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

Home

Non-Toxic, Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Swiffers

Or convert the Swiffer you already have into a non-toxic, planet-friendly option

Who hasn't had a Swiffer before? The promise of an easy-to-use and affordable sweeping, mopping and dusting solution is hard to say no to! While Swiffer products are quite convenient and user friendly, have you ever thought about how much trash those single-use pads generate and what toxic chemicals might be used in their cleaning solutions? Well we're here to give you the low down. If you already have a Swiffer, we have some tips on how to use your Swiffer in a more environmentally conscious way with non-toxic ingredients. And if you don't have one, but want some just as convenient recommendations on mopping and dusting we have you covered too.

Why You Might Want to Think Twice About Swiffers

Ever take a big whiff when you bust open your new package of refillable Swiffer wet pads? Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but those flowery and attractive smells contain fragrances and other harmful ingredients, which often carry phthalates, asthmagens (1) and other chemicals of concern. When these fragrance chemicals vaporize into your household, they can trigger asthma attacks, and aggravate sinus conditions; they can disrupt hormones, cause headaches, eyes, nose and throat irritation, and produce neurotoxic symptoms, like loss of coordination, and forgetfulness (2).

Other ingredients in Swiffer products have also been found to aid in developing resistance to antibiotics over time (3). This means that germs like bacteria and fungi start building the capacity to defeat the drugs that are designed to kill them. When this happens, this can require extended hospital stays, more follow-up visits to the doctor, and other costly and toxic treatment alternatives (4). It's not just humans that are impacted either, these products are also very toxic to aquatic animals (5,6). Makes us think twice about using them all around the house!

Not only is it a good idea to steer clear of these chemicals, but can we talk about the trash? Easy disposal of these toxic, non-biodegradable products, like the refill pads, has resulted in an exorbitant amount of unnecessary waste and has nearly destroyed our environment (7). Refillable Swiffer pads are made from polyester which is derived from fossil fuels (8), and are contributing to the degradation of our ecosystems and wildlife (9). These persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are harmful toxins that will continue to corrode our environment for centuries, as they occupy landfills and slowly leak toxins into soil and water over time (9). What a mess!

The good news is that there are simple alternative methods you can start using that are more protective of our health (and the planet's) well-being. Plus, since you don't have to purchase refill pads, they are great for your budget too. There are even easy hacks to turn the Swiffer product you already have into a non-toxic option.

How to Make Your Swiffer Non-Toxic and Earth-Friendly

Get a reusable washable microfiber pad and ditch the single-use ones. Microfibers are extremely effective at capturing germs and small particles (10). These microfiber mop pads work for both the Swiffer sweepers and WetJet. Here are some we like:

Swiffer Sweeper Compatible Reusable Pads

Easily Greener Microfiber Mop Pads

Turbo Mops Reusable Microfiber Mop Pads

Swiffer Wet Jet Compatible Reusable Pads

Easily Greener Swiffer WetJet Compatible, Microfiber Mop Pads

TurboMops Reusable Microfiber Mop Pads Compatible with Swiffer WetJet

Just throw these reusable option into the washer after you're done using it and it's ready to be used the next time you need it. And if you want a completely free way to do this, you can even try using an old fuzzy sock and wrap that around the bottom of your WetJet and voila, you're all ready to start moppin'.

If you have an old washcloth you can also place that into the corners of the holes of your traditional Swiffer to secure the cloth. You'll want to make sure to dip the cloth into your cleaning solution before you attach it to the mop and/or you can add the cleaning solution to a spray bottle to spray the surface as well.

DIY Your Own Safe and Effective Cleaning Solution

If you've got the Swiffer WetJet, make sure the refill bottle is thoroughly cleaned out with soap and water, then go ahead and add your preferred non-toxic cleaning solution. Here are our recommended non-toxic floor cleaners that are available in stores. But you can also create your own safe and effective floor cleaner with a couple of ingredients you may already have! Here are three options:

  1. Add ½ tsp of liquid soap to each gallon of water
  2. Add ½ cup vinegar to every gallon of water
  3. Add 1 tsp Branch Basics concentrate to every 1 cup of water

When the floors are really dirty use the liquid soap solution to really mop up that grime and dirt. If things have been more chill around the house, use the vinegar solution. We've heard that using the vinegar on hardwood floors is not a problem, but you should check what type of finish your floors have, and do a test sample somewhere out of sight just to be sure.

Convenient, Non-toxic, and Budget Friendly Swiffer Alternatives

If you don't own a Swiffer, bless your heart. Here are our favorite Swiffer alternatives for getting your floor clean.

Spray Mops

Spray mops are super convenient and easy to use on all types of floors, including hardwood and laminate flooring. Plus, no need for any buckets or wringing! Just add your washable/reusable microfiber mop pad and pre-made non-toxic floor cleaning solution to the dispenser and you are ready to have at it! When you're done, throw the reusable mop pad in the laundry machine.

O-Cedar ProMist Microfiber Spray Mop

Steam Mops

Another green alternative you can use is a steam mop. Steam mops work by heating up the water to really high temperatures inside its chamber and dispensing it as steam, which is then dispersed through a cloth or pad. The steam helps to loosen up the dirt and grime from your floors, and the high temps help to kill germs and bacteria on hard surfaces. No harmful chemicals needed!

Steam mops are typically safe to use on vinyl, ceramic, and porcelain tile floors, but you may want to double check with your flooring brand to make sure using steam won't void your floor's warranty. You should also never use steam mops on any unsealed, peeling or unfinished floors, and although manufacturers claim it is safe to do so, use caution with any wood or laminate flooring.

PurSteam Steam Mop Cleaner

Spinning Mop

How about a mop that just simply does the work for you? There are now electric mops that are similar to a commercial orbiter floor machine, but made for residential homes. The reusable and washable rotating mop pads clean your floor for you and all you have to do is guide them along the floors. You control the amount of cleaning solution by spraying as you go. To make this a healthy option, ditch the cleaning product that comes with it and use your own pre-made non-toxic floor cleaning product (either DIY or store bought).

Bissell Spinwave Hard Floor Spin Mop

Microfiber Mop + Spray Bottle

Our last favorite mop is just a microfiber mop that is very similar to Swiffer, but that has a reusable microfiber mop pad. This mop can swivel in all directions and has an extendable sturdy handle. It can easily clean under furniture and clean baseboards. Pair this mop with a spray bottle that contains your favorite DIY or store bought non-toxic floor cleaner and you're good to go!

Turbo Microfiber Mop

References:
  1. https://zsds3.zepinc.com/ehswww/zep/result/direct_link.jsp?P_LANGU=E&P_SYS=2&P_SSN=11337&C001=DISC2&C002=ZCAL&C003=E&C013=AF7231E
  2. https://noharm-uscanada.org/issues/us-canada/fragrance-chemicals
  3. https://www.ajicjournal.org/article/S0196-6553(18)30424-3/pdf
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/about.html
  5. https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/5288-SwifferSweeperWetMoppingClothsOpenWindowFresh/
  6. https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/2819-SwifferWetJetMultiPurposeCleanerOpenWindowFresh/
  7. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/realestate/2005/05/21/disposable-wipes-no-throw-away-issue/22e091b2-7bc9-4b01-a9c3-6ca1c00f9cfc/
  8. https://www.cmu.edu/gelfand/lgc-educational-media/polymers/natural-synthetic-polymers/index.html#:~:text=Synthetic%20polymers%20are%20derived%20from,polyester%2C%20Teflon%2C%20and%20epoxy.&text=Examples%20of%20naturally%20occurring%20polymers,%2C%20DNA%2C%20cellulose%20and%20proteins.
  9. https://sciencing.com/environmental-problems-caused-by-synthetic-polymers-12732046.html
  10. https://archive.epa.gov/region9/waste/archive/web/pdf/mops.pdf
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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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As the weather warms up, we want to spend as much time outdoors as possible. This means picnics, pool parties, and of course BBQs! We love a good barbecue because they're super fun, delicious, and a great way to cook and socialize at the same time. Plus there is less mess in the kitchen to clean up. But before you dust off your grill, check out our tips for a healthier BBQ that aren't just about what recipes to use. There are other aspects of health that go beyond just what ingredients you use.

1) Trim Fat and Clean the Grill

To start, let's think about the actual grill. Because of the open flame, grills create some smoke. And while that's sometimes the point (hello smoked salmon), directly breathing in smoke usually isn't the best idea, especially for children and people with asthma. There are some things you can do to make your grilling a little less smokey, though. If you're in the market for a new grill or if you're looking to upgrade your current one, look for a gas grill. While they're not perfect, they produce less smoke than charcoal grills.

If you have a charcoal grill (or prefer that), cut off excess fat to lower the amount of dripping and risk for flare-ups (1). Also, cleaning your grill to remove the charred, stuck-on bits before you cook is good for reducing smoke. And in general, a clean grill is better for you. You should brush or scrape your grill every time you use it, and then do a deep cleaning a few times a year, depending on how often you use it.

2) Marinate, Marinate, Marinate

Now let's get to the actual food and BBQing. Overcooking (or burning) the food raises the amount of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs) on the food (2). These chemicals are what people talk about when they say that grilling food can make it more likely to cause cancer. But we have good news- you can dramatically lower the amount of PAHs and HCAs by marinating your meat before grilling it. It doesn't have to be marinated for a very long time (even 5 minutes of marination reduces PAHs and HCAs by as much as 92%), but the longer you marinate, the more flavorful the meat will be. Some research has shown that marinades with acid or oil are better than ones high in sugar (3). Additionally, tossing in some basil, mint, rosemary, oregano, or marjoram helps to reduce HCA levels because of their antioxidant properties (4). Easy peasy, and delicious!

3) Use Real Plates or Napkins

After you are done wonderfully cooking your food, you don't want to taint it by putting the piping hot food on plates that could leach chemicals onto the food. Usually BBQs or cookouts are known for using plastic or paper plates for easy cleaning up. But, plastic plates can transfer some harmful chemicals to the food, and so can paper plates if they are made with oil- or water-resistant Teflon-like chemicals. Those water- and oil-proof property in PFAS chemicals (Teflon-like, also called 'forever chemicals'), can easily get into the food items that it touches and takes years to break down, both in your body and in the environment. The best option would be to use real ceramic plates or some of these safe outdoor dishes that you can wash after the party, or unlined paper or bamboo plates that are completely compostable without PFAS chemicals. Hey, if you are really going all out, why not just ditch the plate altogether and create less trash over all. Who really needs a plates for a hotdog and cupcakes anyway?

4) Use Mineral Sunscreen and Safer Inspect Repellent

While this is less to do with the food, sunscreen and insect repellant are often popular for outdoor summertime events. While both have some pretty good benefits, like keeping you from getting burnt or covered in bites that can lead to various illnesses, some sunscreens and insect repellents contain pretty nasty chemicals. A good option is to wear long sleeve, lightweight shirts and pants that would protect you from both insects and sun. If that's just not seeming like an option for you, check out our roundup of safer sunscreen products. When it comes to bug repellant, that is more difficult and using a product with DEET, Picaridin, or IR3535 might still be your best bet. Some do find that oil of lemon eucalyptus (which is a particular active ingredient, different from lemon eucalyptus oil), can also be effective. You can read more about that in our insect repellant article.

5) Limit Plastic Decorations and Toys

The last tip relates to the decorations and activities at your BBQ. We recommend avoiding plastic and opting for reusable decorations when you can. Read more about ideas for throwing a party with less plastic. For items that are more common at a BBQ party near water, try games like corn hole or sharks and minnows. If you are more the type that likes to float around in the water, consider pool noodles instead of rafts and things. While slightly less instagramable or T-Swift inspired, foam noodles are safer than the plastic floats which are almost always made of PVC (which contains phthalates). Get creative for fun ways to play that don't require plastic toys.


References

1) Hall, McKenzie. Reduce your exposure to toxins from grilled meats. Chicago Tribune. July 2, 2014.

2) Chung SY, Yettella RR et al. Effects of grilling and roasting on the levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in beef and pork. Food Chemistry. Volume 129, Issue 4, 15 December 2011, Pages 1420-1426.

3) Farhadian A, Abas F et al. Effects of marinating on the formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (benzo[a]pyrene, benzo[b]fluoranthene and fluoranthene) in grilled beef meat. Food Control. 28(2):420–425, December 2012.

          4) Riches, Derrick. Healthy Grilling. The Spruce. April 4, 2017. Accessed April 11, 2018.
          Life

          Throwing a Party with Less Plastic

          A healthier way to eat cake, drink beer, and celebrate

          Parties are always great. You get to see friends, have a good time, and figure out how to eat delicious food off a paper plate while not spilling whatever may be in your cup. While the chips, cake, and booze may not be the healthiest, there are other things you might not be thinking about that harm our health. The biggest offender at parties usually is all the plastic. The plastic cups, the plastic utensils, the fun table cloths with Yoda's face on them are all made of plastic.

          While there are many reasons to avoid plastic - it's not good for the world, it requires oil to make, it's hard to recycle if there has been food on it - one that people often don't usually think of is that single-use plastic can affect our health, both immediately and long term. The chemicals in the plastic cups, or even used to make paper cups and plates oil and water resistant, can easily seep into food and drinks. As it does that, it gets into our bodies as we consume the fun party foods and can interfere with the ways cells communicate with our bodies. This interference has been shown in various research projects to lead to things like obesity, fertility problems, temperature disregulation, and even cancers (1).

          We are never going to be completely free from plastic. It's everywhere, and for certain things, it's really convenient and necessary. But, it isn't necessary as often as we normally use it. And, one way to lower the risk of health problems and send a message to companies that create unnecessary plastic waste at the same time is to buy and use fewer plastic products or products with excessive plastic packaging.With a few simple swaps, you can make the party healthier for your guests (and yourself) by limiting the amount of plastic you use:

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          Home

          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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          Science

          PFAS: Pretty Freaking Awful Stuff

          Or, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances - you can choose

          What is PFAS?

          PFAS, are synthetic man-made chemicals that have been used since the 1950's. They are otherwise known as "forever chemicals" because they do not breakdown, so stay in the environment and can build up in the bodies of humans and animals and even in plants (1). The most well-known PFAS is probably Teflon. Yep, the OG nonstick coating, otherwise known as PTFE. Most likely you've heard of how when Teflon starts to peel off or chip from our pans it can be bad, but this is just one of thousands of PFAS chemicals.

          Where is PFAS found? And why?

          PFAS chemicals are used in non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing and outdoor gear, stain resistant fabrics and furnishings, some cosmetics, firefighting foams, food packaging, building materials, and has many other industrial uses. While some things like waterproof camping gear might seem a more obvious application of their stain and water repellent properties, other things like food packaging might be a little less obvious, but not when you realize why. It would be super annoying if your cheesy pizza seeps oil through the paper take-out box. So, the manufacturers coat or make products with PFAS to make them more durable and convenient. So, any time you think about a raincoat, or a cardboard-looking take-out container that seems impervious to oil, or even a stain-resistant fabric that somehow won't stain even if you smear ketchup on it, think of your old, wonky, chipping nonstick pan.

          Because PFAS is used in so many different products, there are lots of ways for the chemicals to spread throughout our environment. The three main ways are through manufacturing releases, runoff from fighting fires (more on this later), and as it escapes or chips off of PFAS-containing products. This means these chemicals are often found in our waterways, soil, air, and drinking water as well.

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          Home

          Simple Homemade and Store Bought Organic Fertilizers

          How to fertilize your garden without synthetic fertilizers

          Spring is just around the corner and that means it's finally time to start planting that garden you have been thinking about all winter! One of the first things you might be thinking of is sprinkling some fertilizer on your seeds and starters to get a bumper crop or some extra large blooms. A lot of people think using synthetic fertilizers is the easiest choice to help your garden thrive, but in reality it's just a quick fix that will cause a lot of long term damage to your garden and the environment. Instead of using harsh chemicals on your beautiful garden, you should make the switch to organic fertilizers! Not only are organic fertilizers better for the environment and human health, you can also use a lot of the food scraps and things you have in your home to fertilize your garden. Super cost effective and so easy!

          Why we shouldn't use synthetic fertilizers

          When it comes to talking about synthetic fertilizers, it's best to start with what they are and what they are made of. Synthetic fertilizers are man-made products made from byproducts of the petroleum industry. Some examples of these fertilizers are Ammonium nitrate, Ammonium phosphate, superphosphate, and so many other variations (2). Because these fertilizers are made from petroleum products it means they are super energy intensive to produce and require the burning of fossil fuels to extract the specific chemicals. So basically fertilizers = fossil fuels = climate change! Eeek! (1).

          In terms of fertilizing the plants and soil, synthetic fertilizers give the plants food in a readily available form, however, plants consume this food very rapidly and that means the fertilizer needs to be reapplied over and over again (3). The reason this type of fertilizer needs to be constantly reapplied is because they do absolutely nothing to improve the quality and health of the soil. Synthetic fertilizers provide nutrients for the plants but include no organic matter or nutrients that are required by the microorganisms in the soil to remain healthy. Moreover, synthetic fertilizers are known for killing microorganisms as soon as it's applied. These organisms are highly important because they break down organic matter and make the nutrients available for the plants to take up and grow (2). Without these important soil organisms, nothing would be able to grow and our soil would become unusable.

          While synthetic fertilizers are extremely damaging to the biodiversity of our soil, they are also extremely toxic when they enter our waterways and drinking water. Because these chemical fertilizers need to be reapplied so often that means there is an excess quantity of them that can runoff when the plants are watered or it rains.This fertilizer runoff contributes to a process called eutrophication, which results in dead zones in bodies of water, because there is not enough oxygen available for the plants and animals living there. (5). Not only is this super dangerous for aquatic wildlife, this can also affect us. When waterways are polluted like this it's not safe for us to play or swim in and eventually these chemical nutrients can leach into the groundwater and cause serious health effects like gastric cancer, hypertension, and possible developmental issues in children (4).

          As you can see using synthetic fertilizers isn't a great idea. They are super dangerous for the health of our environment and us. Thankfully there is an alternative that doesn't have so many nasty effects. That alternative is organic fertilizers!

          Why organic alternatives are better

          Like we mentioned before, in order to have a healthy garden and environment we need to have soil that's full of nutrients and microorganisms. This is where organic fertilizers shine. Organic fertilizers don't contain just nutrients, they contain organic matter that feeds the microorganisms and breaks down into nutrients over time. If you switch to organic fertilizers, not only would you be reducing your impact on the environment, you could also be growing organic fruits and vegetables at home in your own garden., Who doesn't want that?! Plus it's so simple. You can buy some organic fertilizers at the store or DIY some from food scraps you have at home.

          Organic fertilizers you might have at home

          Organic fertilizers come in a variety of different forms. Anywhere from food scraps from your fridge to bat guano extract. Most of the time there is no need to head to the store and buy a big bag of organic fertilizer. Instead, you could try using some things you already have at home. Check out some of the items we found that are great fertilizers for your gardens!

          • Food scraps and compost: We all have food scraps from fruits and veggies we don't eat or the food went bad before we could eat it. Food scraps or a homemade compost is a great organic fertilizer that would add a ton of nutrients to your garden! You can even add broken down cardboard in there. If you're thinking about starting a compost check out this article! (6)
          • Coffee grounds and tea leaves: Coffee grounds and tea leaves are great additions to your garden soil, however, because they can often be very acidic you want to use them sparingly and on plants that love acidic soil (6). Some plants that grow best in acidic soil are azaleas, rhododendrons, and blueberries.
          • Grass clippings and tree leaves: If you don't know what to do with all of the leaves you raked in your yard or all the grass clippings from your lawn, why don't you put them in your garden! Both of these items have super high levels of nitrogen and potassium that plants love (6).
          • Banana Peels: We all know bananas are a great source of potassium and that's true for our soil too! Dry your banana peels out and sprinkle them over your garden (6).
          • Seaweed: Seaweed is packed with tons of nutrients like potassium, nitrogen, phosphate, and magnesium. You can use it in its dried form or get a liquid form from your local garden center! (8)
          • Eggshells: I think we have all joked about eating some extra calcium in the morning when we accidentally get an eggshell in our breakfast. But instead of just throwing them away like you normally would, sprinkle them in your garden for some added calcium. Calcium is an important nutrient that helps plants absorb nutrients better (6).
          • Aquarium water (not salt water): If you have a fresh water fish tank and are looking for a way to dispose of your water, look no further. Aquarium water has a lot of nutrients that are beneficial for plants and a lot of the fish excrement is just extra nutrients for the soil! (7)
          • Fireplace ash: Fireplace ash is often used when the soil is too acidic. Ash has a higher pH, meaning it's more basic which will make the soil less acidic if added. Make sure you use this ash sparingly as too much is not so great for the plants. (7)

          Organic Fertilizers you can buy

          We also wanted to include some organic fertilizers that you can buy at a store. This is probably necessary if you have a huge space you want to fertilize. Some items we recommend to add to your soil that you can buy at many garden supply centers or nurseries are bone meal, worm castings, fish meal, compost, and animal manure. There are even companies where you can get compost (possibly for free) when you give them your food scraps. All of these products are super concentrated fertilizers that will help improve the quality of your soil. Some brands of organic fertilizer we recommend are: biolink, Dr.Earth, Jobe's Organics, and Down to Earth. If for some reason you can't find any of these brands in your nurseries or stores, it's best to contact your local nurseries and they usually have great recommendations for fertilizers they use and sell!


          Sources

          1. https://www.bloombergquint.com/onweb/synthetic-fertilizer-ammonium-nitrate-makes-climate-change-worse#:~:text=After%20farmers%20apply%20these%20synthetic,or%20N2O%2C%20a%20greenhouse%20gas.&text=N2O%20has%20a%20far%20greater,more%20by%20weight%20as%20CO2.
          2. https://www.enviroingenuity.com/articles/synthetic-vs-organic-fertilizers.html#:~:text=Organic%20Fertilizers%20are%20materials%20derived%20from%20plant%20and%20animal%20parts%20or%20residues.&text=Synthetic%20Fertilizers%20are%20%E2%80%9CMan%20made,Plants%20require%2013%20nutrients.
          3. https://extension.oregonstate.edu/news/heres-scoop-chemical-organic-fertilizers
          4. Majumdar, D., & Gupta, N. (2000). Nitrate pollution of groundwater and associated human health disordersDeepanjan. Indian Journal of Environmental Health, 28-39. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from file:///Users/sophieboisseau/Downloads/Nitrate_pollution_of_groundwater_and_ass.pdf
          5. https://www.organicwithoutboundaries.bio/2018/10/31/synthetic-fertilizers/
          6. https://www.farmersalmanac.com/8-homemade-garden-fertilizers-24258
          7. https://thegrownetwork.com/15-simple-and-inexpensive-homemade-fertilizers/
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