/Science

Or, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances - you can choose

PFAS: Pretty Freaking Awful Stuff

Science

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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We've all heard of breast cancer and seen the pink ribbons, but what do we really know about it? Surely you've heard about things like inherited genetic risk or lifestyle factors like smoking, alcohol use, and lack of exercise. But there are also a lot of environmental factors that increase the risk of breast cancer too (1,5). Some of these environmental factors come from things like toxic chemicals in our personal care products and cleaning solutions, endocrine disrupting chemicals that find their way into our food, processed foods, poor air quality, and much more. This means aspects of our home life and the outside world could make us more susceptible to breast cancer. It's not just the cocktails and our seemingly inability to get off the couch and go for a run! And yes, "us" really means all of us! Whether you're a man, woman, non binary, transgender, or you're over the age of 50 or are young enough to know how Tik Tok works, breast cancer affects us all. The way breast cancer develops and knowing the risks for it can be tricky and sometimes uncontrollable, but it doesn't mean there aren't ways to limit your exposure to these lesser-known environmental risks, so keep reading to find out how!


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Science

Can Individuals Actually Make a Difference When it Comes to Climate Change?

A deep dive into carbon footprints and who is responsible for making change

Have you been trying to reduce your carbon emissions throughout the years? Maybe you're trying to drive less, eat meat only a few days a week, or change all of your light bulbs to LED. Are you curious if it's actually making a difference for the planet? There has always been a debate on whether or not it's worth it for individuals to make changes in their own lifestyle because many claim it has no effect on the grand scheme of climate change. That sparks the question, can individuals actually make a difference or is it all up to the large corporate systems and current policies? Keep reading for a breakdown of the carbon footprints of both individuals and the different global sectors of the economy, and to learn ways we can all work to slow down climate change and build a healthier planet.

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Science

Why Does My Food or Beverage Have a Prop 65 Warning?

You've seen the label. But what does it actually mean?

Have you ever been at the grocery store, flipped around a product and saw a Prop 65 warning, and thought to yourself "Hmmmm… I remember reading about this, but what does it actually mean? Do I have to pay attention to it? Why is it on everything I like?!"

The Prop 65 warning label has gained national attention since it was signed into law in the 1980s because of its unique ability to educate consumers on risk and exposure. But since it appears on a ton of seemingly unrelated products like chocolate, appliances, and protein powder, it can often be dismissed as a scare tactic. Does the Prop 65 label need to be taken seriously when it comes to your food and beverages? We have everything you need to know.

What is Prop 65

In 1986, Californians voted in favor of the The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, aka Prop 65. This act requires businesses "to provide warnings to Californians about significant exposures to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm… prohibits California businesses from knowingly discharging significant amounts of listed chemicals into sources of drinking water… and requires California to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm" (1).

This list of chemicals, which has to be updated once a year, has grown to approximately 900 chemicals (1) and features a wide arrange of chemicals and substances, from the well-known benzene and asbestos, to some you might have never even heard of, like cyclophosphamide and dichloromethane. Warnings about significant exposures come in the form of labels on products and a sign posted at a workplace, business, or rental housing.

In order to determine whether or not a product needs a warning label, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment determined safe harbor levels for many chemicals on the Prop 65 list. If a chemical exceeds a predetermined level in a product, then it needs a warning level and each chemical has a different level. There are two safe harbor levels: "No Significant Risk Levels" for cancer-causing chemicals and "Maximum Allowable Dose Levels" for chemicals that cause birth defects or other reproductive harm (2).

Prop 65 warnings on Food, Beverages, and Supplements

If you're familiar with Prop 65 warnings, you're probably not surprised to see it on products in a hardware store. But what about products in a grocery store on something you're about to eat? It can feel pretty weird to see a serious warning label on that hot chocolate you were about to throw into your cart. But the reason certain chemicals appear in products can be a little more complicated, and makes more sense, than you might think. Take acrylamide for instance: it's on the Prop 65 list as a cancer-causing chemical but it can form naturally on the surface of certain plant-based foods after it's been browned during cooking at high temperatures (34). Products containing ingredients like roasted coffee or nuts, toast, or breakfast cereals might warrant a Prop 65 warning if acrylamide levels are high enough, even though the chemical wasn't intentionally added.

Some other common substances of concern include arsenic in rice or seaweed, BPA in plastic or can linings, cadmium in fish or vegetables, lead in supplements or vitamins, and mercury in fish.

While lead, cadmium, and arsenic are naturally occurring in soils and groundwater, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, untreated wastewater, and residues from air pollution are responsible for higher concentrations, where they are absorbed by crops. Contamination can also occur during processing of the food.

Products like supplements and vitamins are at a higher risk of containing harmful chemicals because their manufacturing is not regulated by the FDA. In 2018, the Clean Label Project looked into protein powder and found 75% of the plant-based products tested contained lead. One protein powder tested even contained "25 times the allowed limit of BPA in one serving" (5). In 2016, two deaths were linked to using supplements tainted with lead (6). If you see a Prop 65 warning on a vitamin or supplement, you might want to steer clear of it out of an abundance of caution.

How Prop 65 Helps to Keep you Safe

It's always alarming to see a Prop 65 warning on a food or beverage you want to consume. And if these warning labels are basically everywhere, does it even matter? Is Prop 65 just a nuisance or is it actually beneficial? Let's discuss.

One of the ways Prop 65 protects us is by enforcement via lawsuits. If a product is shown to have chemical levels above the safe harbor level, or if Prop 65 chemicals are present in a product that does not have a warning label, a lawsuit can be filed against the company. There have been over than 5,800 notices of violation and the lawsuits have been "widely documented to reduce human exposure to listed chemicals by forcing reformulation of consumer products, process changes that reduce the presence of Prop 65 chemicals in food, adoption of air emissions controls at industrial facilities, and, to a lesser extent, reduction of toxic discharges to drinking water" (7). In order to comply with these notice of violations, companies must be able to innovate. In fact, Prop 65 litigation has "spurred the development of new technology, materials, or practices, inducing companies to reduce exposure to below levels of significance" (7).

Most importantly, Prop 65 gives consumers the power of knowledge and choice. You're able to know exactly what chemicals you're being exposed to and any associated negative health impacts. The best way to think of Prop 65 is as a suggestion rather than a scary list to avoid at all costs. A Prop 65 warning doesn't mean something shouldn't ever be eaten, but it lets the consumer decide how much and how often they want to expose themselves to these chemicals (3).

What You Should Do

Much like sugar and saturated fats, products with a Prop 65 label should be consumed once in a while as a treat, instead of an everyday staple. Limiting how many Prop 65 chemicals you consume will reduce your exposure and hopefully reduce your risk of harmful health impacts. However, individuals that are more susceptible to health risks, like children or pregnant women, may want to completely avoid consuming products with a Prop 65 label since some of the chemicals on the list (like lead) have no known safe level of exposure.

But above all: knowledge is power! Prop 65 is a great tool to help you stay informed and make decisions about your health.


References

  1. https://www.p65warnings.ca.gov/
  2. https://www.p65warnings.ca.gov/faq/businesses/what-are-safe-harbor-numbers
  3. https://www.p65warnings.ca.gov/fact-sheets/foods
  4. https://www.p65warnings.ca.gov/fact-sheets/acrylamide
  5. https://cleanlabelproject.org/protein-powder-white-paper/
  6. https://www.consumerreports.org/vitamins-supplements/lead-poisoning-from-dietary-supplements/
  7. https://www.ecologylawquarterly.org/print/the-hidden-success-of-a-conspicuous-law-proposition-65-and-the-reduction-of-toxic-chemical-exposures/
Science

How the Process of Making Plastic is as Harmful as Plastic Waste

The surprising effects it has on our health and environment

Nowadays we constantly hear about how bad plastic is for the environment and the ways we can reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills and our oceans. You've probably seen photos of plastic trash on beaches or plastic hurting wildlife, but waste isn't the only problem with plastic. The materials for plastic have to be drilled out of the ground, cleaned and processed, and melted into different products, all of which have their own harmful environmental and health effects (hello climate change!). That's why we took a deep-dive into the plastic-making process to help you better understand it's negative impacts on us and the planet. Keep reading if you want to be extra motivated to limit plastics in your life!

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Science

What’s the Deal with Clean Beauty Regulations?

The current regulations in the cosmetics industry and some hope for cleaner products

When you walk into a cosmetics store what section do you go to first? The makeup, the skin care, maybe the hair care? By the time most of us are done and have gone through the entire store it's been two hours and our hands are full of different swatches of nude lipsticks, gold eyeshadows (somehow they are all slightly different), eyeliners, and maybe even a few perfumes on each arm. Cosmetics products are a staple in everyone's lives, but something most people might not be aware of is how many ingredients go into making our favorite cosmetics products like foundation or lip gloss. There's a lot of ingredients and magic that go into making foundation that gives you that perfect dewy skin look or lip gloss that is the perfect balance of sparkly and not too sticky. Due to the lack of government regulation of the ingredients in cosmetics products, there are all sorts of ingredients that are known to cause harm to humans in our makeup, lotions, deodorants, hair care, and the myriad of other cosmetic products. This issue on toxic ingredients has sparked a huge growth in cosmetic products that are labeled as "clean". Have you ever heard of clean beauty? Is it just a trend? Keep reading to explore what clean beauty is and some of the current and upcoming cosmetic regulations!

The problems with unregulated cosmetics

With the exception of hair dye, there are no laws that require cosmetic products or ingredients to be approved by the FDA before they go on the market. The FDA does not require specific safety tests to be done on a product or ingredient meaning only the individuals who manufacture and market the cosmetics have a legal responsibility to ensure the safety of their products. This is a major problem! Because manufacturers are not required to test for safety, consumers do not know if they did these tests at all or if the testing they did was adequate (4). To make matters worse, if a product eventually appears to have an adverse effect, the FDA has no authority under the current regulations to force the company to recall the product, the company must do so voluntarily (12). Between the years 2004-2016, an average of 396 adverse events per year were submitted to the FDA (11). If the objective is to keep people safe, this is too little too late!

Some common toxic ingredients in typical cosmetics products are heavy metals, PFAS (a group of Teflon-like chemicals), parabens, petroleum, phthalates, and fragrances. Heavy metals like lead, arsenic, mercury, zinc, chromium, and iron are often used for coloring purposes in cosmetics from lipstick to eyeliner. They can also accidentally end up in products due to contamination during the manufacturing and packaging processes (1,17). PFAS chemicals are often found in a lot of products like pressed powder makeup, foundation, anti-aging lotions, eyeliner, eyeshadow, mascara, and lipstick (1,16). PFAS gives cosmetics a waterproofing ability along with giving it a really smooth texture on the skin (2). Parabens are a synthetic preservative that is added to cosmetics to last longer, and petroleum, a byproduct of oil refining, has a really long shelf life and softens upon use making it a beneficial addition to cosmetics. The last two common ingredients are phthalates and fragrances which often go hand in hand. Fragrances are obviously placed in a product to make it smell better (1). They can be made from petroleum or natural materials, but most of the time the entire ingredient lists are not given due to it being proprietary information for the brand. Many fragrances then add in phthalates as a solvent to make the scent stick around longer. Phthalates are used mainly in cosmetics as skin moisturizers, skin softeners, skin penetration enhancers, and as anti-brittleness and anti-cracking agents for nail polish (18).

These ingredients are known to be endocrine disruptors, and are linked to reproductive and developmental harm, allergies, and even cancers (1,19). We should also keep in mind that we could be exposed to more than one toxic ingredient everyday depending on how many cosmetic products we use. When used repeatedly, ingredients like PFAS and the different heavy metals can accumulate in our bodies over time and increase our risk for illness (1).

In addition to being hazardous to our health, these same ingredients can also be toxic to our environment. Everytime you throw something away or wash it down the drain, those chemicals are going back into the environment polluting our soil and waterways (5). It's the same as chemicals coming off of your car and polluting the environment: a toxic chemical is a toxic chemical no matter where it came from!

What clean beauty means

The term "clean beauty" is pretty subjective, but it usually means that the products contain ingredients that have been evaluated for safety and the brands are transparent about the ingredients they are using. More and more brands have been coming out with clean cosmetic products because they realized that a lot of the everyday products people use have harmful and toxic chemicals in them. Some of these brands have a list of chemicals they refuse to use like parabens, synthetic fragrances, sulfates, phthalates, and more. There are even some clean beauty retailers that require brands to disclose all of their ingredients and check them against a do not use list before they are allowed to be sold. This all seems like progress, but all of these actions are voluntary and not required under law, meaning most brands don't go that extra mile which is why there's an urgent need for new government regulation and policies for the skincare industry.

Clean Beauty Regulations

The current federal regulations are pretty lackluster. For some context, the EU has prohibited the use of 1,378 substances in cosmetic products compared to the United States which has only banned 11 substances (13,14). Some of these banned chemicals include chloroform, mercury compounds, vinyl chloride, chlorofluorocarbons, and a few others (14). This abysmal effort by the federal government has forced states to come in to propose more comprehensive safety regulation for cosmetics. One particular bill recently passed in California, has established a ban of 25 toxic ingredients in cosmetics which could have major impacts on the cosmetics market as a whole. Because California is such a big market, with about 40 million people, it might force brands to start producing cleaner products. Most brands don't want to create two separate products, one cleaner version for people living in California, and another that is suitable for the rest of the U.S.! So there is hope that this bill in California could push brands to only create clean products. There are also a few other states including Connecticut, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Minnesota, and Wisconsin that have adopted policies to start cleaning up the cosmetics sold in their states (6).



Upcoming Clean Beauty Legislation

In the past few years there have been three big pieces of federal legislation that have been introduced into congress along with 9 state policies introduced by Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. Most of these state and federal policies focus heavily on removing the toxic ingredients and giving the FDA more authority to recall a product and to do their own safety reviews. These policies have not been passed or turned into law, but if all goes well they will be on their way to pass in the next few years!


Why switch to clean beauty?

Switching to clean beauty products can be a great way to start limiting our exposure to toxic chemicals. But as we previously mentioned, there is no universal clean beauty standard, or list of ingredients brands need to avoid. There is very little regulation on ingredients across the entire cosmetics industry, meaning products can claim they are safe but that could mean entirely different things depending on the brand. For the most part switching to clean beauty products is likely to reduce your overall exposure to toxic ingredients because these brands have tried to reduce the number of chemicals in their products. Brands like Sephora and Target now have clean beauty sections that people can shop from, along with stores and brands like Detox Market, Follian, Credo, BeautyCounter, Ursa Major, and Biossance to name a few. These stores and brands have made it so we don't have to wait around for government regulation to get cleaner cosmetics products. If you can, try to support more clean beauty brands to show the world that there is a market and a need for cosmetic products that don't put us at risk!

Resources to support and keep updated on clean beauty legislation

We created a list of letter writing campaigns, clean beauty news sources, and information pages on current and upcoming clean beauty legislation. If you want to stay updated on clean beauty legislation and find ways to support the different state and federal policies, click on the links below!

  1. This link allows you to send a message to your congressional representative to support the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2019 (H.R. 4296)!
  2. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has an action alert page with multiple letter writing campaigns to tell your cosmetics companies, the FDA, and elected officials that safe cosmetics are important to you. Click the link here!
  3. The Environmental Working Group has a page dedicated to clean cosmetics legislation, news and reports, and where to support clean cosmetics companies.
  4. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tracks upcoming and adopted state policies in regard to cosmetics and cleaning products.



Sources

  1. https://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chem-of-concern/
  2. https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/contents/is-teflon-in...
  3. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/21/chapter-9/subchapter-VI
  4. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetics-laws-regulations/fda-authority-over-cosmetics-how-cosmetics-are-not-fda-approved-are-fda-regulated
  5. Juliano, C., & Magrini, G. A. (2017). Cosmetic Ingredients as Emerging Pollutants of Environmental and Health Concern. A Mini-Review. Cosmetics, 4(2), 11. https://doi.org/10.3390/cosmetics4020011
  6. https://www.saferstates.org/toxic-chemicals/cleaning-cosmetics-and-construction/
  7. https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200AB2762
  8. https://energycommerce.house.gov/committee-activity/hearings/hearing-on-building-consumer-confidence-by-empowering-fda-to-improve
  9. https://energycommerce.house.gov/sites/democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/files/documents/COSMETICS_DRAFT%20112719.pdf
  10. https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2019/3/feinstein-collins-introduce-bill-to-strengthen-oversight-of-personal-care-products
  11. Kwa, M., Welty, L. J., & Xu, S. (2017). Adverse Events Reported to the US Food and Drug Administration for Cosmetics and Personal Care Products. JAMA Internal Medicine, 177(8), 1202–1204. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.2762
  12. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetics-recalls-alerts/fda-recall-policy-cosmetics
Home

How Safe is Borax?

A common non-toxic cleaning ingredient that may not be so harmless

For years people have recommended Borax as a safe and natural cleaning solution as an alternative to harsher traditional cleaners. It's also used a lot for other things like a non-toxic pest solution, to clean carpets, and even as an ingredient in slime for kids(1). But is Borax actually safe? Some say it is completely safe and others swear you should never use it. So we decided to do the research and figure out if Borax is a product we should be using in our everyday lives. We found that there are some issues associated with it, but there are ways it could be used safely in particular circumstances with the right precautions.

Keep reading to learn more about Borax and it's safety, as well as some alternatives you can use instead!

What is Borax?

Borax, or otherwise known as sodium borate, is a natural mineral mined from the Earth that is most commonly found as a white powder. It's most notably characterized as being a good emulsifier, preservative, and buffering agent (2). It's also known for being a great disinfectant, getting rid of stains, whitening clothes, and neutralizing hard water (2, 3). Because of these properties Borax is often found in common household products like laundry detergents, soaps, and degreasers. It's also found in topical medicine, food preservatives, pesticides, and other industrial uses because Borax can inhibit the growth of bacteria and mold, increase resistance to heat and chemicals, kill insects, and helps balance acidity (4).

Is Borax safe?

Since it is considered a natural product, it pops up in a lot of DIY recipes for various tasks around the house. However, just because it is deemed as natural that does not mean it is considered safe. Borax comes in many forms but you're most likely to handle it in its powder form for cleaning or for doing laundry. As a powder, borax has been known to be a skin and eye irritant because it can easily travel through the air and be inhaled or get in the eyes of anyone close by. Borax has also been associated with reproductive issues, endocrine disruption, and developmental issues from exposure to any of its forms (3). It's worth noting that most of these health problems were found in rats that were exposed to pretty high doses of Borax (2), so this probably means that the average person won't come into contact with enough Borax to be very dangerous, but you should still take caution when handling it in your everyday life.

It's also important to look at some of the other uses for a product when determining it's safety. In the case of Borax, one common use is as a pesticide. To kill certain pests, Borax is found as either a powder, which sticks onto the insect's body and then they ingest it from cleaning themselves, or it is mixed into food bait that the insects ingest directly. The Borax will build up in their system inhibiting their metabolism and reproductive system causing them to die. Borax is also really good at breaking down and destroying the exoskeletons of some insects because the powder is very abrasive to them (5).Obviously insects like ants are much smaller and more fragile than us, however, it is slightly concerning that Borax, a product we use relatively often in our homes, has the ability to be used as a pesticide as well.

Not only is Borax used as a pesticide, it is also used as cooling agents, adhesives, anti-freezing agents, building materials, and so many other industrial uses (2). Most of these chemicals and products are usually not associated with good human health so it is something to keep in mind when using Borax to clean around the house.

How to use Borax safely

Borax has been known to have some negative health consequences when exposed in high levels over time and lethal if ingested at high doses in animals and humans (6). Because of this it is best to limit our exposure which means that it's probably okay to be using it every once in a while, but we do not recommend using it for all of your cleaning and household purposes. If you are planning to use Borax for different tasks around the house, we found some ways you can stay safe and avoid any health issues.

  1. Keep the area where you are using Borax well ventilated by turning on a fan or opening a window.
  2. Wear long sleeves and pants to prevent any Borax from getting on your skin because it could cause irritation.
  3. If you spill any Borax on your clothes make sure to take them off right away and wash them. This goes for spilling Borax on anything, clean it up right away!
  4. Use glasses or even goggles to prevent any Borax dust from getting in your eyes.
  5. Try to keep the Borax far away from your face so you don't breathe it in. Avoiding dust is the best thing to do!
  6. Keep the Borax container tightly closed when you're not using it.
  7. Try to not use it everyday, just every once in a while.
  8. Vacuum up the floor of anywhere you used Borax in case any dust settled onto the ground.
  9. Do not ingest any Borax because it can be lethal at certain doses. This goes for children as well, keep the box out of their reach at all times (2).

Alternatives to Borax

As we mentioned, a lot of DIY cleaners and laundry detergents call for Borax. Because it can be a skin and eye irritant we wanted to give you some alternatives you could use instead if you are concerned about using it in your homemade products. We included some other homemade cleaners you can use instead, as well as some store bought all-purpose cleaners that we love!

  • Vinegar: Distilled white vinegar is a great disinfectant and deodorizer, making it a great alternative to Borax's disinfectant qualities. (7)
  • Baking soda: It is a natural and safe deodorizer, as well as, a mild abrasive that can help scrub off tough messes and stains. (7)
  • Non-chlorine bleach: Non-chlorinated bleach is a much safer alternative to the traditional bleach and is a great disinfectant.
  • Washing soda: Washing soda is a popular cleaning additive that is great for removing stains, dissolving grease, softening water, and getting rid of unpleasant smells.
  • All purpose cleaners: Instead of making something at home, check out some of the eco-friendly all purpose cleaners we love!
  • Here is a great recipe for kids slime without Borax!

Sources

  1. https://www.onegoodthingbyjillee.com/uses-for-household-borax/
  2. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/1303-96-4#section=Uses
  3. https://pharosproject.net/chemicals/2006849#hazards-panel
  4. https://www.borax.com/boron-essentials/shelter#:~:text=U.S.%20Borax%20products%20increase%20building,railway%20ties%20to%20automobile%20frames.
  5. A. Fotso Kuate, et. al. Toxicity of Amdro, Borax and Boric Acid to Anoplolepis tenella Santschi (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) 109-152. International Journal of Pest Management. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/18234674.pdf#page=109
  6. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/archive/borictech.html#fate
  7. https://www.zmescience.com/medicine/what-is-borax-and-is-it-safe-432432/
Food

What is Regenerative Farming and What Does it Mean for Our Health and the Environment?

We have the info on regenerative agriculture, food, health and the environment that you've been looking for!

If you're someone who spends equal time cry-laughing through Instagram reels and poring over grocery store labels in search of healthy/environmentally-conscious noms, you may be wondering about the new food word "regenerative." (For the record – yes, we are also proudly those people.) Is "regenerative" really that different from "organic" or "sustainable," you may ask? We've got you covered so you can feel more informed the next time you sojourn through your virtual or in-person grocery aisle!

What does "Regenerative" mean? (Hint: it has nothing to do with generators)

To sum it up, regenerative agriculture (or regenerative ag) not only seeks to "do no harm" by omitting bad stuff from our food, but it also aspires to "regenerate" the land and all things living in it (1,2). Building soil health is where it all begins. This basically means taking what looks like regular old dirt and cultivating within it beneficial microorganisms, root systems, and friendly bugs/worms. These busy networks of soil life barter important nutrients and perform some cool biochemistry, with rippling benefits across neighboring ecosystems. Practices used to build soil health can include: cover crops/crop rotation (growing nutrient-giving stuff after harvesting nutrient-grabbing stuff), multiple cropping (adding variety to attract more diverse bugs/nutrients), "no till" planting (not messing with the soil too much), and rotational animal grazing (letting our roaming friends drop nutrients, mow the grass, and break open the soil for us). Though distinct from organic farming, regenerative ag often avoids synthetic chemical use and incorporates organic practices.

How can agriculture be that good for the environment?

It might be hard to imagine how farming can lead to these types of ecological benefits, given how often we hear about its downsides! But—hang with us—here are a few ways regenerative ag works for the environment:

  • Happier microorganisms and habitats: when farms use fewer (or zero!) synthetic chemicals, they help build a more active and biodiverse community of soil organisms (3, 4). Cultivating healthy soil with biodiverse plants (rather than monocultures) make better habitats for local pollinators like birds and bees! (5, 6). *Side note: if you just had a flashback to middle school sex ed, you're not alone.
  • Cleaner water: thriving soils with deeply rooted plants contribute to more effective water filtration and cleaner watersheds (7, 8). And decreasing fertilizer run-off into water supports fish and marine environments by reducing toxic algae blooms (9).
  • Decreased greenhouse gases: Here's the (slightly) simplified version of how that works… When animals frolic and poo around, they loosen and fertilize the soil; grasses and crops then have better conditions to grow. As the grasses/crops grow, they take carbon dioxide out of the air and use it to create food/roots/leaves (here's a photosynthesis pic if it's been a minute). Grass roots especially can grow very deep, so animal poo can facilitate a lot of carbons storage in the ground! This is also known as carbon sequestration. (10).
  • Mitigated flooding and erosion: the combination of rotational animal grazing and grass/crop planting helps establish root networks and makes soil more permeable (see above point and thanks again, animal poo). Roots help prevent erosion by holding onto the soil and permeable soil reduces flooding by allowing more water to seep in (11).
  • Restored environment: all of these together mean a cleaner, less toxic, more biodiverse and more beautiful environment!

Regenerative is also good for our health…

Here are a few of its direct human health benefits:

  • Foundation for health: similar to our amazing gut microbes (really, could they be any cooler?), beneficial soil microbes also build an important foundation for resilient animal, ecosystem, and human health (12, 13, 14).
  • Improved nutrient quality: animals raised in regenerative settings roam freely and chow down on pasture and/or grass. Not only is this better for animals, but the animal products also have healthier proportions of fats and nutrients (15, 16).
  • Healthier animals: animals pick up fewer hitch-hiking pathogens when they're healthy and have enough space, which means we then have less exposure to food-borne pathogens (like E. coli). Also, when animals don't need as many meds, fewer endocrine-disrupting antibiotics and chemicals end up in our food and water systems!
  • Reduced toxic exposure and disease: less pesticides and synthetic fertilizer use means our farmworkers are exposed less often to toxic chemicals and therefore at decreased risk for chronic disease. And those who eat the food have reduced exposure and risk as well!
  • *Bonus*: all the environmental benefits mentioned above contribute to our long-term health as well!

How to get regenerative in your life

Your herb-growing capacity might just be some cute windowsill space, so how can you incorporate regenerative practices and products into your day-to-day?

  1. Search for local farms that use regenerative practices and get to know them (in a pandemic friendly sort of way). Usually if farms are doing regenerative ag, they show it and want to talk about it!
  2. If you want to find more standardized products, look for the Regenerative Organic Certification—they build on organic principles with strict standards for soil health, animal welfare and social fairness. The Land to Market seal includes regenerative ag fashion products as well (see their Regenerative Buying Guide).
  3. Keep an eye out for other products that say they're regenerative. "Regenerative" itself is not a standardized term, but you can always look up the farm/producer and learn more about their practices.
  4. Use modified regenerative practices in your own garden! Try a "no till" approach. Improve your soil health and nutrient content by planting cover crops like fava beans. Consider planting diverse native plants/grasses that establish deep roots and provide a habitat for pollinators. Your HOA (or family) may not want a sheep in the front yard, but you can still make an impact without acres of farmland!
  5. Reduce or eliminate harmful pesticides/fertilizers as much as possible, opting for organic compost/fertilizers/pest management instead!
  6. Learn more! The Rodale Institute and Savory Institute are both great resources.
  7. Be curious and have fun!



References

1. https://regenerationinternational.org/why-regenerative-agriculture/

2. https://regenorganic.org/

3. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0180442

4. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2016.02064/full#h5

5. https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/111/14/5266.full.pdf

6.https://www.google.com/url?q=https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s13593-012-0092-y.pdf&sa=D&source=editors&ust=1614755415230000&usg=AOvVaw3nqoBDN1ENKBIM9UNU6qJE

7.https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/renewable-agriculture-and-food-systems/article/targeting-perennial-vegetation-in-agricultural-landscapes-for-enhancing-ecosystem-services/6E3F150C2060CFF12BCD5C0A92000EE8/core-reader

8. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/soils/health/

9. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1140/epjst/e2017-70031-7.pdf

10.https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/renewable-agriculture-and-food-systems/article/targeting-perennial-vegetation-in-agricultural-landscapes-for-enhancing-ecosystem-services/6E3F150C2060CFF12BCD5C0A92000EE8

11. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095633915300095#

12. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091674918309345

13. https://www.nature.com/articles/nature09575/boxes/bx1

14. http://www.nfp68.ch/SiteCollectionDocuments/Wall%20et%20al%202015%20nature15744.pdf

15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2846864/

16. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.4081/ijas.2009.175?needAccess=true





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