Convenience – Who Pays the Price?

Education, Environment, Health, Zerowaste

Convenience and a fast-paced lifestyle are themes of modern day society that have always been happening in the background of my life – It’s not until a few years ago that this background has made it’s way to the forefront, and I’ll tell you why – Everything each one of us does has an effect on the entire world – the things we choose to buy, the things we choose to “throw away,” involve so much more than just us.

If you know me, you know I tend to get metaphysical real quick, but let’s just ponder something for a second:

The little red plastic stirrer I used to mix the sugar into my coffee 4 years ago on one of the mornings I was headed to work is somewhere on this earth today. Maybe it’s sitting feet deep in a landfill, maybe it’s sitting in the belly of a bird who mistook it for food, or maybe floating in the ocean along with the other trademark plastic disposables… either way, it’s still out there. My intention behind writing this is not to make people feel guilty, I don’t think anyone needs that emotion in their lives and I also don’t think it’s quite motivating, but what I can say, that I think should make us feel empowered, is that this scenario could be avoided every single day by our efforts and actions.

No one wants to cause harm to our streams, oceans, and atmosphere, except maybe a few who profit substantially from polluting them, although they would be smart to rethink their priorities for humankind and for business as it is unsustainable for both. Correct me if I’m wrong, but overall I think people would like to experience clean oceans and breathe clean air and would like for their babies to have that chance too. Going back to the idea of convenience and a fast-paced life, I think our entire socio-economic system creates an environment in which people do not have the time to consider earth. I don’t think people have the time to make enough home cooked meals, ultimately making people dependent on convenience items such as processed packaged food options. I don’t think people have the time to think twice about where their food, clothing, furniture and any other consumable comes from to decide if the company standards are environmentally sound. We are go go go all the time and that has led us into fast food, fast fashion, fast everything.

This leads me to my next thought – What is the price of convenience?

What happens when we are finished with our coffee?  Or when our mascara runs out? Or what happens to the forever21 clothes that are no longer trendy?

I like to think our stuff gets recycled, reused, repurposed, but the reality is, not nearly as much material does get recycled. According to a National Geographic article, “91% of plastic isn’t recycled.” The study also points out that, “Much of the growth in plastic production has been the increased use of plastic packaging, which accounts for more than 40 percent of non-fiber plastic.”

The U.S. EPA estimates that textile waste occupies nearly 5% of all landfill space. While the EPA estimates that the textile recycling industry recycles approximately 3.8 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste each year, this only accounts for approximately 15% of all Post Consumer Textile Waste, leaving 85% in our landfills.

More than 120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry. The cardboard that envelops perfumes, serums and moisturisers contributes to the loss of 18 million acres of forest each year. 

If this level of consumption continues, by 2050 there will be 12 billion tonnes of plastic in landfills the equivalent to 35,000 Empire State Buildings. 

What at first was absolutely disheartening made me realize I can choose to be part of the solution to improve the planet every single day. Just by me bringing my own water bottle and utensils, metal straw, and Tupperware I am reducing a significant amount of waste. Taking it a step further we can all think twice before we buy and ask ourselves if we really need it.

Now imagine if each one of us made one change every day? Despite the hectic fast-paced days we humans experience, we can remember to slow down, to be mindful and make conscious choices that are more compassionate towards our earth.

I’m curious to know what challenges you face when you think of making greener choices? What would you like to see businesses do differently in the future in regards to environmental sustainability?

Eco-Friendly Life Hacks

Education, Environment, Food, Health, Lifestyle, Recycle, Zerowaste

When it comes to making your life a little greener, you might be helping more than just mama earth. Here are some ways to keep the earth clean while improving your health and saving money? Yes!

  1. BYOB – No, not your own beer, bottle! You can fill up on beverages wherever you go, whether you’re at the gym, juice press, airport or coffee shop. (Tip: Politely ask your barista if they would fill your order in the bottle you brought; chances are they will gladly do it if you tell them you’re trying to help the environment by avoiding unnecessary waste!) Having a water bottle on you at all times also makes it more likely that you will stay hydrated and stay away from sugary carbonated beverages, not to mention how much money you’ll save by ditching plastic bottles.

“Making bottles to meet America’s demand for bottled water uses more than 17 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year. And that’s not even including the oil used for transportation.”

“Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year. However, the U.S.’s recycling rate for plastic is only 23 percent, which means 38 billion water bottles – more than $1 billion worth of plastic – are wasted each year.”

Ban the Bottle

2. Do your food shopping at a Farmer’s Market – Support your local economy and farmers by buying your fruits, veggies and more at your local farmer’s market. Not only are you helping the earth by supporting better farming practices, you are also eating tastier and more nutrient dense foods which are in season and that boost your immune system. It doesn’t hurt that you can shop outside and meet people in your community who are also interested in making a difference in the planet and their health.

“Three out of four farmers who sell at farmers markets use practices that meet or exceed organic standards.”

15 Benefits of Shopping At A Local Farmer’s Market

3. Do you have to drive? If not, then why not pull that bike out of the garage that’s been sitting there for months or grab some comfy shoes and walk to your destination? This one doesn’t need much explaining. Less fossil fuels, more feeling fueled. Instead of a carbon footprint, go leave an actual footprint… outside.. let’s go!

Walking, Bicycling, Driving, and Cost-Effectiveness

4. Reusable Bags – I keep reusable bags with me all the time, stuffed at the bottom of my purse incase I need it, in the trunk of my car for groceries. It’s always good to be prepared to avoid plastic bags. If you are buying bulk food items such as beans, oats, rice, etc. you can bring cloth bags to fill with food, this way you avoid buying the items already packaged in plastic.

“Nearly 2 million plastic bags are used and disposed of every minute.” – Earth Policy Institute

5. Line Dry your Laundry! – It will save energy and extend the life of your clothing, ultimately saving you $$$. You and mama earth are both gonna be lookin’ good when you skip the drying machine.

5 Reasons to line-dry your clothes

6. Coffee drinkers I’ve got a question for you… What do you do with your leftover coffee grounds? Oh, you already dry them and save them to exfoliate your skin and make your hair shine? Okay cool. Well incase you don’t, coffee grounds are full of antioxidants and naturally scrub away dead skin cells leaving you with radiant skin. So next time you’re looking for an exfoliating product at Sephora for $68, just remember to drink some coffee and save your money.

5 Awesome DIY Beauty Projects Using Coffee Grounds

7. Share/Borrow/Buy Used – Before clicking the epitome of convenience that is Amazon, think about where you may find what you’re looking for at zero cost. Need a screw-driver? Lawn mower? French press? Ask your neighbor or a friend if they might have what you’re looking for. Check Craigslist, Facebook, thrift stores and if after that you can’t seem to find what you’re looking for and know that you’re better off buying it new, then go for it.

“Borrow Before You Buy”

8. Get Creative With Your Wardrobe – Thrift Shop, swap clothes with friends, find pieces no one else has, except maybe your grandma.

“Americans send 10.5 million tons of clothing to landfills every year.”

There are plenty of other ways to live greener that boosts your health and personal finances. What are some of your favorites?

Almond Milk & Almond Cheese Recipe

Environment, Food, Health, Lifestyle

What I love about homemade almond milk is how easy it is to make and the benefits it has compared to store-bought. For the most part, any nuts found in grocery stores in the US are pretty expensive compared to other foods, but if you are a constant almond drinker like I am, it might be worth your while to start getting up early to milk the almonds in the morning (yes, I know I am the corny, bad-joke telling friend).

I will tell you though, that making your own almond milk can be more expensive. That’s right, buying whole almonds cost you more money. So why am I writing about homemade almond milk in the first place? Well, if you are someone trying to lower their carbon footprint, trying to eat avoid processed ingredients or just looking for a new way to use food, then keep reading…

What’s the difference between store bought almond milk and homemade? I made this little chart to break down the differences:

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If you look at the ingredients list on the back of an almond milk carton, chances are you are going to find some sort of additive, stabilizer or emulsifier that is used to preserve the contents far beyond the true expiration date, add texture and taste to the milk. Some names you might read are soy lecithin, carrageenan, xanthan-gum, and many others. Now while these almond milk or beverage options might be more cost effective, they could be disrupting the microbiome in your gut.

A study released in the journal Nature shared that “mice on a diet containing emulsifying agents develop low-grade inflammation and obesity/metabolic syndrome.” Their conclusions being that “these conditions correlate with a decrease in gut microbiota.” This discovery should be concerning considering metabolism and immune development depend on a healthy gut microbiome to function optimally.

Reading about the negative effects of chemical additives in almond milk motivated me to learn how to make my own, which lucky for me and you if you are intrigued is super simple!

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Once you have your milk, you want to make sure it is sealed tightly and refrigerated to preserve it for the next 4 days. So now the fun part, what do we do with the pulp? Another reason I love making my own almond milk is the vegan cheese I make from the almond pulp! For this vegan cheese recipe you will only need 3 ingredients:

Almond Pulp leftover from the milk

2 tablespoons of melted vegan butter

1 tsp of salt

Mix the three ingredients with both hands making sure you are really blending everything together. Once you feel you’ve distributed the ingredients evenly, taste your cheese to make sure it is ready. If it is not salty enough for your preference add more as needed. Make sure you wrap your cheese or keep it in a sealed Tupperware once its done.

If you are not a fan of the vegan cheese, you can try using the almond pulp as a nutritious flour when baking.

To achieve the flour consistency, you’ll want to spread the pulp out on a baking sheet and dehydrate it at the lowest temperature in your oven. Once dry, blend the almond flour to make it a fine powder. You can then store the almond flour in the fridge until you need it to bake!

Let me know if you try out this recipe and if you are experiencing less tummy aches because of it!

Van-life: Finding Comfort in Discomfort

Culture, Environment, Food, Health, Self-Love, Travel

The idea of packing up your bags, loading up the car with your best friend and heading Southwest sounds like a dream, until you realize you need to make cooking, bathing, sleeping and all other human necessities happen out of a Kia Sedona.

Before leaving on our 3 month adventure, we did a lot of research on how other people were living out of their cars successfully, visiting natural wonders around the Southwest and planned our route; seeing picturesque landscapes, pimped out vans and happy travelers, we were ready to get out there. Don’t get me wrong, van-life is one of the coolest learning experiences one can enjoy in life and I wish for every person the opportunity, but I do want to highlight some of the challenges or unglamorous realities one faces while living out of a car/living outdoors that put you in positions of discomfort, ultimately helping you grow to become a more resilient, resourceful, life-hacking individual.

You will face:

  • The unforgiving extremities of nature (blazing hot sun, frosty cold altitudes)

From the Sonoran and Mojave desert to the canyon peaks in Colorado, its hard to find homeostasis when your body is adjusting to varying temps and altitudes.

While in the desert we made sure to pack the car with at least 5 gallons of water everywhere we went. You never know if your car will will break down and you’ll be waiting in the sun for hours; this didn’t happen to us but it likely could have!

If it wasn’t the dry desert heat beating down on us one day then it was the bitter cold reminding our fingers and toes how insignificant they are. These discomforts heightened my senses and awareness, the kinda feelings you lose when you live in a thermostat controlled home. By putting yourself in situations of discomfort, you awaken your senses to be receptive to the feelings of being warm, cooling down, resting sore muscles, all of the things that have become a given in your own home.

  • Keeping up with Personal Hygiene

Unless you’re living out of a vehicle with a water system, keeping up with personal hygiene gets tricky. California beaches have outdoor showers for beach goers which made it easier, albeit at times down right creepy to get a solid shower in public. Picture Venice beach, suns down, 12am and we’re showering with flashlights in hand.

Life-hack: If you find yourself a 5 gallon water container and enough privacy you can shower out in nature! We used a window curtain, ran a metal wire through it and attached carabiners on the ends to make a removable curtain; if you find a tree you can tie the water container to a tree and you have yourself a makeshift shower.

After leaving warm weather and outdoor public showers, we just started showering less altogether. What once was showering whenever desired in the comfort of one’s own home became a periodical luxury even if it was a shower in the back of a laundromat that lasted 5 minutes.

  • “Me time” with limited Space

Personal space and me time is hard to come by on the road if you are traveling with a partner, but I would much rather be on the road experiencing natures beauty with another person by my side… at least that’s my mentality until human annoyances get in the way which is expected when you’re sharing small spaces. Be prepared for bettering your communication skills and learning to compromise.

  • Driving long distances

If you want to see the beauty of national parks, other states, diverse landscapes, chances are you’re going to have to drive there.

Make the most out of spending hours in the car by taking photos, discovering new music, making pit stops, listening to podcasts, reading, having meaningful discussion, keeping an eye out for wildlife. Make the time you spend in the car as productive as possible.

  • Working around daylight

Daylight is your #1 friend on the road when you depend on it to scope out campsites, spot wildlife and stay warm, which means you’ll be planning your days around the sun.

Tip: Prep your food for the day and keep it in an easily accessible cooler, that way you can munch while driving. Easy to make foods that don’t require cooking like – sandwiches, fruit, nuts, etc. are great options. Another good reason to pack your food for the day is that once you get to your destination late at night, you won’t have to cook in the dark.

  • No Service, you’re off the grid

A blessing and curse. A chance to disconnect, breathe, be present. But where are we again?

Download maps! Mark your coordinates in your GPS so you’re able to use them offline.

  • Time of the Month for Women

Dealing with personal hygiene is hard enough as it is, add dealing with your monthly cycle on top of it all and things can get difficult.

Lucky for me and many other women who travel often, we have found some of the best goodies on the market for periods like menstrual cups, re-usable cotton pads and period underwear!

The menstrual cup I use is the Diva Cup and it can be left for up to 12 hours before emptying. Um hello full day of hiking a National Park without carrying tampons or having to stop and find a place to put them!(if that is even an option.) Worried about leaking? There’s a solution for that too! My favorite pair of underwear were gifted to me by a friend and made by Thinx, a rad company that uses a highly absorbent fabric to make their life-saving undies to wear on your flow days. (Thank you Sammy for being the first to bring Thinx into my life!)

I never have to worry about my period when I travel thanks to the women who found a problem with how products are designed for them and did something about it. They started their own companies and I am proud to be a supporter of reusable, comfortable, healthy, cost-effective, planet saving products.

  • Cooking

Ahhh besides the fuel you need to get around in a car, it’s easy to forget the fuel your body needs to enjoy your trip to it’s full potential.

I can’t count how many times we’ve forgotten to eat a meal while on the road, and it’s something that affects your trip more than you think.

Too tired to drive? Getting irritable? Try to recall the last time you ate. 4 hours ago? Get on munching the healthy foods and drinking water as soon as you can. Seeing the difference in my mood and outlook after munching on healthy food really puts me in check.

Don’t let being on the road and the challenges that come with it get in the way of your self care and health. Put your basic needs first so you can have the energy, positivity and patience to enjoy every experience.

Van life is worth giving up the comforts of home, routine, security; In exchange for stability you get the discomforts of the road that force you to remember the simple comforts every person needs – water, warmth, healthy foods, clean air, hugs – and come home with a new found appreciation for pretty much everything.

Sea Turtles… Friends or Food?

Culture, Education, Environment, Peace Corps, Travel

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Well, it turns out many people in Nicaragua eat sea turtles and their eggs even though it is illegal, there isn’t much regulation. At first it was really devastating to hear as an environmental education volunteer, and while it’s still devastating, I understand that eating sea turtle eggs is a tradition that has been passed down for generations, specifically on the coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific. Since learning about this cultural norm, I’ve been asking many people in my community of all ages why they eat sea turtle eggs and if they are aware that sea turtles are an endangered species. I usually hear a local go on and on about how good the taste of sea turtle eggs are with lime and chili and I definitely cringe every time they tell me this, however, I have also learned that many locals depend on selling turtle eggs as their main source of income.

Sea Turtles serve a vital role in the health of the marine and dune ecosystem by being one of the few marine animals that eat sea grass. This is important because as the sea turtles eat the sea grass they keep it healthy and allow the grass beds to spread across the ocean floor, where other marine species such as crustaceans, shellfish and other fish species develop homes and nests. There has been a big decline in sea grass beds and scientists say this can be due to the decline in sea turtles. So the less sea turtles, the less sea grass beds and ultimately the less biodiversity in the ocean overall.

Shrinking sea turtle populations also effects the health of the dune ecosystems. When sea turtles are ready to lay their eggs, they will find an area on the beach or dune and the unhatched eggs, hatchlings and eggshells leftover provide nutrients to the vegetation growing on the dunes. With more nutrients we get stronger plants, with stronger plants we get stronger roots, which leads to healthier and stronger dune ecosystems that will suffer less erosion. With the rise in consumption of sea turtles and their eggs, our dune ecosystems are suffering immensely.

So how can we conserve one of the oldest species on the planet?

Educational events

Beach patrolling

Relocating eggs to sanctuaries

Turtle liberation events

Campaigns

Eco-tourism

Government Regulation

All of the things listed above support positive behavior change, the most difficult and impactful change that can occur in conservation and development work.

After realizing how much my town enjoyed eating sea turtle eggs, an endangered species, and living close to the pacific coast,  I was conflicted as an environment volunteer; it was a challenge. However, I used this obstacle as inspiration for my sea turtle conservation project that I facilitated with the help of my teachers and a local NGO. A group of 20 students, 3 teachers and myself coordinated a sea turtle conservation day that consisted of an outdoor classroom setting where we showed the students the sea turtle sanctuary and nest area, as well as explained the life cycle of the sea turtles and why they are endangered. By the end of the day, my students and teachers understood how the consumption of turtle eggs correlated to their decline and endangerment as a species; What once stood out to me as a cultural norm that could not be changed turned into an opportunity for education and discussion. 

With strong motivation, creativity, and teamwork I have found the challenges that are presented to you as a Peace Corps volunteer become your best projects and relationship building moments during service.