Silky pyramids, plastic sealed bags, and what brands are actually fully compostable

Is Your Tea Bag Made with Plastic?

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Whether you like to pretend you are British all the time, or just have a cold, chances are you are making that cup of tea with a conveniently packaged tea bag. While tea bags are great (and basically everywhere) there's something you should know about that innocent tea bag. Many of them use plastic to keep them sealed shut. Nope, not just on the wrapper the tea bag actually comes in, but the bag itself. The idea of a plastic soaking in boiling hot water just does not sound cozy to us. But thankfully, there are some easy changes you can make if you feel the same way we do.

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Food

DIY Microwave Popcorn with a Bowl and a Plate

Super easy, without any unnecessary chemicals

Popcorn is such an awesome snack! It's easy, fast, and great as a last minute snack idea when you have unexpected guests over. But store bought microwave popcorn can contain unnecessary chemicals like PFAS. While PFAS helps grease-proof the popcorn bags, it also can cause serious health problems like decreased fertility, increased cholesterol levels, harming the growth and development of children, and lowering immune system function. Store bought microwave popcorn can also contain synthetic flavoring and use trans fats. Yuck!

To make matters worse, store bought microwave popcorn can actually be pretty expensive. Per serving, it's much more cost effective to buy some popcorn kernels and butter. And with this microwave method, it's just as fast and as easy! We like the bowl method over using a lunch paper bag, because this is safer and there is no waste created. Plus everyone has a glass or ceramic bowl and a ceramic plate. You can also control how much butter (if any) is used on your popcorn and get creative with new flavor toppings! Try it out today!



Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup popcorn kernels
  • Salt
  • Toppings, like butter, parmesan, herbs, nutritional yeast, furikake

Materials needed

  • Microwave safe bowl (about 3 quarts)
  • Microwave safe plate that is slightly larger than the bowl

Instructions

  1. Pour in ⅓ cup popcorn kernels into the bowl and add a large pinch of salt. You can go up to ½ cup of kernels if you want to make a larger serving.
  2. Place the plate upside down on the bowl. Make sure there is a tight seal with minimal gaps to keep the steam from escaping.
  3. Place the bowl in the microwave for 3-5 minutes. This timing will depend on the strength of your microwave. When the popping slows down, stop the microwave. The bowl and plate will be very hot, so use potholders or a rag to remove the bowl from the microwave.
  4. Toss with melted butter or other toppings of your choice.
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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/
Food

Treat Yourself (and the Earth) to a Meat Besides Beef!

This little change can make a surprisingly big impact on climate change

For many, meat is not just a centerpiece at meals, but also integrated in cultural practices and dishes. As much as we love meat, we also know that it can have a huge impact on the environment and climate change.If you're looking to help the environment out, and are not quite ready to give up meat entirely, try making the switch from beef to any other meat! While beef, chicken, and pork are all meats, their environmental impacts are surprisingly different. Check it out as we break down how the meats stack up when it comes to helping fight climate change.

What's climate change got to do with meat?

If you're wondering about why scientists are bringing meat into the conversation about climate change, we've got you covered. Climate change is, well, exactly what it sounds like- the climate on Earth is changing. Climate is the long-term weather trend that we see on Earth (7). For instance, scientists can take a look at the five or 10 year temperature trend of a location and can see if the temperature is slowly rising or falling over time (7). For most places on earth, these long-term trends show that the temperature on Earth is rising slowly, which is not good (7)! .

Many things contribute to climate change, but the main contributor is what we call the greenhouse effect from different greenhouse gases (7). If you've ever stood in a greenhouse or a glass building when the sun was shining and noticed that it was way hotter inside the greenhouse than outside, you already understand how greenhouse gases work! Greenhouse gases act just like the glass in a greenhouse and trap heat on Earth, when normally it would go back into space (7). Of all the greenhouse gases produced from food, 56% is from our meat-producing systems because of the energy lost transforming plant energy (think animal feed) to animal energy (the actual chicken, pig or cattle) (2, 5). Some of the greenhouse gases produced from livestock like pig, chicken and cattle include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide (5).

Let's cut to the chase, why focus on beef?

Maybe you're wondering just how much of an environmental impact beef has compared to other meats. In a recent study, researchers found that for dairy, chicken, pork and eggs the environmental costs are pretty similar, but much lower than the environmental impacts of beef (3). Cattle systems actually produce many different greenhouse gases, including a lot of the strongest greenhouse gas, methane, which they belch out (5). Cattle produce a large amount of methane when they digest their food because they have four stomachs (4,5). On the other hand, pigs and chickens with just a simple digestive system produce very little methane (8). Scientists found that from beginning to end, making beef takes 28 times the amount of land, 11 times the amount of water, 5 times the amount of greenhouse gases, and 6 times the amount of nitrogen than any other meat because of how much energy they must consume to grow to a decent size (3). And even though beef is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and the least efficient type of meat to produce, it's the most popular meat in America (3, 6). Over the last 50 years, with the rise of the popularity of beef, we've seen greenhouse gas emissions from cattle rise by 59% (6).

What's the difference if I make the switch from beef to other meat?

The answer is - actually a big difference! If we compare the numbers, cattle make up 54% of total livestock greenhouse gas emissions, while pork only makes up 5% and chickens only make up 1% of greenhouse gas emissions (6). Just eating a little over 2 pounds of beef (or the equivalent of about 3 steaks), is the same as using a car to drive 100 miles (1). And if you swap out beef for pork in a meal, your carbon footprint is cut by a third (1). And if you swap out beef for chicken, your carbon footprint for that meal is 7 times smaller!

So, if you're looking to make a big impact on the environment with a smaller change than going entirely vegetarian or vegan, give eating a little less beef a go. You can add in more vegetables if you're making a stir-fry, or make pork, chicken, or sustainable fish the star of the show instead of beef. The culinary possibilities are endless! In fact, we've put together a starter list to help you get a jump start on eating less beef below.

Try out these tasty ways to eat less beef!

  • Think outside the box for burgers: Next time your hamburger hankering strikes, why not try out a tasty alternative like a chicken teriyaki or Hawaiian pork burger? Check out our article on beef burger alternatives that aren't plant based!
  • Keep beef for a special treat: Try not to cook beef at home or order it from your normal take-out spots. Instead, treat yourself to beef on special occasions like a birthday or when you go to a fancy restaurant.
  • Mix and match the meats: Instead of making spaghetti bolognese or meatloaf with just beef, substitute half for turkey or pork. You still get the flavor of beef, but it's better for the environment. Chopped vegetables or lentils also make for an awesome substitution for recipes that call for ground beef.
  • Make beef a side dish: Look to other meats or even vegetables to be the centerpiece of your meal. Our personal favorite is loading up on the vegetables, which make for surprisingly delicious centerpieces when grilled.
  • Don't forget the marinade: Worried that your meat might get dry? Marinating chicken and pork is the key to juicy, tender meat. So, amp up that flavor and your creative juices with some marinades. Plus, marinating is a top tip for a non-toxic BBQ!


References

  1. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/89/5/1704S/4596965?login=true
  2. http://css.umich.edu/factsheets/carbon-footprint-factsheet
  3. https://www.pnas.org/content/111/33/11996
  4. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02409-7
  5. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fsufs.2019.00005/full?source=post_page---------------------------
  6. https://ageconsearch.umn.edu/record/266680/
  7. https://climate.nasa.gov/causes/
https://secure.caes.uga.edu/extension/publications/files/pdf/B%201382_4.PDF
Food

Our 3 Favorite Tasty Meaty Burger Recipes Without Any Beef

Take action against climate change by replacing beef with pork, chicken, or turkey

We love burgers! The bun, the juicy meat, the sauces, and the toppings. We can barely go through a week without one. But realizing how big of an impact beef has on climate change is making us rethink our dinner plans. How do we get our burger fix while also making more environmentally friendly choices? Turns out that switching from beef to another meat is one of the easiest things you can do to make a big impact. Yes that's right! No need to go with a veggie burger (although more power to you if that's what you choose!) If you swap out beef for pork in a meal, your carbon footprint is cut by a third (1). And if you swap out beef for chicken, your carbon footprint for that meal is 7 times smaller! That's why we love these three easy no-beef burger recipes. They're so flavorful and delicious that all meat loving eaters will enjoy them!

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If you've been looking for some more sustainable and eco-friendly alternatives, chances are, you might have stumbled across this thing called beeswax wrap. It can be used to wrap sandwiches and salad, that half-eaten avocado, even leftovers from wine and cheese night! Maybe the cute patterns first caught your eye, or maybe you saw it on Instagram. Whatever the reason, we're going to share everything you need to know about this reusable alternative to plastic wrap.

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Food

What’s in Wood Cutting Boards?

And how to pick the healthiest ones

With plenty of time at home in the last 12 months, we've all visited the kitchen more frequently – and gladly. This, of course, means that we're basically certifiable chefs. (And how could we not be after streaming all of the known tele-verse? There's now time and much inspiration to mince fresh garlic into culinary fairy dust.) While you've been chopping away, have you ever wondered what goes into those beautiful wooden or bamboo cutting boards? Especially the ones with blocks of wood artfully stuck together? We wondered too, so we looked into it. Read on to learn more!

Wood: the Good

Prepping food on wood or bamboo cutting boards has a number of known benefits. Unlike plastic, wood doesn't contribute microplastics into our food (or the environment!), and bamboo is a quickly regenerated sustainable resource. Wood materials also have antimicrobial properties, in part because they can absorb and trap bacteria deep in the wood fibers! (3) Studies have shown that properly cleaned and dried wood cutting boards harbor very few live bacteria on the cutting board surfaces (1-5).

What About the Other Stuff?

Some wood cutting boards are crafted out of single blocks of wood, but more commonly they contain pieces that are glued together. Cutting board materials fall under the FDA's "food contact substances" and "indirect food additives" regulations since any part of a cutting board could potentially touch our food (6). When FDA-approved food contact substances like glue resins/polymers are completely cured (totally dried), they are considered food safe (7). Even so, some approved substances like melamine-formaldehyde resins can release harmful gases and cause other issues for human and environmental health (8). Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, and chronic low-level melamine exposure is associated with early kidney disease, among other problematic health outcomes (9). (See our article on melamine dishware to learn more about why it's not great for health). Petroleum-derived wood preservatives like paraffin wax and petroleum hydrocarbon resin are also not great for the environment.

Another thing to keep in mind is that while the FDA requires imported products to comply with the same US safety regulations, unfortunately sometimes these products are non-compliant (10). Look for products that specifically state that they meet FDA food contact regulations, or ask the manufacturer if you're not sure! Imported wood also might require fumigation with methyl bromide prior to shipping to the US, depending on what type it is and where it's coming from (11, 12). While pest management is an important step to prevent the introduction of disease or invasive species from abroad, methyl bromide contributes to ozone layer depletion and can cause system-wide bodily harm to those spraying it (13). (Bamboo timber is generally allowable without any treatment if it meets certain conditions(14).) The bottom line is that some glues, products, and practices are definitely better than others, so it's a good idea to look for wood cutting boards that minimize these health and environmental risks.

5 Recommendations for Choosing a Healthy Wood Cutting Board

We know it can be overwhelming to research the healthiest options out there, so here are 5 recommendations to help your browsing:

  1. Choose wood or bamboo over plastic – even with the possible concerns listed above, wood is still a better choice for decreasing your microplastic and toxin exposure!
  2. Look for cutting boards made from a single piece of wood (to get you started, here are non-toxic cypress, Vermont maple, and teak options). You can also find Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified boards that minimize environmental harm by using sustainably harvested woods.
  3. If you choose a cutting board made from multiple glued pieces (which are frankly beautiful and more widely available), make sure the glue used is free from formaldehyde and melamine. Some bamboo cutting boards like this one have a pressure/heat treated process that allow for a glue-free surface.
  4. Pick cutting boards with mild non-toxic coatings like beeswax (or look for an unfinished one that you can finish yourself with our DIY cutting board oil recipe below!)
  5. If you're not sure what types of glue or coatings a manufacturer uses (or if you want to make sure it's FDA-approved), feel free to contact them and ask what types of ingredients and regulations they use and follow. You would definitely not be the first person to ask! For reference, Titebond III and Gorilla Wood Glue are both considered safer for food contact.

DIY Cutting Board Conditioner Oil

To help you maintain a lustrous, resilient and non-toxic cutting surface, here's our simple cutting board conditioner recipe:

  • 3/4 cup MCT oil (or walnut oil)
  • 1/4 cup beeswax
  • Directions: Melt the oil and beeswax together in the microwave or on the stovetop, then brush the mixture onto your cutting board and let it soak in for 3 hours. You can seal your boar as often as once a month, but we find that sealing it just a few times a year works well too!

If you're looking for a refresher on wood cutting board cleaning recommendations, we've got you covered here. Enjoy your culinary endeavors!


References

  1. Moore, Ginny, Ian S. Blair, and DAVID A. McDOWELL. "Recovery and transfer of Salmonella typhimurium from four different domestic food contact surfaces." Journal of food protection, vol. 70, no. 10, 2007, pp. 2273-2280. https://doi.org/10.4315/0362-028X-70.10.2273
  2. Lücke, Friedrich-Karl, and Agnieszka Skowyrska. "Hygienic aspects of using wooden and plastic cutting boards, assessed in laboratory and small gastronomy units." Journal für Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit, vol. 10, no. 4, 2015, pp. 317-322. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00003-015-0949-5
  3. Boursillon, Dominique, and Volker Riethmüller. "The safety of wooden cutting boards." British Food Journal vol. 109, no. 4, 2007. https://doi.org/10.1108/00070700710736561
  4. Ak, Nese O., Dean O. Cliver, and Charles W. Kaspar. "Cutting boards of plastic and wood contaminated experimentally with bacteria." Journal of Food Protection, vol. 57, no. 1, 1994, pp. 16-22. https://doi.org/10.4315/0362-028X-57.1.16
  5. Cliver, Dean O. "Cutting boards in Salmonella cross-contamination." Journal of AOAC International, vol. 89, no. 2, 2006, pp. 538-542. https://doi.org/10.1093/jaoac/89.2.538
  6. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-ingredients-packaging/food-ingredient-packaging-terms
  7. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=23a3c29a77c934f528ed12988c803c24&mc=true&node=sp21.3.175.c&rgn=div6
  8. https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/sites/default/files/classic//toxics/compwood/consumer_faq.pdf
  9. Liu, Chia-Chu, et al. "Interrelationship of Environmental Melamine Exposure, Biomarkers of Oxidative Stress and Early Kidney Injury." Journal of hazardous materials, vol. 396. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2020.122726
  10. https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/02/66-of-products-tested-from-online-marketplaces-amazon-marketplace-aliexpress-ebay-and-wish-failed-safety-tests/
  11. https://www.compliancegate.com/wooden-bamboo-kitchen-products-regulations-united-states/
  12. https://helpspanish.cbp.gov/s/article/Article-897?language=en_US
  13. https://www.epa.gov/ods-phaseout/methyl-bromide
  14. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=8765cd13ef440b0571f9f5298dcc757b&mc=true&node=sp7.5.319.i&rgn=div6
Roundups

Healthy Food Storage Containers

Plastic free jars, boxes, and wraps!

Updated for 2020!

We scoured the internet finding an assortment of safe, non-toxic, and good for your health ways to keep your leftovers fresh and looking good, may we add. All of these options are sustainable, have many glowing reviews, and are easily available. We also have a roundup more specifically for packing lunch you might also want to check out.

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