to replenish its nutrients, and you risk pest infestation or disease and the complete destruction of all your crops. We need to start changing up our crops, not only for healthy soil, but also for our own health! It is great to have different options of nutritious vegetables, legumes, and fruit to change up our meals.

4. Strong and coordinated governance of land and oceans

Deforestation and overfishing are two of the greatest threats to the land and oceans, and in order to protect the integrity of our planet, we need to set strict, enforced policies that 1) ban deforestation for the purpose of creating new agricultural land, especially where there is rich biodiversity such as rainforests; 2) reforest areas where trees were once plentiful; and 3) regulate fishing to protect fish stocks.

5. Cut down food waste by at least 50% based on the SDGs

I’ve written a blog post about food waste and the enormous economic and environmental costs to throwing away food at all stages of the food supply chain (from the pastures, in transit, at the markets, to the home). We have to do better about preventing our food from ending up in landfills by ensuring we purchase only what we need, changing our perceptions of what is “good enough” to take home (I’m talking about ugly food that is still good to eat!), working with food vendors so they can donate their excess supply to those in need, informing the public about sell-by dates that are not regulated in the US, among other things.

If this is a lot to take in, that’s okay! The Commission created a helpful 2-pager that summarizes their report in digestible content. The recommendations entailed in this report will need the global community’s support, but more importantly government leaders’ and policymakers’ support and power to enforce regulations that will pave the way for the general public to practice a planetary health diet.

With these findings and recommendations, what will you do to contribute to the health of the planet starting today?