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

Non-Toxic Target College Dorm Picks

Everything you need to make a dorm feel like home!

Starting college is so exciting for so many reasons! A new school, new friends, and new adventures are just a few weeks away. If you're going to be living in a dorm room, you've probably already started thinking about decor and living essentials. That's why we picked out some of our favorite non-toxic dorm room essentials from Target! Our picks are made from safe materials like glass, stainless steel, and organic cotton. Each cotton item is also made with OEKO-TEX guidelines, which means it's been independently tested and certified against a list of over 350 harmful chemicals.


Organic Cotton Sheet Set

Getting a good night's sleep is a crucial part of any school routine. These 400 thread count cotton sheets will have you catching ZZZs in no time! We love that they're pill and shrink resistant, and made to strict Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX guidelines.

Organic Bath Towel

This soft, organic cotton bath towel is Made in Green by OEKO-TEX and will help any dorm shower feel a little more like home.

Chunky Knit Bed Blanket

This chunky knit blanket will add some serious cozy vibes to any dorm room! It's Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX® certified and comes in a ton of cute colors.

Seventh Generation Easy Dose Laundry Detergent

This ultra-concentrated laundry detergent will keep your clothes fresh and clean without harmful chemicals found in traditional laundry detergents.

Biokleen Stain and Odor Remover

If you're a workout aficionado with lots of athletic clothes, or if you just have a neglected pile of dirty clothes in the corner of your room, this stain and odor remover is perfect for you. It gets rid of those tough, lingering odors safely and naturally without the use of harsh chemicals.

Everspring Dryer Balls

Dryer sheets can be full of harsh chemicals, which is why we love wool dryer balls instead! These dryer balls will keep your clothes static free!

Grove Co. Multi-Purpose Cleaner Concentrates

Even a dorm room needs some TLC every now and then! Clean hard surfaces with this multi-surface cleaner from Grove Co. This streak-free cleaner will effectively remove dirt, grime, and residue leftover from that late night study session or post-finals party.

Lysol Power and Free Multi-Purpose Citrus Sparkle Cleaner Spray

Sometimes you needed a heavy-duty cleaner. We get it. That's why this Lysol hydrogen peroxide all-purpose cleaner is perfect for life's bigger messes. This product has an EPS design for environmental certified disinfectant, which means it was reviewed for both human health and environmental health, so you don't have to compromise on safety.

Ello Meal Prep Food Storage Container Set

That dorm room mini fridge was basically invented for leftovers. Keep your food fresh in these Ello food storage containers. Since they're made from glass instead of plastic, you can use them in the microwave without having to worry about harmful chemicals leeching into your food. Bonus: they're dishwasher safe!

Brita 20oz Premium Double-Wall Stainless Steel Insulated Filtered Water Bottle

Students do a lot of walking while on campus, so make sure to stay hydrated with a reusable water bottle! This insulated Brita stainless steel bottle will keep your water cool even on the hottest days. Bonus: It has a built in filter to keep your water pure and delicious.

Bodum Goose Neck 27oz Electric Water Kettle

You don't need a kitchen to enjoy a kettle! This compact glass kettle is perfect for dorm snacks like hot chocolate, tea, or coffee.

Klean Kanteen 12oz TKWide Insulated Stainless Steel with Café Cap

This stainless steel travel mug by Klean Kanteen is the perfect mug to toss in your backpack while you're on the go! It's spill and leak proof lid means you can enjoy your beverage on the go in any situation!

Dr. Bronner's Pure Castile Soap

Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap is a multi-use concentrate. Great as a body wash or even a shampoo or detergent. Its highly concentrated and made with great ingredients to ensure you get a bang for your buck and peace of mind.

Schmidt's Charcoal + Magnesium Aluminum-Free Natural Deodorant Stick

Aluminium-free deodorant is where its at! Stay fresh and free of unnecessary harmful chemicals.

Weleda Skin Food Original Ultra-Rich Cream

Keep that skin moisturized and toxic-free with this rich cream. Perfect for dry weather.

Stasher Reusable Silicone Food Storage Snack Bag

Great for taking a snack to lecture or for a weekend adventure, these Stasher snack bags are the answer to a useful plastic bags without all the waste and plastic made from harmful materials.

Seventh Generation Dish Liquid Soap

This dish soap will cut through grease and leave your dishes shiny and spotless without all the unnecessary harmful chemicals.

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Life

Everything You Need to Know About Artificial Turf

And why natural grass is a safer, eco-friendly, and healthier alternative

Have you ever been at your kid's soccer game and wondered if artificial turf is safe for them to play, snack, and lie on? What about those small black bits of infill that end up in every nook and cranny of your home or car?

Turns out that scientists are studying these same questions and artificial turf poses a number of health and environmental concerns. These include toxic chemicals in the artificial turf infill, artificial grass blades, and shock pad, as well as health concerns due to excessive heat. Environmental impacts of artificial turf include chemical runoff, microplastic pollution, and habitat loss. Is there a good alternative to artificial turf? Yes - just regular natural grass! Studies have shown that natural grass maintained with organic or sustainable practices provides a safer, practical, and affordable alternative for playing fields.

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Roundups

Non-Toxic School Lunch Packing Essentials

Get ready for school with these eco-friendly options

Packing lunches for school is a lot of work! We know from firsthand experience how hard it can be to pack something nutritious that your kids will actually eat. Plus if you're trying to reduce the amount of food packaging or plastic waste in your kid's lunch, it can just seem overwhelming. To make things easier, we rounded up our favorite non-toxic school lunch packing essentials. We included stainless steel lunchboxes, a hot food container, snack containers and bags, reusable food wrap, and a couple of cute and functional lunch bags. All of these items are free of lead, phthalates (commonly found in vinyl), BPA, and PFAS (Teflon-like chemicals). Check out these lunch packing essentials and get inspired to pack the best lunches ever.

a) Lunchbots Large Stainless Steel Lunch Container

Lunchbots is a great stainless steel bento container that will last for years. This one has 5 compartments for every type of lunch and snack combo you can come up with. You can get dip condiment containers that are leak proof that neatly fit inside. Lunchbots also has smaller containers for snacks that you should check out as well.

b) Planetbox Lunchbox

This stainless steel lunch box is easy for kids to open with a simple latch. The lunchbox comes with containers for wet foods and dips and you can buy extra dividers. The different compartments make it easy to pack a variety of foods. We love how it comes with magnets on the cover so that kids can customize the look. Planetbox also has an insulated carry bag, just make sure to pick one of the patterns that is made without a PFAS durable water repellent. Planetbox also has a smaller sized box for snacks or for little ones.

c) Bentgo Kids Stainless Steel

Bentgo is a favorite bento container that now comes in stainless steel! The silicone lining on the lid makes it leak resistant as and the latches make the container easy to open. It comes with 3 compartments and an extra silicone container.

d) Thermos Stainless Steel Insulated Food Jar

This container keeps food hot for 5 hours and is perfect for days when soup or mac n cheese are on the menu. The handle make it convenient to carry and helps kids open the top.

e) Stasher bags

Stasher bags are so popular for a reason! Say goodbye to single use plastic bags and say hello to a reusable food packing essential that comes in lots of fun colors. We particularly love the sandwich and snack sizes and use them daily.

f) Zip Top Snack Containers

These Zip Top container are as convenient to use as they are cute! We love how they sit flat and are easy to open for small hands. They are perfect for some sliced fruit or any loose snack.

g) Ukonserve Round Nesting Trio Stainless Steel Containers

These snack containers come with see through lids so that kids know what's inside. The are great for snacks, or use all three to pack a bento style lunch. They also nest for easy storage.

h) If you care Sandwich Bags

Sometimes you need a disposable sandwich or snack bag. No judgement! These If You Care unbleached sandwich bags are made of greaseproof, nonstick paper which is biodegradable, compostable, and microwave safe. Perfect for a cookie, sandwich, or other dry snack.

i) Bee's Wrap Reusable Food Wrap

Replace plastic wrap with this sustainable alternative. Bee's Wrap is made from GOTS Certified organic cotton, sustainably harvested beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and tree resin. We love wrapping up snacks, sandwiches, and cut up fruits and veggies in these.

j) Fluf Lunch Bag

This organic cotton canvas lunch bag is fully machine washable! The interior is lined with a food safe water resistant lining (free of PFAS, phthalates, and other harmful chemicals) and has a pocket for a ice pack. The bag comes in so many cute prints and has a very durable canvas handle.

k) Fjallraven Kanken Mini Cooler

This well insulated lunch bag is made of durable, waxed fabric that is PFAS free! Bonus that the the fabric is made from recycled plastic. It comes in lots of cute colors and is sure to be a favorite for kids of all ages.

l) Petit Collage

A roomy insulated lunch box that is easy to wipe clean thanks to a biodegradable laminate made from sugar cane. It comes in several cute patterns and comes with a handle or a strap.

m) Ukonserve insulated lunch bag

This lunch bag is made from recycled plastic bottles and is free of PFAS, phthalates, and other toxic chemicals. It holds ups well to daily use and is roomy enough to pack a lunch plus snacks.

Family

The 3 Easiest Things You Can Do for a Non-Toxic Pregnancy

Some no brainer, healthier swaps for you and baby

First off, congrats! Feeling overwhelmed? Excited but nervous? Well, fear not! You have plenty of time to set up your nursery, nest a bit, and even think of some names. But right now, it's time to take care of yourself. At this point, that is the best way to take care of your baby.

We've narrowed it down to the 3 easiest changes you can make that will help you have a non-toxic pregnancy. We promise, they are relatively no brainer swaps that have been shown to impact the health of your growing baby. If you start now, these are all things you will want to do once the baby is born, so you'll have created some healthy habits.

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Roundups

Non-Toxic Paints for Your Nursery or Kids' Rooms

Baby safe and kid safe paints that are zero VOC and APE free

Painting and decorating a nursery is one of the best parts of waiting for a little one. Or adding a splash of color when making the transition from nursery to little kid room is also super fun. Whether you're painting just one accent wall, the entire room, or an unfinished pieces of furniture in just the perfect shade, it's important to pick a paint that not only looks good, but is baby and kid safe. Paint fumes and chemical additives can linger and baby's systems are especially vulnerable and sensitive. Luckily, there are safer paints on the market so that you can feel good about using them so close to where your little ones will sleep.

Best Practices While Painting

First things first- how to paint. Who paints a room and how the room is painted is super important in protecting your health. If you're currently pregnant, ask your partner or a friend to do the painting for you. You definitely don't need to be exposed to paint fumes while you're still growing a little person. You're doing enough as is! Also make sure there are no toddlers around while painting. Although having a little helper would be really cute, toddlers are in a critical developmental period and are especially susceptible to the negative effects of paint fumes. Plus you probably don't want anything with wet paint on it to become a messy toy!

It's also critical to ventilate as much as you can while painting. Have all windows and doors open and a fan running if possible. Even a box fan in the corner will help! When you're not using the paint (whether it's a small break or overnight), keep the lid sealed securely on the container. This will prevent emissions from escaping while the paint isn't in use.

What to Look for in a Safe Paint

Now that you know how to paint, which paint should you use? There are a ton of paints on the market right now that all boast different features. Who knew there were so many different paint finishes?! But here's what you really need to be on the lookout for:

  1. Zero VOCs (volatile organic compounds). VOCs are toxic gasses that are released from solids or liquids. Basically they are released when paint dries. You know, the weird new paint smell? Well VOCs can irritate your eyes, nose, and throat but repeated and long term exposure can cause cancer and damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system (1). Also, the pigments added to paints can have VOCs, particularly darker pigments, so be on the lookout for paint with zero VOC colorants.
  2. Look for APE- free paints. Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) are a group of chemicals that are suspected endocrine disruptors (a.k.a these little guys mess up how hormones should normally work in the body) (2). You don't want those around babies or children or when you're breastfeeding. APE-free paint can be found easily, so just ask or look on the label.
  3. Avoid paints that are advertised as antimicrobial. Many paints contain a preservative to keep the paint fresh during storage, but paints that are advertised as antimicrobial may have other additives that are really just not necessary and there are no standards for efficacy (like does it actually kill harmful germs? And for how long?) It might sound good, but in reality they are also harmful to humans and don't do much (3).

Our Baby Safe and Kid Safe Paint Recommendations

Our recommendations will take the guesswork out of choosing a non-toxic paint brand, although you'll still have to pick the color! These paints are all zero VOCs and are free of APEs. In addition to the standard latex paints, we also included 2 options for milk paint, which are made from milk proteins and pigments. Milk paints are a bit more work to use, but are easy to use once you get the hang of it and you can create antique or smooth finishes. They are also great for painting furniture and decorations. No matter which paint brand you pick, you can feel safe about using them.

a) AFM Safecoat Zero VOC- This paint was designed specifically for those with allergies, asthma, and chemical sensitive. It comes in flat, pearl, eggshell, and semi-gloss finishes. Zero VOC, zero VOC colorants, APE free, and contains no mildewcides and fungicides. All ingredients are disclosed and the paint is SCS certified for indoor advantage gold.

b) Benjamin Moore Eco Spec- Benjamin Moore recently stopped making their Natura paint, but their Eco Spec paint is very similar and available nationally. Zero VOC, zero VOC colorants, and APE free. It is Green Seal 11 certified. It does contain isothiazolinone compounds to inhibit the growth of mold or mildew on the surface of the paint film.

c) Clare Paint- This paint come in specific designer curated colors, which can really help if you can't pick a color! Zero VOC, zero VOC colorants, and the eggshell and semi-gloss paints are APE free. It is also Greenguard Gold certified. It does contain a mildewcide to inhibit the growth of mildew.

d) Lullaby paints or ECOS paints- ECOS paint, which also makes their Lullaby paint line is a great zero VOC paint, with zero VOC colorants, APE free, and contains no algicides, mildewcides, and rust inhibitors. They have a color catalogue or you they can color match any national brand. They have both a Declare label and a Health Product Declaration in which they disclose all ingredients. Declare labels are issued to products disclosing ingredient inventory, sourcing and end of life options. Health Product Declarations are third party verified and include the health impact of all product ingredients.

e) Sherwin Williams Harmony- A zero VOC paint, zero VOC colorant paint that is available nationally. The primer and flat finishes are APE free. The paints are also Greenguard Gold certified. It does contain anti-microbial agents that inhibit the growth of mold and mildew on the paint surface.

f) Real Milk Paint- A natural paint option where the main ingredient is casein (milk protein). It comes as a powder that you mix it with water. The ingredients are casein (milk protein), calcium lime, natural pigment colors, and an edible plant based filler

g) Old Fashioned Milk Paint Farmhouse Finishes Safe Paint- This line of milk paint is formulated especially for painting walls. It comes as a powder that you mix with water. The ingredients are casein(milk protein), calcium hydroxide, chalk, clay, natural pigments, natural salts, and crystalline silica.

Updated for 2022!

Your little one deserves a crib that is both good looking and healthy. While we can't promise they will sleep through the night, we can promise that these cribs aren't covered in harsh chemicals or releasing large amounts of potentially dangerous fumes into your baby's room. We all want a nursery that will be a nurturing and loving place so that our babies can grow up strong and healthy. So we did our research and found all the highest rated cribs and then limited our picks to cribs that are GREENGUARD Gold certified, meaning they have been tested and meet stringent chemical and VOC emissions standards. That means your baby can sleep without fumes damaging their fragile lungs or irritating their eyes. And when your little one starts chewing on the rails, you can be rest assured that these paints and finishes are safe. We also included a non-toxic budget crib, which is a solid-wood choice from Ikea. While you are looking for a safe crib, you might also want to peruse our roundup of safe crib mattresses, to double down on the safest of safe sleeping places for your kiddos.

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Roundups

14 Essentials for Packing a Plastic Free Lunch

our favorite reusable items for packing lunch for the kids (and yourself!)

As many of us are headed back to the office, it's time to get ready to start getting creative when it comes to packing lunches. Getting takeout for lunch every now and then is great, but it's expensive and there's just so much trash generated! Packing lunch is great for your wallet and for the planet, especially if you invest in some plastic free lunch packing essentials. While plastic sandwich bags and plastic containers may be convenient, they aren't the healthiest and are only adding to the plastic problem in our oceans. Instead, stock up on some of these reusable lunchbox essentials made from stainless steel, glass, wax, silicone, and cotton. Whether you're packing leftovers, a simple sandwich, or a salad, we've got you covered. Our plastic free lunch packing essentials are reusable, washable, and healthier than a bag full of plastic containers. We also have a roundup of general food storage containers you might want to check out.

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