Spooky Season – A Howliday Sustainablilty Chat

As we near the end of October, I find myself digging through  decorations and pulling out that bin of mismatched costumes. I’ve always loved Halloween! But now as an eco-conscious consumer, this time of year brings up mixed emotions.

Like me, you might have conflicting feelings and find yourself caught between enjoying the spirit, the decorations, the festivities, and holding back because you feel guilty about all the ramped up waste and consumerism. 

So I want to take this moment to remind you that it’s okay to participate and enjoy this spooky season. That as we strive to reduce waste in our lives, it isn’t going to be perfect. 

Choose to refuse, reduce, and reuse what you can, and encourage others to do the same, but don’t let it dampen your Halloween spirit. 

To that purpose I’ve put together this inspirational guide to help you seek out sustainable options, while still participating in the festivities. Whether you’re hosting a backyard Halloween party or want to win the annual costume contest, you can feel good knowing that you’re intentioned, solution-oriented, and treading more lightly on the planet. 


Sustainable Halloween Decorations

Is your neighborhood getting all decked out a la the Sanderson Sisters? Don’t miss out on the fun! Here are some ways to darken your doorstep, while keeping your carbon footprint clean. 

Pumpkins and Gourds (duh): 

Of course you should partake in pumpkin traditions!

Painted pumpkins can last for what seems like forever, opt for eco-friendly plant based paints and skip the glitter completely. Also, if you plan to compost or feed your pumpkin to neighborhood wildlife, peel and discard the painted/decorated outer layer first.

Carving pumpkins is my personal favorite way to pumpkin. Take these measures for extra-eco-credit: 

  • Save the pulp for making pumpkin bread, pumpkin pancakes, or pumpkin soup – it freezes well too! 
  • Toast your pumpkin seeds with seasonings for a super fibrous snack. (You can find recipes all over but this one offers six different ways to flavor them). 
  • Don’t forget to refill/exchange your candles at the shop before the big night, or grab some LED lantern lights to use year after year. 
  • After Halloween be sure to compost your carved pumpkins.  Gourds last a very long time and some varieties can be turned into bird houses. 

Hay Bales, Cornstalks, and Scarecrows:

A great addition to your lawn decor is biodegradable materials like hay bales, dried flowers, or corn stalks. These are relatively cheap (with a low environmental cost) and can usually be found at farm supply stores or crafting shops. 

You can also use hay or straw to make a scarecrow! Use old clothes and rags or dress it up in last year’s costume.

Old Jars

It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that one of my favorite “reuse” decorations is old jars. Old jars can be colored or decorated to look like a potions kit or a creepy apothecary

**Reminder: we have a stock of community donated jars at Life Unplastic that are free for the taking!**

To color your jars simply mix some mod podge with a dash of water and the food coloring of your choice. Roll the mixture around the inside of the jar and prop it upside down to drain for at least 15 minutes. Bake at 200 for about an hour, or until it’s totally dry. You can print out labels and pictures for the insides or get creative! (Think gummy worms in colored water, cicada shells, or painted lollipops to look like eyes). 

Craft with Kids

The internet is bursting with cute and fun crafts for the kid in you and actual kids, but I like the ones that involve less single-use plastic. 

Try using sticks and t-shirt yarn to create a spiderweb wreath, or you can make dangling bats with toilet paper tubes or cardboard egg cartons.

If you need any boxes for decorations or costumes, we have lots of shapes and sizes for the taking right now!

Don’t Forget the Sounds and Smells

While many of our traditional decorations are visual, don’t forget about the other senses to create a truly delightful Halloween experience. 

Hook up your speakers in the window with some eerie sounds and consider adding some scented candles to your ensemble. Celebrating the season we currently have special scents like “A Walk in the Woods” and “Pumpkin Spice” from local maker, Earth Tonix, so you can get the ambiance just right. The Earth Tonix candle jars are returnable for reuse when you’re done. 

Thrifting

You can always stop by the thrift store to reuse and recycle decorations, but remember to look beyond just the Halloween section. Keep your eye out for sepia tone photographs in dusty frames, creepy porcelain dolls, or vintage books – all of which make for perfect mantle decorations. 


Halloween Tricks to Avoid:

Although I’m all about joining the party (in a responsible way), I can’t help calling out a few particular traditions that any eco-conscious consumer will want to avoid. 

  • Fake Spider Webbing: While fantastically creepy, this stuff can be dangerous to small wildlife who get tangled in its long fibers, and it’s nearly impossible to reuse (plus it’s usually plastic!).
  • Bleaching pumpkins: At some point it became a popular trend to soak or spray your carved pumpkin with bleach to make it last longer. Unfortunately this can be toxic to wildlife who like to munch on the sweet squash after you compost it. There are plenty of other techniques like soaking your pumpkin in ice water, but if you want the foolproof way we recommend just carving it closer to Halloween. 

Sustainable Halloween Costumes

Now that you’ve got your ambiance all figured out, it’s time to dress the part. See if you can utilize any of these eco-friendly approaches. 

Swapping with a Friend:

Wearing the same costume year after year is just no fun. But swapping with a friend (or a fellow mom for your kids) can get you all the excitement with none of the work. If you’re looking for the kids you can also try Facebook groups or neighborhood forums for this kind of swap.

Thrifting Garments:

Digging through the Goodwill bins can be a fun Saturday activity, and it’s a great way to stretch your creativity to go in without a definite idea. 

But if you do have a specific costume in mind, it can be a bit of a chore to find exactly what you’re looking for. If you don’t have the time or energy to thrift locally, you can try an online store like Thred Up which offers thousands of second-hand items. And you can even filter your search by things like size and color!

DIY:

Of course there’s always the DIY costumes for those crafty enough to brave it. There are thousands of guides online teaching you how to create various looks. You can make robots or armor out of cardboard. Paperboard is great for giving shape or stiffness to clothing, and nearly any prop can be fashioned from some creative paper mache. 

Make-up:

If you’re going all out we do offer some items such as mascara cakes, plant-based glitter, and even solid perfumes. 


Progress, Not Perfection

Overall I want to wish you a Happiest of Halloweens and that you are able to get in the spirit and have some fun this year. Even if you just take a few of these ideas, you’re helping create a culture of reuse and repurpose, and that makes a difference. 

I hope you’ll spread the spook and teach your friends, family, and children about making more eco-friendly choices this year. And maybe even offer to compost your neighbor’s pumpkin for them! (Your garden will love you next spring). 


🐊 For the Gainesville Locals

If you’re a local to Gainesville, check out The Reuse Planet (a new location by The Repurpose Project) which is currently stocked full of Halloween decorations and costumes! 


**Candy PSA**

When you pick up your treats for the candy bowl this year consider avoiding unsustainable palm oil (which is causing rampant habitat loss for orangutans and tigers) as well as toxic ingredients like high fructose corn syrup. Bonus points if the candy comes in paper, little cardboard boxes, or foil as opposed to single-use plasticGreenHalloween.org highlights what to look for here

Remember, your purchase has power and every sustainable decision makes us better. 

 

Sustainable Gainesville: Food Waste and Farms Pt 1

I’ll just come right out and say it: Food waste has been and continues to be one of my biggest challenges in the journey towards a low to zero waste lifestyle.

I do really well one week and the next I’m throwing out half of my fridge.. not to mention my neglected compost has turned to dust. No that’s not true, I’ve never had rich compost (it’s just worse now).

BUT I still have a few graphics and local businesses that have helped me, so I want to quickly share them with you!


Helpful Graphics are helpful.

#1 Check out this cute, yet very informational, illustration that floated across my instagram feed recently… give Emily’s page a follow if you’re on The Insta.

#2 Zero Waste Chef has a plethora of wisdom tidbits and thoughtful ideas, perfectly buttoned up into simple pastel graphics (but really so much more).. and her whole message is centered around zero waste and food… so yeah – you should follow her too.


Local Farms:

This is a very incomplete list, there are obviously way more than two local farms in Gainesville, FL and I encourage you to seek them out and show them love and support. I am featuring two here because this is a quickie post, also because they are the two farms that I am most familiar with, but *mostly* because they both do such an amazing job of connecting us with our food (outside of growing it ourselves).

*Please note since it is summer, both farms are between seasons… but already planning for fall and/or accepting CSA signups.

#1 Swallowtail Farm 

They offer a CSA, farm-to-table events, greek and cream top yogurt (in glass jarswith a return discount), eggs (you can take back the egg cartons for reuse), fresh flowers, and I have always enjoyed their produce.  You can even apply for an apprenticeship and get hands-on farming experience. 

With the CSA, one of their pickup locations actually includes Thornebrook. So if you’re looking for a reason to visit Life Unplastic more often, I’m just saying…

    • Other pick up locations include the downtown and Haile farmer’s markets.  #options
    • If you’re unsure what I mean by CSA – basically you prepay for the crop and then get a bounty of produce each week or every other week throughout the growing season. You don’t really get to pick what you get, but it’s a great way to branch out by trying new recipes and hone your preserving skills.

#2 Mt Citra Farm

They are Certified Organic and are located in Citra (so you Ocala folks can take advantage too).  They offer organic produce as well as free range chicken and heritage pork.

What I really like about them, besides what they are raising and growing, is how active they are on their social media. The passion they feel for the work they do and the farming industry as a whole comes through very clearly and I have learned a lot from their posts.

#knowyourfarmer


Local Composting:

Finally, we have discovered the perfect composting solution for our many orange peels from the OJ machine in Beaten Path Compost.

They have a food drop off on SW 4th Ave, downtown.  It can be a little bit confusing to find the first time, but once you find the compost cans, you’re golden. Hopefully this little photo montage will help.


I hope these suggestions are as helpful to you in continuing to lower your personal waste stream as they have been for me.  As always, best of luck on your low / zero waste journey.  

– joy

Our Bulk Bar Is Growing!

The Bulk Bar & Refill Station is still definitely a work in progress, but we’re getting there! Our goal is to make your journey towards zero waste as simple, convenient and accessible as possible.

We encourage you to bring your own jars (or whatever containers you’ve been avoiding throwing away) and come see what we have to offer.

Refilling bulk products will empower you, save you money and enable you to say goodbye for good to conventional, non-recyclable and enduring plastic packaging. Not to mention drastically reduce your exposure to petroleum based products, synthetic dyes and fragrances, manufacturers who test on animals, hormone disrupting chemicals – the list goes on and on.

As you get low on these in your house – consider making us a weekly or monthly stop!

*laundry detergent (liquid or powder)
*organic, expeller pressed coconut oil
*organic apple cider vinegar 
*vegetable glycerin
*mango/shea butter
*sulfate free liquid shampoo
*liquid conditioner
*castile soap (unscented or lemongrass)
*baking soda
*epsom salts
*glass cleaner
*stain and odor remover
*dish soap
*green tea
*dog treats
*orange juice
*and more!

Bottom line, bulk buying is a great opportunity to vote with your dollar by supporting businesses and brands who are willing to reduce their waste stream and who actually care. Not only about what their product is made of or what it’s packaged in, they also care about their customers – YOU!

Also, don’t let multi national corporations get away with polluting our earth AND blaming it on us!

Vive la révolution!!

Witch, please!

We now carry Witch Hazel at our bulk bar! It is 100% natural and alcohol free. Pure Witch Hazel has been known as a beauty secret for ages – it’s a natural antiseptic and is kinda perfect as a skin toner after washing your face. It acts as an astringent, causing your tissues to contract to help shrink pores, while also soothing your skin and relieving inflammation.

Ingredients: Pure steam distilled witch hazel

No Surfactants
No Sulfates
No Chemicals
No Colors or Dyes
No Perfumes or Scents
No Alcohol
No SLS or SLES  
Yes, Vegan
Yes, All-Natural
Yes, Hypo-Allergenic
Non-Comedogenic
Yes, Biodegradable

Come in today and get whatever you need in your jars or little misters or whatever other container you have laying around – to start making your own DIY facial toners!

FAQ: How Should I Clean My Natural Sponge?

 

Earth Hero! You’ve already kicked your neon shower puff habit for beautiful, biodegradable natural sponges for your body exfoliating, car cleaning, dishwashing needs.  But you may be wondering how to keep them clean.  You aren’t alone, we get this question all the time!

What’s worked best for us is to soak natural loofah or sea sponge every two weeks in a mixture of warm water and baking soda.

-(1) tablespoon baking soda per (1) cup of warm water. 

-Soak for 15 minutes

-Rinse

-Let the sponges air dry in a ventilated area.

For both loofahs and sea sponges – the more you use them, the more frequently they need to be swapped completely. Also, we recommend storing your natural sponges in a cool, dry place between uses. It will help elongate the life span of the sponge and prevent bacteria from growing.


DON’T!

-Use a diluted bleach solution.

-Boil, microwave, or expose to high heat (it will harden).

-Twist or pull – only squeeze to dry.

-Store in humid areas.


To discard your sponges, simply place them in your compost bin. If you don’t have a home compost, check out Gainesville’s Beaten Path Compost. Their drop off locations are the Union Street Farmers Market OR there’s a compost bin (large black rolling trash can labeled COMPOST) adjacent to their garden at the corner of SW 4th Ave. and SW 3rd St., it’s tucked away at the east end of the strip where Opus Coffee is located.


For more information on Loofah and Natural Sea Sponges:

Are natural sea sponges greener than synthetic shower poufs?

Sponge FAQ

How to Clean Loofah or Natural Sponge Without Bleach

‘Menstruation’ is Not a Dirty Word

On International’s Womens Day, let’s work together to destigmatize and debunk some myths surrounding reusable menstrual products and save countless disposables from ending up in the landfill or in our oceans!

Please enjoy this humorous take on Life With Menstrual Cups by my very good friend, who was kind enough to write this for the Life Unplastic blog even in one of the most trying periods of her life (time period, not period – period).

Many thanks, Stephanie!   


“Reduce, reuse, and reimagine your period. It’s not as scary as you might think.”


By: Stephanie Woody Vernon

Ah, the menstrual cup. Whether you use one or not, you probably have an opinion about them.

I’m no expert, but I do have a long history of being very open with friends or near strangers about what goes into my vagina, so naturally this is a topic that has come up once or twice.

And for me, it was a simple transition from tampons to this more eco-friendly, waste reducing product, and the next step in a path I was already on. Just trying to do my part, ya know?

Talking openly with folks about it has sparked some interesting conversations for sure, and there are plenty of people who still have their doubts. Here are a few of the most memorable cup fears I have encountered:

-“The thought of putting my fingers in there super grosses me out.”
-“I just CAN’T with the boiling it to clean it.”
-“There’s no way you can’t feel that thing. I don’t believe you. You’re just lying to convert other chicks to your weird hippy sh*t.”(It’s worth noting that this last sentiment came from a man. With a penis. Not a vagina…  I’ll get back to these in a minute.)

I am not a doctor and as I said before, I’m not an expert. But I am a person with the correct anatomy to use these products, and who has been actively doing so for the last 4 years (for those of you counting that is roughly 48 cycles), so I feel I have a well informed opinion. I can’t speak for everyone’s experience, but I will share a little of mine.


My desire to change the way I dealt with my monthly cycle originally stemmed from a general passion surrounding knowing what we put into our bodies on a daily basis.

The obsession started slowly, with me combing through the ingredients in the food I ate, branching out into the household and beauty products I used, and naturally I ended up at the horrible realization: that a tampon isn’t a harmless piece of cotton and that I should use the same discretion with what goes “down there” as I do with what I put in my mouth.

Also, during this time, I became increasingly aware of the fact that the things I was trying to avoid because they are bad for my body were almost always just as bad for our planet.

I have read tampon ingredients I can hardly pronounce (ethyl acetate, methylene chloride, carbon disulfide, toluene, etc) and though again, not a doctor, I would just feel better if they stayed far away from my most natural area. Call me crazy, but the thought of deliberately inserting a carcinogen laced, genetically modified, bleached piece of “maybe cotton” into my body no longer appealed to me. Just as unappealing is the not-so-farm-to-feminine-hygiene production process that deliver these to a bathroom vanity near you, and the vision in my head of mountains of non degradable plastic applicators that have to go somewhere and that somewhere is just back out into nature, our oceans and landfills. **Deep breath, back to the point**

I was unsure about the prospect of this new-to-me product, so I started with a cheap disposable brand, as a $30 commitment for a reusable cup was more than I was ready for right away.

The one I chose came in a pack of five, and it was a silicone ring with what looked like a small plastic bag attached to it. Think tiny fishing net, sans mesh. There was a learning curve for the insertion and removal, but once I got the hang of it, it was really quite simple. This product, however, had its down sides. The most obvious problem was that it was still creating the waste I was trying to eliminate. Another issue was that although I couldn’t feel the cup, I could hear it.

I discovered that if I opened and closed my legs at the right angle, I could hear the sound of a plastic bag crunching, and did so over and over again until my husband and I were in tears from laughing so hard. As humorous as this was, it was time to move on.

Enter the Lunette Cup. It was love at first (er….third?) use. Again, there is a learning curve. Inserting it is something that takes some getting used to, but practice makes perfect. By my second cycle with it, I was a pro. You pop it in and go, and honestly do not have to fuss with it for the rest of the day. I cannot feel it, and don’t need to worry about emptying it for another 12 hours.

There is a little stem on the bottom of it with little ridges for grip that allows you to just pull it right out when the time comes, dump, give it a good rinse, repeat. The end.

So what are we so afraid of? Well, lets talk about that. In my experience, these two situations are the worst that can happen…

First, trying to empty them in a public restroom without a sink in the stall with you is not my favorite situation. That being said, I haven’t really run into the need to do this because of the amount of time you can actually wear these without needing to empty them. This has only been an issue for me ONE time, when I was surprised by a heavier than usual period and a poorly planned day.

Second, dogs LOVE these. Listen, dogs are gross and some eat their own poop. Mine ate my cup and also my replacement cup. She also used to raid the trash for tampons, so this is not surprising. Lesson learned. This is totally preventable and totally my fault as these creatures do not even have thumbs. Moral of the story, maybe don’t leave your cup out on the counter.

Third, you may have to shop around to find the one that you love. I know many woman who love the Diva cup brand, but this wasn’t the best choice for me. I found the stem to be too short and thick for me to get a hold of and it made removal more challenging and I just didn’t like it.


“The path to self discovery is liberating.”

Now, getting back to the actual fears people have shared with me.

Let’s start with “putting my fingers in there….gross”. I get it. I was raised by a woman born in the 50’s and we mostly pretended we didn’t have vaginas. We didn’t say the word. We didn’t discuss what went in or out.

I learned about my body from my subscription to YM (Young and Modern) magazine and my first tampons were a bonus gift from said magazine.

Real talk: you are a woman. You have a vagina.

It would benefit you greatly to take some time to become comfortable enough with your body so that the idea of your own fingertips inserted into your vagina is more appealing than a foreign object with uncertain origins and ingredients. The path to self discovery is liberating.

The “boiling” issue- it is suggested by the manufacturer that you boil your cup before your first use. That means before it has ever seen its first drop of blood. After that, a thorough cleaning with unscented soap, or soap specifically made for your cup, is all you have to do. If you would like another round of super sanitation, go ahead and boil that baby again, but no one says you have to.

I’d also like to add that you probably have boiled an egg once or twice in your lifetime and those come from a chicken’s multi-purpose hole that I don’t think many of us understand all that well, and then you EAT those.. and the pot you use even survives!

Point being: It’s not that weird.

Lastly, guys: if you do not have a vagina, you do not get to have an opinion on what we can or cannot feel in there. Despite what your girlfriend said. (HA!)

Ladies, if you have worn tampons comfortably your whole menstruating life, then you can do this too. If your cup is inserted properly, you can not feel it. That is the truth. I’m sure since all of our bodies are different there is always going to be an exception to this rule, but for most of us you can wear it all day without ever noticing anything different. This is so true that it is almost a con, because it’s easy to forget you have it in.

At the end of the day, what you choose for your body is deeply personal. Perhaps next month you might consider trying something new that is better for your body and the future of this planet.

Reduce, reuse, and reimagine your period. It’s not as scary as you might think.

Obsessed with this dish washing block!

soap bar in hands

We LOVE this product.  Yes, we’re #obsessed!  Not only do you cut out the plastic bottle when you switch to bar soap, think of all of the additional resources it takes to transport heavy liquid-filled bottles from manufacturer to the store and then to your house. It all adds up and every little bit helps!

soap bar in hands
Dish Washing Block by No Tox Life. Photo courtesy the product maker

From No Tox Life:
Did you know that a typical liquid dish soap is formulated with 86% water? 😱 Plastic free is the FUTURE and our Zero Waste Dish Washing Block™️ is designed to help you get rid of plastic waste in the kitchen. Each block is made of ultra concentrated coconut 🥥 derived cleansers and South American soap bark.

Follow No Tox Life: Instagram | Facebook

Every vendor, every time! We’re committed!

display of wool dryer balls

The last dryer ball vendor’s “bulk” order was 10 dryer balls per plastic sleeve… NOPE! So we’re unpacking our newest shipment of dryer balls today from a new vendor:

Friendsheep Wool

These dryer balls came in without plastic packaging! 😎 Its part of our commitment to eliminate single use plastics as far up the supply chain as we can go, support businesses who align with our mission, and make our expectations known. 💚🌎

#lifeunplastic #dryerballsareawesome #sustainablegainesville #whenyouknowbetteryoudobetter #yourpurchasesmatter #votewithyourdollar

Quick Tips to Less Plastic: Lunch Edition

trash on ground around a trash can

trash on ground around a trash can

Lunch time and being on the go can have its challenges when you’re trying to reduce your plastic use. Here’s some quick tips to taking the stress and plastic out of lunch time:

1. Bring your own!

Travel mugs and cups, cutlery, and reusable straws are all easy to pack and go. Pro-tip: keeping them in washable fabric bags or cases makes easy clean-up if there’s any little messes.

2. Pack it up!

Reusable lunch containers are available in many sizes and shapes. From insulated soup canisters to stainless steel sandwich boxes. Better yet, wash and reuse glass jars for leftovers–they’re microwave safe (take the lid off, of course) and it’s even better than recycling.

3. Plan your hydration!

Use a glass or stainless steel water bottle and cut WAY back on plastics for your daily hydration. Many coffee and tea shops will gladly fill your reusable cup. Upcycle food jars with new lids for juice and smoothies. Pro-tip: There’s a growing availability of water bottle stations, usually built in to water fountains, where you can easily refill your water bottles.

4. Bag it and go!

Reusable, washable fabric or fiber bags are great to carry your lunch and snacks in. They’re versatile, sturdy, and have a long life of many washes. And there are so many sizes, styles, colors and great art and prints to choose from!

5. Skip the drive-thru!

When you avoid fast food for meals, not only are you skipping all of the packaging that comes with your meal, you’re cutting out all of the plastic used by these companies to supply and prepare that food. Many fast food supplies and meals are packaged in plastic for easy and sanitary reheating in high-volume kitchens.