Science

Biodegradable vs Compostable vs Recyclable

What does it all mean?


No matter where you live, sustainability is becoming a hot topic. It might be a friendly reminder sign to bring your reusable bag to the grocery store, a city government conversation about not using straws, or it could run as deep as cities committing to be zero waste - some as early as next year. With all of this comes the question of what sort of products are best for the world? Is biodegradable really any different from compostable. Should I opt for compostable options over recyclable ones? Does reusing things help?

All of these are great questions! And the answer to all of them has an impact on our planet, and oftentimes our health, too.

So, first of all, what do all of these different terms that are being thrown around really mean? Let's start with the one we probably have all heard the most: recyclable.

Recyclable

Recycling is the process of taking a product and breaking it down to use it again, often as a raw material. We all know that we can recycle paper, plastic, and cans. In most places, recycling facilities can also deal with glass. All of this is great, but let's break down the concept a little bit more. Quick note, each city is slightly different and you should check exactly what can and can't be recycled in your neighborhood before you just assume you are good to go.

Tossing something you think or hope can be recycled into the recycling bin is often called wishful or aspirational recycling. While your heart is in the right place, doing this might actually be worse than just trashing something you aren't clear on. Why? Because that one iffy thing can actually be enough to compromise a full batch of recycling, which could mean everything ends up in the landfill instead of just the one questionable item. In those situations, the best option would be to confirm before you dispose of it. And, if your neighborhood doesn't recycle it, ask your city to start accepting those items. But, in the meantime, if you don't know, don't just hope it can be recycled.

Back to the topic at hand, what is actually recyclable? Most plastics that hold their shape can be recycled (like water bottles, food containers, bottles for household items, etc.). In some places, they have even started being able to accept items like plastic grocery bags, shrink wrap, and plastic wrap if it is packaged correctly. Other commonly accepted items for recycling include paper, cardboard, unbroken glass and metal (including tinfoil if it's clean and in a large enough ball).

Some common items that need special recycling (but are in fact recyclable) include: batteries, electronics, and fabric (and clothing). Check with your waste management provider to see what can and can't be recycled in your neighborhood.

Compostable

This is becoming more common in larger metropolitan cities. Composting is a way to turn items made of natural materials back into a nutrient rich soil. Often times the compost is for food scraps, but other items that are fully compostable include yard scraps, dead flowers, items made of untreated wood, and those made of pure cotton. While starting with food scraps is the easiest, the more you look around the more you will find items for other parts of your life that are completely compostable.

Compostable items are great because instead of going to landfill or needing to be processed and turned into something else, they actually breakdown themselves in a natural setting (or in an industrial facility) to create something useful right away.

But, what happens if you have items that are compostable but don't have access to composting. Side note: you can create a compost pile in your own backyard (or under your sink). We know that isn't for everyone though. So, what happens if these items end up in just in your standard trash bin? You might think that it's still an improvement and they will break down, right? Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that's not exactly the case. Compostable items break down into nutrient rich soil only if they have the right conditions. And a traditional landfill is not a place with the right conditions.

Industrial facilities have the optimal conditions for composting. These facilities regulate temperature, moisture, and air flow in order to ensure a compostable item breaks down as fast as possible. At-home compost is more prone to temperature/moisture/air flow changes and might not break down as quickly as it would in an industrial setting.

Composting works best when the items have access to oxygen and are regularly being turned over. A landfill is basically the opposite. It's an anaerobic environment where most of the pile actually doesn't have access to oxygen. That means that if your compostable takeout container ends up in the landfill, it won't break down as intended. Instead, it will mostly likely just act like a plastic container and stay around for a lot longer than intended.

So, while recognizing compostable items is a good first step, purchasing and using compostable items in place of other items has the biggest impact when they actually end up in a compost pile. Although, we do want to mention that the production of plastic is pretty nasty for a lot of reasons, so opting for compostable items made of cotton, bamboo, and even PLA (that vegetable based plastic cup you see at some restaurants now), is probably still better for the environment and your health.

Biodegradable

The dictionary definition of biodegradable is a substance that can break down naturally without causing any harm (1). This is very similar to compostable, but the biggest difference is that what it breaks down to doesn't cause harm as opposed to starting with an organically occurring materials. Therefore, man-made or chemically produced items can still be considered biodegradable, while not necessarily being compostable. This is like a square being a rectangle but a rectangle not being a square. Those items that are compostable are also biodegradable, but not everything biodegradable is compostable.

Again, biodegradable options are still a step in the right direction. It does mean that the ingredients break down over time (that's a perk) and when they do break down, the base components are not harmful to the environment (also a perk).

One drawback of biodegradable materials is that there is not necessarily a timeframe for when the items will break down. It could be many years before they start to degrade. In most cases, biodegradable isn't really saying much about the product. Think of it the same way you do products labeled "natural."

The bottom line

If we were to rank these terms for which ones are best for the planet and in turn our health, we'd say first look for items that are compostable, recyclable, and lastly biodegradable. Compostable items, if properly disposed of, will break down completely and can them be used to grow more resources. Recyclable items can be turned into raw materials that can then be used to make new things without needing to create completely new resources. And finally, biodegradable options will eventually break down, but we don't know when and there is no plan to use them for any additional benefit.

Of course, we are big proponents of reusing items when possible, but we also know that it can be incredibly hard to live your life without there being some items that needs to be disposed of. So, go on with this new information to help you think about what to toss and how to do it best.





References

  1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/biodegradable
Roundups

10 Non-Toxic Makeup Removers

Safeguard your skin while removing the toughest waterproof mascara

There is nothing better than taking off your makeup at the end of a long day. Sometimes it's the favorite part of our evening! But lots of makeup removers contain harsh chemicals that aren't great for your skin or your health. That's why we rounded up our top 10 favorite non-toxic makeup removers! We know there are different preferences for makeup removers, which is why we included 5 wipes and 5 liquids. These products have been vetted by us and will remove the toughest of waterproof mascaras!


a) Aromatica Natural coconut Cleansing Oil b)Beauty by Earth Makeup Remover c) NARS makeup removing water d) the body shop waterproof eye makeup remover e) Klorane Floral Water Makeup remover with soothing cornflower f) C'est Moi Gentle Makeup Remover Cleansing Wipes g) RMS Beauty The Ultimate Makeup Remover Wipe h) Beautycounter One-Step Makeup Remover Wipes i) Brandless Facial Wipes j) Honest Beauty Makeup Remover Wipes


We rely on EWG's consumer databases, the Think Dirty App, and GoodGuide in addition to consumer reviews and widespread availability of products to generate these recommendations. Learn more on our methodology page.

*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

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Life

The Hair-Raising Research About Beauty Products Marketed to Black Women

What chemicals to avoid in your hair products and safer alternatives

If you've ever walked down the hair care aisle at a beauty store, you know just how many different products are out there. Cosmetic manufacturers use marketing techniques that are based on certain ideals of beauty to target different demographics. A lot of products on the market are marketed exclusively for black women, like hair relaxers and dyes. But there is growing evidence that these products marketed to black women contain known harmful chemicals. Research has also shown that there are fewer non-toxic options in black hair products than there are in those marketed to the general public (1). Black women may be disproportionally impacted by harmful exposures to toxic ingredients in their hair products.

If you've been wondering what's in your hair relaxer, styling cream, shampoo, or hair dye, we've done the research and put together some information and simple tips to help minimize your exposure to harmful chemicals commonly found in many of these products.

Harmful Health Effects

Although significantly understudied, certain chemicals commonly used in products for black hair have been linked to cancer, childhood neurodevelopmental impairment, reproductive problems, hormone disruption, and asthma (2) (3). Parabens, formaldehyde, phthalates, and estrogenic chemicals from placenta are used in many hair straighteners and texturizers and have been associated with baldness, uterine fibroids, premature reproductive development, and increased risk of premenopausal breast cancer. In pregnant women, studies have also found that these chemicals are correlated with premature birth, low birth weight, and other adverse birth outcomes. Shampoos, conditioners and styling products marketed as less toxic or for "natural hair" may also contain other toxic substitutes, including parabens and phthalates that promote estrogenic or anti-estrogenic activity. Yikes!

In a recent study, which tested 18 hair products used by black women it detected 45 harmful chemicals including five that are regulated by California's Proposition 65 or are prohibited under the EU's cosmetics law. Many of these chemicals were not even disclosed in the ingredients listed on the product label (3). So much for the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1967.

Federal Laws and FDA Regulations (or Lack Thereof)

Why are these toxic chemicals in beauty products to begin with? Well, under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 (FD&C Act), with the exception of color additives, ingredients in cosmetics do not need FDA premarket approval and cosmetic manufacturers are not obligated to disclose safety information to the FDA (4). To make matter worse, the FDA only has the authority to investigate a product after concerns of non-compliance or violations are reported. Which means consumers will already have been exposed to these toxic chemicals and may even have experienced health problems. (4). Basically, people using these products are the test subjects of the cosmetic chemical industry.

Chemicals to Avoid

There's still a lot research needed to better understand how chemicals in black hair care products affect the public's health. And since the current cosmetics industry is essentially the Wild West of regulations, it's up to you to protect yourself. Below is a list of harmful chemicals like endocrine disruptors, allergens, and sensitizers that are commonly used in black beauty hair care products that you might want to steer clear of. This list is not exhaustive, but it's a good place to start (5) (6) (3).

  • Parabens
    • methylparaben
    • ethylparaben
    • propylparaben
    • butylparaben
    • isopropylparaben
    • isobutylparaben
  • Formaldehyde or methylene glycol
    • DMDM hydantoin,
    • diazolidinyl urea and
    • imidazolidinyl urea
  • Cyclosiloxanes
    • Octamethylcyclotetrasiloxane (D4)
    • Decamethylcyclopentasiloxane (D5)
    • Dodecamethylcyclohexylsiloxane (D6)
  • Diethyl phthalate (DEP)
  • Methylisothiazolinone—This is used as a preservative in conditioners, shampoos, styling gels and lotions.
  • "Fragrance" or "parfum"—This is a generic term used for a multitude of different chemicals. Often times this is what you will see in the list of product ingredients when a manufacturer is not disclosing specific chemicals used.
    • Phthalates
    • Linalool
    • Limonene
    • HHCB (Galaxolide)
    • Linalool
    • Terpineol
  • Resorcinol—This is often found in black beauty brand hair dyes.
  • Sodium hydroxide (Lye)
  • Calcium hydroxide—This is another caustic irritant just used to replace lye (sodium hydroxide) in hair relaxers, but is advertised as safer.
  • Lead acetate—This is often used in hair dyes.
  • Petroleum
  • Retyinal palmitate
  • Specific alcohols
    • Alcohol denat
    • Ethanol
    • Propanol
    • Isopropyl
    • Propyl
    • SD alcohol #4 (wood alcohol)
    • Phenethyl alcohol
  • Sulfates

What You Can Do

Whew, that's a lot to look out for in ingredient labels! We know that list is a lot of information that you'll probably never remember unless you have an upcoming chemistry quiz, so we also have some easy-to-remember safer product alternatives and some DIY tips.

1. Follow the 5-ingredient rule: The first five ingredients make up the majority of what's in the product so, these are the ones that matter the most (6). If the first five ingredients are made from natural ingredients, it's probably a product worth considering.

2. There are many natural ingredients that help promote healthy hair, like aloe vera, avocado, shea butter, castor oil coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, grape seed, honey, and jojoba. Since these oils all have different properties and do different things like hydrating or strengthening your hair, you can solve a ton of different hair problems! (6).

3. Double check products using databases like EWG's Skin Deep database and BLK +GRN, which screens products using EWG's Toxic Twenty list. If a product has a low rating, it's best to avoid to all together.

4. One of the best ways to stand up for safer products is to contact your elected official or the FDA to urge them to strengthen the FD&C Act. You can scroll to the "STAND UP FOR #BEAUTYMADEBETTER!" for ideas on ways to make your voice heard.


References

1. https://www.ewg.org/research/big-market-black-cosmetics-less-hazardous-choices-limited
2. https://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378(17)30862-1/pdf
3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935118301518?dgcid=raven_sd_aip_email#!
4. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetics-laws-regulations/fda-authority-over-cosmetics-how-cosmetics-are-not-fda-approved-are-fda-regulated
5. https://www.ewg.org/research/big-market-black-cosmetics-less-hazardous-choices-limited#ref10
6. https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/hazardous-chemicals-lurking-black-hair-care-products

Home

Why You Should Make the Switch to LED Light Bulbs

Better for the environment and your wallet

No one likes home maintenance and high electricity bills. Lucky for you, replacing your light bulbs with light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs can shorten your to-do list and save you money on your next energy bill!

Technology has advanced a lot since Thomas Edison created the first light bulb in 1878. The latest and greatest is called the LED bulb. The light emitting diode in the bulb are small (about the size of a fleck of pepper), don't need reflectors or diffusers, and emit very little heat (1). Here are a couple reasons why you should make the switch to LEDs.

1. Traditional Light Bulbs Contain Dangerous Chemicals

Traditional light bulbs like compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs use mercury and other nobles gases such as argon to create light (3). These chemicals are a hazard if the bulb breaks and can be detrimental to your health. LEDs on the other hand do not contain any mercury. Making the switch to LED bulbs is a good option to reduce your exposure to these harmful chemicals.

2. LED Bulbs Last Longer Than Traditional Light Bulbs

One LED bulb can last for years. It is estimated that LEDs last between 20,000 to 50,000 hours (2). That means that LEDs last 3 to 25 times as long as old-school incandescent bulbs and 10 times as long as CFLs. Imagine only having to buy one light bulb when you would otherwise have to buy 25. That's a significant cost saving and a large reduction in waste!

3. LED Bulbs Are More Energy Efficient

LEDs use 25-80% less energy compared to similarly bright incandescent and CFL bulbs (1). This is because they more efficiently transfer energy into light, whereas traditional bulbs lose a lot of energy in the form of heat. That's why traditional bulbs get so hot while LED bulbs remain cool to the touch. Replacing old holiday lights with LED lights can actually reduce the risk of combustion, burns, or Christmas tree fires.

Being more energy efficient means a lower energy bill! It is estimated that replacing one incandescent bulb with an LED bulb will save you $5 per year (4). This is a large reduction in your bill if you replace all the bulbs in your home!

4. LED Bulbs are Better for the Environment

When you switch to LED bulbs, you not only save money, but you also help improve the environment. How? Since LEDs last longer, you reduce the amount of waste you produce. If you're using fewer light bulbs, you have less to throw away! Other light bulbs contain hazardous chemicals, which can also create a challenge for safe waste disposal. LEDs are also an easy way to combat climate change because they use less energy, which means that you aren't using as much fossil fuel. It's a win-win situation!

Getting Started

If we have convinced you to make the switch to LEDs, make sure you purchase bulbs that are marked "Energy Star" on the box. This means that the bulb is approved by ENERGY STAR, a program run by the EPA and Department of Energy that promotes energy efficiency. While the cost of LED bulbs are slightly higher than incandescent and CFL bulbs, they do not contain any harmful chemicals and will save you money in the long run. Think of it as a small upfront investment in your family's (and the planet's) health and long-term savings!


References

  1. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/save-electricity-and-fuel/lighting-choices-save-you-money/how-energy-efficient-light
  2. https://www.thesimpledollar.com/the-light-bulb-showdown-leds-vs-cfls-vs-incandescent-bulbs-whats-the-best-deal-now-and-in-the-future/
  3. https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/q-and-a-mercury-in-energy-saving-light-bulbs/3003352.article
  4. https://ledlightguides.com/how-much-do-led-lights-save/
popular

Alison Mountford from Ends and Stems Shares Her Meal Planning Tips

Plus, a 25% Discount for Because Health Readers!

Have you ever had an ingredient go bad because you didn't know what to cook with it? Or end up making so much pasta that your meal for one could now serve fifty? We've all been there. After spending years in the food industry, Alison Mountford saw firsthand how much perfectly good food gets thrown out during meal preparation. This lead her to create Ends and Stems, a meal planning service that curates recipes and shopping lists to make mealtime easier for you while reducing the environmental impact of food waste. Read on for a Q&A with the founder.

PS: Because Health readers can receive 25% off a monthly or annual subscription using the code Because

BH: Why is food waste an important issue for you?

AM: I've been a professional chef for 15 years. My first business was a meal delivery and catering service. As the owner of a small food establishment, it was just good business sense to use everything up and not waste edible food. I sold that business in 2015, but I wasn't sure what my next step was, honestly I was a little bit lost. Right around that time, the NRDC released it's landmark report measuring how much food is wasted in America, much of it in our own homes, and detailed the dramatic effect this waste has on the planet.

Everything clicked for me when I read this. My entire cooking career had been dedicated to helping busy people and families reduce stress around dinner time and encourage them to cook more, eat better, and shop better. And for my entire life, I have been an outdoors person. Following the health of our planet and taking action to improve it has always been a core value and it was only strengthened by the birth of my daughter, also in 2015. Reducing food waste at home is something small that we can all do everyday and it can add up to something big. Often, I feel helpless at some of the major issues our country and planet are facing, but helping busy people reduce food waste doesn't cost them time or money - it saves both - and that makes it super fun to educate about and promote.



BH: What inspired you to start a meal planning business?

AM: Once I knew that as a chef I had to talk about cooking to reduce food waste, I needed a business model. I had been in business long enough to know that creating an idea in my own head, alone at my desk was not a recipe for success. So, I took the internet and starting interviewing people. I used a free survey tool and put out a questionnaire. Within 48 hours, I had just shy of 1000 responses! I asked people if they cared about climate change (yes), food waste (also yes), and how they were struggling at dinner time. 83% of those surveyed named "Deciding what to buy and cook" as a top concern! I expected the answer would be grocery shopping or actually doing the cooking, but it turns out that the emotional labor of choosing a recipe and making sure you have the ingredients was driving people nuts.

From there, I refined the idea to include impact reporting and tested ways to change the convention of recipe writing so that the meals are faster, easier, and use everything up.



BH: Is food waste an issue that you see other professional chefs embracing? Can you tell us more about food waste in the food service industry?

AM: Yes, I feel very excited about the role of chefs in food waste and the greater movement to combat climate change.

In my experience, chefs are the least likely group of people to let food go to waste. In the breakdown of where food is wasted, restaurants rank high, but do you know more specifically where the food is wasted? On the consumer side. Any thriving restaurant manages food cost tightly, meaning there's not that much food wasted in preparation. Diners however, are conditioned to look for large portions, free bread/chips, we over order, and we don't follow through to take home and eat leftovers.

Chefs also have the advantage of knowing how to use a product in multiple ways and can minimize waste and reinvent leftovers.

I was recently at a conference with some of the best chefs in the world and the focus of the entire day was how chefs can use our position and influence to reduce food waste and act on multiple other initiatives to combat climate change - reduce plastic waste, support bee habits, reject monocropping, buy from farms doing carbon capture, reduce portion sizes, educate diners, and so many others.


BH: What are your top 3 tips for people who want to start meal planning but have never done it before?

AM: 1) Get in the habit of writing ideas down when they pop in your head. Thinking of dinner ideas on demand feels akin to writers block. I know I had some ideas...why can't I remember them? For me, this means keeping a running list on my phone or emailing recipes to myself when I see them. When it comes time to choosing a few recipes for the week, I have some help getting the ideas flowing.

2) Ask family members for input. This helps kids especially, buy into meal time and complain less. My 4 year old will ask for a specific fruit or vegetable, burritos, or noodles. I can factor these into the plan and she feels accounted for.

3) Be realistic about your week and willingness to commit. When I polled those thousand families, most were willing to cook just 2-3 times per week. Don't write a meal plan for 5 nights on your first attempt. Start small with just 2 recipes. Perhaps, choose one meal that you know will make excellent leftovers and double it. On super busy nights, plan for takeout or leftovers! My family always orders in on Wednesdays because my husband works later and brings the kids home later. We simply aren't starting from scratch that night of the week.



BH: What are some ways that people can make cooking fun?

AM: I think the single most important thing to do is cook when you have more time. That means, if you arrive home from work close to dinner time, prep your meals the day before or do most of it on Sundays. As a personal chef, I have prepared hundreds of thousands of meals 3-4 days before anyone will eat them. There's almost nothing that can't be stored overnight or longer and then reheated for dinner time. When you cook hangry (or with a hangry family nearby), it's never going to be fun.

My second tip to make cooking more fun is to rid yourself of any guilt stemming from a lack of variety. I see so many people, parents especially, lamenting that they don't cook enough variety and it's coming from comparing their own lives to an influencers feed on instagram. The real truth is that variety in foods is healthy, but you don't need to reinvent the wheel every night or week. Add variety when it truly feels fun but for busy weeknights, a simple home cooked meal is already a huge win, it does not have to be Pinterest worthy.

Food

5 ways to eat LESS meat without eating NO meat

Here's what to do if you can't give up the flavor of meat but still want to be healthier

Interested in eating less meat, but can't commit to being a full on vegetarian, because... bacon? We feel you! But regardless of how you feel, eating less meat is actually great for you and the environment! Wondering why? Meat is extremely energy intensive to produce, all the way from how much food is needed to feed animals, to the energy required to process and ship the meat to you (3). This makes livestock a major contributor to greenhouse gases, and therefore climate change (3). In fact, scientists have found that eating a more plant rich diet is the 4th most effective thing we can be doing to help stop climate change (4).
Keep Reading Show Less

Fashion Week is right around the corner, and one trend we don't want to see on the runway is PVC. In recent years, PVC has made its way into the fashion world through trendy see-through bags or rain coats.

What is PVC

Polyvinyl chloride (AKA PVC or vinyl) is a solid plastic made from vinyl chloride gas. PVC can be hard and rigid, or it can be extremely flexible. It's flexibility depends whether or not phthalates are added during production. Because it's water resistant and durable, PVC is used in a lot of different products, including flooring, wall decals, pipes, medical equipment, and of course clothing.

The Problem

Although PVC is used in a lot of things, it's actually pretty bad for health. You can be exposed by touching a PVC product, inhaling fumes from a PVC manufacturing plant or landfill, or accidentally swallowing PVC from food packaging or contaminated water (1). Vinyl chloride, the main component of PVC, is a known carcinogen. Exposure to vinyl chloride gas is associated with an increased risk of liver, brain, lung, and blood cancers, as well as lymphoma. (2)

If you're exposed to PVC, you're also being exposed to phthalates and chlorine as well. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, which change the way hormones are made and disturbed throughout the body. Plus, PVC isn't good for the environment because it's extremely difficult to recycle.

How to Avoid PVC in Fashion

Steer clear of anything see-through! A clear bag is almost always made from PVC, so it's better to just avoid this trend all together. Plus, everyone can see what you carry around in your bag. Does the entire world need to see half dozen chapsticks and a phone charger floating around our purses?! Probably not. Instead of buying a plastic bag, look for one made from natural materials like cotton or leather. Natural materials are also extremely durable and will hold up well over time. The great thing about fashion is that trends come and go and in a year people will probably be onto the next big thing.


References

  1. https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/chemicals-and-contaminants/polyvinyl-chloride-pvc
  2. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/vinyl-chloride
Roundups

11 Non-Toxic Laundry Detergents

We searched and found all the safer options for doing your laundry

Updated for 2019!

After lots of research, we collected an assortment of safe, non-toxic detergents to keep your clothes smelling and looking new. Some specifically say they are for baby, others have versions for baby along with the original and both are safe, so choose what you like, and know they really are all safe for any age. You don't necessarily need a baby specific detergent. Choose what you think works best for you. And, while you're at it, check out our roundup of fabric softeners and dryer sheets. Yay for clean clothes!

Keep Reading Show Less
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