4 Eco-Friendly Items That Are Easy To Find, Affordable, And So Good For The Planet

4 Eco-Friendly Items That Are Easy To Find, Affordable, And So Good For The Planet

It’s time to re-evaluate common household items for how damaging to the Earth they can be
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Ever since I saw this video of a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nose, I became very into eco-friendliness. When I saw the pain he was going through when it was being removed from his nostrils, I felt like it was my fault. What if my straw from Dunkin Donuts was the straw that ended up harming him?


It is extremely easy to avoid this by simply switching out your unrecyclable/un-biodegradable home and kitchen tools for green ones. Plastic is so harmful to sea life and animals because it takes years and years to break down, and the emissions from factories that produce plastic destroy the climate. Plastic is in everything, but you will probably be surprised to learn that the eco-friendly versions of these everyday objects even exist!

1. Stainless steel straws

If you didn’t know before, after watching that video that poor turtle will probably haunt you. Heres another nightmare of a statistic : Americans use 500 million drinking straws every day, which is enough to fill over 125 school buses with straws every day.

Buying stainless steel straws are such an easy fix because they are available in so many stores now.

2. Bamboo Toothbrush

I hope you are getting rid of your toothbrush every three months, and when the time comes you should consider using a bamboo toothbrush. Okay, it sounds weird to brush your teeth with wood, but it is totally worth it once you understand how wasteful plastic toothbrushes are. Every toothbrush you have ever used in your life is still on this planet in a landfill or in an ocean. One quick search on Google and you will find lots of places to buy your plastic-free toothbrush!

3. Reusable food wraps

Say no to plastic wrap, and say hello to food wrap made from beeswax. Look, I get that these options are sounding a little crazy. But, if you use plastic wrap or Ziplocks you’re letting chemicals like BPA seep into your food. They are reusable with a quick rinse, and unlike plastic, these wraps are biodegradable.

4. Reusable shopping bag

Plastic bags are killers of sea life, birds and other animals. The United States uses about 100 billion plastic bags per year, but only about 2% of plastic bags are recycled in the United States. If you haven’t already, get yourself some reusable shopping bags and help save the Earth, man.

Cover Image Credit: Instagram

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5 Companies That Still Use Slave Labor

Let's talk about the modern slave trade.
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Growing up in a country where freedom is always a right and expectation — whether you live in the United States or one of the other 86 "free" countries — it is easy to believe that, compared to the well-known 1800s slave trade, we are doing pretty well when it comes to civil liberties, freedom, and overall social welfare. Documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) have been approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations, meaning that the vast majority of nations have agreed that every individual has the right to basic human dignity.

Despite this significant progress, however, there are 45.8 million people enslaved today, more than any other time in world history. The United States Department of Homeland Security has launched the Blue Campaign in light of this growing industry, hoping to raise awareness of the human trafficking that persists in local communities. Additionally, you can watch this video for a summary on the Global Slavery pandemic. I will write about the problem of human trafficking in the United States on another day; however, global slavery affects us whether it is in our city or halfway around the world. In fact, companies that you purchase from every single day use slave labor for their work instead of paying employees a fair wage.* Don't believe me?

Here are five companies that are using slave labor to make their products TODAY, and where you should shop instead.

Nestle

Nestle is one of the largest companies that has consistently carried out human rights violations all over the world. Not only did they illegally take water from California during the drought in 2015, but in the 1970s they got third-world mothers to use infant formula by selling it at reduced prices, and then when the mothers could no longer breastfeed, they raised the price of formula so much that many children were malnourished and starving.

Their most recent problems revolve around slavery in the cocoa industry. In 2009 several former child slaves sued Nestle because they were trafficked and forced to work on Nestle farms in Cote d'Ivoire. Another suit was filed by former child slaves in 2014, stating that "Studies by International Labour Organization, UNICEF, the Department of State, and numerous other organizations have confirmed that thousands of children are forced to work without pay in the Ivorian economy." In 2016, the Fair Labor Association executed an assessment of Nestle in Cote d'Ivoire. They claimed that 70% of Nestle farms were not trained on the prohibition of forced labor. Further, they stated that "there is no process in place to monitor, report, and remediate cases of forced labor at the farms." With this in mind, they did find evidence of potential forced and uncompensated labor. Additionally, they found evidence of child labor—many of these children never enrolling in school — in which children were getting paid little to nothing, and often working in dangerous conditions.

INSTEAD: buy from Ben & Jerry's or Theo. They will satisfy your sweet tooth and are Fair-Trade guaranteed.

Nike

Nike has REALLY cleaned up their act in the last several years, but with a standard of no slave labor, they still have quite a way to go. In 1992, activist Jeff Ballinger published an exposé in "Harpers" that revealed the story of a child in Indonesia working in disgusting conditions, and for a mere 14 cents per hour (far below the minimum wage in Indonesia at the time).

Since then, Nike has begun to report supply chain information. The most recent report claims that, in 2016, only 86% of their factories were up to the minimum standards they set. Though they give a good indication of how far the company has come, these standards are set by Nike and assessed internally, making it difficult to compare standards to a universal one.

INSTEAD: shop at Patagonia! All products here are Fair Trade Certified!

Starbucks

Starbucks claims a mission for ethical sourcing, meaning their company policy requires them to abide by a standard of "ethical sourcing" that they have created. They only have two Fair-Trade coffees available for purchase. After the development charity Oxfam reported that Starbucks was depriving Ethiopian coffee growers of $90 million every year, Starbucks was challenged by the public eye to “clean up their act,” and did so by creating their own “ethical sourcing” standards, that they implement themselves, and certify 99% of their coffee with. Whether or not these standards are viable, they are not Fair Trade Certified at this time.

The U.S. Department of Labor has a list of locations and goods that use forced and child labor. Starbucks lists coffees from countries such as Guatamala, Kenya, Costa Rica and Panama; however, none of these single-sourced coffees are certified by them as “Fair Trade.” Rather, they are all regions that are known to use child labor.

INSTEAD: buy the Starbucks Italian Roast and Café Estima; they are certified by Fair Trade! You can also order online from Café Justo, Jurang and Equal Exchange —entire companies dedicated to producing Fair Trade coffee.

H&M

A 2016 report stated that as of December 31, 2015, 31 out of 72 H&M suppliers were using illegal contracts. In other words, these contracts allowed for wrongful termination. Now I know what you are thinking: the current system of hiring/firing in the U.S. is full of problems, and it takes way too much work to fire a bad employee in most cases. Well, the situation in countries like Cambodia and India are a little different. Often times, employees of H&M will be forced to work for excessive overtime hours—far beyond the legal limit—with no increase in their weekly take home pay. They are also often working in sweatshop conditions, with no breaks and unsanitary environments. Moreover, the contracts allow the factory to fire a worker for refusing to work these long hours. In fact, a garment worker in Cambodia stated: "We often get sick around once a month. We don’t eat enough and work too much trying to maximize the piece rate. Also, we don’t stop to go to the bathroom. We often work through lunch breaks or go back into work early, so there is hardly any time to rest."

INSTEAD: shop at one of these other retailers that are guaranteed to have fair-trade labor!

Walmart

Well, this one is probably the least suprising yet. According to a 2016 report by the Wage Alliance on Walmart's value chain, Walmart refused to sign the 2013 Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh that 200 companies signed following the collapse of Rana Plaza. It also stated that all 14 factories in Cambodia were studied, and they all violated local overtime laws consistently, with some forcing 14 hour work days without overtime pay "in sweltering heat, without adequate supply of clean drinking water or any breaks." These same conditions were expressed by workers in factories in India, Indonesia, and Bangladesh. The report continued to list countless instances of workers given severely less than they were promised, or even cases where owners of factories fled without paying workers at all.

INSTEAD: OK, I know it's hard to pass up Walmart prices. However, here is a full list of companies that are fair trade. Even if you start small, I know you can find a way to cut back on your slavery footprint! Want to know how many slaves work for you now? Visit the Slavery Footprint mission to find out.

*I use the term “fair wage” because many people who are enslaved are trapped in a cycle of debt bondage. This means that an individual or family works for pennies per hour to pay off an ever-increasing debt. Oftentimes this debt is passed down for generations. To learn more about debt bondage and other forms of slavery, visit the non-profit End Slavery Now, here.

Cover Image Credit: iragelb / Flickr

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7 Ways To Avoid Buying Everything You See On Amazon

Shopping can be a source of instant gratification for many people, but it also puts a dent in your wallet if you aren't thoughtful with your purchases.

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Though I don't do a ton of online shopping, when I do I find it very easy to get sucked into a vortex of "stumbling upon items I never knew I needed." This can include everything from clothes, to gifts, to books, to basically whatever else shows up in my "recommended purchases" column. Shopping can be a source of instant gratification for many people, but it also puts a dent in your wallet if you aren't thoughtful with your purchases. With that in mind, here are some ways to avoid making spontaneous, probably unnecessary purchases on Amazon when you're browsing at 2 am right before going to bed.

1. If you really love an item, put it in your cart and come back to it a day later

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This is a classic "Mom" tidbit of advice: "Honey, why don't you sleep on it and tell me if you still want that toy car tomorrow, and I'll look into it." Seriously though, I've managed to talk myself out of a few almost-purchases just by not buying the item in the heat of desperately wanting it. In the light of day, suddenly those adorable ballet flats don't seem as crucial to your future happiness.

2. Resolve to only pay for things with Amazon gift card money

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This is a principle I generally try to stick to, though of course I don't have such a generous influx of Amazon gift cards that this is really possible. However, paying for things only with gift card money is a good way to motivate yourself to look for the best deals on whatever item you're looking at. It's also a good way to streamline your purchases and make the most of those $25 birthday gift cards that seemed boring when you were younger, but now fill you with excitement about future purchases.

3. Resist the urge to go on Amazon when you're feeling the itch to shop

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It may sound simple, but one of the best ways to temper your online shopping is to just not go on Amazon as much. That way, you won't stumble across as many "can't-miss deals" and won't feel a sudden urge to empty your wallet just to add yet another pair of cute leggings to your closet. For those die-hard online shoppers, this advice might seem like quitting shopping cold turkey, but consciously avoiding the website that sucks away your money might be the easiest way to spend less money on Amazon.

4. If you're looking at clothes, see if the item you're looking at fills an actual need in your wardrobe

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When I browse online for clothes, I try to make sure that I'm only actively looking at items that I really need. For example, if I'm looking to replace my beat-up ankle boots with a new pair, I'll do my best to only browse the shoe section. It can be tempting, especially on websites other than Amazon, to casually migrate into the "tops/blouses" section and stray away from your original shopping intention. Sticking to your guns about what you're actually looking for could help remove that temptation to buy another cute top "just because."

5. Make sure you don't already own a similar version of whatever item you have in your cart

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This more happens when I shop in person than online, but it's important to recognize that a big reason why you may be attracted to a specific item online might be because you already own something just like it. Then, suddenly you end up with two coral-colored short-sleeved shirts, which could have been avoided if you had just done a quick sweep of your closet before clicking the "complete purchase" button.

6. Ask yourself if this item will still be popular or in-stock in three months

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Of course, it's impossible to predict the exact online lifetime of anything, especially an article of clothing. However, stopping to ask yourself this question could help prevent you from buying stuff that's all the rage "right now," but probably won't be popular in a month. There's nothing wrong with buying something that isn't that popular with other people, but if you're looking into a particular style of jeans that you see all around you right now, chances are high that you're just buying them at least partly because you keep seeing them everywhere.

7. Unsubscribe from as many store emails as you can

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This can apply to Amazon purchases as well as purchases from other retailers, but those darn store email chains that give you 10% off your purchase just for signing up can really zap you of your time later on. Even if I love a certain store, I generally shop infrequently enough that my shopping schedule won't be dictated by the emails they send me. Still, getting off of those promotional email chains could have the exact "out of sight, out of mind" effect that you need to curtail your online shopping habit.

Shopping can be a fun activity, but it can also be a useful exercise in mental restraint. Of course, everyone can fall prey to that "have to have it" purchase at any time. But if you are a little more strategic with when and how you shop on Amazon, you're a lot less likely to groan when you check your next credit card statement.

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