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How to Clean Silver Jewelry the Natural Way

Silver jewelry often gets tarnished and this is because oils from our skin tarnish the metal. The common method of polishing silver, however, has toxic chemicals.

Here is a natural way to polish your silver jewelry!

1. Wash your jewelry with dish soap and then rinse without drying. This removes excess dust and oil.

2. Line a small pot with aluminum foil and fill with enough water to submerge all the jewelry in.

3. Stir baking soda into the water using a couple of teaspoons per item of jewelry.

4. Bring the water to a boil, but then remove from heat right when the water starts boiling. 

5. Drop your jewelry into the water, making sure it touches the foil. 

6. Leave the jewelry in the water for a few minutes occasionally moving the pieces around with tongs.

7. Remove your jewelry from the pot and then dry the pieces with a clean cloth.

With this method, you are removing sulfur buildup on your jewelry, which will keep your silver nice and shiny.  

Making a Switch to Green Energy

Did you know that electricity production is the most polluting industry in the United States? This is because the majority of the electricity is generated from dirty, non-renewable fossil fuel sources like coal, natural gas, and oil. 

Photo Courtesy from QZ Prod

But there is a solution: making a switch to green energy. Green or clean energy, on the other hand is 100% renewable because it is made out of resources that are naturally replenished like water, sun, and or wind. And although green energy will not solve all the environmental problems that exist, it is a start and a commitment to being more conscious about our behaviors and how they impact the planet. 

Green energy will be slightly more costly than what we normally receive from the market and energy companies, but the pollution we will be diverting is worth those few extra dollars. We have to think about the future for generations to come, and this is one step towards preserving what we have left. 

Photo Courtesy from Diegoterna

In the long run, there are obviously environmental benefits through green energy, but also economic ones. First off, we will be eliminating the release of harmful chemicals into our air, water, and soil that contribute to climate change, mercury poisoning, smog, acid rain, and respiratory diseases. We also will decrease the harm to land that fossil fuel production requires. Economically, we will be increasing job opportunities in the green employment sector, supporting and developing America's own energy source, and encouraging development in rural areas because these areas have the resource potential and space the renewable facilities will need. 

And it is extremely easy to initiate -- it only took us less than an hour in total to get in touch with a helpful spokesperson that walked us through the process, explained things clearly, and successfully helped us make the switch. 

If you're in New York here are two great options: 



Both these companies have fixed rates and work with your current supplier to provide the energy, which means you still pay your bill in the same place, so there's no confusion. 

If you're not located in New York, a quick Google search of your city and green energy should lead you to some local companies that can help you easily transition to clean energy. 

It is our duty to do as much as we can to protect our earth for the generations to come. We cannot neglect the severe damage or simply sit idly and take no action to prevent further pollution and harm. It is our kids and grandchildren that will be living on the same earth, so we should do as much as we possibly can to protect what we have now. 


Plastic-Free For Absolute Beginners: 7 Tips for Getting Started

From Treading My Own Path on June 1, 2017

Photo Courtesy from Treading My Own Path 

When we’re new to living plastic-free or zero waste, just looking at the journey ahead of us can seem a little… daunting. On one hand, we’re eager to make changes, and excited to be making a positive impact on ourselves and the planet. But what first steps to take?


1. Don’t throw anything away!

Before you begin, don’t just throw all your plastic in the bin, or dump it at the charity shop. Whilst it can be tempting to “begin again with a clean slate”, it creates a huge amount of waste. If your main motivation for embracing plastic-free living and zero waste is to reduce waste, this is completely counter-productive.

In time you’ll be able to decide whether you can re-purpose things, pass them on to someone who will use them, or use them up yourself. You’ll learn the best way to dispose of things responsibly. You’ll also know whether you need to replace them.

Plastic-free and zero waste living is a journey, not a race.

2. Remember change takes time, and the more time you spend on it, the faster you’ll see results.

Going plastic-free or zero waste is about changing habits, and change takes time. Like any habit, if you practice every day you’ll get there faster. The more you practice, the easier it will get.

Yes, you can go plastic-free or zero waste and work full time, have children and pursue other hobbies. You will just make slower progress.

Take into account how much time to have to spend learning new habits, and set yourself realistic goals. If your expectations exceed what’s likely or practical for you to achieve, you’ll end up disappointed and disheartened.

3. Go to your regular stores with new eyes.

Bulk stores (especially those that have been established with waste-free and plastic-free living in mind like The Source Bulk Foods) are an ideal place to buy packaging-free groceries, but in the beginning, don’t rule out your regular stores completely.

Instead, take a little extra time, and go to your regular stores and walk up and down every aisle, looking at every single product. Look for products in glass, cardboard, or paper.

Photo Courtesy from Treading My Own Path

When we shop, we often operate on autopilot. We don’t browse the overwhelming choice of products. We tend to buy the one we always buy, or we choose what’s on offer. Now is your chance to look with a different parameter – plastic-free.

You might find there are more alternatives than you realised.

4. Get your reusables ready.

When you first go zero waste or plastic-free grocery shopping, take more reusables than you think you’ll need. As well as reusable shopping bags, take reusable produce bags, glass jars, and glass or plastic containers with lids of various sizes.

Photo Courtesy from MJ and Hungryman

Almost everyone has reusable shopping bags; if you don’t, I recommend looking for natural fibres rather than plastic ones that will eventually end up in landfill.

There are many options for reusable bags, and if you sew you can make your own out of old net curtains or bed sheets. If you can’t sew, handmade reusable produce bags can be found via Etsy, an online marketplace for people who do know how to sew.

Photo Courtesy from Onya Life

If you don’t have glass Pyrex or stainless steel food containers, consider using plastic in the short term until you know which sizes work best for you. Glass and stainless steel is an investment, so knowing what you need is helpful before you splash out. If you’re ready to invest, this directory of online zero waste and plastic-free stores might be helpful.

(There are other bits and pieces you might find you need, like cutlery, a water bottle and a coffee cup. You can find the day-to-day reusables I carry in my handbag here.)

5. Look for bulk stores, Farmers Markets and health stores in your local area.

Before you step out the door, it makes sense to look on the internet. Are there any bulk stores close by? Are there any cooperatives that might have food in bulk? What about bakeries or farm shops? Italian grocery stores often have dry goods in bulk, and well-stocked deli counters. Check when local Farmers Markets run, and where.

Photo Courtesy from Miami and Beaches

You can call places to find out if they have a bulk section, but nothing beats going to have a look. Even if bulk isn’t an option, there might be plastic-free and lower waste solutions. Just having a browse can open your mind to some of the potential.

6. One change at a time.

Rather than change everything at once, focus on one thing at a time. It makes sense to tackle things in the order they need replacing. With food, fresh produce comes first, like fruit and vegetables, milk, and bread. Then there’s longer life fresh stuff like yoghurt and cheese. Then there’s dry goods, and it might be a few months before you need alternatives for some of these.

The same will apply in the bathroom, the cleaning cupboard, the wardrobe and the rest of the house.

Work on replacing things as you need to.

7. Join the community!

Zero waste and plastic-free living is a movement, and a movement needs people! You will find it so much easier and far more rewarding if you connect with others on the journey. You’ll be able to share ideas, vent frustrations, ask questions and guide others.

Not everyone has the support of family and friends, at least not at first. Finding a community of like-minded people will give you a strong support network to keep you motivated.

If you can find people locally to connect with, that’s awesome (if you don’t know where to look, the Transition Town movement is a good starting point). If not, there is plenty of opportunity online – and these groups will welcome you with open arms!

Remember, no-one has all the answers on the first day! Plastic-free and zero waste living is a journey. Enjoy the process, have fun, and know that everything you’re doing makes a difference.

Read the original article here

Got Broken Stuff in NYC?

Photo Courtesy from The Verge

From We Hate to Waste on May 11, 2017


Repairing is so important, it deserves to be the 4th R. But how to findrepair shops in NYC?  A product with a lifetime warranty?

Good News: We have more repair options than you think. Read on to learn more, as well as pick up some tips for the other 3 Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.


1. Order coffee ‘to stay’. Patronize take-out restaurants that offer washables — and reduce all that plastic and aluminum container waste.

Photo Courtesy from Secret Nutritions


2. Carry reusables like coffee mugs, water bottles, lunch bags, utensils, and shopping bags.

Photo Courtesy from MJ and Hungryman

3. Take a second look at secondhand — oftentimes it’s better than new! Locate thrift and vintage shops near you at DonateNYC. Buy refurbished electronics at the Lower East Side Ecology Center’s E-waste  Warehouse in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Find treasures at the best flea markets in NYC.  

Photo Courtesy from TimeOut NYC


4. Find out if your building is eligible for in-building collection of clothing and textiles, electronics and organics (food scraps, yard waste, food-soiled paper). If not, drop off clothing and organics at local greenmarkets. Drop off electronics at various collection sites around NYC or return them to manufacturers.

Photo Courtesy from Earth911

5. Learn how to recycle cell phones, home improvement waste, appliances, and ink and toner cartridges. Learn which plastics CAN’T go into the recycle bin. Bring plastic bags and other film waste back to retailers.


6. Get broken lamps, electronics, furniture, bikes and more fixed at PopUp Repair and Fixers Collective events in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Photo courtesy from The New York Times

7. Host your own repair cafe in your school, senior center, temple or church.

Read the original article here.

Weed-Whacking Herbicide Proves Deadly to Human Cells

Photo Courtesy from AVIXYZ/FLICKR

By Crystal Gammon on June 23, 2009

Weed-Whacking Herbicide Proves Deadly to Human Cells

Used in gardens, farms, and parks around the world, the weed killer Roundup contains an ingredient that can suffocate human cells in a laboratory, researchers say

Used in yards, farms and parks throughout the world, Roundup has long been a top-selling weed killer. But now researchers have found that one of Roundup’s inert ingredients can kill human cells, particularly embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells.

The new findings intensify a debate about so-called “inerts” — the solvents, preservatives, surfactants and other substances that manufacturers add to pesticides. Nearly 4,000 inert ingredients are approved for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Glyphosate, Roundup’s active ingredient, is the most widely used herbicide in the United States.  About 100 million pounds are applied to U.S. farms and lawns every year, according to the EPA.

Until now, most health studies have focused on the safety of glyphosate, rather than the mixture of ingredients found in Roundup. But in the new study, scientists found that Roundup’s inert ingredients amplified the toxic effect on human cells—even at concentrations much more diluted than those used on farms and lawns.

One specific inert ingredient, polyethoxylated tallowamine, or POEA, was more deadly to human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells than the herbicide itself – a finding the researchers call “astonishing.”

“This clearly confirms that the [inert ingredients] in Roundup formulations are not inert,” wrote the study authors from France’s University of Caen. “Moreover, the proprietary mixtures available on the market could cause cell damage and even death [at the] residual levels” found on Roundup-treated crops, such as soybeans, alfalfa and corn, or lawns and gardens.

The research team suspects that Roundup might cause pregnancy problems by interfering with hormone production, possibly leading to abnormal fetal development, low birth weights or miscarriages.

Monsanto, Roundup’s manufacturer, contends that the methods used in the study don’t reflect realistic conditions and that their product, which has been sold since the 1970s, is safe when used as directed. Hundreds of studies over the past 35 years have addressed the safety of glyphosate.

“Roundup has one of the most extensive human health safety and environmental data packages of any pesticide that's out there,” said Monsanto spokesman John Combest. “It's used in public parks, it's used to protect schools. There's been a great deal of study on Roundup, and we're very proud of its performance.”

The EPA considers glyphosate to have low toxicity when used at the recommended doses.

“Risk estimates for glyphosate were well below the level of concern,” said EPA spokesman Dale Kemery. The EPA classifies glyphosate as a Group E chemical, which means there is strong evidence that it does not cause cancer in humans.

In addition, the EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture both recognize POEA as an inert ingredient. Derived from animal fat, POEA is allowed in products certified organic by the USDA. The EPA has concluded that it is not dangerous to public health or the environment.

The French team, led by Gilles-Eric Seralini, a University of Caen molecular biologist, said its results highlight the need for health agencies to reconsider the safety of Roundup.

“The authorizations for using these Roundup herbicides must now clearly be revised since their toxic effects depend on, and are multiplied by, other compounds used in the mixtures,” Seralini’s team wrote.

Controversy about the safety of the weed killer recently erupted in Argentina, one of the world’s largest exporters of soy.

Last month, an environmental group petitioned Argentina’s Supreme Court, seeking a temporary ban on glyphosate use after an Argentine scientist and local activists reported a high incidence of birth defects and cancers in people living near crop-spraying areas. Scientists there also linked genetic malformations in amphibians to glysophate. In addition, last year in Sweden, a scientific team found that exposure is a risk factor for people developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Inert ingredients are often less scrutinized than active pest-killing ingredients. Since specific herbicide formulations are protected as trade secrets, manufacturers aren’t required to publicly disclose them. Although Monsanto is the largest manufacturer of glyphosate-based herbicides, several other manufacturers sell similar herbicides with different inert ingredients.

The term “inert ingredient” is often misleading, according to Caroline Cox, research director of the Center for Environmental Health, an Oakland-based environmental organization. Federal law classifies all pesticide ingredients that don’t harm pests as “inert,” she said. Inert compounds, therefore, aren’t necessarily biologically or toxicologically harmless – they simply don’t kill insects or weeds.

Kemery said the EPA takes into account the inert ingredients and how the product is used, whenever a pesticide is approved for use. The aim, he said, is to ensure that “if the product is used according to labeled directions, both people’s health and the environment will not be harmed.” One label requirement for Roundup is that it should not be used in or near freshwater to protect amphibians and other wildlife.

But some inert ingredients have been found to potentially affect human health. Many amplify the effects of active ingredients by helping them penetrate clothing, protective equipment and cell membranes, or by increasing their toxicity. For example, a Croatian team recently found that an herbicide formulation containing atrazine caused DNA damage, which can lead to cancer, while atrazine alone did not.

POEA was recognized as a common inert ingredient in herbicides in the 1980s, when researchers linked it to a group of poisonings in Japan. Doctors there examined patients who drank Roundup, either intentionally or accidentally, and determined that their sicknesses and deaths were due to POEA, not glyphosate.

POEA is a surfactant, or detergent, derived from animal fat. It is added to Roundup and other herbicides to help them penetrate plants' surfaces, making the weed killer more effective.

"POEA helps glyphosate interact with the surfaces of plant cells," explained Negin Martin, a scientist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina, who was not involved in the study. POEA lowers water's surface tension--the property that makes water form droplets on most surfaces--which helps glyphosate disperse and penetrate the waxy surface of a plant.

In the French study, researchers tested four different Roundup formulations, all containing POEA and glyphosate at concentrations below the recommended lawn and agricultural dose. They also tested POEA and glyphosate separately to determine which caused more damage to embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells.

Glyphosate, POEA and all four Roundup formulations damaged all three cell types. Umbilical cord cells were especially sensitive to POEA. Glyphosate became more harmful when combined with POEA, and POEA alone was more deadly to cells than glyphosate. The research appears in the January issue of the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology.

By using embryonic and placental cell lines, which multiply and respond to chemicals rapidly, and fresh umbilical cord cells, Seralini’s team was able to determine how the chemicals combine to damage cells.

The two ingredients work together to “limit breathing of the cells, stress them and drive them towards a suicide,” Seralini said.

The research was funded in part by France’s Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering, a scientific committee that investigates risks associated with genetically modified organisms. One of Roundup’s primary uses is on crops that are genetically engineered to be resistant to glyphosate.

Monsanto scientists argue that cells in Seralini’s study were exposed to unnaturally high levels of the chemicals. “It's very unlike anything you'd see in real-world exposure. People's cells are not bathed in these things,” said Donna Farmer, another toxicologist at Monsanto.

Seralini’s team, however, did study multiple concentrations of Roundup. These ranged from the typical agricultural or lawn dose down to concentrations 100,000 times more dilute than the products sold on shelves. The researchers saw cell damage at all concentrations.

Monsanto scientists also question the French team’s use of laboratory cell lines.
“These are just not very good models of a whole organism, like a human being,” said Dan Goldstein, a toxicologist with Monsanto.

Goldstein said humans have protective mechanisms that resist substances in the environment, such as skin and the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, which constantly renew themselves. “Those phenomena just don't happen with isolated cells in a Petri dish.”

But Cox, who studies pesticides and their inert ingredients at the Oakland environmental group, says lab experiments like these are important in determining whether a chemical is safe.

“We would never consider it ethical to test these products on people, so we're obliged to look at their effects on other species and in other systems,” she said. “There's really no way around that.”

Seralini said the cells used in the study are widely accepted in toxicology as good models for studying the toxicity of chemicals.

“The fact is that 90 percent of labs studying mechanisms of toxicity or physiology use cell lines,” he said.

Most research has examined glyphosate alone, rather than combined with Roundup’s inert ingredients. Researchers who have studied Roundup formulations have drawn conclusions similar to the Seralini group’s. For example, in 2005, University of Pittsburg ecologists added Roundup at the manufacturer’s recommended dose to ponds filled with frog and toad tadpoles. When they returned two weeks later, they found that 50 to 100 percent of the populations of several species of tadpoles had been killed.

A group of over 250 environmental, health and labor organizations has petitioned the EPA to change requirements for identifying pesticides’ inert ingredients. The agency’s decision is due this fall.

“It would be a big step for the agency to take,” said Cox. “But it’s one they definitely should.”

The groups claim that the laws allowing manufacturers to keep inert ingredients secret from competitors are essentially unnecessary. Companies can determine a competitor’s inert ingredients through routine lab analyses, said Cox.

“The proprietary protection laws really only keep information from the public,” she said.

This article originally ran at Environmental Health News, a news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.

Read the original article here

What Really Happens To Your Clothing Donations?

Photo Courtesy from The True Cost

By Lauren Indvik on January 20, 2016

What Really Happens To Your Clothing Donations?

Let's just say they're not all going towards a good cause.

A year ago, caught up in Marie Kondo-induced tidying fever, I gave my closet a thorough purge — eliminating some 70 percent of my clothes and accessories, and donating the majority to a nearby charity, Housing Works, which operates several secondhand clothing and book stores throughout New York City and uses the proceeds to provide health and housing services to those affected by HIV and AIDS. As I piled my trash bags of clothes in the back of its Crosby Street shop, I looked at the wealth of donations already occupying most of the floor space. Surely there couldn't be enough room for all these clothes in the handful of racks around me?

The fact is — there wasn't. Until I started doing research for this story, I thought that all of my secondhand J.Crew trousers and lightly used Topshop coats ended up in the hands of someone in my city who really needed, or at least wanted, them. It's what Elizabeth Cline, author of 2013's "Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion," calls the "clothing deficit myth." But with Americans buying and discarding clothing at record rates — we buy about five times more clothing than we did in 1980, and threw away 40 percent more textiles in 2009 than we did a decade earlier — donation centers have far more stuff than they could ever realistically resell.

Only a small portion — about 20 percent — of Americans' used clothing, including those sent to consignment shops, are being sold at secondhand retail outlets and thrift stores in the U.S. Far more are being shipped to developing areas like sub-Saharan Africa, South America and China — in fact, the U.S. sends away a full billion pounds of used clothing per year, making it our eighth largest export — where clothes are bought in 1,000-pound bales, sorted and then resold to the local populace, sometimes wreaking havoc on local industries by taking jobs away from local textile workers. Another 45 percent is recycled through one of the U.S.'s 3,000-odd textile recycling facilities. And the rest? That ends up in landfills. Eleven percent of donations made to Goodwill in 2014, for example, were deemed unsaleable and carted to landfills — about 22 million pounds in all — costing the organization millions of dollars in transport fees and other expenses.

At Housing Works specifically, about 40 percent of donations actually go on sale at one of their 13 New York thrift shops, according to public relations manager Katherine Oakes — double the national average. Those that don't sell between two to four weeks are passed along to Housing Works's Buy the Bag shop in Brooklyn, where customers can fill a bag with apparel and accessories for $25. All leftover items are then sold to what Oakes describes as "commercial vendors" — more frequently referred to as clothing salvagers, which buy bales of clothing for "pennies on the pound," says Dale Emanuel, a spokesperson for Goodwill's Williamette division, which also sells excess donations to salvagers.

A typical salvager will sort through the clothes, cherry-picking the very best to be sold to owners of vintage and secondhand shops, and sending just about everything else that's wearable for resale abroad (again, that's a bad thing). What can't be worn is recycled into rags and household insulation. Excess buttons and zippers and the fabric that isn't good enough to recycle? That goes to landfills.

Despite this obvious surplus in secondhand clothing, more donation and recycling programs seem to be popping up in the U.S. every year — frequently led by retailers. H&M, American Eagle Outfitters, Madewell, Reformation, Cuyana and M. Gemi have all launched clothing drives over the past three years, generally accompanied by an incentive to replace those discarded duds with something new from one of their stores. But donors beware: not all of these programs are created equal.

Retailers including Madewell have partnered in recent years with Blue Jeans Go Green, encouraging shoppers to drop off their unwanted jeans with the promise that they'll be turned into housing insulation for those in need — plus a $20 coupon off a new Madewell pair. But Blue Jeans Go Green, a subsidiary of Cotton Incorporated, is not a charitable organization, though its website and marketing materials make it appear as such. Rather, it's a for-profit entity* (Please see bottom for correction) that turns denim into insulation (itself made up of 80 percent recycled material), a portion of which — 180,000 square feet in 2014— is donated to partner charities like Habitat for Humanity.

Similarly, cool-girl retailer Reformation reinforces its eco-friendly image by sending a complimentary postage sticker with each order so that customers can ship back unwanted clothing in their closet. The company promises to forward those donations to Pennsylvania-based Community Recycling — which isn't a charity but a for-profit recycler. The org doesn't hide the fact that it ships most of its donations abroad; in fact, it boasts that it sends used clothes to more than 50 countries. 

American Eagle Outfitters, meanwhile, has asked shoppers to "help save the planet" by donating their used clothing at their more than 800 stores in the U.S. and Canada, in exchange for a $5 coupon off a pair of AEO jeans. But — you guessed it — those donations head to for-profit recycler I:CO which, like any good salvager, resells a lot of the secondhand clothing it receives abroad. The good news is that the proceeds AEO earns from the program are donated to the Student Conservation Association.

Still, it's enough to think that these brands are more interested in aligning themselves with sustainable efforts — and moving yet more new product — than making a real effort to change the system, isn't it?

None of this should discourage you from donating your clothes — quite the contrary. The vast majority — 85 percent, or 12 million tons — of unused textiles are carted off directly to U.S. landfills each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That's more than 7 percent of our national landfill waste. Putting your discarded clothing into the hands of for-profit recyclers is far, far better than stuffing them in the trash bin.

But if it's important that your used clothing goes towards a good cause, take a moment to check out where your donations are really going. If you don't mind that some of the clothes you donate to big charity organizations may end up in a cargo ship to Central America, by all means. But if you do, seek out local churches and violence and domestic abuse centers; children's hospitals are a great repository for gently used toys. (And not all retail programs should be discounted necessarily — Cuyana, for example, has made an effort to gets its customers' donations into the hands of local domestic abuse charity H.E.A.R.T., its CEO promising that none of the items make their way to secondhand shops or for-profit recyclers.)

If you want to take it a step further, take Cline's advice: "Buy way less and buy better, so that used clothes can continue on in the best possible condition." Cline, who recently returned from a trip to Kenya, where she was studying the impacts of the 30 million pounds of used clothing the U.S. routes to the country each year, argues that while charities' lack of transparency around the donation process is a real problem, "overconsumption of throwaway clothing is the root problem." I, for one, will never applaud myself for dragging seven trash bags' worth of stuff to Housing Works again.

*Note: We regret the following errors in regards to our description of Blue Jeans Go Green. Blue Jeans Go Green is not a subsidiary of Cotton Incorporated, but a program. And while it is true the program is not a charitable one, it is not, as previously stated, a for-profit entity; of the denim donations it receives, it upcycles 100 percent into insulation, which it then gives away — but does not sell — to various entities, including many Habitat for Humanity chapters as well as non-charitable groups like the "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" show and Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, according to spokesperson James Pruden.

Read the original article here

Is Almond Milk Bad for the Planet?

Photo courtesy from Cultures for Health

By Lindsay Miles on April 20, 2017

Is Almond Milk Bad for the Planet? (+ Some Myths Debunked)

First almond milk and other plant-based milks are lauded as a healthy alternative to regular milk; the next thing is they are being hailed as environmentally destructive. I exclusively drink nut milk at home (I make my own) and when I first starting hearing these claims, I decided to look into it a little more.

I want to live as sustainably as I can, and I also want to understand as much as I can about where my food comes from.

Articles with headlines like “Almond milk: quite good for you – very bad for the planet” and “Your Almond Habit Is Sucking California Dry“, published by reputable news sources (in this case, The Guardian and Mother Jones respectively), make it easy to see why many people think nut milk is bad for the planet.

But these articles don’t tell the whole story.

The headlines definitely don’t tell the whole story.

Sustainable choices are rarely completely black and white. There’s often compromise, or prioritizing one aspect of “green” over another.

If you stopped at the headline, you’d think that almond milk is bad for the planet. I want to go beyond the headline, to find out what reasons they give, and explore the rest of the story.

NB Statement quoted below were taken from this article by the Guardian.

The ‘Water’ Issue

The main environmental concern with almond milk seems to be the amount of water needed to grow almonds, coupled with the fact that most almond trees are grown in drought-hit California.

“It takes 1.1 gallons (4.16 litres) of water to grow one almond.” (The Guardian quoted this article, which stated where they obtained their data from: Mekonnen, M. M and Hoekstra, A. Y 2011.)

There are 92 almonds in a cup, which makes a litre of homemade almond milk. That means 1 litre of almond milk requires 384 litres of water to produce.

(Store-bought almond milk appears to have a much lower almond content, listed as around 2% of the total. Most brands do not list the number of almonds used per litre, but it is thought to be much less than homemade nut milks.)

“This isn’t to say cow’s milk, which takes about 100 litres of water to produce 100ml of milk, is more environmentally friendly”. (The Guardian quoted 250ml as requiring 255 litres; this source contains the research data.)

A litre of cow’s milk requires 1016 litres of water to produce.

Almond milk requires 384 litres of water per litre, and cow’s milk requires 1016 litres of water to produce, which is 2.5x more water. Almond milk is less water intensive than dairy milk.

 Environmental Impacts: the ‘Cows Versus Trees’ Issue

It is very frustrating when environmental impacts are measured on one factor alone. For many companies, using plastic is considered a more environmentally friendly option than using paper or glass, as it has a lower carbon footprint and is cheaper to transport. But when you take into account reuse-ability, recycle-ability and nenew-ability, it is a different picture.

Talking about the environmental impact of almonds based solely on water usage is only part of the story. What about the fact that almonds grow on trees, which stabilise soil, add oxygen to the atmosphere and decrease soil erosion?

Compare this with dairy cows, which are big contributors to greenhouse gas emissions (methane), require huge swathes of land to produce feed, and contribute to soil erosion and waterways pollution.

Animal welfare and ethical issues aside, growing trees seems the more environmental choice over raising cows.

The ‘Location’ Issue

Almonds seem to be targeted because they are grown in California, which has been hit by drought in recent years.

“More than 80% of the world’s almond crop is grown in California.”

This means 20% is not. Australia is the second-largest almond producer. I exclusively purchase Australian almonds as they are local to me. All produce has a printed country of origin, even products purchased in bulk stores. I purchase all my nuts from The Source Bulk Foods (they have 33 stores across Australia), as they stock Australian almonds as well as other nuts from Australia.

Almonds are also grown in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. World production is 2.9 million tonnes, and the USA produces 1.8 million tonnes. There are a million+ tonnes of almonds not grown in the USA to choose from.

For all of us living outside the USA, we have the option to purchase non-Californian almonds. However, Californian almonds are definitely more common.

If low food miles and sourcing locally grown or produced food is a priority, and almonds don’t grow close to where you live, almonds might not be the best choice for you.

“Its production is not concentrated in one area of the globe.” Meaning that whilst dairy milk is produced globally, almond production is concentrated in California.

Does distribution even matter? Or is it more about scale?

In 2014 California produced 2.14 billion pounds of almonds. In the same year California produced 42.3 billion pounds of milk. Regardless of worldwide production distribution, California produces more milk than almonds, and milk has a greater water footprint than almonds.

When the water used to produce Californian almonds is dwarfed by the water used to produce Californian dairy products, it seems a little misleading to claim that it is almonds that are “sucking California dry.”

They may not be blameless, but they seem to get more blame than they deserve.

The ‘Scapegoat’ Issue

California might have a lot of almond trees, but it’s an agricultural powerhouse, growing more than 200 crop varieties including almost all of America’s apricots, dates, figs, kiwi fruit, nectarines, olives, pistachios, prunes, and walnuts. It leads in the US production of avocados, grapes, lemons, melons, peaches, plums, and strawberries.

California also produces huge numbers of animal products including milk, beef cattle, eggs, sheep, turkeys, hogs and horses.

Dairy and livestock are considered far more water intensive than vegetable crops. Almonds use similar water to other nut trees (and 99% of America’s walnuts are also grown in California). “Fresh” crops like lettuce and broccoli not only need large quantities of water to produce, they need to be refrigerated and are often air-freighted to their destination.

Why do almonds get a bad rap, whilst all the banana bread bakers adding Californian walnuts to their loaves get not a single talking-to?

I wonder if it is because almond-milk drinkers are seen as trendy hipsters. I wonder if people are trying to make it into a “class” issue (if almond milk is seen as middle-class). I wonder if it is because the dairy industry has a lot of money to push towards fighting the growing nut milk industry and the potential decline of dairy milk sales.

I can make my guesses, but I can’t know for sure. I do think that almonds (and almond-milk drinkers) are unfairly targeted. The issues go much deeper.

The ‘Packaging’ Issue

It is not the growing of almonds that is so bad for the planet. It is the mass manufacture of almond milk and the global shipping to stores worldwide that is having a negative environmental impact.

Shipping water all around the globe is crazy. Most of us wouldn’t dream of buying bottled water (assuming we have drinkable water coming from the tap), but carton nut milk is 98% water. It is virtually the same thing!

Then there’s the containers. Nut milk is usually packaged in Tetra Paks, and these aren’t as easily recycled as their manufacturers would like us to think they are. Theoretically recyclable is not the same as actually recycled in our town/municipality/state.

Recyclable or not, they are designed to be used once only and not refilled.

Buying carton nut milk, especially one that has been manufactured overseas, is not an environmentally sound choice. From a transport (and energy) perspective, dairy milk has a lesser impact as demand is typically for fresh milk, so it is sold locally.

The great news is, it is really easy to make your own almond and other plant-based milks. I typically make my own cashew milk and almond milk, but you can use any type of nuts. I’ve made macadamia milk, walnut milk, and brazil nut milk. I’ve even made seed milks! Experiment, and find your favourite.

What is the Most Environmentally Sustainable Milk Option?

At it’s heart, I don’t think this is about almonds. Or dairy cows.

The real issue here is industrial agriculture in a fragile, sensitive environment, and pursuing profit at the expense of the planet.

If you can, support local farmers, and buy products produced in your local area – or as close to your local area as possible. If you choose to drink nut milk, consider buying nuts and making your own.

If you’d rather buy packaged nut milk, look for one that has been manufactured locally (even if the ingredients are from overseas). Coconuts require far less water than other nuts, and grow in climates where rain is plentiful.

Of course, we could refuse milk entirely, dairy, almond or otherwise. We could drink black coffee. We could just drink water, which we harvested from the roof in our rainwater tank. We could… but will we? There’s the perfect world, and then there’s the real world – the one we live in.

I think it’s important to ask questions, and to try to understand where our food comes from. I think it’s valuable to understand why we make the choices we do. Sometimes our choices are less than ideal. It isn’t about being perfect. It’s about trying to do the best we can.

Read the original article here

Sustainable Farms || How You Can Get Involved

Here are some links to great websites and resources to get involved and learn more about farming and gardening!

Earth Matter

Friday work days are an easy and fun way to get involved in the community and learn more about composting.


Grow NYC || Governers Island Teaching Garden 

New York Botanical Garden

Take classes at the New York Botanical Garden!

Lower East Side Ecology Center

Here you can volunteer for e-waste tutorials and lessons or help out with gardening and composting.

Red Hook Community Farm

Volunteer or take classes at the farm. It's also a great place to just visit with friends for a great view. 

Rooftop Growing Guide

Annie Novak has a great book called the Rooftop Growing Guide and she also holds events and workshops.

Here are a couple of videos that I find to be important and extremely enlightening. 
Enjoy and please pass along to friends as well. 
From Food Abundance 
From NowThis on Facebook
Jussara is featured in this video!

Directed by Louis Fox

Directed by Louis Fox
Directed by Jorge Furtago
Directed by Marcos Prado
From Prince EA on Facebook
From TEDxPerth - Lindsay Miles
By National Geographic
From Zinc on Facebook
From Opposing Views on Facebook
From ATTN on Facebook
By The Huffington Post
By M2M
from Ecosurf on Facebook
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