Monday, November 19, 2012

Christmas time: The season of consumerism!

Growing up, there was very little pressure regarding the holidays. We always got together with family, but there was never much emphasis on what types of food or how many presents or anything like that.

Goodbye blissful ignorance.

My partner's family is very large and *very* in to Christmas. This year, I have been added to the extended family list and have been asked what I want for Christmas. "Is 'nothing' an acceptable answer?" Trying to find guidance, we asked a newly married couple who are friends of ours. Within two minutes they were arguing over the significance of material goods and where exactly the line was between a gesture of love and utter, crass, materialism.

Then, my partner struck upon a genius idea! "Why don't you ask your Secret Santa to donate to a cause?" This year, in addition to protesting Black Friday by not buying anything (also, a great excuse to be lazy!), I am also asking my new Secret Santa (my boyfriend's stepmother's sister's husband) to donate a small amount to any of a list of charities.

Crisis averted! Now on to planning a zero-waste holiday party! (See for more cool posters like this one).

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Hair Care

Recently I posted this on Facebook:

"I switched over from regular shampoo to Dr. Bronner's soap in order to be more environmentally responsible. Suddenly I've been getting compliments about how fabulous my hair looks. Who knew that being good to the Earth and being pretty could coincide?"

One of my friends asked:

"Do you just use plain apple cider vinegar for the rinse or do you mix it with something? I hear that stuff can do a lot of great things!"


My sister said: "I use 1/2 oz to 1 oz apple cider vinegar to 7 oz of water in a 8 oz squirt bottle."

I said: "I use a bottle cap's worth, straight, then rinse it through my hair. I thought I would be able to smell it, but no! I only do it once a week, but thicker hair might want it more often. Absolutely the best de-tangler ever."
Several months into using Dr. Bronner's soap, I have a few more recommendations. First, there are four scents: regular, almond, lavender, and peppermint. The scents are actually the essential oils, and with peppermint and lavender you get some natural antiseptic properties. The peppermint smell is very strong and particularly invigorating for your morning shower. On the other hand, if you use Dr. Bronner's as a body wash too, you should be careful with using it around your private parts... it can be very, err, bracing. 

Second, I have found that even using the apple cider vinegar, I can get a lot of buildup, so I have started alternating between conventional shampoo and the Dr. Bronner/apple cider vinegar combo. This is definitely not the best solution, but I guess it is a starting point.
Third, you can buy Dr. Bronner's at Trader Joe's or you can go online ( and check out their other products (e.g., bar soap, lotions, etc). 

Okay, but what's wrong with regular shampoo?

Good question. There is nothing obviously wrong with shampoo, until you look a little deeper. Conventional shampoos are designed to have a very long shelf life, in fact, they are chock-a-block full of synthetic preservatives. They are bad for the environment because they take a long time to break down. If you're a backpacker, you're probably already familiar with Dr. Bronner's or something similar because it is good form to use biodegradable soap (and only a very little bit at least 20 meters from the nearest water source).

There is also growing evidence that these synthetic preservatives, particularly parabens, are bad for us. There is preliminary evidence that these chemicals mimic estrogen and could lead to breast cancer or the surge in early puberty among young girls ( While there is nothing conclusive yet, my philosophy is 'Let's not take the chance when there is such a great alternative readily available.'

Online resources

A while ago a friend wrote me this:

" I wanted check in with you on a website (EWG-environmental working group). I am really trying to become a more responsible consumer and have been all about documentaries to raise my awareness, but I am having trouble trying to establish credibility with online stuff. Are there site you recommend I start? I am really trying to get others in my family involved, but don't know where to start directing them."

Here is my response:

"Yeah! EWG is a great place to start. Their information on sunscreen, household cleaners, and cosmetics is always top-notch, as are their reports on water quality.

My sister is addicted to Etsy (, which is an online marketplace for regular people who make their own products by hand (especially clothing, jewelry, art, and decor). When I shop there I further restrict the list of vendors to those in the United States only.

Also, Clutter Free Services maintains a list of places in the Bay Area where you can donate used durable goods (e.g., sports equipments, magazines, medical equipment [those crutches you no longer need], etc). This is great when I want to get rid of something, but feel too guilty to throw it in the trash.

Although not an online resource per se, I must recommend "No Impact Man." It was a blog that developed into a book and documentary. It is the most inspiring environmental book I have ever read (and trust me, I've read a lot). I've made a lot of changes to my life that were surprisingly easy and probably a lot healthier for me anyway.

Okay, hope that's enough for now!"

Saturday, November 17, 2012


You are in the checkout line at the grocery store, and you just realize you've forgotten your reusable bags. Which is more environmentally friendly: paper or plastic?

Or, you're reading the news. So-and-so said that this new environmental legislation is bad, but someone else said it is good. Well, which one is it?

Don't you wish you could ask someone you know and trust about these sorts of things?

Many of my friends come to me and ask me these sorts of questions. This blog is an attempt to record my answers and make them available to the wider community.

Despite the title, I'm not an expert, but I'm trying to become one! Currently I work as a research analyst at a non-profit and I've dedicated my adult life to environmental topics. I have my BA in Environmental Studies and my MA in Communication Studies with an emphasis on environmental communication. I've interned as a journalist in Sacramento covering state politics, as a research assistant at an environmental law firm, and as a sustainability coordinator at my university.

I don't believe in a one-size-fits-all policy. I believe that everyone can find a solution that works best for them, but the main thing is to think about the environmental effects of your choices in the first place. So, please, send me your environmental dilemmas!