Water Filtration: The Most Basic Overview and a Few Environmentally Friendly Responses

As I began to do research into zero waste lifestyles, I found a strong co-occuring concern for toxin free living. Throughout the last century or so, humans have made huge strides in technological advancements. So many of these advancements have been of incredible benefit to the masses. However, one thing I have been noticing is the general assumption that progress is always good. We (humans in a very general sense) tend to find a newer, "better," faster, or cheaper way to do something and we apply that practices as the new standard. Plastic kitchen storage was a durable, versatile, cheap alternative to glass products and it took the world by storm. But the majority didn't seem to stop to ponder whether or not this shift might negatively affect anything or anyone. Today we know about the problems. with BPA, the other toxins that are used in the production of plastics. We know about the huge environmental cost of production, distribution, and disposable of plastic goods. Today we have recognized that our failure to consider the implications of a technological development at its inception has had destructive consequences for individuals, communities, and the natural world as a whole. 

All that to say (and hopefully encourage you toward a more critical consumption), that one way I have seen the assumption of "progressive" practices is in our water supply. Tap water toxicity varies widely throughout the United States. There have been well-publicized water crises in Detroit, while those of us in Minneapolis often feel very comfortable drinking our water straight from the faucet. However, even the tap water that we consider safe (maybe even good) can be problematic. For instance, in the city of Minneapolis, the EWG Tap Water Database indicates 6 contaminants that were above guidelines when the water was tested in 2015. All six of these contaminants (listed below) increase the risk of cancer. 

In addition to the six above, there are also eight other contaminants that are linked to other risks for the individual. 

All this to say, that I've come to realize that there is a real value (beyond taste) of drinking filtered water. The problem now becomes, what is minimal waste, filtration system that has minimal impact on the environment while still benefitting the water drinker by eliminating toxic contaminants. I have a few options for you, though these are by no means the only options, I think they provide a wide range of accessibility for those who are ready to take a step toward fewer toxins and minimal waste in their lives. 

1. Kishu Activated Charcoal Filters

I personally have a to go size and an x-large. I use the to-go filter in my water bottles, but keep the x-large in a one-gallon drink dispenser (similar to this one) which I keep on my counter. The kishu charcoal filters remove heavy metals from drinking water. For more information about the science behind it, check out this post on their website. I love Kishu because even though their charcoal comes from Japan and requires the expenditure of fossil fuels for its transportation, the company uses really sustainable, environmentally friendly packaging. This is from the FAQ page of their website: We are so proud of our packaging. We took special care and research to create a completely biodegradable package: our label is made from paper that is FSC® Certified, SFI® Certified Sourcing, and Rainforest Alliance Certified™ and printed using the most environmentally friendly process available. The clear sleeve is made from wood pulp and is completely compostable. So even though it is shipped across the world (if you're living in the USA), the product is plastic free, toxin-free, and helps remove dangerous heavy metals from your water. It also happens to be one of the most affordable, small-scale filtration methods. It is similar to Brita filtration but doesn't involve the same plastic and packaging waste associated with Brita Filters. 

2. Berkey Water System

Berkey's are super popular, but also pretty expensive. Due to the cost, we do not have on yet. But they're a great option if you have the counter space and the money. 

From the Berkey website in reference to the 3.25 gallon water filter system: 

"The Royal Berkey system removes pathogenic bacteria, cysts, and parasites entirely and extracts harmful chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides, VOCs, organic solvents, radon 222 and trihalomethanes.

This system is so powerful that it can seriously remove food coloring from water without removing the beneficial minerals your body needs. Virtually no other system can duplicate this performance. 

With this system, you can use up to 4 Black Berkey purification elements, though this particular one includes 2. With the 2 Black Berkey elements, it can purify up to 4 gallons per hour, while with 4 Black, Berkey elements you can have up to 8 gallons of filtered drinking water per hour."

3. Whole House Water Filtration

There are so many different home water filtration systems out there. Some are around $200 and some are a couple thousand dollars. Most whole house water filters will connect to your water line at its initial point of entry to the house and begin filtering there. This means you will have filtered water going to your sinks, showers, tubs, washing machines, and dishwashers. The benefit of this is that we don't just ingest toxins in water through drinking. Our body absorbs toxins through the skin as well, so when we shower or wash, we are potentially exposing ourselves to endocrine disrupters and possible carcinogens (all while we get "clean"). We are in the process of saving up for a whole water filtration system. Do your research and find the right one for you. 

Overall, my advice to you is to a) consider switching to filtered water even if your tap water tastes okay. You just don't always know what else is in there. B) Find a filter that works for your family, lifestyle, and budget. Don't let anyone make you think you need an expensive berkey if you have a great brita filter that suits your family. My hope with Pure and Simple is that you would begin to consider whether or not your lifestyle and decisions match your stated values. If not, I hope you begin to take steps toward consistency and find the richness of knowing that your decision represent your stated and upheld values. 

The Basics of Safety Razors

One of my first swaps when shifting to minimal waste bathroom products was ditching the disposable razors for a reusable alternative: a safety razor. Honestly, this has been one of the hardest swaps because it's a pretty different experience than shaving with a conventional razor. So, here are some tips and tricks on how to be successful with a safety razor. This is the razor I have. 

1. Use some sort of soap or shaving cream. I just use the same body soap as needed. This allows the blade to move a little more freely and helps prevent cuts.

2. The other key to shaving with a safety razor is using 30-degree angle and using a short motion. While most traditional women's razors allow you to make one long pull up your leg, safety razors struggle with this and that's how you're most likely to cut yourself. Take many, short pulls up the leg (or whatever area). I've only cut myself badly once, but it bled like crazy and tore off a good piece of skin. I don't mean to be gross or dissuade you, but just didn't realize at the time how important it was to remember that safety razors are different. It takes some adjusting, but it can make a big difference to your environmental impact if you cut out disposable razors. I've never cut myself with my safety razor when I was really trying to be careful. It's always when I'm rushing or feeling overly confident. 

3. Dry off your razor after every use and ideally don't store it in the shower. Keeping the razor handle and blade dry will prevent it from rusting and extend the life of your handle. Just give it a quick and careful wipe down when you're drying yourself off. If your handle does get rusty, just place it in a bowl with vinegar for a while and then give it a good wipe down. The vinegar should help remove the rust. 

4. Change the blade regularly. You can change it after every use if you want. Using a fresh blade will give you the best shave. I usually swap out blades after every 2-5 uses depending on if I'm shaving my legs or just my armpits. When you swap out blades, place the used blade in an old tin can with a slit in the top, or a mason jar with a lid. Once the container is full you can make sure it's all sealed up and then recycle it! 

5. Stick with it! It's definitely an adjustment, but it's well worth it. It's an almost closed cycle if you buy razor blades in recyclable packaging and then recycle the blades too. That's a big difference from tossing out a disposable razor every few months. 

 

If you have questions or comments on safety razors, leave your feedback below!

Beauty Products and Bathroom Swaps

When I first started working to minimize my waste bathroom products like necessary changes but also daunting. These are the products most of us use every day or at least multiple times a week. Even those with the most minimal beauty routines are still likely using hand soap (maybe in a plastic container and maybe with unhealthy ingredients), toothpaste (in a non-recyclable container and with fluoride), and your basic shampoos and conditioners (also in non-recyclable containers and likely with many toxic or irritating chemicals). Switching to most minimal waste products in the bathroom is a really sweet place to begin moving toward a minimal waste lifestyle. What most people recommend is just adding a zero (or minimal) waste product into your routine when you run out of your conventional product. This helps divert the cost of switching by spreading it out over the course of several weeks or months. I've found that my priority needs to be to integrate products that are safe for my body (and my baby's body) and that involve minimal or no packaging or other waste. When I can't have it both ways (which is rare), I opt for the safer products and do a bunch of research until I can find a product that meets both my needs). 

Here are some of my recommendations for products and some general tips for shifting to a more minimal waste bathroom and beauty routine. 

1. Swap out disposables for reusables, or at least disposables that are compostable or biodegradable. 

We use electric toothbrushes that we got for really cheap on black friday almost four years ago. There's no sense in me throwing these out for the sake of going more "green." Throwing out perfectly functional items is wasteful. Don't get swept up in the assumptions you or others make about what it looks like to go green.

I did, however, start purchasing bamboo toothbrushes to have on hand for when guests forget theirs. These come in recyclable packaging, are made of bamboo which is quick growing and sustainably sourced, and they can be composted when done.

I also switched from traditional razors to a safety razor (if you're really trying to go zero waste, maybe consider not shaving. There's definitely some social conditioning that goes into our view of body hair). Safety razors are usually made of stainless steel and twist open at the top, allowing you to insert a fresh razor blade. These blades are two-sided and very sharp. Shaving with a safety razor takes some getting used to, but the blades can be recycled and the handles should last a lifetime if you care for them well. I bought a pack of 100 Astra blades for about $10. I swap out the blades about once a week or so depending on how much I've used it. The razor handle itself cost about $35 for me and I picked it up at my local coop. There are a ton of different handles out there and they can get pretty expensive. My recommendation would be to get one that isn't too cheap, is made of stainless steel, and ideally has a longer handle (mine has a short handle and it can be a little tricky). For more information on safety razors, check out this post. 

2. Switch to package free products!

There are a lot of ways in which you can minimize your waste just by choosing products that have no packaging. LUSH offers a lot of "naked" products which is their way of saying package free. I used their shampoo bars for about 9 months and really like them. They are basically little round bar soaps that are specifically designed for different types of hair. You can purchase little metal containers for them when they're not in use. I moved away from these because many of them contain SLS which is a common irritant. It didn't seem to both me too much, but I liked the idea of using even more natural products. LUSH also offers deodorant bars that are package free. 

I have also opted to use only bar soap or bulk purchased castile soap in my house for hand washing and dishes. I buy the bar soap from my coop or Whole Foods package free. The castile soap I buy at the coop, bringing my own jar and filling it up in their bulk section. 

I have also used almond oil as a face moisturizer and really liked it. It takes some getting used to, but is really gentle on your skin and especially nice in the dry winter months. I can buy it waste free at my coop and just bring in my own jar. 

3. Swap things out as you go. 

There's no need to toss out all your recently purchased lotions, body wash, etc just because you're trying to go greener. Use up what you have and as you run out switch to zero waste (or minimal waste) products. 

4. Check out companies that reuse their containers or use biodegradable containers if you can't find or don't like the zero waste options out there.

My hairstylist recommended Davine's products. Davine's is a certified B-corp, plants trees for all their carbon immissions, uses biodegradable containers and is totally non-toxic. I decided to give them a try and am only halfway through a bottle after five months. If you don't love the shampoo bars or other zero waste options, Davine's products are an awesome option. 

I've also been using Plaine Products lotion for the last six months or so. Plaine Products uses stainless steel containers for all their shampoos, conditioners, lotions and more. When you empty your bottle you just send it back to them for a refill. Products come with one pump that you can reuse with all your refills. I am loving their lotion. I personally haven't loved lotion bars or any of the homemade lotions I've tried, so this has been perfect. They offer a subscription service too so you never need to run out. 

5. Think outside the box. Who says you need three different moisturizers, a body wash, a face wash, and traditional toothpaste? I've found one of the best ways to move toward less packaging waste with bathroom products is by simplifying my routine. Here's what I use:

shampoo

conditioner

tooth powder

sunscreen

eyeliner

mascara

razor

hairbrush

bar soap

deodorant 

I really don't feel like I'm missing anything or sacrificing by using less. I actually find the minimal routine really freeing. So maybe consider trying to slim down your routine. What are a few things you could cut out that you might not really miss as much as you think?

6. Make your own! I've made my own lotion, lip balm, tooth paste and tooth powder. 

My favorite DIY has been an activated charcoal tooth powder. Get the recipe here. When you aren't finding a zero waste option that works for you, considering trying to make your own. 

For some quick reviews on products that I love and ones that weren't my fav check out this post! 

How to Shop in the Bulk Section Like a Pro

One way to really cut down on your packaging waste associated with grocery shopping is by utilizing the bulk section at your grocery store or coop. This takes a little practice and more time than what you're probably used to but is a great way to reduce your packaging waste (and focus on eating more whole, natural foods). This is definitely one of the things I get asked about most, so I've compiled a little how to. 

1. Plan ahead. 

The disaster of shopping in the bulk section with your own bags or containers can come when you're not prepared. I make my list ahead of time, use the same sized containers for the same products most of the time, and always bring a few extra bags and jars for the things I might have forgotten to add to my list. The more prepared you are the less likely you will feel like an idiot while doing this (at least that's been my experience). 

Here's an example of the list I made before going to the Wedge Coop on Sunday. 

- oats

- sea salt

- two kinds of alternative flours to try

- castile soap

2. Bring your own jars and grain bags. 

I have a bunch of pint-sized, quart-sized, and half gallon jars. I also have some thrifted jars that have weird sizes. It's fairly easy to guess which jar will work best for the product your getting. I also have some cloth bags similar to most produce bags, but that are a finer consistency and work great for beans, some grains and flours, and the miscellaneous things that don't fit well in jars. 

3. Tare the jars ahead of time and keep a list of their tares (or take pictures). I think it helps to have several jars of the same sizes so the tares are a little more consistent. The tare is the weight of the empty jar with it's cover. This is the amount that is subtracted at the register scale so that you don't end up paying for the cost of your jar or bag. Most reusable produce or grain bags will have a little tag that has the tare weight on it, so that's a helpful reference. To measure your jars, just place them on the scale at your coop while the jar is empty (make sure your lid is on too), then note the weight. This is your jar tare. Make sure to double check the unit on the scale. Sometimes they will be set to grams or oz depending on who last used it. You want to use pounds as your unit because this is what they will use at the register.

4. Take pictures of the PLU numbers and pull them up at the checkout to avoid using the plastic stickers.

Most coops will provide small stickers that you can put on your jars to label them with the tare and the PLU number of your product. Because I shop with my own containers in the bulk section frequently, and because I think it's generally annoying to use small stickers like that when I'm trying to be minimal waste, I've started taking pictures of the tares and PLUs instead. 

I simply put my jar and lid on the scale while still empty and take a picture that shows the jar and the weight. This way I am able to remember which jar each tare is associated with and I have it for handy reference. I've even started a photo folder on my phone for jar tares. This makes for easy access and saves me the trouble of having to recheck the tares every time I go. Then I go and fill up all my jars with my products. I take a picture of the PLU number and make sure that I have a way of keeping track of which jar is which (this can get confusing if you are buying multiple types of flours that are similar in color. It's that easy. 

The check out can be the stressful part, especially if your coop is busy or your cashier seems annoyed. However, I have found that the majority of the time the cashiers are super kind and supportive. On a few occasions, I've even had people behind me in line ask me questions about how I do this and they have been really encouraging. I think this is one of the benefits of shopping at a local coop that prioritizes providing minimal waste options. You're more likely to run into likeminded people who are also trying to minimize their waste at places like the Wedge Coop. 

So put all your items on the conveyor belt and don't panic. Open your phone's photo app and pull up the first tare weight for the first jar the cashier rings up. Then flip over to the picture with the PLU number for that product. Continue in this way until you've checkout all your items. It can be a bit tedious and can feel like you're annoying people, but I find that it helps to remember that I'm making an intentional decision to steward the earth through my buying power and that's an honorable thing. If other people are annoyed by that, it's something I'm willing to stick to anyway. 

5. Be nice to yourself and don't worry so much about it. 

You're doing a great job. The fact that you are taking the time to make a shift toward minimal waste is simultaneously a big and small thing. It's a small, easy change to make to adjust the way and the types of food we buy. But it's a big thing when we consider the lifetime of waste we would otherwise be creating. It's also a big deal to do the hard work of living out your values. So stick with it. Be willing to look silly or frantic. Give it a shot. The beauty isn't just in the end result; it's absolutely in the process as well. 

If you're too nervous to try a zero waste trip to the bulk section on your own, let me know. If come to the Twin Cities I'd be happy to have you tag along and see what I do!