Category Archives: Environmentalism

Saying Goodbye to Shampoo

Kamisuki (Combing the hair), A colour woodbloc...

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Conventional shampoos are no friend to you or to the environment.  They’re full of chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulfate and parabens that irritant your skin and strip your hair (in addition to posing other health risks).  These ingredients also pollute the air and water in their production and when you wash them down the drain.

So when I finally used up the huge bottle of Pantene I’ve had the last two years, I decided to try the “no ‘poo” method.  I’ve been cleaning my hair with baking soda and conditioning with apple cider vinegar for three weeks now.

The result?  My hair is no better and no worse than before.

On the plus side, my hair seems to need less washing.  I used to shampoo every other day but now every three or four days seems to be just fine, which makes me happy since I like being able to do less.  And besides not adding chemicals to my body or the environment, other benefits include buying fewer plastic bottles and saving money.  Baking soda and vinegar are pretty cheap!

But alas, all is not perfect with the no ‘poo method.  I need to mix the solutions each time I wash which is a bit of a pain.  I’ve tried pre-mixing but I hated pouring cold water over my head (especially in the winter).  In addition, I now have to separately condition my long hair when my old Pantene was a shampoo and conditioner in one.  And lastly, I have to admit that I miss the lather and the nice scent of shampoo.

But in the bigger scheme of things, I’m willing to live with these small downsides in light of the environmental and financial benefits of washing with baking soda and vinegar.

If you’re interested in trying this simple method,  here’s what I do:

  1. Mix 1 tablespoon of baking soda with 1 cup of warm or hot water.  Shake well.
  2. Wet hair with water.  Pour and massage baking soda solution onto scalp and hair.  It will not lather at all but may feel slippery.
  3. Rinse well
  4. If you want to condition, mix 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with 1 cup of water.   Pour over your head and work into hair.
  5. Rinse well.  Don’t worry the vinegar smell will dissipate quickly.

It’s really quite easy but you may need to play with ingredients a bit to find something that suits you.  For instance, you may want to use less baking soda if 1 tablespoon is too drying.  Or if the smell of vinegar is really intolerable, you could replace it with lemon juice instead.  See this post for a detailed guide and FAQs regarding the no ‘poo method.  There’s also a forum devoted to this topic if you want more info.

If you try it, let me know how it goes!  If you don’t, at least consider switching to a more natural shampoo.  Your crowning glory and mother earth will thank you.


Why and How to Have Less Stuff

Living room clutter

Image by nilexuk via Flickr

Lately I’ve spent a lot of time sorting through my kids’ toys, clothes, and books to get rid of things they’ve out grown so there’s room for what they currently use.  Every time I do this, I’m amazed at how much stuff has accumulated, even when we’re not big shoppers.  It’s energy intensive to clear out things and that makes me wish we had fewer items to begin with.  But there are other costs to material things as well.

Everything you own has an environmental impact.  All material goods take precious resources in their production, transport, and disposal.  Once you get these items, you need space and sometimes more things with which to store them such as shelves, boxes, etc.  The more you own and the larger your home is, the greater your ecological footprint is.

Besides environmental impact, there’s also a personal cost in terms of money, time, and energy spent acquiring and subsequently maintaining the items we bring into our lives.  Clothes need to be washed, cars need to be insured and tuned, and knickknacks need to be dusted.  In addition, clutter is draining mentally, emotionally, and physically, regardless of whether we’re aware of it or not.  Having too many things can cause indecision, distraction, stagnation, and fatigue.

Now I’m not advocating you live like a monk, unless that’s right for you.  We all need some material possessions for our use and enjoyment.  The problem is most of us have too much.  We fill our homes with things we don’t need, don’t use, and don’t even want.  I’m not sure if it’s the hunter/gatherer in us who delights in shopping but I do know that over consumption is good neither for our planet nor for our soul.

There are so many benefits to having fewer things.  Amongst them are:

  • You can find what you actually need more easily.
  • You’ll save time and money because there’s less to clean, organize, and maintain.
  • You can help charity if you donate what you no longer want.
  • You can earn some money if you sell your things.
  • Other people get to use and enjoy what was cluttering up your home.
  • Moving will be easier (I’ve moved 3 times in the last four years so I know)
  • You can live in a smaller home if you choose thus decreasing your expenses and environmental impact.
  • You’ll feel better – calmer, happier, more free and energetic.
  • You’ll have more focus, time, and energy for what you truly value in life.

I actually enjoy decluttering because I feel better afterwards.  But that’s not to say it’s always an easy process.  We have a lot of attachments to the things we own, regardless of whether or not we actually use or want them.  It can be difficult to part with things we’ve spent money on, that we think we might need someday, or was given to us as gifts.  Leo Babauta of Zen Habits explores some of the reasons we hang on to things that don’t really serve us.

My criteria for keeping things are 1) I’ve used it in the past year or 2) I’m certain I’ll use it in the next 12 months, or 3) I love it.  Otherwise, there’s no point hanging on to it.  It’s better to free up physical as well as mental and emotion space.  Allow room for something new to enter.  Here are some strategies for letting go:

  1. Instead of overwhelming yourself with clearing your entire home, just do one drawer or surface at a time.  Remove everything from that drawer, clean the drawer,  then only put back what you want to keep in there.  Items that belong elsewhere should be put in their rightful place.  Items that you’re not keeping can be separated into categories of sell, give away, or throw away.  Enjoy the uncluttered drawer.  Keep clearing small, manageable spaces and eventually, you’ll be surrounded only by things that you value.
  2. Another strategy is to get rid of two or more things whenever you get one new item.  For instance, if you buy a pair of pants, let go of an old pair that you hardly wear and a book you’ll likely never touch.  This is a way to reduce your possessions without making a concerted effort to declutter.  Plus, knowing that you’ll have to get rid of things you already own will likely prompt you to be more selective about acquiring something new.
  3. On a regular basis such as monthly or quarterly, go through an area or room of your home and get rid of at least 10 items.  This is what I do and it’s one of my monthly tasks I actually look forward to.  Yes, as time goes on you’ll revisit the same spaces.  But the contents of the spaces change and your life changes as well so you won’t have trouble finding things to release.

Material items are a necessity but they need to be put in their proper place.  Your possessions should serve you, not the other way around.  Being unencumbered by excess opens you up to truly enjoy life.  Simplify.  Live lightly.  Be free.

Why Conscious Consumption Matters

The Earth flag is not an official flag, since ...

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According to the UN Population Fund, there will be 7 billion people on Earth as of October 31, 2011.  That’s 7,000,000,000 mouths that need to be fed, bodies that need shelter and medical care, brains that need an education.  Are we and our planet up for the challenge?

It’s no secret that many in our world don’t even have their basic needs met and are dying from preventable diseases and malnutrition.  The causes of extreme poverty are complex.  The solutions are varied.  One of the ways to alleviate this human suffering is for those of us who are in more fortunate situations to reduce consumption and to consume more consciously.   Over consumption by people in developed nations have led to climate change, pollution, and resource depletion.  The people who bear the brunt of environmental distress are the very poorest, those with the fewest resources to cope.

Yes, the sheer number of people on the planet is certainly part of the issue.  Population size does matter.  But I believe that over consumption is an even bigger threat to the earth.  In 2008  renown scientist Jared Diamond wrote in The New York Times that people in developed countries use 32 times as much resources and generate 32 times as much waste as a person in a developing country.  Hence it’s a mistake to place all the blame on those who have more babies.

We all share this planet.  We depend on it for our very existence.  It’s not wrong to use resources.  In fact, some people actually need to consume more: more healthy food, more education, more medical care.  But over consumption is harmful to ourselves, to the planet, and to other living beings we share the earth with.  We need to moderate our consumption so that there is more to go around and a chance for natural resources to renew themselves.  For those of us who have our essential needs met, our responsibility is to be a conscious consumer.

The first key is to simply use less.  All the things in our lives from food to clothes to computers come from the earth.  Even man made material are derived from something that’s found in nature.  Our planet is incredibly abundant and giving.  But it cannot provide indefinitely in the face of strip mining, deforestation, and over fishing of the oceans.  Through consuming less and valuing what we already have, we honor the earth and we respect the need of other people, other species and future generations to survive.

There are probably as many ways to conserve as there are people.  Fortunately, conservation not only protects the natural world but usually saves you money at the same time. Here are some super easy conservation strategies to help you get started:

  • wash only full loads of dishes and laundry
  • turn off the water when you’re brushing your teeth or soaping up in the shower
  • re-purpose old towels as rags, paper that’s printed only on one side as scratch paper, empty boxes and jars as organizing containers
  • use less than the recommended amount of toothpaste, shampoo, detergent, etc.  I do this myself and found no difference in the result.
  • choose to walk or bike rather than drive whenever possible.

The second key is to purchase responsibly when you do buy.  That means being aware of where things come from, how they are made, and their health and environmental  impact .  Everything we bring into our lives influences not just our well-being but the health of other people and the planet.

Fortunately these concerns are no longer fringe interests.  Much research has gone into the health and sustainability of consumer goods and this data is widely available.  See below for some suggested resources to help you make better informed purchasing decisions.  In any case, I suggest the following 3 questions to ask yourself to help you buy consciously:

1.  Do I really need to buy this?  Can I borrow it from someone or use something I already have?  For instance, if you go camping only once a year, rather than buying a tent, you could borrow one from a friend.

2.  If I do need to own it, can I get it used or is there a healthier option (for you and for the environment)?  For instance, rather than buying a gas powered lawn mower, you could get a push mower instead.

3.  What happens to this item when I no longer want it?  Can it be re-purposed, given to someone else, recycled, or must it be trashed?

In our world, the gap between the haves and the have nots are growing bigger every day.   Granted there are many factors that contribute to inequality.  But over consumption of resources is one factor that we can all do something about immediately.  By being a conscious consumer, we help bridge that gap to bring sufficiency for everyone.  Regardless of whether or not we’re ready for 7 billion people, that’s what we’re getting.  Let’s make it work for everyone.


Environmental Working Group – lots of data and research on chemicals and toxins in every day products and foods.
The Good Guide – provides information on health, environmental, and social impact of consumer goods.
Consumer Reports – assists you in purchasing quality, durable goods.