Food

Stop Eating Lunch at Your Desk

Seriously, here are 5 reasons why

Work can be crazy, and working through lunch almost feels expected at many offices. But, if you can actually take a break, even just a few times a week, it can make a big difference for your physical, mental, and social well-being. Here are some of the top benefits of not eating at your desk.


1. Avoiding Chemicals, like Flame-Retardants

A lot of technological equipment has flame-retardants in the casing, like computers, keyboards, even wireless modems. Dr. Todd Whitehead of The Center for Integrative Research on Childhood Leukemia and the Environment at The University of California, Berkeley, suggests that not eating lunch in front of your computer can help lower your exposure to flame retardants from these items. Flame-retardants are typically not chemically bound to the products (basically they are just sprayed on at the end) meaning they easily escape and stick to other things, like your fingers. When this happens and you don't wash your hands before you eat, you can also end up eating a small dose of flame retardants, which have been linked to problems like reproductive issues, neurological impairment, and cancer. "People have done experiments where they have looked at the frequency of hand washing and levels of flame-retardants in people's blood. You can see that people who wash their hands more frequently have lower concentrations of those chemicals," shares Dr. Whitehead. Think about what you do at your desk on a typical day. Most likely, you are constantly typing on your keyboard, maybe answering a phone call, and snacking on something. This is why, getting up, washing your hands, and keeping your lunch away from your desk (or at least your computer) will help limit the amount of flame retardants you're unintentionally eating by working through lunch.

2. Fresh Air

If you can sneak in a walk around the block while you break for lunch that would be ideal. Not only do you get the obvious benefit of a bit of exercise, but the walk outside will get some fresh air into your lungs, vitamin D on a sunny day, and will help clear your brain to make you more productive during your afternoon. People who are able to take a walk during the lunch break also tend to feel less stress during work (1, 3).

3. Eye Health

While eye professionals have determined that long term, continued use of screens won't cause permanent damage; it can cause headaches and dry eyes. Many eye professionals suggest following the 20-20-20 rule, which is to look at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes (2). While this might not necessarily mean you need to get up from your computer at lunch, giving your eyes a break from all that screen time can't hurt.

4. Social Contact

Even if you don't make it out of the office, making it to the kitchen or the break room will open the opportunity for you to meet someone or say hello. Talking to other people is generally a good thing, and who knows, you might make a new work friend in the process. You can even share some tips with each other, too, like where to find the best coffee in the neighborhood, or where to get super cool, toxic free lunch containers (hint: check out our roundup of lunch containers).

5. Mental Break

Sometimes you just need a mental break. Taking a few minutes in the middle of your day to stand up, get the blood flowing, and think about something other than work can actually be good for you and your productivity (4). It allows parts of your brain to rest and recharge, just like your muscles have to do when you are working out.


References

2) https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/computer-usage

3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25559067

4) https://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/17/jobs/take-break...

Life

Tips for Traveling With Less Plastic

You don't have to sacrifice convenience for sustainability!

Traveling for the holidays can be super stressful… the early flights, long lines, and last-minute delays seem inevitable. Traveling can also be a hidden stressor on the environment; it's been identified as a significant generator of plastic waste. The convenience of single-use plastic can be tempting, especially with the stress of holiday travel, but even one plastic item can add to the pollution problem. And this problem only seems to be getting worse, since only 10% of plastic is recycled, and around 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans per year (1, 2). Luckily, it's really easy to limit your plastic consumption while you travel! Here are our tips for traveling with less plastic:

  1. Bring a reusable water bottle - Traveling can be exhausting and it's definitely important to stay hydrated, and reusable water bottles are an easy way to cut down on plastic use. Americans purchase roughly 50 billion plastic single-use water bottles per year and only about 20% get recycled (3). Plus, who wants to pay outrageous airport prices for something that can be free!
  1. Bring your own shampoo - As cute as the tiny shampoos provided by hotels are, these containers require lots of plastic for little shampoo so it's better for the Earth if you pass them up. Instead, pack your own shampoo! There are great shampoo options with plastic-free packaging. Check out our plastic-free shampoo roundup for inspiration!
  1. Avoid buying travel-sized toiletries - Once again, although cute, small toothpaste containers, mouthwash bottles, or any other item you can buy in travel size uses way more plastic than necessary and is usually tossed after just a few uses. Bring the larger containers when you can or fill reusable containers with your toiletries from home.
  1. Say no to plastic bags - Whether this be shopping bags or ziplocs, there are always better alternatives! Your reusable grocery bag can make an excellent souvenir holder and small stainless steel containers are perfect for packing snacks and toiletries!
  1. Bring your own utensils! - Most plastic straws and cutlery cannot be recycled. Packing a washable utensil set takes up barely any space, and can reduce plastic consumption significantly! Half a million straws are used and thrown away in the world every day (3).

You might be stuck in that airport security line for hours, but you can feel good knowing you're still doing your part to reduce plastic consumption! One day of convenience doesn't have to add up to a mountain of plastic waste.

Citations:

  1. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/habitats/plastic-pollution/#close
  2. https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution
  3. https://www.earthday.org/2018/03/29/fact-sheet-single-use-plastics/
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Life

Flame Retardants in TVs Need a Commercial Break

Watching your favorite shows doesn't have to involve harmful chemicals

Beth Kemler is the Mobilization Director for Safer Chemicals Healthy Families

The holiday season always feels like a great time to buy a TV- think of the Black Friday sales! Plus, watching holiday movies is always better in HD. But did you know that the plastic casings of many TVs on the market contain hazardous chemicals called organohalogen flame retardants. Of course, you don't want your TV to catch fire during a binge-watching session, but there are better ways to protect ourselves rather than flame retardants.

What's the problem with flame retardants?

While they may seem like a good idea, flame retardants actually do more harm than good. These chemicals have been linked to cancer, neurological disorders, impaired fertility, and developmental problems. They also don't stay in your TV (or other products where they're found)—they leach into the air and stick to household dust. Children and adults alike breathe them in, eat them when they touch surfaces coated with them and then handle food and even absorb them through their skin.

Studies have found them in the bodies of adults, children, and fetuses in the womb. They've even been found in breast milk and scientists suspect that the rise in flame retardants in our homes is linked to a rise in thyroid disease they've seen in indoor cats.

And when products containing flame retardant chemicals burn, the chemicals can make the smoke even more hazardous for firefighters. They can also be especially dangerous to workers and children who recycle the plastics from TVs and other electronics in facilities around the world. And these chemicals make it much harder to recycle the plastic—adding to our global plastic waste crisis. There's basically nothing good about flame retardants.



Toxic TV Binge: hazardous flame retardant chemicals uncovered in Best Buy, Amazon TVs

Despite the hazards, it's almost impossible to find a TV in the US that doesn't contain flame retardants. A recent investigation by Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, where I work, and our partner organization Toxic-Free Future found flame retardants in every TV tested. Every single TV contained organohalogens, the worst class of flame retardants. One TV even contained deca-BDE, an organohalogen flame retardant that is banned in five states.

There are other ways manufacturers can reduce fire risk without relying on these harmful chemicals. Apple, for example, has replaced brominated flame retardants with safer alternatives and, in some cases, the company "eliminated [them] altogether through the use of naturally flame retardant materials such as aluminum." Remember when your Macbook used to be made out of plastic? That's a key reason they switched from plastic to aluminum — so they didn't need toxic flame retardants.

Let manufacturers know you're ready for a change!

Here's the good news: electronics companies can replace these harmful chemicals with safer alternatives. Some companies are already using alternative chemicals or innovating to avoid these chemicals altogether. Some electronics brands, like Apple, have done this for computers, and TV brands can innovate too!

In fact, the European Union recently voted to ban these chemicals in TV plastic casings starting April 2021. If the European Union can do it, so can the US!

That's why we started a petition to Best Buy, North America's #1 electronics retailer. We're asking the company to use its power to get toxic chemicals out of the TVs it sells. If European families will be getting TVs without these toxic chemicals, American families deserve the same. And Best Buy has the power to make it happen!

In the meantime, how can you reduce your family's exposure?

Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to avoid all organohalgen flame retardants. Since manufacturers and retailers aren't required to disclose their use of chemicals in most products, we can't recommend any alternative TVs. But research has shown that you may be able to reduce your family's exposure with frequent cleaning. Dust, vacuum and wash everyone's hands often, especially before eating. Because flame retardants end up in household dust, reducing exposure to dust can help. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter and regularly wet dust and wet mop.

The bottom line is that buying a TV shouldn't pollute your home with toxic chemicals—or exacerbate the plastic waste crisis. If you agree, please sign the petition to Best Buy!

12 Non-Toxic Baking Pan Essentials

for everything from cupcakes, to pie, to cornbread we've got you covered

Updated for 2019!

Whether you are a full on baker or just someone who struggles with the directions on the back of a box of cake mix, having the right pans is always a necessity. While nonstick may seem like an amazing invention to help with this, you should shy away from it (read this to learn why) and check out these great alternatives. Same goes for cooking, so check out our non-toxic alternatives to non-stick pans roundup.

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Food

Wondering What To Do With Your Germ-y Kitchen Sponge?

Here's a simple swap that will maximize cleanliness in no time!

Have you ever walked over to your sink to do the dishes, only to wrinkle your nose at how smelly your sponge is? We'll let you in on a secret… smelly sponge = lots of germs. And too many germs is the last thing that you want in your kitchen and on your dishes. So what can you? We've got a simple swap for you!

If you're using a sponge right now - Stop!

Why, you ask? To put it scientifically, sponges are gross. Studies looking at the bacteria count of "the dirtiest areas of a kitchen" repeatedly found that sponges come in first for harboring the highest germ counts (1). Sponges hold so many bacteria because they're constantly wet and easily catch food during washing (1). The wet environment combined with the food scraps create a perfect storm for encouraging germs to multiply (1). If you're dead set on using a sponge, researchers recommend either replacing your sponge weekly (which isn't good for the environment), or cleaning sponges in a bleach and water mixture (which isn't good for you) (2). Either way, it's a lose-lose. So what's the solution?

Swap your sponge out for a dish brush instead

Yep, it's truly that simple. Simply swapping out your kitchen sponge for a dish brush will help decrease the number of bacteria because:

  • Brushes have bristles that don't hold water and dry faster (3).
  • Food scraps are easier to wash off on bristles than in the nooks and crannies of sponges (3).

And the best part? Brushes don't need to be replaced as often, because they don't harbor as many germs. Hooray for a solution that is budget-friendly and earth-friendly!

References

  1. www.microbiologyjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/JPAM_Vol_11_No4_p_1687-1693.pdf
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6379783/
  3. https://time.com/5254808/how-to-wash-dishes-sponge/
Life

Our Top Three Tips for Better Recycling

What to do when you can't reduce or reuse

We all try our best to recycle, but it's not always easy! Reading the labels on plastics can be like deciphering a different language. Although we try to do our best, recycling in America is still a work in progress. Of the 300 million tons of plastic produced every year, only about 10% of it gets recycled (1). The other 90% winds up in landfills and floating in oceans, polluting nearby ecosystems. It's not just plastic that's the problem- plenty of other materials like glass, paper, electronics, batteries, and clothing are discarded in environmentally unfriendly ways.

There are still many misconceptions of what is and isn't recyclable. We've covered what those little recycling numbers actually mean, but there's still a lot to learn. The complicated process can actually discourage people from attempting to recycle, and even when they do, complicated rules can cause significant recycling bin contamination. Until there is a change in the structure of the recycling industry in the United States, we have to step up our recycling game. Here are our top three tips on how you can make your recycling as efficient as possible!

1) Familiarize yourself with your local recycling laws and regulations. A quick google search can inform you on what you your municipality recommends for cleaning, separation, and collection. You can even keep your city's recycling guide posted on your fridge for easy access!

2) Do not, we repeat, DO NOT put your recyclables in the bin inside a plastic bag. Plastic bags, like those from grocery stores, and plastic wrap packaging are major contaminants in recycle bins and cause problems for facilities that process recycled materials. These bags can be recycled but have to be brought to specialty facilities, and can be dropped off at many grocery stores. Try using paper bags instead, and be sure to toss them in the correct bin after use!

3) Purchase items you know to be recyclable! Stick to products that are made from paper, glass, aluminium, or steel. Always check with your local recycling center about what to do with plastic items- you'd be surprised how much plastic can't be recycled! And don't forget to thoroughly clean out any food residue before tossing a product into the recycling bin.

Why is it so important to recycle correctly? Well, bin contamination is a huge issue, especially now that China is no longer buying our recyclable waste. Contaminating recycling bins with non-recyclable products makes the recycling process more difficult, time consuming, and expensive. If batches of recyclables are too contaminated, they will get thrown in the landfill with everything else. Which is exactly what we're trying to avoid in the first place (2,3)!

Contribute to a healthier environment; support the industry by buying materials made out of recycled goods! And be sure to reduce consumption of disposable materials, and reuse items as many times as possible before recycling. If you are still not sure about best recycling practices, this EPA guide is a great resource.


References

  1. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2017/07/plastic-produced-recycling-waste-ocean-trash-debris-environment/
  2. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/03/...
  3. https://theweek.com/articles/819488/america-recycling-problem-heres-how-solve\
  4. https://www.recycleacrossamerica.org/tips-to-recycle-right
  5. https://www.npr.org/2019/08/20/750864036/u-s-recycling-industry-is-struggling-to-figure-out-a-future-without-china
Remember that takeout container you had last night? What color was it? It probably was black, right? While those flexible, bendy and just the right size for packing leftovers boxes might seem perfect, they are far from it. The black color of the plastics actually masks a lot more than that last piece of sesame chicken hiding in the corner.
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Food

Is Climate Change Making Your Food Less Safe To Eat?

The role of climate change in foodborne illnesses

Do you have big cooking plans this Thanksgiving? Us too! We love cooking when the holiday season rolls around, but did you ever think that climate change is something you would think while prepping your food? Well, the raw ingredients in your kitchen contain harmful microbes that can cause foodborne illnesses, and climate change has been linked to an increase in these diseases.

As the global temperature rises and rainfall patterns change, bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other harmful vectors flourish. These changes in climatic factors increase disease transmission efficacy and improve survival rates of these vectors (1). In other words, climate change has allowed these harmful microbes to evolve and be better equipped to cause diseases. On top of that, they are more resilient and harder to kill.

So what should you be on the lookout for? Good question. Below are just a few examples of agents that may be altered by climate variability in the United States (1, 2). All of them can potentially be found on the foods that we consume.

  • E. coli O157: this specific strain of E. coli is particularly prone to climate change. We ingest this microbe through contaminated foods such as raw or undercooked ground meat products and raw milk (3).
  • Salmonella: Salmonella is caused by a bacteria that lives in the intestinal tract of animals. Just like E. coli O157, Salmonella can cause foodborne illnesses through consumption of contaminated ingredients.
  • Campylobacter: almost all raw poultry you see in the grocery store contains this microbe. This bacteria causes foodborne illnesses by cross-contaminating other foods and by surviving in undercooked meat. This makes Campylobacter one of the most common causes of diarrhea in the United States.

Overall, changes in climatic factors will be the largest culprit of food-related illnesses and mortality (4). This accounts for under-nutrition, communicable and non-communicable diseases, as well as vector-borne diseases.

The good news is that these foodborne illnesses are highly preventable!

While climate change may improve the environment in which these microbes thrive, we can take steps to prevent foodborne illnesses from happening in our own kitchens. The USDA recommends the Be Food Safe prevention steps (5):

  • Clean: Wash your hands and cooking surfaces frequently.
  • Separate: Don't cross-contaminate your foods. Keep your meats and veggies separate.
  • Cook: Cook ingredients to their proper temperatures.
  • Chill: Refrigerate foods promptly.

By following these guidelines, the vast majority of these harmful microbes can be removed or killed. Keep yourself and your family free from foodborne illnesses!


References

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0963996910002231
  2. https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/foodborne/basics.html
  3. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/e-coli##targetText=Sources%20and%20transmission&targetText=E.%20coli%20O157%3AH7%20is%20transmitted%20to%20humans%20primarily%20through,meat%20products%20and%20raw%20milk.
  4. https://www.who.int/foodsafety/_Climate_Change.pdf
  5. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/cleanliness-helps-prevent-foodborne-illness/ct_index
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