5 Simple, Sustainable Summer Swaps!
5 Sustainable Summer swapsIt is finally summer! Everyone is stretching their legs, slinking into their summer wardrobe, and slathering on sunscreen to participate in their favorite summer activities. Whether you’re going to the beach, the mountains, or just hanging around the neighborhood, there are plenty of opportunities to be conscious of your decisions and make better swaps for the earth all while having the time of your life! In this episode, I share my top 5 sustainable summer swaps that will make your summer, and every summer to come, more eco-friendly and enjoyable for you and the planet!
Most people have a love/hate relationship with sunscreen, but it is so important! If you’re not wearing it now, then I encourage you to run to your drawer and put some on! Sunscreen prevents skin cancers and premature aging. 90% of our aging comes from the sun! You should be wearing it even if you’re inside – but I think I’ll save that soapbox for another time.
We know that due to ozone depletion, our risk for sun damage from UV rays has increased. But did you also know that our sunscreen can be harmful to the earth?
Estimates say that “10% of the world’s coral reefs are potentially threatened by sunscreen that washes off swimmers in reef waters.”
Coral reefs are crucial for our planet’s biodiversity (link to episode). They are said to have the highest biodiversity of any ecosystem on the planet! They occupy less than 1% of the ocean floor, but our coral reefs are home to more than 25% of marine life.
Through our sunscreen choices, we can not only save our coral reefs from damage, but we can prevent marine life from being evicted from their homes and losing food sources. Ingredients like Oxybenzone and Octinoxate are the main offenders here, along with a laundry list of parabens, microplastics, and nanoparticles. They can do damage at even the lowest concentrations. Sunscreens with these ingredients are toxic to coral reefs, as well as algae, sea urchins, fish, and mammals like dolphins. Look for sunscreens that say ‘reef safe’, paraben-free, and non-nano – which is becoming more common to find in stores these days.
Chemical sunscreens can also be a risk factor for humans if you’re wearing them every day like you should be, as they have been potentially linked to endocrine disruption since they absorb into the skin.
Swap a chemical-based sunscreen to a mineral sunscreen with safe ingredients like non-nano zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These are going to be the least harmful to you and the planet.
Also, look for sunscreens made from biodegradable or reusable materials. We know that many people litter the ground with sunscreens and spray bottles during the summer. Trying to be conscious about the materials holding your sunscreen is essential as well.
Sustainable Sunscreen Picks
One of the top eco-friendly sunscreens I found is Raw Elements Face + Body. It is a super-concentrated mineral sunscreen that comes in a reusable tin, has ingredients that you can read and understand – making it supernatural, and it’s 100% reef safe. For more information on eco-friendly sunscreens and my top 5 eco-friendly sunscreen picks, check out this post!
2. Bug Spray
My hometown stands on the bed of a drained swamp. Growing up, the mosquitoes would be so thick that I could run my hand through them as they formed a black swarming wall. So bug spray was always an arms-length away.
This summer, I encourage you to take a moment before you grab for any bug spray on the market, though. Most conventional insect repellents contain DEET (also listed on labels as N, N-Diethyl-m-toluamide or N, N-Diethyl-3-Methyl benzamide).
“It has been estimated that about 30% of the U.S. population uses one or more products that contain DEET every year.”
DEET can harm your body, causing rashes and blisters and more severe symptoms in rare cases. Most human damage associated with DEET comes from ingestion or use on small children.
And it can be harmful to the environment. DEET is a persistent environmental contaminant that breaks down slowly in soil and can contaminate groundwater. At extremely high levels, it can be toxic for freshwater fish and insects.
Other harmful chemicals present in bug spray pesticides and bug resistant gear like bug resistant clothing, mosquito netting, and outdoor gear – include Cyfluthrin, Permethrin, and Pyrethroids – which have been linked to skin issues and can be harmful to fish and other aquatic life.
Listen, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to put together that the pungent chemical smells and oily skin you get from using bug sprays aren’t good for you.
DIY Natural Bug Spray
I say ditch the chemicals altogether and make the swap to an eco-friendly bug repellant. The EPA suggests alternatives to these chemicals are oils from citronella, cedar, soybean, peppermint, lemongrass, and other sources like lime, tea tree oil, or lavender. I’ve used all-natural bug repellant oil mixes in the jungles of Panama, and I promise – it works!
Try putting about 5-10 drops of each oil you like into a spray bottle with two ounces of distilled water and two ounces of any vinegar you’ve got in your pantry, and voila – homemade bug spray!
Sustainable Bug Spray Picks
If you’re going to the store or browsing online – search for bug sprays that contain 20 percent picaridin. My top picks are Sawyer’s Picaridin Insect Repellant or Badger Organic Anti Bug Shake and Spray. Picaridin is a synthetic compound developed from plant extract found in the same genus as black pepper plants. Studies show that picaridin is as effective as DEET. But unlike DEET, picaridin is odorless, non-greasy, and does not dissolve plastics or other synthetics.
3. Flip FlopsWhether you’re a slip-on or thonged flip flop wearer, the world loves flip flops. They’ve been a part of the fashion industry throughout history. The ancient Egyptians used papyrus and palm leaves. In India, they made flip flops from wood. In China and Japan, they made them from rice straw. Somewhere along the line, flip flop production shifted, and they are now a staple summer accessory. As we know them today – flip flops are easy to put on, cheap, available almost anywhere you go, extremely durable, and water-resistant. However, those properties have downsides when you’re considering the production and consequences of throwing them in the trash or forgetting them at the beach. Flip flops are typically used for a couple of years until they’ve worn down, and then most people buy a new pair to replace them. The Borgen Project says that “worldwide, three billion people purchase new flip-flops every year.” Almost all flip flops contain non-recyclable plastics with PVC, phthalates, and other chemicals, making them dangerous for us and the planet when they are left to biodegrade for centuries.
Flip Flop PollutionMost of the world’s discarded flip flops have been washing up in places continents away, like the East African coast. This coast is where organizations like Ocean Sole, a conservation group that repurposes these flip flops into art, see up to 90 tons of flip flops each year washed up on these beaches. Researchers in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands of Australia found that over 90% of plastics and waste debris were under the surface of the sand. The most common items found in this debris were bottle caps and lids, drinking straws, and, you guessed it – flip flops! This type of plastic pollution on the world’s beaches and in our oceans puts wildlife in danger. Marine life in the oceans ingests these plastics, and on the beaches, it affects “wildlife nesting or living within beach sediments, such as sea turtles and crustaceans.” It’s not just in oceans or beaches, though – flips flops accumulate in lakes, ponds, and rivers worldwide and are a danger to the ecosystems present there. I was just in Colorado, and I saw pairs of old flip flops washed up in rivers and streams that wildlife depends on for clean water, which was heartbreaking.
Sustainable Flip Flop PicksFor this summer staple, consider choosing a biodegradable or recyclable flip flop! Researchers at the University of San Diego recently made a shoe made from an algae-based polymer so that the flip flop decomposes in 18 weeks if put into the right conditions. But there are many companies out there making flip flops from biodegradable natural rubbers, recycled materials, bio-based materials, and more! These flops will give you the durability and comfort you love with a bit of extra love for the planet. My top sustainable flip flop brands include:
Fireworks have been an American tradition since 1777. Meaning the vibrant colors, loud pops, fizzes, and showers of sparks are pretty ingrained into our society as representing our freedom. But there are other ways to celebrate other than fireworks. And my partner, a self-proclaimed pyro, is probably going to cringe when I suggest swapping out his beloved fireworks, and maybe even some of you can relate. But, I’ve got some stats that might change your mind and allow you to consider the alternative swaps I’ve got!
In 2020, Americans used 404.5 Million lbs of fireworks, 95% of which are consumer fireworks, and the remaining is display fireworks. Missouri imports the most fireworks in the nation, coming in at over 51 million dollars, followed by Alabama and Kansas – most of these imports coming from China.
The National Fire Protection Association reported fireworks caused about 18,500 fires annually, resulting in death and millions in direct property damage.
And fireworks also don’t just disintegrate into thin air. If you’ve ever walked your street at the end of a firework holiday, you’ll notice the debris they leave behind. Unsurprisingly, since they are explosives, fireworks can’t be recycled. If they remain on the ground, this debris can wash into storm drains that lead to streams, rivers, and lakes.
Fireworks contain heavy metals and chemicals such as perchlorate, which “can persist for many decades under typical ground and surface water conditions.” Perchlorate contamination in our environment comes from solid rocket fuels, fireworks, munitions, signal flares, and more. Fireworks are one of the main contributors to the increasing environmental perchlorate contamination. Infiltrating water sources, which is harmful to the fish and wildlife, and can cause thyroid issues for humans if ingested.
The tiny toxic particulate matter, also called particle pollution, is released by fireworks build up in our soil and water, and our lungs, which can cause lung damage worse than damage from traffic pollution. This particle pollution isn’t just a concern for one night either; it can remain suspended in the air for up to 1 month, causing high particulate matter concentrations for an extended period.
So while fireworks seem beautiful and fun, we are importing millions of them that create pollution, contaminate water, and cause damage.
Now, if you haven’t written me off as a total buzzkill yet, then the next question is, what swaps do you have that won’t completely ruin the fun?
I’ve got a few options! The first is to watch a fireworks show instead of shooting them off yourself. If you’re close to a bigger city, drone and laser shows are growing in popularity and are a good alternative. Some countries are even mixing fireworks with lasers to decrease the number of fireworks they shoot off.
The second option is a little out there, but it would be so much fun! Instead of having a fireworks show, outfit yourself with led glow sticks, glow in the dark or illuminated clothing, or clothes that show up in blacklight and have a party!
And the third option, albeit less entertaining, is to watch a fireworks show on TV or project fireworks display outside for the neighborhood to watch!
If you decide to shoot off fireworks, remember to always clean up immediately afterward, which will reduce the number of chemicals released into the air. Douse them with water for 15 minutes and place them in a metal trash can to avoid any chance of them igniting.
Equipped with our flip-flops and sunscreen ready to hit the water, the only thing missing from our essential summer pack is a swimsuit! You probably haven’t wondered if your bikini or swim trunks were fish-friendly as you joyfully splash in the water – and rightfully so! You should enjoy yourself! But this year, before you hop in the water or run to the nearest store to buy a swimsuit – let’s prepare a little better with our final sustainable summer swap.
Most swimmers are made with nylon and polyester – AKA plastic. These are taxing on the environment to produce new swimsuits made from these products. And every time you wash these synthetic materials, they shed tiny microplastics that can contaminate waterways if wastewater treatment facilities do not collect them. One study shows that one wash can release over 700,000 plastic fibers. When it comes to swimsuits, you’re directly in the water circulating these microplastics which marine life consumes.
This doesn’t mean you should throw out your old bathing suits. On the contrary, you should reuse them for as long as possible to reduce production waste. Instead, wash your swimsuit (and all of your synthetic clothes, for that matter) in the washer with a microplastic washing bag. These bags help to collect microplastics before you get into the water.
Sustainable Swimsuit Options
If you’re in the market for a new bathing suit, opt for swapping your regular brand with a brand that makes their swimwear from natural materials, textiles made from renewable plant materials, or textiles made from recycled or regenerated fabrics. The most common eco-friendly swimwear textile now is ECONYL® – “a material made entirely from the ocean and landfill waste, such as industrial plastic, fabric scraps from clothing manufacturing companies, old carpets, and “ghost nets.”
And, the edges of the suit usually shed more microplastics than the large piece of covering material. So look for quality cuts and edging if you’re in a store – trust me, you’ll know it when you see it (and feel it!)
Something to grow onOn this week’s something to grow on I wanted to share three steps, inspired by nature, that you can take to start being more resilient in your personal life TODAY!!
We should get outside, breathe fresh air, bike, stop to smell the flowers, swim, laugh and see all of the beauty nature has to offer this summer! We just need to do it mindfully. For this week’s Something to Grow on Segment, I wanted to give you a bonus summer swap challenge!
For the next week, I challenge you to swap out your recreational screen time for time spent in nature! For every 30 minutes you spend on a screen, I ask that you hold yourself accountable to spend 10 minutes in nature. Since I spend an average of two hours per day on my phone (shout out to screen reporting that lets me know that!) I’d spend 40 minutes outside each day. And we aren’t even counting my TV time!
If you watch an hour of your favorite TV show, you’d spend 20 minutes outside. (Handmaiden’s tail fans where you at?) And so on.
The intention of this challenge is to begin to spend more time in nature and less time disconnected from it. Spend these precious summer afternoons under blue skies doing something you love or something new. Reading, hiking, kayaking, walking – anything! When we challenge ourselves to swap out a screen for time spent in nature, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the shared summer experiences we have!