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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/

Roundups

14 Essentials for Packing a Plastic Free Lunch

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

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

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Roundups

Healthier Food Storage Containers

Plastic free jars, boxes, and wraps!

Updated for 2022!

We scoured the internet finding an assortment of safer and healthier ways to keep your leftovers and meal prep ingredients fresh. All of these options are sustainable, have many glowing reviews, and are easily available. We also have a roundup more specifically for packing lunch you might also want to check out too!

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Life

Your Summer Guide to Water Safety

How to Promote Fun and Prevent Drowning

Summer has arrived! Cue the backyard BBQs, ice cream sandwiches (or DIY popsicles), and Will Smith jams. During long, hot days, water activities are basically a necessity for creating fun memories and staying cool. Unfortunately, water-related accidents are a leading cause of injury and death for young children (4). So to keep things fun this summer, let's talk about drowning prevention.

Drowning happens in seconds and often quietly (1,3). Permanent disability can result even when drowning isn't fatal (3), since any prolonged oxygen disruption injures our brains. Though it can happen to anyone, drowning is the second most common cause of death for 1-4 year olds (3). Almost 90% of these incidents occur in home pools and hot tubs5,6 (and anything that collects water, even buckets, poses a risk) (3). To keep the children in your life safe and cool, here are 5 water safety tips as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, CDC, National Safety Council, Pool Safely, and Red Cross.

1. Kids' water activities require close supervision at all times

Most drowning incidents occur unsupervised when adults briefly step away or become distracted (4). For this reason, children need vigilant supervision by a designated adult whenever they're around water (4). We can appreciate a relaxing poolside novel or margarita, but the responsible adult/Water Watcher (7) needs to be completely free of alcohol impairment and any distractions (not even Insta). Consider water supervision to be like your greatest Netflix binge – your attention is totally focused, and you don't want to miss a thing. For young children the guiding principle is "touch supervision"– being within arm's reach at all times (3). 5-9 year olds are more likely to drown at public pools (4), so designate a supervising adult even when lifeguards are present (3).

2. Modest safety measures make a massive difference

Physical safety measures are imperative, especially when delightfully curious and unintentionally stealthy toddlers attempt to swim without you! Installing the right type of fence can reduce drowning risk by over 80% – 4-sided pool fences (completely isolating the pool) are far more effective than 3-sided property line fences (3). The safest fences measure at least 4 feet high, prevent climbing, and have self-latching, self-closing gates (3,7). Door alarms and rigid pool covers are also preventive, though their effectiveness is less studied (1). Always check that the pool you use has intact anti-entrapment drain covers (mandated by federal law) to prevent suction-related accidents (7). For portable pools, check out this specific safety guidance.

3. Life jackets are way better than floaties

Sadly those super cute floaty wings aren't designed for safety, according to the CDC, and should not replace life jackets (3) (on the upside, this means less flimsy plastic!). Young children and inexperienced swimmers should wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacketwhenever near water (1,9). And, regardless of swimming ability, all children need USCG-approved life jackets if playing around lakes or the ocean (2). Life jackets are only effective if they fit well, so check the weight and size limits before using (9). Remember that nothing replaces close supervision! (To help start your life jacket search, we tracked down a more eco-friendly option.)

4. Teach children swimming and water safety

Learning to swim is crucial for water safety. We all benefit from learning how to swim, and swimming lessons can prevent drowning in 1-4 year olds (3). It's never too early (or too late!) to learn – YMCA and community centers often provide affordable lessons for all ages. (We get that communal activities are probably not your jam with the current Covid-19 situation, but, at some point, formal swim lessons could be a fun family activity.) Knowing how to swim does not make us "drown proof" though, so we still need to exercise caution with kids of any swimming ability (1). Teaching children not to climb over pool fences, swim without an adult, or play near pool drains is also crucial for preventing drowning incidents (7).

5. Assess surroundings and swimming ability

Being aware of location-specific water dangers and knowing a swimmer's ability can help discern which activities are safe. Every water activity presents an assortment of fun and risk. Case in point: sprinklers are a simple joy but also an understated toe hazard (been there…). Oceans, rivers, and lakes offer wilder adventure yet can even prove dangerous for expert swimmers – rip currents are an infamous threat in oceans, and lakes and rivers can have undertows (6). Older children and adolescents are more likely to drown in these natural bodies of water (3). Since alcohol can impair your ability to assess surroundings and react appropriately, avoid drinking while swimming or supervising others (7).

Prevention first, but CPR can still save lives

We hope you'll never ever need to use CPR...ever. Prevention with the above measures can massively reduce drowning risk for everyone, but CPR is invaluable during a drowning incident and can improve the likelihood of the drowning victim's survival (3). The American Heart Association provides in-person Family and Friends CPR courses, as well as socially distanced, at-home instruction with Family and Friends CPR DVD or Adult/Child CPR training kits (includes a training manikin and DVD – fun for the whole family!).

With safe water play, we know your summer days will be full of adventure and excitement. Have fun!


References

1. https://www.aappublications.org/news/2019/03/15/drowning031519

2. https://www.cdc.gov/safechild/drowning/

3. https://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Water-Safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html

4. https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/2020-Submersion-Report-4-29-20.pdf

5. https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/pdfs/blk_media_SafetyBarrierGuidelinesResPools.pdf

6. https://www.nsc.org/home-safety/tools-resources/seasonal-safety/drowning

7. https://www.poolsafely.gov/parents/safety-tips/

8.https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/water-safety/drowning-prevention-and-facts.html

9.https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/water-safety/swim-safety.html

Roundups

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

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

Updated for Summer 2022!

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, wood, and tempered glass options. Although we always recommend reusable, we included one disposable option too (without PFAS chemicals). These are our top picks for plastic-free 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

4 Recipes for Batch Summer Drinks that You Can Spike AND that are Kid-Friendly

Ditch single use plastic and canned drinks at your next party

Summer is basically one big outdoor party. Anyone else wishing it will never end? With all of the heat, it's important to have icy beverages that everyone can enjoy. While it's easy to just load up with flats of canned cocktails or plastic bottles of flavored sparkling water, making a big batch of easy, tasty drinks is more budget friendly and planet friendly! Here are 4 of our favorite drink recipes meant for big containers, so you can quickly prepare them in advance and just set up a glass beverage dispenser as people start to arrive. Kids will love these fruity drinks and so will adults, especially if you add a splash of alcohol into your cup (we won't tell!). Plus you'll be skipping out on single use plastic bottles and BPA-lined aluminum cans. Try out one of these recipes at your next summer BBQ or event!


Spiked Lemonade

-1 gallon of water

-3 cups lemon juice

-3.5 cups white sugar

-Fruit like peach, blueberries, blackberries, mint, etc

-4 cups vodka or 1 shot per glass if adding vodka after pouring

Instructions

  1. Stir the sugar into the water until it's completely dissolved.
  2. Mix in the lemon juice, fruit, and optional vodka. Serve over ice.

Fruit Punch

-8 cups ginger ale

-4 cups orange juice

-4 cups pineapple juice

-sliced fruit like orange

-Optional: 2 cups rum

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients and serve over ice

Watermelon Refresher

-8 cups seedless watermelon, cubed

-2 cups water

-2 cups ginger ale

-2 cups lime juice

-4 cups gin or vodka or 1 shot per glass if adding after pouring

Instructions

  1. Blend watermelon in a blender until pulverized. If you want a completely smooth consistency without pulp, strain the blended watermelon through a sieve.
  2. Combine all ingredients, including pulverized watermelon, and serve over ice.

Hibiscus Watermelon Cooler

8 cups water

8 hibiscus tea bags

8 cups watermelon juice (puree watermelon in blender)

½ cup honey

1 cup lime juice

4 cups tequila or 1 shot per glass if adding after pouring

Instructions

  1. Add the teabags to the water and let steep for 5-10 minutes
  2. Remove the teabags and add the rest of the ingredients
  3. Serve over ice

As much as we'd like to be the type of person who wakes up early, grabs some buckets and a sponge at home, and spends a few hours giving their car a DIY wash, we often find ourselves pulling into a car wash business instead. It's easy to feel guilty about taking the "convenient" route but in this case you don't have to! It's actually better for the environment to get a professional car wash rather than DIY! We break down the benefits of an automatic car wash below.

Whether you have a brand new car or your car has been with you for a decade and a few hundred thousand miles, chances are you want to take care of it. In addition to regular oil changes and tune ups, you need to give it a good cleaning. Washing your car isn't just for looks. Over time your car accumulates dirt, oil, salt, and other grime. As well as being an eyesore, this debris can damage the performance of your car. Since we want to drive our car for as long as possible, washing it should be part of your normal car maintenance routine! But before you run to grab your hose and bucket- you might want to consider heading to your local car wash.

It's common to think that going to the car wash is worse for the environment and too water intensive, when actually, the opposite is true. Car wash businesses use high powered nozzles to use as little water as efficiently as possible, and many businesses also have a system in place to catch and reuse old water (1). When you wash your car yourself, you probably just use a bucket filled with water and a hose. While your water usage may not seem that bad while you're washing, it adds up fast. Individuals can use between 80 to 140 gallons of water to wash their car, but a car wash business only uses about 30 to 45 gallons of water (2)! Many car washes also recycle the water used, so the water can be used many times. Some states even require car washes to use recycled water; in California, car washes must use at least 60% recycled water (4). During one particularly tough drought season, a city in California went so far as to ban using potable water for at-home car washes and required car owners to go to a car wash to clean their car (5). If you are concerned about wasting water, ask your local car wash if they recycle water and try to go to one that does!

Another reason to consider using a professional car wash business is wastewater. When we wash our cars at home, we're usually in a concrete driveway or on the side of the road and let the water run down to the sidewalk drains. But that water contains dirt, oil, heavy metals, and other harmful chemicals that accumulate during normal driving, and those sidewalk drains don't go to a water treatment plant. Instead, that runoff is usually diverted directly into our watershed, which might to a lake, stream, or ocean and negatively impact aquatic wildlife and water quality (3). Professional car wash businesses are required by the Environmental Protection Agency to capture all wastewater and divert it into a sewage system. That means the water is safely processed through a water treatment facility and can be used for future car washes!

If you really want to wash your car at home, there are more eco-friendly options.

1. Look for cleaners that are biodegradable and phosphate-free, to minimize the potential for water contamination (3).

2. Make sure to dispose of any dirty water leftover in the buckets by dumping it down your sink, toilet, or bathtub instead of pouring it down your driveway.

3. Washing your car on an overcast, mild day can help save water, since it won't evaporate as quickly.

4. Use reusable cloths to wash and dry your car.


References

  1. https://www.treehugger.com/eco-friendly-car-wash-4863509
  2. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/top-10-water-wasters/
  3. https://cfpub.epa.gov/npstbx/files/KSMO_CarWashing.pdf
  4. https://www.carwash.com/law-requiring-carwashes-to-recycle-water-passed-in-ca/
  5. https://www.marketplace.org/2015/06/09/one-california-drought-winner-local-car-wash/

Now that you've invested in some glass and stainless steel food storage containers, maybe you're wondering if you should Marie Kondo all the plastic ones you used to use? Instead adding them to the landfill, what if we told you that all those plastic containers can help you achieve a new level of organization zen? While we don't recommend storing food in them anymore (for those of you who haven't heard: these plastic food storage containers often have BPA or phthalates in them, which can leach into your food over time and cause all sorts of health problems), we also don't think you have to throw them away.

So, what can you do? We have 6 great suggestions for you to repurpose those containers throughout your home.



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