There’s no doubt that transitioning to a low waste lifestyle has lowered mine and my family’s exposure to potentially toxic chemicals. It’s one of the co-benefits I always mention during my talks and interviews. But I’m not surprised that planet friendly behaviours and products are also people friendly. We’re all part of an ecosystem that is naturally restorative and regenerative; if we look after the environment it will look after us. Here are five ways my low waste choices have reduced my exposure to potentially toxic chemicals, and in the process, simplified my life.
Wait. What? Clothing is toxic? I have to admit, I’ve never really thought about the chemical-ridden process of making and distributing clothing and how toxic it can be to wear until recently. But now I know that clothing manufacturers coat their wares with chemicals known as, or suspected to be, carcinogens, hormone disruptors, and allergens to give the clothing certain properties like ‘stain resistant’, ‘antibacterial’, ‘antistatic’, ‘wrinkle-free’, ‘colour-fast’ and ‘low fire danger’. We’re talking about chemicals like perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), triclosan, formaldehyde, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE). Also, plastic shoes or clothing printed with plasticky logos and pictures could contain phthalates. These chemicals get onto our skin when we put on our clothes and may cause conditions such as dermatitis, allergies, or even multiple chemical sensitivity – and who knows what else they cause over years of exposure.
Thankfully, the things I do to reduce textile waste such as not buying new clothes often (only five pieces plus some socks and undies in five years), choosing second hand or vintage, swapping with others, and mending, means I’m reducing my exposure to these chemicals and reducing the amount of chemicals put out into the world. This is because used clothes have had the chemicals mostly washed out. I’m so glad my kids have grown up wearing hand-me downs!
For more information: How checking labels can help you avoid toxic clothing
We’re an active outdoors family and if my kids didn’t experience occasional cuts and bruises I’d feel like I was failing as a parent; it’s just so important for kids’ development (and for adults) to play sport, experience nature and take some risks. But cuts need to be looked after, so I was super excited when I found a natural zero waste band-aid.
PATCH Strips are as effective as traditional band-aids but are better because they’re biodegradable so they won’t pollute the environment if they fall off at the beach, playground, or on a camping trip. And, because they’re made from all natural ingredients they’re safe for people like my daughter who have had reactions from the chemicals in the glue of other band-aids. Check out this Nine News story for more information about the chemicals in band-aids.
I’m a fan of PATCH Strips and the team behind them because they’re a great example of innovation that’s good for people, good for the planet, and easy to use. A great way to use my dollar to vote for the world I want to live in.
For the past 50 years we have been sold the idea that we need more chemicals in our homes. We need a chemical to get rid of something in the air, to clean the floor, to clean the bathroom, to clean the windows, to clean the kitchen, to make our families safer and healthier… yet the chemicals to kill the fly are more dangerous to us than the risk from the fly being in the house (I got that from Dr. Dingle)! And it can be the same with other ingredients in a lot of other household cleaning products.
Manufacturers argue that in small amounts these toxic ingredients aren’t likely to be a problem, but when we’re exposed to them regularly and in different combinations it’s impossible to accurately gauge the risks. Constant exposure to chemicals can add to the body’s “toxic burden”.
Luckily my concern for the environment, frugal inclinations, and of course my science background has meant that I’ve always found this stuff completely unnecessary. Over the years I have distilled my household cleaning products down to just locally made soaps that are either package free or packaged in cardboard, and kombucha vinegar which I brew myself from loose leaf tea. Both are effective, non-toxic, cheaper and zero waste.
This is another area where we’re constantly told by people who want to sell us stuff that we need chemicals to look better, to smell better, and to clean ourselves, but again, a lot of it isn’t necessary because it doesn’t work and can actually expose us to chemicals and combinations of chemicals that can make us sick. According to the Environmental Working Group, a woman will have around 185 chemicals on her skin daily, and a man will have around 85, just from personal care and cosmetic products.
I most definitely fell into the trap of believing I needed a lot of this stuff in my teenage years and twenties, but over time I’ve simplified personal grooming significantly to reduce waste, reduce chemical exposure, save money, and to confront society’s expectations of how women should look and behave. Now I don’t wear perfume, dye my hair or use hair styling products. I don’t use face wash or exfoliators or moisturisers (rarely, I’ll use coconut oil or olive oil to moisturise). I wash my body, face and hair with soap and sometimes I’ll use bicarb soda and vinegar for my hair. I wear natural deodorant and only wear makeup on special occasions. It may not be this way forever, but it works for now.
Further reading: Dangerous Beauty?
I enjoy growing my own food and the benefit of that is that there’s less food waste, less packaging, and less resources used in growing and transporting the food. It also means I can be sure that no pesticides, herbicides or other harsh chemicals have been applied to my food.
I also like to preserve and store my homegrown produce which means I have less need to buy long-life foods which might be packaged in tin cans lined with plastic or other undesirable packaging.
Similarly, to avoid packaging waste I make more food from scratch and avoid the additives present in processed food.
Read more: Chemicals in Food
It certainly blows my mind how many potentially harmful chemicals are in our lives, but as with waste, I focus on doing what I can in my own life, sharing information and learning with others, and pushing for larger scale change wherever possible.