Life

Mardi Gras Beads Don't Belong in Your Mouth (or your kids')

Don't let these harmful chemicals ruin your celebration

Every year, over one million parade goers will fill the streets of New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday as it's also known in the Christian calendar, is a day of feasting before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is known for many things like parades, masks, costumes, and music. But for most people a central part of Mardi Gras is collecting and wearing beads, also known as throws. While collecting throws can be a fun way to celebrate, there is growing concern about the health hazards of the beads and the environmental cost of the beads.

The vast majority of beads that are handed out during Mardi Gras originate from China. Back in the day, the beads were made of glass, but now they are made of plastic. It's estimated that China manufactures 25 million pounds of beads for Mardi Gras alone (1). Despite government regulations to keep hazardous chemicals like lead in children's products to under 100ppm, over two thirds of these beads did not meet the concentration requirement (2). Researchers at the Ecology Center, who tested Mardi Gras beads, estimate that a single year's inventory of Mardi Gras beads may contain up to 900,000 pounds of hazardous flame retardants and 10,000 pounds of lead. Based on the composition of the chemicals found in the plastic beads, the researchers concluded that plastic from electronic waste was likely being recycled into producing Mardi Gras beads (2).

While exposure to lead and flame retardants is harmful to everyone's health, it's particularly dangerous for children. Even though Mardi Gras beads are not a children's product, many children collect and wear them during the parade and often put them in their mouths to chew on. Children also play with them and residues may end up on their hands, which is another way they could be potentially eating these toxic substances. It is recommended to limit the interaction your little ones have with Mardi Gras bead to prevent exposure to these toxic substances. If you have a toddler or baby who is teething, don't let them chew on the beads. And for older children, let them wear them for a short while and then consider donating them to be reused. And for everyone who touches the beads, make sure to wash hands before snacking or eating.

Aside from the health effects, there are also harmful environmental effects from Mardi Gras beads. The plastic beads end up in landfills or down storm drains, and contribute to the problem of plastic waste in our environment. In 2018, the city of New Orleans found 93,000 pounds of Mardi Gras beads in just 5 city blocks that had washed down into storm drains (4). The toxic substances, like lead and flame retardants, then leach from the beads and end up in the waterways, eventually draining into the Gulf of Mexico. These substances accumulate in fish, and in turn, put seafood lovers at risk for lead poisoning (3).

However, all this bad news doesn't mean that your kids (or you for that matter) can't accessorize with beads and have fun this Mardi Gras! A handful of companies are aware of the adverse impacts of traditional beads and have created more sustainable options. ArcGNO collects and reuses the same Mardi Gras beads each year while Atlas Beads creates handmade Mardi Gras beads from paper. Both are much better options than single use beads! Many krewes are recognizing the problem that Mardi Gras beads pose and are coming up with creative and reusable throws, such as aprons, cooking spoons, hats, and t-shirts. Some are even handing out local food items such as red beans, jambalaya mix, and coffee beans. It's great to see such creative alternatives to plastic Mardi Gras beads!

References
  1. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/toxic-truth-mardi-gras-beads-180962431/
  2. https://www.ecocenter.org/healthy-stuff/reports/ho...
  3. https://setac.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/etc.2641
  4. https://www.npr.org/2018/01/26/580933914/new-orleans-finds-93-000-pounds-of-mardi-gras-beads-in-storm-drains
Home

Thinking of Buying an Air Purifier?

Take a deep breath because we've got everything you need to know!

If you live in a big city, close to a major highway or just have some unbearable allergies, chances are, you've probably considered buying an indoor air filter at some point. Maybe you were overwhelmed at the amount of choices that the internet offered, or just weren't sure which brands were safe and actually worked. Take a deep breath, we're here to help you pick out an air purifier that works for you and lessens the amount of air pollution in your house!

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Roundups

Air Purifier Roundup

Keep your air quality healthy while staying indoors!

Being inside our house for days on end has us thinking a lot about indoor air quality. How do I keep myself protected while sheltering in place? If you're also worried about indoor air pollutants, it might be a good time to consider buying an air purifier! But there are so many choices out there, how do you know which is best for your house? We did some research and picked our top 6 air purifier choices!

Air purifiers are an easy way to help maintain a healthy indoor air quality. If you experience seasonal allergies, live in the middle of a big city, are exposed to wildfire smoke, or just stay inside a lot, an air purifier might be right for you! While it can't capture everything from the air, air purifiers are a great tool at protecting your indoor air quality against small particles you can't remove with vacuuming and dusting alone like per hair, dust, and pollen. Purifiers with a HEPA filter provide even more protection- they're "99.97% efficient for removing particles less than 0.3 microns" (1). Some HEPA filters have a substrate that absorbs VOCs too!

There are a few things to consider before choosing an air filter, including:

-Make sure the air purifier doesn't generate ozone. While these machines were thought to be effective, they actually cause more indoor air pollution.

-Determine how many air purifiers you need. The product description of an air purifier should say the square footage one purifier can cover. Some larger rooms may need more than one purifier.

-Check how long one filter lasts. Every air purifier is different, and some filters may last longer than others! It's also a good idea to check filter prices before committing to a specific model.

- Follow manufacturer instructions to clean or buy new air filters when necessary to ensure that your air purifier continues to work properly.

Below are our top air purifier picks:



a) Austin Air Healthmate

b) Coway AP 1512 Mighty

c) Blueair Blue Pure 411

d) Alen Breathesmart Classic

e) Honeywell HPA300

f) AirDoctor

*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.

References:

1. https://ww3.arb.ca.gov/research/indoor/acdsumm.pdf

Making Your Fruits and Veggies Last

In times of pantry cooking and beyond

In this unprecedented time of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, we're all eating a little bit differently. It can be tough to get to the grocery store and favorite items might be sold out. Our usual restaurant stops, home deliveries, and takeout options may not be available. While we're cooking more with less, it's more important than ever to make your fresh fruits and vegetables last. Luckily, the kitchen ideas I've learned over the past few years for fighting food waste are easily transferable to cooking in a time of quarantine. When you're aiming to make your food go far, during a pandemic or just real life, it's good to know how to make your fresh produce last as long as possible.

A good principle is to store your produce in the same areas as they do in the supermarket. It's their literal business to keep food fresh as long as possible! While you obviously won't be using the exact same methods - they're aiming for display as well as storage - you can think of your produce in the same fundamental categories:

  1. Room Temperature Storage: these are the items you'd find displayed out of refrigeration in the produce section and can be divided into:
    1. Pantry storage (cooler and away from the light) for sturdy and long-lasting vegetables
    2. Counter storage for fruits that need to ripen
  2. Refrigeration: These are the fresh fruits and vegetables in the refrigerated cases of the produce department and typically fall into three categories:
    1. Loose: most fruit, like citrus and melons can just be placed into your fridge drawers
    2. Airtight storage: most delicate greens
    3. Breathable storage: berries and most other vegetables, from roots to stalks to hearty greens
  3. Special storage: a few items, like asparagus, mushrooms, corn and fresh herbs require a bit more attention.


Let's dive a bit more deeply into each one:

Room Temperature Storage:

Pantry Storage: some vegetables need a cool, dark place for optimum storage. In the old days that would have been a root cellar, but let's be honest - who has a root cellar these days? For most people this means a cupboard or a drawer away from the light where you'll store the following items:

  • Tubers such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, winter squash, and even eggplant, which browns in the fridge.
  • Onions, shallots, and similar alliums should also be stored somewhere cool and dark, but not with potatoes. If stored together, they'll cause the potatoes to sprout. While we're on the topic - green and sprouted potatoes can be eaten if peeled deeply to remove all green and sprouty bits, but if you're immunocompromised in any way, just compost them.

Counter Storage: your counter is the best place for most fruits (except apples, citrus and berries) to sit until ripe - that's why fruit bowls exist! Once ripe, these fruits should be moved to the refrigerator to preserve them as long as possible. Melons, stone fruit (i.e. peaches, nectarines, cherries, etc), and bananas fit into this category, as do avocados. Tomatoes should ideally always be kept at room temperature, but can be moved to the fridge once cut, or if in desperation to keep them a bit longer. If your tomatoes get wrinkly, roast them up!

Refrigerator Storage:

Produce in the fridge fits into three categories: loose, airtight or breathable. You'll see a lot of storage guides recommend plastic bags for airtight or breathable storage, but there are other options if you're trying to minimize your use of plastic. You can invest in reusable storage bags or save the plastic ones that come into your house as bread storage or cereal bags. Try repurposing old storage boxes or tupperware for fridge storage. A lot of items will do well in their original plastic container, such as berries and grapes, which can then be recycled.

Fruits in the fridge:

  • Apples, citrus and berries don't need time to ripen, and so should be refrigerated right away if you're aiming for lengthy storage. Take them out or let them sit at room temperature if you know you're going to eat them soon.
  • Berries do well staying in their original box or another breathable container. Once you get them home, remove any moldy ones, then don't wash them until you're ready to eat.
  • Citrus can last a long time in the fridge, loose in your crisper drawer.
  • Any other fruit that has been stored on the counter to ripen can be moved to the fridge to hold, or should be stored in the fridge in an airtight container once cut

Vegetables in the fridge: Most vegetables do best in the fridge when uncut, unwashed, and wrapped in a breathable container. This could be a plastic bag with holes in it or a reusable bag left open. The goal is to limit oxygen exposure, but allow a bit of airflow to minimize the moisture and condensation that causes rotting. This method works well for roots such as carrots and parsnips, cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts, fruits that are actually vegetables such as summer squash and cucumbers, as well as fresh beans, green onions and more. If your roots have greens on them like beets or turnips, cut the greens off and store them separately as they'll draw moisture from the root. Don't throw them out though - they're delicious cooked like chard or another sturdy leafy green.

Greens, especially delicate salad leaves, are more susceptible to moisture and wilting. You'll want to limit their supply of oxygen by storing in the airtight original container or rolled up in a plastic or reusable bag. Either way, it helps to stick a paper towel or dish towel in with the greens to soak up any moisture that would cause sliminess.

Special Storage:

There are a few fruits and vegetables out there that need some additional TLC to last as long as possible. Asparagus and most leafy fresh herbs are best stored like cut flowers. Place them in a tall upright container in an inch or two of fresh water and refrigerate. The one exception is basil, which should be kept at room temperature or it'll brown. Corn should be kept in the husk if possible; if not, wrap in damp towels to keep them moist, then wrap in a bag.

While we're on special storage - the most highly controversial of vegetable storage topics is... mushrooms! Some people swear by paper bags or damp cloths to retain some moisture; others claim that any moisture will speed up the rotting process and breathable plastic bags should be used instead. Just for you guys, I did an at-home experiment comparing a breathable cloth bag to an open silicone bag to a paper bag. After 5 days, the mushrooms were all still good, if the tiniest bit slimy, but the least slimy ones were the ones stored in the paper bag. However, the original packaging often works well too.

Freezing Fruits and Veggies:

If you're really aiming for long-term storage, most fruits and vegetables can be frozen. Fruits will lose texture (i.e. you wouldn't want to eat them raw once defrosted) so they're perfect for cooked desserts or smoothies. Vegetables can be frozen raw or cooked, depending on the vegetable, but you'll also want to use them in cooked dishes.

Fruits: cut your fruit into pieces, lay on a tray, then transfer to a resealable bag. Defrost, then use for pie or tarts, or leave frozen for smoothies. Frozen peeled bananas make a delicious ice cream substitute when blended!

Vegetables: hearty greens and other tender vegetables like asparagus and broccoli are best blanched before freezing - chop, boil in salted water for a few minutes, then drain and let cool and freeze in bags. Tomatoes and onions can be frozen when raw or cooked (chop them first), then used in cooked dishes once defrosted. Sturdier vegetables like winter squash and sweet potatoes do best when cooked and pureed, then frozen. Herbs freeze best with a bit of oil in an ice cube tray, then you can toss the cubes into stews, soups, and more. The main vegetables that don't freeze well are potatoes and lettuce. If you must freeze potatoes, make them into mashed potatoes first. And if your lettuce is getting old you can cook it (stir-fry or soup!) or perk it up in an ice water bath.

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Grow Fresh Produce in Your Kitchen Using Food Scraps!

All you need is some water and a sunny window…

Fresh fruits and veggies are tasty, add flavor to any meal, and are an important part of a balanced diet. They can also help boost your immune system, which we're all about right now. But these days we're trying to limit trips to the grocery store as much as possible. So how do you keep a stash of produce available without having to leave your house? By planting food scraps! Yes, you read that correctly.



Growing produce from food scraps has a lot of benefits. It diverts food waste from your trash or compost, it can teach young children about gardening, and it provides a relaxing project during these uncertain times. Plus, as long as you don't use any pesticides, everything you grow in your kitchen will be organic! Below are some types of food scraps that will grow into new produce with minimal effort on your part.

Lemongrass- this citrusy herb is easy to grow and will up the flavor profile of any dish! Put the bottom 2-3 inches of lemongrass in a half inch of water and keep in a sunny window. Change the water every few days. New growth will sprout from the center.

Celery- Put the bottom 2 inches of a celery stalk in a shallow bowl of water and place in a sunny window. Replace the water daily. New growth will appear within a few days. It might take a while for a full stalk to grow, but you can use the small growth to flavor dishes or to make your own celery powder!

Green onion- This is one of the easiest things to grow in your kitchen! Keep the white part of the onion in a small glass of water. Green onions will grow really fast in a sunny spot- you could have fresh onions in about one week!

Lettuce- place the bottom portion of a head of lettuce in a shallow bowl of water in a sunny window (you know the drill by now). New lettuce will start sprouting in a few days and you'll have about ½ of a head of lettuce in two weeks. That's the perfect amount for a sandwich or a burger!

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9 Veggies You Can Grow Indoors

Gourmet dinners with fresh veggies and no more plastic herb packets are in your future

What's better than having an indoor plant baby? How about one that gives you food? Since we are all spending more time at home these days and making less trips to the grocery store, it's a perfect time to try your hand at some indoor veggies that you can grow in your windowsill. Plus this is a great project to do with kids if you are homeschooling them due to COVID-19 school closures. Some ideas include helping plant and water the seeds, writing down weekly observations, measuring and drawing the vegetables as they grow, and finally learning to cook with them. Here are our suggestions for 9 veggies and herbs that are easy to grow inside and are useful to have on hand.

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It seems like everyone is staying home these days. Whether it's because of a mandatory order or out of an abundance of precaution, people are staying close to home and limiting travel. Social distancing is incredibly important to stop the spread of COVID-19, but staying at home means we suddenly have a lot more time on our hands. But that doesn't mean we have to be bored! There's still plenty to keep us busy as we shelter in place or practice social distancing. We've thought of some easy, outdoor-oriented activities you can do while on a walk or while getting some fresh air with your kids.

Activities for Adults

  • Do an outdoor guided meditation. These are difficult times and anxiety might be higher than normal. Meditation is proven to help lower stress and anxiety, as is going outdoors. Why not combine the two? There are a lot of free guided meditation online or on Youtube. We recommend going on a short walk, then finding somewhere to sit and meditate. Walking meditations are also a great way to stretch your legs while practicing mindfulness.
  • This is a great time to try a new hobby! Why not take up gardening? Gardening can help lower stress and anxiety, burn calories, and help you get outside more. Plus, you can also grow your own food! A meal just tastes better when the produce comes from your own backyard, right? Before you pick up your trowel, check out our guides on soil, composting, and growing veggies indoors (in case you're an apartment dweller).
  • Take a sketchbook with you on your next walk and sketch five things that make you happy. This could be a beautiful flower, a cute dog, or even just the sunny sky! This is a great way to keep you present during your walk and a way to focus on the positive.

Activities for Kids

  • Take a walk around your neighborhood or visit an open space or park for a hike and bring a pouch to collect natural objects such as flowers, rocks, leaves, sticks, and pinecones. It's a great way to have kids notice what's around them and to appreciate the beauty in what may seem like everyday objects. Then when you get home, have the kids organize the objects into alphabet letters or numbers and glue them to form nature collages. If you have older kids, use these objects to illustrate a scene from a favorite book or to make nature art.
  • We're definitely on board with getting outside for a bit of exercise, but kids sometimes it takes a bit of work to keep kids interested. Another idea for a hike or walk outside is to give your kids a camera (or your phone) and have them take pictures of things that they think are interesting or beautiful. Could be a flower, unusual shaped tree, colorful mailbox, or anything else they see. When you get home, print the pictures and have the kids make a collage. If you have older kids, have them write a story with the collage as an inspiration.
  • Another way to keep an outdoor walk interesting for kids is to bring a notebook and have them draw a map of your walk as you go. Make sure to note landmarks, unique natural features, or streets in your neighborhood. For older kids, this activity can become more challenging by having them note distance, elevation, and cardinal directions.



It seems like everyone is staying home these days. Whether it's because of a mandatory order or out of an abundance of precaution, people are staying close to home and limiting travel. Social distancing is incredibly important to stop the spread of COVID-19, but staying at home means we suddenly have a lot more time on our hands. That's why we compiled a list of our favorite environment-related tv shows and books! Half of the recommendations for kids, so everyone in the household can continue to learn about the environment!

Books

Adults



The Overstory by Richard Powers: Winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, this novel follows nine characters from drastically different walks of life and highlights their own unique relationship with trees. The Overstory tells a tale of activism, environmentalism, and resilience.


Horizon by Barry Lopez: Travel the globe with Lopez as he observes the natural world around him. With a quiet disposition and keen eye he listens to stories of researchers and locals, piecing together an understanding of human's complex connections to nature.


The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac: Figueres and Rivett-Carnac, who led negotiations for the United Nations during the 2015 Paris Agreement, discusses two scenarios: a world that meets the Paris climate targets, and a world that does not. The Future We Choose discusses how we can all tackle the climate crisis with determination and optimism.

Kids


Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers, illustrator of the bestseller The Day the Crayons Quit. This is a beautifully illustrated and heart warming book that serves as a tour through the Earth. With curiosity inducing pages on the land, sea, sky, our bodies, and animals, this book is a great jumping off point for even more in depth learning and exploration. The book's central message of being kind and taking care of the Earth is one that we full heartedly endorse, especially during uncertain times.


The Amazing Life Cycle of Butterflies by Kay Barnham. From caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly, this book teaches kids scientific facts about butterflies through engaging and bold illustrations. Even parents might learn a thing or two about butterflies. There are also notes for parents and teachers at the end with activity and art suggestions to encourage further exploration and learning.



The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E. K. Johnston. This is a great book for teenagers about Owen Thorskard, a budding dragonslayer who lives in rural Canada. Dragons in this world are attracted to carbon emissions, so the book does encourage readers to question our fossil-fuel based society. But most importantly, for young readers, it's an exciting story about Owen and his friend Siobhan and their quest to save the world.


TV Shows

Adults



Planet Earth II: An unprecedented look at our natural world with stunning visuals. This series gives us a look into the animal kingdom from the viewpoint of the animals themselves. It's basically earth eye-candy and features an array of gorgeous shots from 40 different countries. Visit islands, deserts, and even city streets to see how animals survive and thrive on an ever-changing planet.


Nature: This PBS docu-series covers a wide array of environmental topics, from white giraffes in Kenya to humpback whales in Northern California. Many episodes are available for free on your local PBS station.



Our Planet: While this series is packed with gorgeous shots of rarely-seen animal species, Our Planet also looks at the impact climate change is having throughout the world. Each episode is a somber reminder of how human behavior has far-reaching consequences.Kids

Kids



Tumble Leaf- Fig is a curious fox that goes on adventures to learn about how things work in the world and how to solve problems. Parents will love the applied science and your kids will love the colorful and cute animation. The pace of the show isn't too fast so there's plenty of time for kids to absorb what they are learning, but the show is so fun and quirky that they won't even realize that they are learning! The friendships that Fig has with his friends are also very endearing and teach some valuable lessons. This is definitely a must see show for preschoolers and younger elementary school kids.


Ask the Storybots- These five funny creatures answer a kid's question in each episode, such as "How Do Flowers Grow?" or Why Do We Have to Recycle? Facts are cleverly explained, along with explorations on letters, numbers, and colors. The creators consult subject experts and educators when creating each episode, but songs, animated characters, and guest celebrities make each show super engaging. If you don't know it already, this will be a hit with your preschool and elementary school aged kids.



WildKratts- Real-life brothers and zoologists Chris and Martin Kratt introduce kids to wild animals and teach them about animal behavior and habitats. Each episode focuses on a different wild animal that the Kratt brothers are going to go help. The show keeps it exciting by taking an inquisitive approach and with entertaining storylines. The Kratt brothers also show their love and respect for the natural world and science and inspire kids to do the same. This is a great show for elementary school aged kids.



Continent 7: Antarctica- This is a six-episode series that follows scientists as they live and work on Antarctica. From flying planes in extreme cold weather to climate change, this series will definitely keep older kids interested while also being educational. With beautiful imagery and drama that emerges from being in such a harsh environment, it's a great show to learn about how science is done and about an important ecosystem. Adults will also learn a lot and enjoy this as well!

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