/Food

They won't break, look great, and are sure to be perfect for you outdoor gatherings

Plastic-Free (and Melamine-Free!) Outdoor Tableware

Roundups

Updated for Summer 2021!

Getting ready for some outdoor parties and dining this summer? We sure are! If you're looking to spruce up your outdoor dining scene, you'll quickly see that most options are made of melamine. Even though melamine dishware doesn't look like plastic, melamine can leach into food after dishes are repeatedly microwaved or used to hold both hot and acidic foods (read this to learn why you might want to skip the melamine). So if melamine is out, and easy to break options like ceramic just don't work for you (children being children, slippery surfaces, clumsy grownups!), check out these stainless steel, enamelware, and tempered glass options. We also included one pick for disposable plates that are truly compostable! These are our top picks for non-toxic outdoor dishware, serving bowls and platters, tumblers, and more. They are all light weight, hard to break, and will make your outdoor entertaining photos look on point. So pick up some of these plastic-free and melamine-free outdoor dishes and enjoy dining al fresco!

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Food

Why Starting a Community Garden is Worth It

And a step by step guide on how to start one

Have you ever been walking in a neighborhood and seen a beautiful community garden growing lots of vegetables, fresh herbs, and brightly colored flowers? Are you jealous that your neighborhood doesn't have a garden like that? Luckily for you, we have created a guide on how to start a community garden in your own neighborhood! There can be some tricky aspects to building a community garden like knowing how to get permits or what kind of fencing or soil to use, but with the right team, determination, and this step by step guide, you can make it happen!

What is a community garden?

Community gardens come in a variety of forms and choosing which type of community garden you will be starting is the first step. The different types of community gardens are plot gardens, cooperative gardens, youth gardens, entrepreneurial gardens, and therapeutic gardens. Plot gardens subdivide different plots within the garden and rent the plots out to families who may not have the space in their own yard. Cooperative gardens are where the entire garden is managed as one large garden by many community members. Often these gardens donate their food to local shelters or food banks, but they can also provide food for the community members running the garden. Youth gardens, often used by schools, are where kids get to learn all about the environment and nutrition through the process of growing and sometimes cooking their own food (8). Entrepreneurial gardens are where the gardeners, young or old, learn business principles and gardening, by growing and selling the produce to farmers markets and restaurants. Lastly, therapeutic gardens use gardening and the plants to improve the physical, mental, and spiritual well being of the gardeners (9).

Any group or organization can start and run a community garden. Many schools, churches, non-profits, local governments, and even individual people have started community gardens for different reasons, meaning you have the ability to develop one too!

What are the benefits of a community garden?

Community gardens have been implemented all around the world for the different benefits they provide. They are famous for improving the health of communities, improving mental health, regenerating land, educating individuals on the environment, and bringing communities closer together.

Health Benefits- The lack of access to fresh produce can lead to numerous illnesses and chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer (10). In order to combat these health concerns, many communities have implemented community gardens to increase the availability of nutritious fresh produce as well as offer it to the community at a more affordable price. Many studies have shown that community gardens have the ability to increase fruit and vegetable intake as well as reduce an individual's BMI (11).

Many studies have also highlighted the beneficial mental health effects of green spaces and gardening with others. Working in a garden for a period of a few weeks has been shown to drastically reduce individuals perceived stress levels as well as an actual reduction in their stress hormone levels (13). Using nature and gardening as therapy allowed for patients suffering from depression, anxiety, and stress to recuperate and improve their mental health and wellbeing (12). We all know that getting outside makes you feel better, but it's actually been scientifically proven!

Community Benefits- Don't worry the benefits don't stop there! Community gardens are a great way to improve health, but they are also great for bringing people and the community together. People can meet their neighbors, make friends, and learn how to garden together, allowing the community to bond over growing food or bettering their neighborhood. These gardens can give people a social outlet outside of their home and work that so many people desire, letting them connect over nature, food, and their neighborhood (13). Developing and working in a community garden can also increase people's sense of pride for their community and neighborhood and it can push them to get more involved with other aspects and institutions in the community making a positive impact (14).

Benefits for the environment

Other than the tremendous benefits community gardens provide to people, they also have a positive effect on the environment. First off, gardening is a great way to teach people more about the environment and what it takes to have healthy plants and soil. For individuals with limited gardening experience and nature access, participating in a community garden could give them a new perspective on the food growing process (13). Plus it's also a great outdoor activity for kids to teach them all about growing their own food! When more people learn about the environment, the more people there are to protect it.

The other benefit to the environment is land regeneration. A lot of urban land is heavily polluted with chemicals and heavy metals from car exhaust, construction debris, trash, and air pollution. These chemicals reduce the fertility of the soil rendering it useless and toxic to organisms, wasting soil that is a precious finite resource. Instead of just letting the land degrade further or allowing more harmful development, community gardens can be placed on that land and add nature back into it. By adding native plants you don't plan to eat in the soil you are improving the soil quality, but also increasing the amount of carbon dioxide the soil can capture, reducing the amount in our atmosphere (15). So instead of just waiting for another chain store or unhealthy restaurant to be built on that empty plot, use that space for your garden, adding nature and ecosystem services to your neighborhood (1).

Steps to starting your garden

1. Build a team

Building a team is one of the most important steps in starting a community garden because you are going to need people to help you advocate for the project as well as design and build the garden. You want to assemble a diverse group of people that have an array of talents that can assist you through all of the steps. Gardeners, landscapers, construction workers, doctors, and really anyone in your community that wants to join will be of service. Use apps like Facebook or Nextdoor, along with flyers and letters to help spread the word about your project and that you are looking for people to help.

2. Pick a location

Picking the right location for your garden can be tricky but it's very important! You want to pick a spot that gets at least 6 hours of full sunlight, doesn't have too much traffic nearby, has good drainage, and has an available water source you can use for watering and washing your plants. Another thing to consider is how the land was used prior to your garden because it may indicate if there are any heavy metals or other contaminants in the soil. Consider buying a soil test at your local hardware store and checking for soil contaminants like lead, arsenic, and mercury. If you find that your soil is contaminated, you will have to bring in fresh soil in raised beds so your fruits and vegetables don't become contaminated as well. Once you have found a spot, you want to track down the owner and see if they will lease it to you, but don't forget to check the zoning laws prior to leasing! If you are having trouble finding the owner or getting in contact with them, call your local government and see if they can help. Your local government can also help you find a specific location to use if you are having trouble and they may even be willing to partner with you and donate the land or provide some maintenance.

3. Getting funding

Starting a community garden is very rewarding, but it is not without expenses. Some of the costs include leasing the land, getting materials like garden beds, fencing, gardening tools, irrigation, soil, compost, and seeds, and then there are costs for insurance, and maintenance. There are a lot of estimates out there on how much starting a community garden can cost with the lower estimate being at about $2,000 and the higher estimate at around $10,000 (6,7). The overall cost really depends on how much of the work you and your team do by yourselves versus hiring outside contractors and gardeners, which will drastically increase the cost.

The best ways to obtain initial funding is through sponsors, donations, and grants. Churches, schools, citizens groups, private businesses, local parks and recreation departments are all great potential sponsors and donors! Another great option is being funded by foundation grants. The American Public Gardens Association has a great resource page of the different grant programs that are available. And if you end up having trouble obtaining funding from sponsors or grants, you could try different fundraising events in your community or ask for donations from your planning team to help you get started.

During this stage you should also determine if you are going to charge fees to use and work in the garden. For most community garden types fees are definitely not necessary but if you are worried about finances and maintenance later on it may be something to consider.

4. Prep and develop the site

Once your lease starts, first things first, you need to clean your site of any litter or debris from the previous uses. Once it is all clean and you have a blank canvas, work with your team to design a layout for the garden, keeping in mind sun and shade patterns for optimal growing. In your design make sure to include where you are getting your water from and how it will reach all of the different areas. You also want to set aside a few sections for a composting area, a storage area for tools, and if you have the space maybe a few tables for people to sit at and take breaks. After the layout is set, it's time to start building! If you need extra volunteers at the beginning stages of the building and developing phase check with local schools, universities, churches, and youth organizations to see if anyone is willing to help out!

5. Create community garden guidelines

Creating community guidelines allows you to make sure everyone who works in the garden is on the same page about how to run the garden, take care of the plants, and general do's and don'ts. This is also a great time to decide whether or not the garden will be organic. It's important to make this known to every volunteer so no one sprays any of the plants or uses any materials that do not qualify as organic.

Some guidelines could include: putting all of the tools and materials away before leaving, being respectful to everyone working, don't take food without permission, don't plant personal plants without permission, a list of things to not add to the compost, and anything else you want to add to make your garden a successful and welcoming environment. Check out this link for some more examples!

6. Final steps

The bulk of the planning is done and now all that's left is to start planting and recruit more members to the garden. To really kick off the opening of the garden, have a celebration like a barbeque or potluck to highlight all of the hard work you and your team have put in and show off your beautiful garden!


Starting and organizing a community garden is going to be a lot of hard work, but it will also be very rewarding and allow you to connect with your community on a deeper level. You have the opportunity to bring fresh fruits and vegetables into your community, teach others how to garden, and create a beautiful space for others to admire and use. Instead of letting another chain store come into your community, take that space back and use it for good!


Sources

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1353829200000137?casa_token=4JIdEvYYuYkAAAAA:uWNmgSXLTu7tweuBoDQNWoXpwP_5B_j9RtamlE4knf17boviz07WUKlNaxLkkfjo4OWLa-c
  2. https://www.seewhatgrows.org/start-community-garden-neighborhood/
  3. https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/kindergarden/CHILD/COM/COMMUN.HTM
  4. https://www.brunswickcompanies.com/commercial-insurance/community-garden-insurance/
  5. https://blog.ioby.org/how-to-turn-a-vacant-lot-into-a-community-garden-a-primer/
  6. https://howtostartanllc.com/business-ideas/community-garden#:~:text=A%20community%20garden's%20startup%20costs,cost%20as%20much%20as%20%2430%2C000.
  7. https://www.seewhatgrows.org/3607-2/
  8. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/how-to-organize-a-community-garden
  9. https://www.urbanharvest.org/gardens/types-of-community-gardens/
  10. Ver Ploeg, M., Breneman, V., Farrigan, T., Hamrick, K., Hopkins, D., Kaufman, P., Lin, B.-H., Nord, M., Smith, T. A., Williams, R., Kinnison, K., Olander, C., Singh, A., & Tuckermanty, E. (2009). Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences: Report to Congress (No. 2238-2019–2924). AgEcon Search. https://doi.org/10.22004/ag.econ.292130.
  11. Kunpeuk, W., Spence, W., Phulkerd, S., Suphanchaimat, R., & Pitayarangsarit, S. (2020). The impact of gardening on nutrition and physical health outcomes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Health Promotion International, 35(2), 397–408. https://doi.org/10.1093/heapro/daz027.
  12. Vujcic, M., Tomicevic-Dubljevic, J., Grbic, M., Lecic-Tosevski, D., Vukovic, O., & Toskovic, O. (2017). Nature based solution for improving mental health and well-being in urban areas. Environmental Research, 158, 385–392. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2017.06.030
  13. Alaimo, K., Beavers, A., Crawford, C., Snyder, E., & Litt, J. (2016). Amplifying Health Through Community Gardens: A Framework for Advancing Multicomponent, Behaviorally Based Neighborhood Interventions. Current Environmental Health Reports, 3. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40572-016-0105-0
  14. Firth, C., Maye, D., & Pearson, D. (2011). Developing "community" in community gardens. Local Environment, 16(6), 555–568. https://doi.org/10.1080/13549839.2011.586025
  15. Li, G., Sun, G.-X., Ren, Y., Luo, X.-S., & Zhu, Y.-G. (2018). Urban soil and human health: A review. European Journal of Soil Science, 69(1), 196–215. https://doi.org/10.1111/ejss.12518
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Food

Why Reusable Takeout Packaging is the Future

Better for the Planet, Our Health, and the Economy

As a long-time plastic and waste reduction advocate, I've had a hard time ordering take-out or delivery. It's not just the waste that bothers me when I see single-use food packaging, it's knowing that things used for a matter of minutes and then thrown away represents all kinds of threats not only to the environment, but also to our health and businesses' bottom line.

Then COVID-19 happened – and caused a dramatic increase in the consumption of single-use plastics from PPEs and food packaging. Since the pandemic began, U.S. online shopping and take-out orders have increased 78% – the highest reported increase in the world. However, oddly enough, the number of reusable and returnable cup and container options has – luckily! – been growing.

This growth in reuse systems is evident in cities across the U.S.. For example, in my hometown of San Francisco, in the last year it became possible for me to order take-out in reusable containers from several of my favorite Bay Area restaurants through Dispatch Goods, either directly from the restaurant or through Doordash. When visiting family in NYC, I can get lovely salads to go from Just Salad – and Deliver Zero is partnering with a number of restaurants in Brooklyn and Greenwich Village. And while my family in Durham N.C. are divided by the Tar Heels and Blue Devils rivalry, they all agree that ordering take-out in reusable containers from restaurants that partner with Durham Green to Go is much better than the throw-away option. And thankfully, I can now get a coffee to-go in a reusable mug in many cities, like when I visit my brother in Boston, where Usefull recently launched.

At UPSTREAM, we are tracking the growth of reuse in cities all across the country. It's possible to borrow a reusable cup or container in a variety of on deposit or lending programs. Even groceries and consumer products are being offered in returnable/refillable containers thanks to many emerging reuse companies. The concomitant growth in reusable and refillable return systems gives me hope that the throw away culture is changing.

Why Single-use Packaging is Not Good for the Environment

Since the birth of the throw-away culture in the 1960s, single-use food packaging has largely replaced reusable and refillable packaging in the U.S., and it is rapidly increasing across the globe. Taking another first place, the U.S. is also the biggest generator of packaging waste – 82.2 million metric tons (mt) in 2018- equivalent to 514 billion cars. Efforts to find "sustainable packaging" materials to feed the throw away economy are challenging since each comes with regrettable consequences.

Paper products, like napkins, plates, and food containers are filling overflowing garbage cans. These products come from oxygen-producing, carbon-capturing trees – our first defense in the climate crisis. Cutting them down means habitat loss and increasing species extinction, increasing water pollution, and worse air quality.

Aluminum is quickly becoming the material of choice because it is highly recyclable. But with the average recycled content of a can at 73% a fair amount of virgin material is still being used. The mining and transformation of raw bauxite into aluminum is energy intensive and releases perfluorocarbons that are 9,200 times more harmful than CO2 in global warming impacts.

Plastic is not a great choice, either. It's highly littered and hardly recyclable. One truckload per minute of plastic enters the ocean. Throughout its lifecycle, from the extraction of hydrocarbons through the processing to ultimate disposal, plastics are energy intensive, polluting, health-harming, and contribute to climate change. Roughly two-thirds of all plastic produced has been released to the environment and remains there causing harm. And it turns out that the U.S. is the biggest plastic waste generator and polluter in the world.

For years, communities have struggled to find alternatives to plastic that are better for the environment, but this quest has proven elusive. They are learning the hard way that "recyclable" foodware doesn't really get recycled. We've paid for recycling for years while our dirty paper and plastic got exported to become pollution in other countries – or it gets collected in the recycling bin only to end up in local landfills or incinerators where it pollutes our communities.

Compostable packaging some believe to be the sustainable panacea. But compostables are not really working well in the waste stream. Bioplastic compostable products, like cups and bags, get mixed up with and contaminate recycling. Only products certified to be compostable (bearing 3rd party labeling) are designed to degrade in commercial compost although many people mistake plant-based products with those designed for compost. Commercial composters largely don't want plastics made from plants, even the ones that are certified to meet lab standards for compostability, because they don't degrade quickly enough outside the lab and contaminate the compost. So too does paper and fiberware that is coated with forever-polluting PFAS chemicals. All packaging, even if it degrades in compost, dilutes the quality of the compost because it adds no nutrient value. Composters mostly want food and yard waste. Some accept technically compostable food packaging due to pressure from cities that are looking to divert waste from landfill. But they end up with piles of less valuable, dirty compost.

Reusable packaging: a win for the planet

Life cycle analysis – the footprint of a product through its lifetime, from production to disposal – generally views environmental impacts through as many as 14 categories, like raw materials extraction, manufacturing and transportation impacts, greenhouse gas and climate impacts, water and energy consumption, aquatic toxicity, and disposal related impacts. Through any of these measures, reusable products ultimately out-perform the disposable options.

Based on UPSTREAM's review of the life cycle analysis of reusable versus disposable take-out foodware, reusables are better for the environment after just a minimal number of uses:

  • Cups, plates and bowls: after 10-50 uses
  • Clamshells: after 15-20 uses
  • Utensils: after 2-4 uses

Reuse is Better for our Health – Especially Without Plastic

Many people want to eliminate plastic because of the impacts to our oceans and upsetting scenes of plastics' harm to turtles and whales. But a more personal impact comes from the health threats associated with plastics and chemicals in food packaging. The harm, including lowered fertility rates for men and women, developmental and neurological impairment, and elevated cancers and other chronic diseases, is harder to see and much widely recognized. That's why UPSTREAM is collaborating with Zero Waste Europe and GAIA in the UNWRAPPED project to share a Call to Action about the risks of plastics and chemicals in food packaging:

Non-plastic reusables are not only better for the environment, they are also safer for human health. When made from glass, stainless steel, and ceramic, the main package is inert. The threat of chemicals or microplastics migrating into the food or beverages we consume is far lower with non-plastic reusables.

Reusables Are Also Better for the Economy

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that a 20% shift to reusables presents a $10 billion dollar business savings. On the ground, programs like ReThink Disposable are providing this case. The program had over 160 food service businesses participate, and they found that every single one saved money by switching to some reusables in their operations – on average between $3,000- $22,000 per year.

Switching to reuse for take-out also reduces litter which will in turn save taxpayer dollars. More than $11.5 billion is spent every year in the U.S. to clean up litter on the streets, in storm drains and in rivers, and the most common objects found during beach and street litter clean-ups are food and beverage packaging.

Reuse also creates good local jobs. According to EcoCycle, there are 30 times more job opportunities with reuse than in landfilling and incinerating our waste.

Reduce is Also a Win

At UPSTREAM, we're working to get laws enacted that pave the way both for reducing and reusing. To reduce single-use in food service, we've launched the Skip the Stuff campaign which would require restaurants and online ordering apps to ask first before including the straws, utensils, condiment packets, and napkins that most of us already have at home or at the office.

So when you choose to Skip the Stuff, or you participate in a reusable cup or container program for your next take-out meal or beverage, you can feel good knowing that choosing to reduce and reuse is safer for our health, better for the planet, and saves business money. That's a real win!

How to Become a Reuse Solutioneer

People can spend their entire days and weeks trying to live a plastic-free lifestyle, but most of us don't have that kind of time. The problem is that we don't have a lot of choices in how the things we want to buy and use are packaged. The real solutions come from driving systems change by putting pressure on companies to offer us the products we want without the throw-away packaging.

You can drive change by supporting businesses that are doing things right. Here are some ways to support reuse businesses:

  • Call on restaurants to Reopen with Reuse: add your name to the statement asking our beloved restaurants to reopen with nontoxic reuse.
  • Find reuse businesses in your area and support them.
  • Support restaurants that serve on real plates, cups, and dishes.
  • Opt out of unnecessary accessories like disposable silverware and straws when you order take-out - #SkiptheStuff.

You can also take action now to get policies enacted that require packaging to be less toxic and more reusable.


Resources

1. Parashar, N, Hait, S. (2021, Plastics in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic: Protector or polluter? Sci of the Total Env 759/144274.

2. Containers and Packaging: Product-Specific Data

3. The New Plastics Economy Rethinking the future of plastics

4. THE HIDDEN COSTS OF A PLASTIC PLANET

5. The United States' contribution of plastic waste to land and ocean

Let's start by acknowledging that take out is a wonderful invention, especially during the pandemic. Getting takeout is one of the only activities that still feels normal, helps support local business, and brings so much joy! While we're not going to give up our Postmates habit any time soon, we do have a few suggestions for ways to make your next lunch or Tuesday night takeout a little healthier, without saying you have to order the steamed veggies.

Our focus is on what the food comes in and not what you are ordering - no judgement here if you get the pizza and cheesy bread (they're different!). We are more concerned about the container your food might be served in. That styrofoam container housing your piping hot pad thai or that molded fiber bowl your fancy grain bowl is served in might pose a hidden health risk.

Well, here's the deal, all that packaging can affect the food, and in turn, your health down the road. And not like heart disease from a greasy indulgence now and again or a bout of food poisoning, but things like infertility, suppressed immune functions, and even neurological disorders. These issues, and others that result from a disrupted endocrine system, are associated with the highly fluorinated chemicals (PFAS) and various types of plastic present in most take out and food packaging materials.

But to be completely frank, figuring out what exactly is in the specific container your favorite restaurant uses isn't all that easy. There are so many different options when it comes to to-go containers that it can be migraine-inducing trying to figure out what is what. So, rather than listing out every possible take out container you might see and saying this one is safe, but this one isn't, we are just going to share some info that's easy to remember and can make a general improvement. Because hey, every little change adds up and makes a difference down the line.

So, here's the deal. We went through this report from Center for Environmental Health and a recent study on grocery takeout containers, and pulled out some of the main facts. We compared those with other info researchers have found, and came up with this list of facts and tips for creating an even better takeout experience.

4 Facts about Take Out Containers

  1. The "best" options (meaning the ones that contains the fewest chemicals that are likely to leach into your food or the environment after you throw it away) are ones that are compostable and fluorine free. That means those brown paper boxes marked with a green seal saying they are made from 100% recycled paperboard or the white paper soup containers that have a green stripe and similar compostable markings. Another option is plastic-like containers that are actually made of something called bioplastic or PLA (polylactic acid) that are completely compostable. These are often used for things like salads or compostable cold drink cups. Foil containers also seem to be safe because foil is less likely to change due to heat.
  2. If you can't find compostable, or foil containers, the next best options are plastic containers that are recyclable and marked with the number 2 or the number 5. These are "safer" plastics when it comes to transporting hot food, and they can be easily recycled in most communities.
  3. Styrofoam is bad. We all instinctively know it. What even is that material? (answer: it's polystyrene, which is a form of plastic). Anyway, if you can avoid it you should. It easily releases chemicals into hot foods and drinks and takes forever to break down in the world once you toss it and is not really recyclable.
  4. Molded fibers, so things like those brown cardboard-y bowls that look natural like they should be better for you, often aren't. To make the paper water and oil resistant, they often use a highly fluorinated chemical, which isn't something we want a lot extra of in our bodies.

And, if even that sounds like a lot to remember, here are some tips that can help reduce the impact takeout containers have on your life.


The Good News

Thankfully, in recent years retailers have started taking a stance against PFAS in their packaging. Many are committing to phasing PFAS out from the packaging or have stopped using this harmful chemical altogether! Big chain stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's have started to take action to stop using packaging with PFAS, as well as fast food chains like McDonald's and Taco Bell who have pledged to fully change their packaging by 2025. Chipotle has gone one stop further and totally eliminated this type of packaging. Make sure to support the places that are taking action!

States have also started to propose legislation to ban these harmful chemicals from packaging. New York, Washington, and Maine have already prohibited PFAS in food packaging and many states have provided new legislation that has not been passed yet or will go into effect in the next few years. And that's not all! Maine and dozens of cities in other states have banned the use of styrofoam as food containers.

The good news doesn't stop there! There are a growing number of companies and startups that are trying to solve this issue of wasteful and toxic takeout containers. A couple examples of these companies are Dispatch Goods in San Francisco and Go Box started in Portland. Both of these companies are providing reusable containers to restaurants and then later picking them up from the customer as well as providing drop off sites at different locations throughout the city. There are a lot of new companies working on removing toxic chemicals from our takeout containers and trying to reduce the amount of waste that they create. So while we wait for bills and legislation to be passed, we can rest easier knowing that there are some companies taking action into their own hands.


4 Tips for Healthier Take Out

Phasing out or banning the use of PFAS or styrofoam is a big step in the right direction to lessen our exposure to these toxic chemicals. But until we have a nationwide (or global!) ban on these chemicals from food contact, you might also want to check out these tips for making your take out experience a little healthier.

  1. Try to notice what your food comes in when your food arrives, then order from places that already use better options. It doesn't have to be every time (maybe you are just really craving that chicken from the place on the corner that only uses styrofoam clamshells - that's okay), but if you are between two, let the packaging factor in.
  2. Before ordering your food ask the server or hostess what kind of containers the food will come in. If the food comes in a container that you're not happy with, maybe try somewhere else for dinner. And if you are really outgoing or go to the same place regularly, consider talking to them about switching to something better like compostable options.
  3. If you are feeling passionate about this issue, try getting involved at the local level or find organizations in your area that are working on it or a similar issue. There are a lot of organizations fighting to ban styrofoam or harmful chemicals from food packaging and even to create state composting systems. You could also start your own movement, the sky's the limit!

If you've been looking for some more sustainable and eco-friendly alternatives, chances are, you might have stumbled across this thing called beeswax wrap. It can be used to wrap sandwiches and salad, that half-eaten avocado, even leftovers from wine and cheese night! Maybe the cute patterns first caught your eye, or maybe you saw it on Instagram. Whatever the reason, we're going to share everything you need to know about this reusable alternative to plastic wrap.

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Food

What’s in Wood Cutting Boards?

And how to pick the healthiest ones

With plenty of time at home in the last 12 months, we've all visited the kitchen more frequently – and gladly. This, of course, means that we're basically certifiable chefs. (And how could we not be after streaming all of the known tele-verse? There's now time and much inspiration to mince fresh garlic into culinary fairy dust.) While you've been chopping away, have you ever wondered what goes into those beautiful wooden or bamboo cutting boards? Especially the ones with blocks of wood artfully stuck together? We wondered too, so we looked into it. Read on to learn more!

Wood: the Good

Prepping food on wood or bamboo cutting boards has a number of known benefits. Unlike plastic, wood doesn't contribute microplastics into our food (or the environment!), and bamboo is a quickly regenerated sustainable resource. Wood materials also have antimicrobial properties, in part because they can absorb and trap bacteria deep in the wood fibers! (3) Studies have shown that properly cleaned and dried wood cutting boards harbor very few live bacteria on the cutting board surfaces (1-5).

What About the Other Stuff?

Some wood cutting boards are crafted out of single blocks of wood, but more commonly they contain pieces that are glued together. Cutting board materials fall under the FDA's "food contact substances" and "indirect food additives" regulations since any part of a cutting board could potentially touch our food (6). When FDA-approved food contact substances like glue resins/polymers are completely cured (totally dried), they are considered food safe (7). Even so, some approved substances like melamine-formaldehyde resins can release harmful gases and cause other issues for human and environmental health (8). Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, and chronic low-level melamine exposure is associated with early kidney disease, among other problematic health outcomes (9). (See our article on melamine dishware to learn more about why it's not great for health). Petroleum-derived wood preservatives like paraffin wax and petroleum hydrocarbon resin are also not great for the environment.

Another thing to keep in mind is that while the FDA requires imported products to comply with the same US safety regulations, unfortunately sometimes these products are non-compliant (10). Look for products that specifically state that they meet FDA food contact regulations, or ask the manufacturer if you're not sure! Imported wood also might require fumigation with methyl bromide prior to shipping to the US, depending on what type it is and where it's coming from (11, 12). While pest management is an important step to prevent the introduction of disease or invasive species from abroad, methyl bromide contributes to ozone layer depletion and can cause system-wide bodily harm to those spraying it (13). (Bamboo timber is generally allowable without any treatment if it meets certain conditions(14).) The bottom line is that some glues, products, and practices are definitely better than others, so it's a good idea to look for wood cutting boards that minimize these health and environmental risks.

5 Recommendations for Choosing a Healthy Wood Cutting Board

We know it can be overwhelming to research the healthiest options out there, so here are 5 recommendations to help your browsing:

  1. Choose wood or bamboo over plastic – even with the possible concerns listed above, wood is still a better choice for decreasing your microplastic and toxin exposure!
  2. Look for cutting boards made from a single piece of wood (to get you started, here are non-toxic cypress, Vermont maple, and teak options). You can also find Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified boards that minimize environmental harm by using sustainably harvested woods.
  3. If you choose a cutting board made from multiple glued pieces (which are frankly beautiful and more widely available), make sure the glue used is free from formaldehyde and melamine. Some bamboo cutting boards like this one have a pressure/heat treated process that allow for a glue-free surface.
  4. Pick cutting boards with mild non-toxic coatings like beeswax (or look for an unfinished one that you can finish yourself with our DIY cutting board oil recipe below!)
  5. If you're not sure what types of glue or coatings a manufacturer uses (or if you want to make sure it's FDA-approved), feel free to contact them and ask what types of ingredients and regulations they use and follow. You would definitely not be the first person to ask! For reference, Titebond III and Gorilla Wood Glue are both considered safer for food contact.

DIY Cutting Board Conditioner Oil

To help you maintain a lustrous, resilient and non-toxic cutting surface, here's our simple cutting board conditioner recipe:

  • 3/4 cup MCT oil (or walnut oil)
  • 1/4 cup beeswax
  • Directions: Melt the oil and beeswax together in the microwave or on the stovetop, then brush the mixture onto your cutting board and let it soak in for 3 hours. You can seal your boar as often as once a month, but we find that sealing it just a few times a year works well too!

If you're looking for a refresher on wood cutting board cleaning recommendations, we've got you covered here. Enjoy your culinary endeavors!


References

  1. Moore, Ginny, Ian S. Blair, and DAVID A. McDOWELL. "Recovery and transfer of Salmonella typhimurium from four different domestic food contact surfaces." Journal of food protection, vol. 70, no. 10, 2007, pp. 2273-2280. https://doi.org/10.4315/0362-028X-70.10.2273
  2. Lücke, Friedrich-Karl, and Agnieszka Skowyrska. "Hygienic aspects of using wooden and plastic cutting boards, assessed in laboratory and small gastronomy units." Journal für Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit, vol. 10, no. 4, 2015, pp. 317-322. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00003-015-0949-5
  3. Boursillon, Dominique, and Volker Riethmüller. "The safety of wooden cutting boards." British Food Journal vol. 109, no. 4, 2007. https://doi.org/10.1108/00070700710736561
  4. Ak, Nese O., Dean O. Cliver, and Charles W. Kaspar. "Cutting boards of plastic and wood contaminated experimentally with bacteria." Journal of Food Protection, vol. 57, no. 1, 1994, pp. 16-22. https://doi.org/10.4315/0362-028X-57.1.16
  5. Cliver, Dean O. "Cutting boards in Salmonella cross-contamination." Journal of AOAC International, vol. 89, no. 2, 2006, pp. 538-542. https://doi.org/10.1093/jaoac/89.2.538
  6. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-ingredients-packaging/food-ingredient-packaging-terms
  7. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=23a3c29a77c934f528ed12988c803c24&mc=true&node=sp21.3.175.c&rgn=div6
  8. https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/sites/default/files/classic//toxics/compwood/consumer_faq.pdf
  9. Liu, Chia-Chu, et al. "Interrelationship of Environmental Melamine Exposure, Biomarkers of Oxidative Stress and Early Kidney Injury." Journal of hazardous materials, vol. 396. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2020.122726
  10. https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/02/66-of-products-tested-from-online-marketplaces-amazon-marketplace-aliexpress-ebay-and-wish-failed-safety-tests/
  11. https://www.compliancegate.com/wooden-bamboo-kitchen-products-regulations-united-states/
  12. https://helpspanish.cbp.gov/s/article/Article-897?language=en_US
  13. https://www.epa.gov/ods-phaseout/methyl-bromide
  14. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=8765cd13ef440b0571f9f5298dcc757b&mc=true&node=sp7.5.319.i&rgn=div6

Artificial food coloring is readily abundant in the products we use everyday, especially in kids products like snacks, candy, and even medicine. These synthetic food dyes are made from petroleum and have been found to be carcinogenic, cause hypersensitivity reactions, and instigate behavioral problems (1). There still needs to be more research done to determine whether or not artificial food colorings cause a myriad of other illnesses and health complications, but until that research is completed we feel that it's best to stay away from these potentially toxic synthetic dyes. That's why we rounded up some popular kids snacks and even medicines and found alternatives that use vegetable and fruit colors instead!

  1. Annie's Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks

  2. Pirates Booty Cheese Puffs

  3. Nature's Path Organic Frosted Berry Strawberry toaster pastries

  4. 365 Rainbow Sprinkles

  5. UNREAL milk chocolate gems

  6. Children's Motrin Dye-free

Sources:

  1. https://cspinet.org/resource/food-dyes-rainbow-risks
Food

Mix 'N Match Snack Ideas

Run out of tasty snacks? We've got you

It can be hard to find healthy snacks you can give to your kids (or even for yourself). That's why we put together a bunch of snack combos that will help your kids get their daily intake of fruits, veggies, proteins, and fats without artificial flavorings and refined sugars. All of the combos are super easy to put together and require little to no cooking. Plus mixing the different colors and textures of the different foods is sure to make snack time more exciting for little kids and even the pickiest of eaters! These snacks are a great way to avoid packaged snacks which means less waste and chemicals getting into our kids food. If you are struggling to find nutritious snacks for your kids or even a way to change up your own diet, check out this graphic of awesome snack combos!

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