The grass will always be greener with these non-toxic alternatives!

How to Keep Your Lawn Happy Without the Use of Harmful Chemicals

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Even though it's still spring, we are already dreaming about summer lawn games, BBQs, and playing catch with the kids outside. And for many Americans, a nice blanket of green grass in the backyard is just the perfect setting for all these summer memories. If your lawn is looking a little worse-for-wear after some cold winter months, then you may want to pay attention because spring is the time to start getting your lawn ready! Spring is the perfect time to reseed, add compost, fertilizer, water, and get all your equipment in order. But how about pesticides and herbicides? Should you be adding them to prevent weeds from ruining your lawn? Are they the only solution if you want the perfect backyard for summer fun? Let's take a deep dive into what pesticides are used in lawn care and how to get the lushest, greenest grass for all your summer backyard picnics without using harmful chemicals.

What are pesticides and why are they harmful?

Glad you asked! Let's dig into what's hiding underneath the lush green lawn. Did you know that an astonishing nearly 80 million pounds of pesticides are used on U.S. lawns annually!

Pesticides are toxic substances that are designed to kill any living organism perceived as a pest, which intrinsically make them harmful. (2) These pesticides can be found in grub control, weed killers (herbicides), fungus treatment (fungicides), and insect spray (insecticides). The most common pesticides found in lawn care are two herbicides, glyphosate and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D for short). It's no surprise most gardening sheds will have products containing pesticides, as most people rely on these chemicals to treat their lawn and keep the weeds away.

Most weed killers contain 2,4-D and are oftentimes a part of "weed and feed" products. (2) "Weed and feed" products are a combination of herbicides and fertilizer (oftentimes synthetic fertilizer), that are designed to kill weeds and provide nutrients for the grass, all at once. These are one of the most toxic substances, as they are loaded with pesticides to accomplish both these tasks at the same time. Most synthetic fertilizers rely on pesticides to provide nutrients to the grass. (17) Studies have found 2, 4-D to be a carcinogen (cancer-causing), linking it to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, childhood brain tumors and soft tissue sarcomas. (15, 5) It's also been linked to Parkinson's disease, immunosuppressive effects, hormone disruption, and thyroid problems (hypothyroidism). (6) And it's also been found to affect reproductive functions, and cause neurotoxicity (nervous system damage).

Glyphosate, the most widely applied pesticide in the world, has also been found to be a carcinogen and is found in many lawn care products. These products are commonly known as RoundUp. (3, 4)

Yikes! That's a lot of RoundUp (a picture personally taken while at Home Depot).

As with 2,4-D, scientific studies have shown glyphosate to also be linked to immune and nervous system disorders, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. Glyphosate has been shown to increase the risk of asthma, infertility, and birth defects. (15)

How do these pesticides harm our health?

Pesticides can harm adults, children, and pets, through the skin, inhalation and ingestion. The most common type of exposure is through the skin. For example, a person can be exposed to a splash or mist when applying product to the lawn. A person can also be exposed by inhaling airborne droplets. Pesticides can even get into our waterways by seeping into the soil and can be brought into the home through clothes. Children are particularly vulnerable due to their size (they take in more pesticides relative to their bodyweight), rapid development, and hand to mouth behaviors. Pregnant people are also a vulnerable population to pesticide exposure. (2, 7, 12) Pets are exposed the most as they spend more time outdoors and some pets tend to eat grass, directly ingesting the pesticides. For example, cats regularly lick their paws, which means they could easily ingest pesticides that way. (2)

So how can I maintain a nice looking yard, while avoiding pesticides?

There are safer ways to get a "perfect" lush lawn. Plus, did you know applying pesticides on your lawn just creates an unhealthy chemical-using cycle? (9) It's simply a band aid solution, as it's a fast approach but doesn't target the root of the problem, which is the lack of healthy and rich soil. Applying pesticides tricks your grass into thinking it needs to rely on synthetic fertilizer to look and feel fresh, instead of actually drawing nutrients from the soil. However, here are some safer alternatives that will grow the greenest and healthiest lawn on the block while keeping you, your family, your pets, and friends safe.

Try some DIY lawn care tips:

Follow a yearly schedule to prevent your grass from needing toxic chemicals. It's recommended to start your lawn care in March. But no matter the time of the year, it's not too late to apply organic fertilizer. Check out these simple homemade and store bought organic fertilizers. Or better yet, use grass clippings as fertilizer (recycling and non-toxic? That's our kind of thing!). Add corn gluten meal to prevent weeds from sprouting. Corn gluten dries out the emerging plant's initial root, preventing a new weed from growing. Keep in mind, this will also prevent grass from growing, so only apply where there are emerging weed seedlings. Then, after fertilization (through the months of April - October), be sure to dethatch (remove the dead layer of old grass) and overseed (spread grass seed over existing lawn to fill bare spots) in September. Weekly tasks throughout the year include watering only when the lawn starts to show signs of dryness, and mowing. Be sure to set the mower 3-4 inches high to get rid of any weeds and then don't forget to leave your clippings around for fertilizer (extra nitrogen)! Here are some organic tips for common lawn problems:

  • Have brown spots? This is likely due to too much nitrogen (usually from pet urine). Water the grass right after a pet urinates to dilute the nitrogen.
  • You see brown tips on your grass? This is probably due to dull mower blades, be sure to sharpen your blades each Spring!
  • Are their patches of dirt, where grass didn't grow? Be sure to add compost and grass seed, then water the area!
  • If you have yellow grass, this most likely means your grass is low in nitrogen or may be over-watered. Dethatch or aerate lawn before applying fertilizer.
  • If you start seeing dandelions or crabgrass (or other weeds for that matter), cut off the heads of the weeds to prevent the seeds from spreading and then spread corn gluten meal in the Springtime to prevent weeds from popping up.
That sounds too time consuming, what are my other options?

If you don't have the extra time for DIY care, but maybe have the extra money to invest in lawn services, try integrated pest management (IPM). IPM is an organic based lawn care management that provides for better and safer methods to control insects, weeds and diseases. Find more information here.

FYI - If you plan on looking into non-IPM lawn services, there's a chance they may claim their services (which may include the application of harmful pesticides) are safe to use. While this may seem like a good thing, it can actually be a red flag, as the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prohibits manufacturers from making safety claims, even if the product is used as directed. Just because a chemical is used as directed, does not mean it is safe to use. If you're ever unfamiliar with a product used or recommended by lawn services, you can look up the toxicity of the product at www.pesticide.org.

I'll stick to products from my local home improvement store.

Or if you still prefer to stop by your local home improvement store for nutrients to use on your lawn, that's fine too. But please just be sure to read the label before purchasing. Avoid ingredients such as 2, 4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid), and glyphosate. This does not mean all other pesticides are safe to use, in fact, most (if not all) pesticides are harmful. As mentioned before, you can check the toxicity of a product here.

Please take note: many pesticides and other chemicals used in lawn care persist in lawns and soil long after the posted 24-72 hours. If treatment is absolutely necessary, make sure to wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and stay off the lawn for a few days after application. (19)

Although the use of harmful pesticides is widely used and this information can be overwhelming, we hope these safer alternatives will serve as a start to avoid these harmful chemicals. Suspending the production and use of these chemicals by manufacturers is a bigger problem that may take a while to resolve. However, the good news is, we can do our part by doing the following: taking the time to take lawn care into our own hands (DIY gardening and lawn care), placing it in the hands of a trustworthy IPM service, or by reading the label and avoiding toxic chemicals when purchasing products.

If you're interested in other pesticide related topics, such as pests in your home or why going organic is beneficial to your neighbors and planet as a whole, check out these other Because Health articles:

Struggling With Pests at Home? Here's What To Do

Going Organic: Why it's Worth it for Your Neighbors, Animals, and the Planet As a Whole.

References:

  1. https://www.ehhi.org/lawnpest_full.pdf
  2. https://www.ehhi.org/pestBroFINAL.pdf
  3. https://www.ehn.org/monsanto-papers-2650517822/hazardous-chemicals
  4. https://www.ehn.org/monsanto-papers-book-2650597124/i-dont-really-know-what-this-is
  5. https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news-release/dow-crop-chemical-labeled-possibly-carcinogenic-humans
  6. https://factor.niehs.nih.gov/2019/12/science-highlights/parkinsons/index.htm
  7. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25662648?casa_token=IG4zGhg0l58AAAAA%3A1kvIzhF4Xblg9lpTu7zCPIPDCPADQoCqzwnSeQFrDHyoZY0KgghDDg0zjtgHG5eND42hjPbLcz6fRazmUGcb_sRkZhhFrQRLVZvGuNF5KMSQ-P8vWyX_&seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
  8. https://learn.eartheasy.com/articles/6-reasons-to-...
  9. https://www.nanaimo.ca/culture-environment/environment-and-sustainability/pesticide-use
  10. https://naturalawn.com/meaningful-differences/why-is-ipm-important#:~:text=IPM%20is%20a%20complete%20lawn,Monitoring
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1128552/
  12. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/pesticides/index.cfm
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19752299/
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24064777/
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26339156/
  16. https://www.saferbrand.com/articles/do-it-yourself-organic-lawn-care
  17. https://www.schilllandscaping.com/blog/reasons-to-...
  18. https://www.thespruce.com/best-weed-killers-4173508
  19. https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/chemical-...
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/
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Food

Everything You Need to Know About Natural Wine

The tasty alternative to conventional wine

Whether you're relaxing at the end of a stressful day, toasting the New Years, or eating a picnic brunch, chances are there's wine involved! Wine is our go-to alcoholic beverage because it's so versatile and delicious. But conventional winemaking often relies on pesticides and additives to produce a bottle of vino. That's where natural wine comes in. Natural wine has gone from a small, underground trend to a pretty big deal. With widespread availability in restaurants, shops, and wineries, natural wine is here to stay. But with so many terms like natural, organic, biodynamic, the whole natural wine world can be a bit confusing, so here's a simple guide on what you need to know.

What is Natural Wine?

There are some pretty big differences between natural wine and the usual wine you'd find in a grocery store. Conventional wine making relies on many different external factors to produce a bottle of wine. To start, vineyards are often sprayed with dozens of harmful chemicals like Glyphosate to keep pests and weeds away. After harvesting grapes, wine makers can then add ingredients to the grapes in order to control the manufacturing process-- additional yeast to help with fermentation, sulfur dioxide to reduce oxidation and prevent bacteria from growing, or artificial ingredients to improve a flavor profile or color of the wine (1). Even though approximately 60 additives have been approved for winemaking use, an ingredient list is not required on wine bottles (2). It's hard to believe that additives like egg whites, mega purple, bentonite, and sulfur dioxide make their way into your happy hour glass (5)!

Natural wine, on the other hand, aims to "add nothing and take nothing away" during the wine making process (3). This means no pesticides are used in the vineyards and the grapes ferment on their own with naturally occurring yeasts after being hand picked. Sometimes winemakers have to add a minute amount of sulfur dioxide or yeast to correct a manufacturing problem (3), but in general they don't rely on additives when making natural wine. In fact, they try to be as hands off as possible! Natural wine often has some sediment in the bottom of the bottom, a cloudy appearance, or may have a complex taste.

One thing to note about natural wine- there's no universal standard of what "natural" wine means. This means it's usually up to each winemaker to figure out their best practices. Some countries have attempted to create their own definition of natural wine, but not everyone is on the same page. Take France, for example. Their national agricultural organization has recently formally recognized a two-tried definition for natural wine, but many winemakers have pushed back against the government's definition. To make things more complicated, the European Union doesn't even allow the term on wine labels (6)!

Even though there are complexities surrounding the definition of natural wine, we still think it's worth checking out. Knowing that the wine you're drinking is basically additive-free really gives us peace of mind. And the unique flavors of natural wine means every bottle is it's own adventure!

How are Organic and Biodynamic Wines Different From Natural Wines?

Wine variety doesn't stop at natural! Organic, biodynamic, and vegan are three other types of wine available to consumers. Vegan wine doesn't use animal products, but can still use pesticides or other additives during production. Even though organic wine can be confused with natural wine, they're actually two different things. And to make things more complex, organic can actually mean two different things in winemaking: wine made from organically grown grapes or wine that's organic (4). Wine made from organically grown grapes means that there are no pesticides used during the growing process but, more often than not, still contain additives. Wine that's organic is made from organically grown grapes that don't use pesticides during the growing process, and also doesn't contain added sulfites. There's a lot of information to keep track of! When in doubt, just look for a USDA organic label or the phrase "100% organic" on a wine bottle. Wine must pass a rigorous five-step process in order to be USDA certified as organic and follow strict labelling guidelines, so you can be confident that the wine you're buying is the real deal (7, 8)!

Biodynamic vineyards, on the other hand, relies on a "holistic, living farm" (4) practice that incorporates a specific astronomical calendar to create their wine. Biodynamic farmers incorporate the climate, organic material, wildlife, water recycling, and natural pest-avoidance methods into their practices to both grow grapes and wine (4). Biodynamic wine also has principles and standards for how grapes are processed and made into wine. The Demeter certification process for biodynamic wine can actually be tougher than the organic certification process! It has stricter requirements on "imported fertility, greater emphasis on on-farm solutions for disease, pest, and weed control, and in depth specifications around water conservation and biodiversity (4)". But you still frequently see biodynamic wine labeled as organic because biodynamic farms pretty much use organic practices.

There's basically a whole new world of natural, organic, and biodynamic to discover! Although many of these winemaking techniques are hundreds of years old, so maybe we're just on a path of rediscovery? Either way, we're loving it. The next time you find yourself wandering down the wine aisle looking for something new, why not pick up a bottle of natural wine (or two)? You can purchase natural wine from many online retailers, including Dry Farm Wines, Primalwine, Plonk Wine Club or The Natural Wine Shoppe. Some of your local wine shops might even specialize in natural wine! Even if they don't, local wine shops might still carry some stock or be able to source a few bottles for you. Just ask!


References

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/16/dining/drinks/natural-wines-vin-methode-nature.html
  2. https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/6/10/18650601/natural-wine-sulfites-organic
  3. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/02/12/466284145/what-the-heck-is-natural-wine-heres-a-taste
  4. https://www.demeter-usa.org/downloads/Demeter-Farm-Standard.pdf
  5. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=e616cf652c2a16d768ed4c4873ad2cb0&rgn=div8&view=text&node=27:1.0.1.1.19.12.343.7&idno=27
  6. https://www.winemag.com/2020/05/19/natural-wine-definition-france/
  7. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2013/01/08/organic-101-organic-wine
  8. https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/NOP%20Wine%20with%20organic%20references.pdf

You may already know buying organic is good for your health, but did you know it also benefits workers, the environment and climate change? It's true! Organic foods are grown without the use of artificial chemicals, synthetic fertilizer, hormones, pesticides or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Essentially, eating organic foods minimizes your risk for exposure to environmental toxins, avoiding serious health issues related to pesticides and other harmful chemicals found in non-organic produce and meats (12). There are no preservatives and additives to organic products, a.k.a organic foods are better for you! But on top of it being healthy, it benefits farm workers and the planet as a whole too.

Buying Organic Food Protects Farmworkers' Health!

Studies show the greatest amount of pesticide use in the United States occurs in agriculture. Pesticide exposures increase the likelihood of chemical related injuries and adverse effects in the workplace. These injuries are caused by the chronic toxicity of pesticides (specifically organophosphate) (14). This study determined that fatal injuries increased with days per year of pesticide application, with the highest risk associated to those who apply pesticides for more than 60 days a year. Being exposed to pesticides (even when a small amount) everyday (a.k.a chronic occupational exposure), will cause adverse health effects such as difficulties in executive functions like verbal, visual, memory, coordination and attention functions (8)(14).

Not only are pesticides used in the United States' agricultural process, but they are also heavily used among conventional farming in other countries that produce a lot of the food we eat! Did you know Mexico accounts for 75% of agricultural imports to the U.S.? Not only are farmworkers in Mexico exposed to harmful chemicals but on top of that, studies show most farmworkers in Mexico do not have the proper personal protective equipment (PPE)(8). Yikes! Meaning, they are even more exposed to these harmful chemicals! Similarly, according to a study where melon farmers were interviewed on pesticide application and PPE, the majority of farmers weren't aware of the importance of protecting themselves (6). Yet, another study conducted in India found pesticide poisoning is common among farmers because they are often under trained and consider it impractical and expensive to use safety equipment (13). Although we may not have the power to change these policies among other countries, we do have the choice to buy organic and help reduce pesticide exposure among farmworkers!

Organic Production is Better for the Environment (and our ecosystem)!

Unlike conventional farming, organic farming uses dirt and natural processes such as crop rotations, composting of plant and animal materials, and manure as fertilizer for the production of food instead of using synthetic fertilizers and applying pesticides. The problem with synthetic fertilizers is it requires the burning of fossil fuels, which inherently makes climate change worse by producing pollution and emitting nitrous oxide (N2O; a greenhouse gas with a high global warming potential)(3). The problem with pesticides is similar in that fumigants will release toxic chemicals into the air, accounting for 30% of global emissions leading to climate change (think CO2 in the air).

Whereas, organic farm productions improve climate change! Using manure as fertilizer reduces pollution, minimizes nitrogen footprint (i.e., reduces gas emissions) and increases nitrogen recycling (9). All good things! Additionally, crop rotations prevent nutrients from building up in the soil which helps with nitrate leaching and run-off. Otherwise, this excess nitrogen and phosphorus caused by synthetic fertilization can be lost into waterways, causing eutrophication (an increased load of nutrients in lakes and oceans, creating an abundance of algae and plants in estuaries and coastal waters). This excess of nutrients leads to low-oxygen (hypoxis) water (since the algae block the sunlight), which then kills off fish and their homes! (10) Eutrophication has a negative domino effect on aquaculture, since the abundance of algae and plants produces a large amount of carbon dioxide which then lowers the PH level of water, causing acidification. Acidification then slows the growth of fish, which means a smaller harvest (10). So let's support organic farming to save the fish population!

Eating Organic Will Help Save Our Busy Bees!

Organic farming benefits the entire planet, including our busy bees and beautiful butterflies! (10) Just like how pesticides affect human health, these toxic chemicals also place a burden on bees and butterflies (2). Entomologists (those who study insects) suspect that lethal and sublethal effects of pesticides are one of the many factors threatening our friendly pollinators (2). The use of pesticides is negatively affecting pollination and affecting our food system at large by reducing the bee population (21). Sadly, 40% of pollinators like bees and butterflies face extinction (11).

Although small, these tiny and mighty pollinators are responsible for a lot of the food we eat (11). Bees are responsible for the pollination of fruits, nuts and vegetables. Pollination is essential for foraging crops used to feed the livestock we depend on for meat and dairy products (1). More specifically, 75% of the world's food crops depend on these pollinators! (11) Without the bees, the shelves at your local grocery stores would be empty! And I don't know about you, but I certainly can't live without honey in my tea! To prevent this from happening, we encourage you to buy organic and while you're at it, join these U.S. food retailers in saving the bees and reducing pesticide use! (16)

Tips on Buying Organic

Even though there are many awesome reasons to eat organic, we know buying organic food products can get expensive. That's why we have a few pro tips to help you prioritize what to buy (and when to buy)!

1. Start off with purchasing fruits and vegetables where it matters most to buy organic!

We won't go into detail on all dirty dozen but we do suggest adding these organic items to your grocery list!

  • Strawberries 🍓 (according to many studies, strawberries are the fruit with the MOST pesticides)(5)
  • All other yummy berries you throw in that smoothie! - raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc.
  • Spinach (or any other leafy greens of your choice)
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Cherries

Basically, anything you eat the skin on you should prioritize to buy organic!

If you feel overwhelmed by all this new info and feel as though everything in your pantry HAS to be organic. Don't sweat it. There's no need to rush to restock your entire kitchen with everything organic but the above list should help you start!

2. Budget and hold off on buying these items

Here's a list of a few of the foods containing the least amount of pesticides, a.k.a the clean fifteen (so it's okay to hold off on buying these organic right away):

  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Mushrooms
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet Corn
  • Eggplant
  • Kiwi
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe

3. Buy organic meat and dairy products. Look for an organic certified label! Oftentimes, conventional farm animals may be fed antibiotics, animal byproducts, growth hormones, pesticides, and sewage sludge. We really shouldn't be consuming any of this. Whereas, organic farmers are required to raise their farm animals in living conditions as close to their natural habitat as possible while feeding them 100% organic food and do not administer antibiotics or hormones (18). Good for farm animals and good for you!

4. Shop frozen goods. There are many organic frozen fruits and vegetables that are affordable and delicious as well. Organic blueberry muffins that are good for the earth and your wallet taste better! Trust us!

5. Buy in season and shop at your local farm CSA! Fruits and vegetables are cheapest and freshest when they are in season (friendly tip: stock up on your favorite berries and freeze them for later!). Shopping at your local community supported agriculture (CSA) farm will help assure you buy what's in season!

We hope these tips will make the journey to eating organic a lot less stressful and instead, a lot more fun!

References:

  1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/teach/would-we-starve-without-bees/zkf292p#:~:text=All%20sorts%20of%20fruit%20and,we%20depend%20on%20for%20meat
  2. https://www.beyondpesticides.org/assets/media/documents/pollinators/pollinators.pdf
  3. https://www.bloombergquint.com/onweb/synthetic-fer...
  4. https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/sources-and-solutions-agriculture
  5. https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/strawberries.php#
  6. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10661-015-4371-3
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3515737/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5606636/
  9. http://www.n-print.org/Organic
  10. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/eutrophication...
  11. https://www.organic-center.org/pollinator-health
  12. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/5/e1406.short?casa_token=NLuQNAYHAhcAAAAA:qpYUy6ciDLWYmouziY_-ctj4UYVXbNcRNDaL3zHzDUZD2CHn6BpLkMfdndq5bylhunXC60AYcO8
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17962973/
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27128815/
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30411285/
  16. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190626005208.htm
  17. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jul/29/bees-food-crops-shortage-study
  18. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic...

First off, nice! We are super excited for you!

Now that the relationship is serious, have you started thinking a little bit more about what your life might be like together in the future? Maybe you are at the point where you are leaving a toothbrush at the other's place, or maybe it's a little more serious - like talking about moving in together. No matter how serious "serious" is for you, we've got a suggestion for making that step of the relationship a little healthier.

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The next time your pantry is looking scarce, skip the retail store and head to your local farmers' market! Not only are these foods better for your health, but they often use less fossil fuels and you'll be contributing to the fight against climate change.

Supermarkets vs Farmers Markets

You may not realize it, but the food you see on the shelves in your neighborhood supermarket probably required a large amount of fossil fuel to get there. How else would a peach show up on the shelf in the middle of February?! Fossil fuels are needed to power machinery on farms, to transport food from other countries, to produce food packaging, and to create fertilizers and pesticides (1). And as we already know, fossil fuel consumption plays a huge role in climate change.

Instead of relying on internationally-sourced produce and lots of plastic, farmers' markets create a space where the focus is on locally produced food. Most markets only allow vendors to sell food that has been produced within 200 miles of the venue. Some markets are even more stringent and only allow the sale of food grown in the community or immediate surrounding farms. This has a huge impact in reducing the amount of fuel that is needed in the transportation of these foods. On average, locally sourced produce travels 27 times less distance compared to massed produced food (2). Less fossil fuels used means less stress on the climate!

Another problem with supermarkets is that they can rely on a ton of plastic to store its produce. Sometimes the plastic is needed to keep the produce fresh as it sits on shelves, sometimes it doesn't seem to serve a purpose at all (plastic-wrapped bananas, anyone?). Not only are these plastics unneeded, but they also have a toll on the environment. Over 99% of plastic is made from chemicals coming from fossil fuels (3). Plastics are responsible for clogging our drainage systems, leaching harmful chemicals that contaminate groundwater, and injuring and poisoning wildlife (4).

To reduce the amount of plastic waste, and thus fossil fuels, farmers opt out of using plastic packaging and market patrons are encouraged to bring reusable shopping bags to stow their purchases. Vendors at a farmers' market often stock produce on tables without any packaging whatsoever! Berries may come in a plastic container, but overall plastic use is pretty minimal.

Why Farmers' Markets?

Shopping at a farmers' market gives you a chance to connect directly with farmers and their support team. You can learn where the food was grown, and the important decisions behind certain growing practices like the cultivation of crops without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents AKA organic farming. A lot of vendors are certified organic by the USDA. If you're unsure, just ask!

An additional reason to shop at farmers' markets is because they often provide a wide-variety of foods that are not available in grocery stores. Ever wonder what a pluot or zebra melon taste like? Go to a farmers' market to find out! You can taste before you buy to discover and find new favorites. Also, vendors eat what they sell, so they can suggest ways to cook the fresh kohlrabi you've just bought but have never used before.

For those of you who live in areas with seasons, farmers' markets don't stop when the leaves fall and the snow comes. Some markets continue to operate and bring fresh food to communities year-round. Come winter, farmers begin to sell their fall storage crops such as potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, garlic, and squash. Some farmers with greenhouses will have spinach, arugula, chard and other hardy produce available.

Getting Started

Are you now convinced to pay your local farmers' market a visit? Not only is this experience more fun than your routine trip to the supermarket, but farmers' markets are also a great opportunity to introduce your family to healthy eating and environmentally responsible consumption. You are ultimately investing in your health and doing your part in combating climate change.

To start, you can go online and search for local farmers markets in your area to find out their hours of operation and location. Note that this information may change based on the season. When there, strike up a conversation with a farmer to learn more about the products they offer and the environmental practices they use in their business.


References

  1. https://foodprint.org/issues/agriculture-energy-consumption/
  2. http://farmersmarketcoalition.org/education/farmers-markets-promote-sustainability/
  3. https://www.ciel.org/issue/fossil-fuels-plastic/
  4. https://www.ehn.org/plastic-environmental-impact-2501923191.html
  5. https://www.pan-uk.org/health-effects-of-pesticides/
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Sweater Weather Means Sweater Washing

A whole bunch of tips for non-toxic ways to wash, store, and care for sweaters

As we get the first hints of true chill in the air, that means it's time to start pulling out the layers and bundling up in all the cozy sweaters you can find. But, now that you've pulled them out of storage, does it look like they need some TLC? Maybe it's just a little freshening up, or maybe you notice some tiny little holes that weren't there before. Well, the good news is that we've got a couple of tips for caring for your sweaters, and none of them will introduce any chemicals to your wardrobe or closet.

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Environmental Factors May Have a Bigger Impact on Fertility than You Think

Breaking Down the Science and Ways to Limit Harmful Exposures

Trying to get pregnant should be an exciting time of planning for the next stage of your life, not one full of doctors visits, constant testing, and worrying about body temperatures. But, if you and your partner are struggling with infertility, you are not alone. According to the CDC about 12% of women have impaired fecundity, which is another way of saying that they are having difficulty getting or staying pregnant (1) [there are no statistics on infertility in men, but there is science showing that overall sperm count is decreasing(14)]. And, the science is clear, environmental factors definitely impact reproductive health - for both men and women. Some of the biggest impacts come from air pollution, pesticides, and endocrine disrupting chemicals (2), which are in all sorts of products and affect the way hormones interact with your body.

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