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Holiday Decorating without the Plastic

Zero waste, natural, and sustainable decorations that are better for your health, and timeless

With Halloween solidly in the rearview mirror, the Holiday season is officially upon us. This also means that decorations are popping up everywhere. Everyone has holiday decorations on the mind, especially this year! While shiny tinsel and garlands might help you set the scene in your home, after the fact they are probably going to end up in the trash. If you are good about organizing, they might end up in a holiday box for next year, but chances are you will forget you had them and just get new ones again. To help you overcome the cycle and still fill your home with some adorable, fun, easy to reuse holiday decorations, we created a list of some of our favorite plastic-free holiday decorations. Many can be reused as they are more durable than plastic decorations and others are biodegradable and compostable!


Why the focus on plastic free? Plastic has some important uses in the world, but making (often) one-time-use decorations doesn't fall high on that list. And, both the production of plastic and the disposal of it can end up putting some of the chemicals used to create it into the world we live in, which means it can come back to haunt us in terms of our health (1). A lot plastic has additive like phthalates, lead, and fire retardants that have harmful health effects, plus plastic comes from fossil fuels! We don't love that, so we try to limit our use of plastic when we can. Decorating for the holidays is definitely one of those times. So, here's a list of some of our favorite plastic-free, healthy, and on theme holiday decorations.

From Nature


birch logs are a perfect plastic free holiday decoration

Birch logs

Their white bark gives them a snowy feel and makes them a great addition to table settings or vases full of dried flowers and cranberries. Tie some twine around them or a pretty ribbon to help create the perfect pile.

Pine cones are a great plastic free holiday decoration

Pine Cones

You can either buy these at your local stores or go on an adventure to find ones in your neighborhood. They are totally festive, smell great, and look cool just piled in a bowl. You can also string some together to make a festive garland or paint the tips white for a frosty look. They also make great tree ornaments and are a perfect DIY project to do with kids!

Garland and Wreaths

Looking for some hints of green in your decorating scheme? Grab some pieces of pine tree or other evergreens. You can attach them to a wire wreath frame, tie them together with string or wire, or even just place them in a vase and it will be sure to look beautiful. Some holly mixed throughout can add also work to add a pop of red. Skip the plastic tinsel and garland and go for the real thing.

Flowers both fresh and dried

Dried flowers last for a long time and add some warmth to a room. Fresh flowers smell nice and of course always look pretty. Poinsettia are common this time of year, and because they are more like a plant, they tend to last longer. You can also put together bouquets of fall leaves or greenery that can look pretty cool. Even a fallen or branch you just pruned can be the perfect holiday accent.

From the Kitchen

Cranberries and Popcorn

This is an old standby for a reason. It's super festive, a fun activity to put together with the family, and all the supplies are things you can pick up at the grocery store. Drape it around your tree, hang it in a window, place it around your fireplace, wherever it goes, it will look great! If you don't want to spend the time stringing, a glass jar, bowl or vase filled with cranberries or popcorn or both is also fun. We've also used cranberries in a glass jar with water surrounding a floating tea light candle too.

Dried Oranges and Cinnamon Sticks

Slice some oranges (or any citrus fruit) and dry them on low heat in the oven on a cookie sheet. About 3 hours at 200˚F should do the trick. Try mixing different types and sizes of oranges (like blood oranges!) to get a super natural beautiful look. You can use these in garlands, on wreaths, as part of any table setting or even to decorate presents. We love adding some cinnamon sticks to make things extra festive!

Cookies

When you're making holiday cookies, make a couple extra for stringing up as ornaments. Or get a clear cookie jar and pile some cookies in there. Not only will your decorations look good, but will taste yummy! Gingerbread works really well for decorations and are a fun thing to do as a whole family.

Recyclable or Reusable


Paper confetti

If you like to use glitter or confetti, try looking for paper confetti instead of ones made of plastic or mylar. While those may be shinier, because of their shape and size, they are pretty good at polluting the environment and turning into microplastics in our waterways. Paper confetti can give you a similar effect, and it's totally recyclable. Plus, if you choose white, it sort of looks like snow. If you still want the sparkle, try choosing biodegradable glitters.


Ornaments

Ornaments come in all shapes, sizes, and materials. Some of your favorites from years past might be glass, wood, ceramic, or even metal, which is great. (This is just a note that if you are looking for new ornaments, stick with those materials,) Now, of course, you can put them on a tree, but ornaments also look great piled into vases. Think outside the box and put them to use throughout the house for a bit of pop.


Burlap, Linen, and Cotton

These fabrics can add a more natural look to your decorations. Instead of creating a tablescape with fake snow, try putting this down as your base. Honestly, cotton table runners in white also look good. There's no need for fake snow from an aerosol can or a snow blanket to get that look - be creative! Side note: many "snow blankets" contain chemical flame retardants. Go for simple burlap or cotton to avoid these harmful chemicals.

Paper Snowflakes and Garlands

Again, a classic. You can make them as intricate or as simple as you like. Make them small or large, it doesn't matter, they are fun. Same goes with paper garlands. You can make them by stringing the snowflake together, getting creative with other shapes, or just by making paper chains like you did as a kid. Speaking of which, this is a great way to get the kids involved and turn it into an afternoon craft project. They can even help place them around the house. These are a perfect swap for window decals that are often made of vinyl, which contains phthalates.

Ribbon, Yarn, and Felt

Again we're looking for a way to replace the sparkle and eye-catching nature of something shiny. While tinsel can add a magical look and feel to trees, it's often made of PVC, and as we all know, it can end up shedding small pieces everywhere. Instead of donning your fireplace or tree with tinsel, try using ribbon or yarn. It will still hang vertically and can come in thin strips like icicle tinsel. You can also buy felt pom pom and garlands that add a whimsical touch to your decorations.


Candles

Last but not least, what are the holidays without candles! With the sun going down so early, candles are the perfect way to cozy up any living space. They look great even when they aren't lit. Just make sure to get candles with beeswax or natural waxes and avoid synthetic fragrances, which contain hormone disrupting chemicals. Read more about how to choose a healthier candle.


References

1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3299092/

Life

Why does your activewear stink and what can you do about it?

The scientific reason behind your bad smelling activewear and easy DIY solutions

Do you ever take your laundry out of the dryer and realize that your activewear still smells bad? Sometimes it feels like no amount of laundry detergent or scented fabric softener will get rid of that funky smell that lingers in all of your workout clothes. The reason this happens isn't because your washing machine isn't strong enough to get rid of the sweat from your run or all the burpees you did, but it's actually the fabric. Most workout clothes are made from synthetic fabrics or cotton, two materials that are great for working out in, but really bad at getting clean. Luckily there are a few ways to get rid of that smell that doesn't involve lots of harmful chemicals. So instead of throwing those smelly clothes away, check out some of our easy non-toxic cleaning methods and DIY solutions!

Why do workout clothes trap smell?

Most people think that the reason their workout clothes stink is because there is sweat trapped in them, but that is only partially true. Sweat by itself actually has no smell at all, but when it comes into contact with the bacteria on your skin, the sweat gets broken down and releases the typical body odor smell (1). So that means there isn't excess sweat trapped in your clothes, it's bacteria, along with dead skin cells and natural particles that are all contributing to the bad smell (2).

There is also a difference in how natural and synthetic workout clothes are affected by this bacteria. Natural fibers like cotton are more affected by sweat and bacteria compared to synthetic fibers because the bacteria that becomes trapped within the fabric can actually start to break down and degrade your clothes. The fibers of cotton are made completely of cellulose, a natural component of plants, and the bacteria can consume this substance and break down the clothes. Cotton is really good at absorbing sweat, so that means there is bacteria deep inside the cotton fibers and the bacteria can quickly multiply due to their massive food source i.e. your clothes. So not only will the bacteria in your sweat make your natural workout clothes smell bad, it will also degrade them over time until they fall apart (2).

Synthetic fabrics, on the other hand, are man-made fibers that are derived from petroleum products. Think plastic threads. Fabrics like spandex, polyester, and nylon are all made of synthetic materials and they are often marketed as sweat wicking or having a cooling effect. These types of fabrics collect bacteria in the space between the fibers, but does not absorb the sweat or bacteria in the fibers. These small spaces where the bacteria are trapped are really hard to access with standard cleaning products making the smell linger (2).

What makes it worse?

To get rid of the smell a lot of people use more detergent or heavily scented fabric softeners, but this only temporarily covers up the smell. These products coat the fibers and fill up the space between them, creating more and more build up the more you wash the clothes. Having build up on your clothes can trap the bacteria and every time you work out more bacteria will start to grow on your clothes.

Traditional detergents were made for traditional fibers like cotton, so when trying to get spandex or polyester fabrics clean, these detergents often aren't strong enough to penetrate deep into the synthetic fabric. Also sometimes your washing machine might be too big or too full and isn't able to clean the clothes effectively. The good news is that there are some non-toxic products and DIY methods that will really deep clean your clothes and make them smell brand new!

What can you do?

First things first, before you get into the products and DIY solutions, try some of these simple ways to avoid having stinky workout clothes in the first place. Sometimes all it takes is changing the temperature or washing your clothes a little sooner. But if none of these work, check out the special products and DIY solutions that are sure to get your clothes squeaky clean!

  1. Don't overfill your washing machine.
  2. Don't use extra laundry detergent.
  3. Stay away from fabric softener.
  4. Wash clothes as soon as possible after working out, don't let them sit wet.
  5. Always wash workout clothes in cold water.
  6. Use a powdered detergent to prevent buildup.

Products and DIY solutions


non toxic laundry products to eliminate odors

a) Biokleen Bac-Out Stain remover. Uses natural enzymes to get deep in fabrics and kills bacteria. Spray and let sit for 5 minutes and then wash as normal.

b) Molly Suds Activewear Laundry Detergents. Powdered laundry detergent that uses enzymes and baking soda that penetrates deep within fabrics.

c) Defunkify Liquid Laundry Detergent. Specifically designed to break down odor and get deep into fibers.

d) Branch Basics Oxygen Boost. Strips odors and brightens clothes. Add a scoop in addition to detergent.

e) White Vinegar- Add 1 cup of vinegar to your laundry drum in place of the normal detergent. This helps break down residues that make odors worse.

f) Baking Soda- Add half a cup to your laundry drum. Baking soda is a natural deodorizer!

If the smells are really not going away, you can try laundry stripping! Laundry stripping is a way to remove built up oil, dirt, bacteria, and other detergents. Check out our article on stripping and how to do it!



Sources

  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/17865-sweating-and-body-odor
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4249026/
  3. https://hexperformance.com/pages/about-hex
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Roundups

Non-Toxic Bathroom Cleaners

products you can buy to make your bathroom squeaky clean without dangerous fumes

Nobody likes doing it, but it's got to be done! Cleaning the bathroom doesn't have to be gross or involve lots of chemicals with dangerous fumes that leave your eyes teary and your head hurting. You can use an all purpose cleaner on most surfaces in the bathroom, but sometimes you need a little extra oomph to get rid of hard water stains and mold or mildew. Every now and then we also find ourselves needing to clear the drains too! We checked out all the lists and figured out which bathroom cleaning products are the safest and effective.

In addition to these products, we also love using a simple non-toxic all purpose cleaner and have lots of DIY cleaner recipes for getting your bathroom squeaky clean.

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Healthy eating should be about more than just healthy ingredients! While there are many different specific diets, most definitions of healthy eating involve choosing fresh, nutrient-dense whole foods that provide maximal nutritional benefits. Refined grains, sugar, vegetable oils, and other unhealthy ingredients are left off the plate. But if healthy ingredients become contaminated with harmful chemicals, are they really healthy? It is time for healthy eating to incorporate more than just ingredients. Healthy eating should also include how the food is packaged and what materials the food comes into contact with while it is being processed, cooked, and stored.
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Roundups

The Best Non-Toxic Dish Soaps

Healthy, safe, and effective grease-cutting dish soap power

Updated for 2021!

Get your dishes clean without worrying about the chemicals in your dish soap. We rounded up the top 6 dish soaps without toxic chemicals or preservatives that are well-reviewed and easily available. You're welcome! We've had some questions about whether parents need a separate soap specifically for bottles and dishes. With these 6 picks, you can be rest assured that they will work well on your dinner plates but are also safe enough for baby bottles and toddler dishes. Also, for all the dishes you choose not to hand wash, take a peek at our dishwasher detergent roundup.

a) Attitude Dishwashing Liquid

b) Aunt Fannie's Microcosmic Probiotic Power Dish Soap

c) Better Life Dish Soap

d) ECOS Dishmate Dish Liquid

e) Common Good dish soap

f) Cleancult liquid dish soap

g) Trader Joe's Dish Soap Lavender Tea Tree


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

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

Roundups

Eco-Friendly and Reusable Gift Wrapping Ideas

Spread holiday cheer without creating waste!

Since this is a safe space we can admit that one of the best parts about the holidays is the presents, right? But the amount of wrapping paper we go through every year is just insane... and most of it isn't even recyclable! Unless "recyclable" is specifically mentioned on the label, you'll have to throw used wrapping paper into the trash. And sometimes, we could do without that mountain of used wrapping paper after presents have been opened, even if it is the recyclable kind.
That's why we wanted to find the best wrapping options that could actually be recycled or reused year to year! Check out these great alternatives to tranditonal wrapping paper!


a) 2 Pieces Christmas Canvas Tote Bags Buffalo Plaid Check Shopping Bags

b) joywrap

c) Hallmark Recyclable Kraft Wrapping Paper

d) Eco-Friendly Reversible Wrapping Paper

e) Hallmark Reusable Fabric Gift Wrap

f) Hallmark Black and Red Drawstring Gift Bag Set


g) Furoshiki Reusable Gift Wrapping Cloth


h) Organic Cotton Reusable Gift Wrap (Set of 3)

i) Brown Kraft Paper Jumbo Roll

Looking for non-toxic, sustainable, and fun gifts for your home chef? We created a gift guide this year for those people on your list who love cooking and hosting. Whether it's elaborate dinner parties or weeknight meals, these gifts are sure to bring some joys in the new year. We looked for gifts that avoided waste (like a stovetop popcorn maker), or that avoided harmful chemicals (like a cast iron skillet), or that could bring a little fun into the kitchen (like these fabulous cloth napkins).

This year, we have highlighted many products by many Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) owned/founded brands. Buying from these brands is a great way to support economic opportunities in BIPOC communities and celebrates diversity in the sustainability space. Additionally, since climate change is an urgent issue with so many health impacts, we are also highlighting brands that are Climate Neutral certified. That means that the brand has committed to measure, offset, and reduce the carbon they emit. We believe that consumers and companies must work together to embrace and make true commitments to diversity and sustainability. Look no further for the ultimate gift guide!

$: Under $50

Handheld milk frother

This stainless steel milk frother is the perfect way to warm up your milk (or milk alternative) without having to sacrifice counter space! Whether you're drinking coffee or matcha, this it the perfect tool to take things up a notch.

Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes (BIPOC brand)

Want to eat less meat, but don't know how to make vegetable dishes stand out? Step up your cooking game with delicious recipes from this unique cookbook from Bryant Terry. Bryant is renowned for his activism and efforts to create a healthy, equitable, and sustainable food system, so this cookbook is right up our alley.

Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution (BIPOC brand)

Looking to up your whole grain intake? Expand your baking skills with Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution. You'll be amazed how a simple cookie can change texture and flavor based on the flours you use. Learn about the world of ancient grains like buckwheat, sorghum, rye, barley, and heirloom wheat and bake some delicious treats.

GreenLife Bakeware Healthy Ceramic Nonstick, Muffin Pan

This ceramic baking pan by GreenLife is non-stick without harmful chemicals and comes in a bunch of cute colors. Weekend muffins are calling you!

Great Northern Popcorn Original Stainless Steel Stove Top Popcorn Popper

Microwave popcorn is expensive and the bags are coated in Teflon like chemicals, but it's so convenient. Enter this amazing popcorn maker. You'll never look at microwaved popcorn the same way after you use this Great Northern stovetop popcorn popper! It's stainless steel body perfectly cooks kernels to tasty perfection.

Heath Ceramics large coffee mug

Elevate your morning coffee with this beautifully crafted mug from Heath Ceramics. It comes in many lead-free glazes and is as sturdy as it is beautiful.

$ $: Between $50-100

Hamilton Beach Belgian Waffle Maker

Sunday brunch just got so much better with this waffle maker by Hamilton Beach. Most waffle makers use a Teflon-like coating in their waffle makers, but this waffle maker uses a ceramic non-stick. It's really easy to use and the ceramic grids pop out for easy cleaning.

Diaspora Co. Single-Origin Spices (BIPOC brand)

Spices can make or break a dish, which is why we love upgrading our spice drawer with this set of single origin spices from Diaspora. We love that they pay a living wage to partner farmers and their partner model allows them to provide quality control that results in fresher, more delicious spices. That also means that they can also better control potential contamination and test for lead contamination. They are also working on organic certification for their partner farms.

Emile Henry Deep Food Storage Bowl

Who says food storage has to be boring? Beauty meets function with this deep food storage bowl by Emile Henry. The cork top serves as a fruit bowl, while the lower level with vents and darkness acts as a mini pantry to store root vegetables and onions.

Siafu Home Congolese Napkins

The scalloped edge and fun pattern of these napkins make them a great hostess gift! These are screen printed by hand in Kenya and are a great way to add some color to your table.

$ $ $: Over $100

Graf Lantz Felt Placemats

These sturdy place mats will protect your table from the messiest of eaters! The merino wool material is naturally water and odor resistant, and also offers amazing thermal protection.

Olivewood Serving Board

These hand-carved cheese boards are made from a single piece of olivewood, which means no glues or adhesives are added to the wood. They are the perfect backdrop to your next charcuterie board.

East Fork Serving Bowl (Climate Neutral certified)

This handmade pottery serving bowl from East Fork is perfect for all your serving need- whether it's for movie night popcorn or a salad at a dinner party for 10!

Brightland Olive Oil Duo (BIPOC brand)

There's a reason you've seen Brightland all over social, it's high quality olive oil and beautiful bottle make it a star! The Duo set is the perfect way to try two of their most popular flavors! The olives come from a family-run California farm that does not use pesticides and is committed to organic practices.

Le Creuset Cast Iron Skillet

Le Creuset is known for it's quality and beautiful color choices and this enameled cast iron skillet is no exception! This pan will last you a lifetime and is naturally non-stick enough for scrambles and fried eggs. No Teflon chemicals needed.

Fellow coffee Pour Over Coffee and Electric Kettle

This Fellow electric kettle and pour over set are perfect companions for your coffee! These products don't contain any plastic and will make you feel like a certified barista.

Life

Artificial or Real Christmas Tree? What's better for you and the environment.

What toxic chemicals are in artificial Christmas trees and tips for how to stay safe

Artificial Christmas trees are becoming increasingly popular for families. They're seen as being convenient since they don't shed needles and can be reused year after year. Some even come with lights already on them! But is the convenience of artificial Christmas trees worth it? We break down the science and the pros and cons of artificial Christmas trees and farm grown real Christmas trees to help you have a healthy and sustainable Christmas!

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