The surprising effects it has on our health and environment

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

Science

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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What’s a Rain Garden and How Do I Build One?

A guide to how rain gardens reduce water pollution and how to build one

What's a rain garden? Well, we're glad you asked! Rain gardens are not very well known but they are becoming more and more popular for their ability to reduce water pollution. The basic premise of a rain garden is that a basin filled with native plants captures water as it flows through your yard and filters out pollutants through the soil and plant roots before reentering the groundwater. Rain gardens are incredible, not only for being a great way to clean our water runoff, but they are aesthetically beautiful and create habitats for so much wildlife!

Keep reading to learn more about how rain gardens can purify water in your local ecosystem and how you can build one of your very own!

How Your Home Causes water pollution

When we think of water pollution we usually think of culprits like landfills, farming runoff, and industrial chemical waste. As it turns out, the runoff from different places at our homes are also a big part of the problem! Everytime it rains, water runs off surfaces like driveways, roofs, patios, and even our lawns. A lot of the time these surfaces can carry dirt particulates, chemicals, oils, garbage, and different types of bacteria and all of this can end up in our water. The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that pollutants carried by rainwater runoff accounts for 70% of all water pollution (1).

It's also important to mention that this water runoff from our homes and other areas can make its way into nearby streams, lakes, oceans, and even our drinking water reservoirs (3). This is a major problem for the health of the surrounding wildlife and even us humans. A lot of the pollutants that are running off our driveways, roads, and roofs are toxic industrial chemicals and heavy metals from cars, as well as agricultural pesticides and waste. When these chemicals get into our water systems and the surrounding vegetation, animals eat the plants or drink the water and are exposed to many harmful chemicals that can cause a variety of health problems (7). When it comes to humans, the safety of our drinking water is a major concern. Thankfully we have water treatment plants to clean out the harmful chemicals and materials, however, there are still some chemicals and pesticides that are tricky to remove from our water sources. Water treatment plants do the best they can to remove most of the pollutants, but it is not a perfect process (8). Because of this, we can be exposed to these nasty pollutants through drinking contaminated water or when we play in our local lakes, streams, and beaches.

The good news is that we have the power to reduce the amount of water pollution that comes from our homes by planting a rain garden!

So what exactly are rain gardens?

A rain garden is a depressed area in the landscape filled with grasses and native plants that works to collect the runoff from all of the areas on your property. Not only does a rain garden collect all of the water runoff, it also helps filter out the pollutants collected along the way. This filtration process is done by using the plants and soil in the garden. As the water moves farther into the ground more of the contaminants are removed by the soil and plant roots and eventually the water will be able to recharge ground water aquifers. Sounds like a win win situation (1)!

Some of the other benefits of rain gardens include protection against floods and the habitat they provide. Water collects in the rain garden due to its lower elevation and acts as a drainage site for the diverted water. The water is then rapidly absorbed by the plants dramatically reducing the amount of water in your yard more efficiently after a storm (3)! This is where the plants in your rain gardens might differ slightly from your average garden plants. The most common plants used in rain gardens are able to tolerate long wet periods and long drought periods to be able to survive when there is rain and when there isn't (9). The plants have an added function as habitat for beneficial wildlife such as butterflies, bees, birds, and other small animals (4). Rain gardens protect our environment, our homes, our drinking water, and wildlife! Who wouldn't want that?

So... Do you want to build a rain garden?

We know this might seem a little daunting, but we promise it's easier than it looks and will be so worth it!

  1. Find a Location

The first step in creating the perfect rain garden is the planning phase. To pick a location for the rain garden many people conduct a rainy day survey. Is there a part of your yard that always collects water after a storm or where the soil stays extra wet for longer? That's a good place to start. You can also draw a rough map of your home and landmarks like trees, patios, and driveways, as well as how the water flows through your property when it rains. Typically areas with slight slopes or near gutter drain pipes are great places to plant a rain garden.Once you have picked a location that you believe will capture the most water runoff the next step is to determine the size you want your garden to be. Most rain gardens range from 150 - 480 sq ft and are at least 6 inches deep. Rain gardens can be really big or really small; design them to fit your needs and how much space you have available.

2. Pick Your Plants

The final step for planning is to pick your plants! When picking the plants for your rain garden you want to look for native perennial flowers, grasses, and shrubs that will survive in the amount of sunlight your rain garden is exposed to and the different weather patterns of where you live. The most common layout for plants in a rain garden is to have perennial flowers and natives that can tolerate lots of water in the center. Then around the center you want plants that can sometimes tolerate standing water but usually prefer to be dry like grasses, and finally around the edges use plants that prefer mostly dry soil (12). Talking with people from your local plant nurseries or just searching for native plants in your area can help you determine which plants will be best suited for your needs! (2) Some helpful online resources for native plants in your area and good plants for rain gardens are linked here!

3. Plant Your Rain Garden

Once you have completed all of the planning and preparation, the next step is to start digging. As we mentioned, a rain garden should be at least 6 inches deep for optimal water capture and drainage. Once you dig out your area make sure to create a gentle slope from the top to the center to help hold the water in. Once the area is prepared place your plants in the soil and pack them in. After planting, it is recommended that you place mulch over the top of the exposed soil to prevent weeds and to help with water drainage. This will save you a lot of time and energy down the line! The final step is to add any design elements like rocks and stones to the garden and water all of your plants in. Voila, you have a beautiful rain garden (5)!

If you need a slightly more in depth look at how to build your rain garden and different designs, we have added some links to help you out. Check out these links:

  1. https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/rain-garden/5712.html
  2. https://www.lawnstarter.com/blog/landscaping/how-build-rain-garden/
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xuqmY7wzRc

References:

  1. https://www.groundwater.org/action/home/raingardens.html
  2. https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/rain-garden/5712.html
  3. https://thewatershed.org/green-infrastructure-rain-gardens/
  1. https://www.epa.gov/soakuptherain/soak-rain-rain-gardens
  2. https://www.lawnstarter.com/blog/landscaping/how-build-rain-garden/
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xuqmY7wzRc
  4. Gaffield, S. J., Goo, R. L., Richards, L. A., & Jackson, R. J. (2003). Public Health Effects of Inadequately Managed Stormwater Runoff. American Journal of Public Health, 93(9), 1527–1533. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.93.9.1527
  5. https://www.iwapublishing.com/news/distillation-treatment-and-removal-contaminants-drinking-water
  6. https://www.embassylandscape.com/blog/the-best-of-the-best-perennial-plants-for-rain-gardens
  7. https://www.nwf.org/NativePlantFinder/
  8. http://raingardenalliance.org/planting/plantlist
  9. https://www.almanac.com/content/rain-gardens-two-d...:~:text=Planting%20a%20Rain%20Garden&text=Most%20of%20the%20plants%20in,that%20tolerate%20occasional%20standing%20water.
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Roundups

Air Purifier Roundup

Keep your air quality healthy while staying indoors!

Being inside our house for days on end has us thinking a lot about indoor air quality. How do I keep myself healthy while sheltering in place? If you're also worried about indoor air pollutants, it might be a good time to consider buying an air purifier! But there are so many choices out there, how do you know which is best for your house? We did some research and picked our top 6 air purifier choices.

Air purifiers are an easy way to help maintain a healthy indoor air quality. If you experience seasonal allergies or asthma, live in the middle of a big city, are exposed to wildfire smoke, or cook at home a lot, an air purifier might be right for you! Air purifiers are a great tool at protecting your indoor air quality against small particles you can't remove with vacuuming and dusting alone like smoke particles, pet dander, dust, and pollen. Purifiers with a HEPA filter provide even more protection- they're "99.97% efficient for removing particles less than 0.3 microns" (1). Some air purifiers even have a substrate that absorbs VOCs (volatile organic compounds) too! VOCs are released when your gas range is turned on and can also be released from consumer products and furniture. Some VOCs are harmful to your health causing irritation, headaches, damage to organs, and some are carcinogenic.

There are a few things to consider before choosing an air filter, including:

- Make sure the air purifier doesn't generate ozone. While these machines were thought to be effective, they actually cause more indoor air pollution.

- Determine the number of air purifiers and size you need. The product description of an air purifier should say the square footage one purifier can cover. Some larger rooms may need more than one purifier or a purifier with a larger capacity. Many of our picks are offered in models that cover a larger or smaller square footage.

- Check how long one filter lasts. Every air purifier is different, and some filters may last longer than others! It's also a good idea to check filter prices before committing to a specific model.

- Follow manufacturer instructions to clean or buy new air filters when necessary to ensure that your air purifier continues to work properly.

Below are our top air purifier picks:



a) Austin Air Healthmate

b) Coway AP 1512 Mighty

c) Blueair Blue Pure 411

d) Alen Breathesmart Classic

e) Honeywell HPA300

f) AirDoctor

*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

References:

1. https://ww3.arb.ca.gov/research/indoor/acdsumm.pdf

Life

Is Washing Your Favorite Sweater Contributing to Plastic Pollution?

Machine washing your clothes is an unexpected culprit of microplastic pollution

Each year, around 8 million tons of plastic finds its way into the ocean from coastal countries. That amount of plastic is the equivalent of about 40,000 blue whales (1)! Microplastics (plastic particles smaller than 5mm in length) are a big part of the plastic pollution problem (2). It's estimated that approximately 50 trillion pieces of microplastics are currently polluting the ocean (3). These tiny particles also make up roughly 94% of the Great Pacific Trash vortex, which is the largest collection of floating trash in the world (4). And surprisingly, laundry is a significant contributor to ocean microplastics.

How is washing your clothes polluting the ocean and what can you do to stop it? Keep reading for everything you need to know about microplastics and how doing your laundry may impact the planet.

What Are Microplastics?

Microplastics are either manufactured for primary use as exfoliating beads used in skincare or small machinery parts, or can be a result of the breakdown of other materials like large plastic water bottles or synthetic textiles (2). Microfibers, the microplastics that are in synthetic materials, are a big part of the problem. They make up roughly 35% of the microplastic found in marine ecosystems (5). Machine washing synthetic materials is one of the biggest ways microfibers get into the water supply (6). Washing machines and synthetic materials are a bad combination because friction from the spinning laundry drum causes synthetic materials to shed microfibers into the water, which are eventually drained back into the pipes. Since the fibers are so small, up to 40% pass through sewage treatment plants unfiltered and end up draining into the rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans that are connected to our water supply (7).

Even though synthetic materials are a big problem, they're almost impossible to avoid. Today, about two-thirds of textiles used in clothing are synthetic because it makes clothing cheaper to manufacture. If you check the tag on your shirt right now, you'd probably see a popular synthetic materials like polyester, acrylic, or nylon. A study in the UK found that nearly half a million microfibers are released in just one load of polyester clothing (8).

Environmental Impact of Microplastics

One of the biggest problems with plastic pollution is that it basically never goes away. Rather than chemically degrading, plastic tends to physically break up into smaller and smaller pieces. These microplastics continuously accumulate in the environments all over the world, from the peaks of the Pyrenees to the intestines of fish caught in the Great Lakes (9, 10). These materials are not only extremely harmful to the wildlife and ecosystems they are invading, but have potentially dangerous consequences for human health as well. Microplastics can get into drinking water, and are also often accidentally ingested by fish which pollutes our food supply. When ingested, microplastics can cause inflammation, gut blockages, growth and hormone disruption (11). Additionally, microplastics absorb other toxic chemicals and assist in their distribution.

What You Can Do

The impacts microplastics are having on marine and human health seem to grow by the day. Luckily, there are easy ways to limit microfiber shedding from your laundry!

  1. Adjust your laundry settings - avoiding delicate cycles that use high water volumes and washing with colder water are not only more water and cost efficient but help release fewer microfibers per wash!
  2. Use less detergent, and do not use bleach! The soapy liquid causes more fibers to be leached out.
  3. Fill up your machine and avoid washing things bulky items like shoes with synthetic fabrics - anything that increases friction will increase microfiber release
  4. If you have the option, use a front loading washing machine! They require less water and less vigorous washing for the same cleanliness.
  5. Consider getting a laundry bag. These bags are designed to catch microfibers so they cannot get into the water supply.
  6. Purchase clothing made of natural materials like cotton or linen - these materials don't shed any microfibers and are often softer, more breathable, and last longer!


References

  1. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/habitats/plastic-pollution/
  2. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html
  3. https://www.sas.org.uk/our-work/plastic-pollution/plastic-pollution-facts-figures/
  4. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2018/03/great-pacific-garbage-patch-plastics-environment/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30368178
  6. https://www.plasticoceanproject.org/microfiber-pollution-project.html
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27689236
  8. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-40498292
  9. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/20/microfibers-plastic-pollution-oceans-patagonia-synthetic-clothes-microbeads
  10. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2199455-pristine-mountains-are-being-littered-with-microplastics-from-the-air/
  11. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S004896971834049X?via%3Dihub
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31460752
  13. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/acs.est.7b01750
  14. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.6b03045
  15. https://www.surfrider.org/coastal-blog/entry/bills-and-best-practices-for-microfiber-pollution-solutions

Are your noisy neighbors and traffic noises from outside making you mad? Quite possibly! All the noise you experience throughout the day might be taking a toll on your health. Besides just being supremely annoying, studies show that noise pollution - yep that's really what it's called - is intricately linked to many mental and physical health problems.

Not only does the constant annoyance of irritating noises make people more anxious, but noise makes working more difficult. The noise itself disrupts memory, affects your ability to focus, and decreases performance (1). And if the noise is disrupting your sleep, then that might mean even more bad news!

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Family

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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Life

5 Tips for Always Remembering Your Reusable Bags

Never try to clumsily shove all your groceries in your backpack again

Are you one of those people who has a drawer full of reusable bags that you have collected over the years but never remembers to actually take them with you when you go out. It happens! We've been there. And, in an effort to become better about becoming those people who always have our bags with us, we've collected some helpful tips we thought we'd share with you all.

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It's finally spring and we are loving all the warm weather - sandal season FTW! What we love less is all the pollen bringing out the best of allergy season. But, it might not just be allergies that are making it hard to breath this time of year. Climate change is also to blame. Why you ask? It's because warm air holds more water, which leads to more humidity and rain. April showers are washing away the winter blahs and bringing those gorgeous May flowers, but climate change is bringing longer pollen seasons, and creating damp little ecosystems perfect for mold to grow and spread - not as pretty as flowers, *sigh* we know... If you are thinking you're safe because you are in a part of the country that is more prone to drought than rain, say hello to more dust and soot in the air from things like cars, trucks and buses. Globally, air pollution from burning fossil fuels is the 4th highest cause of death after high blood pressure, diet, and smoking. These airborne chemicals and particulates damage our lungs and can lead to heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Even less fun, ozone can make you more sensitive to allergens creating a double whammy effect. While we've healed the ozone layer in the sky that protects us from harmful UV rays, we need to do better to keep it out of our lungs. And, all of these are a result of our use of fossil fuels.

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