What Do All the Food Labels Mean?

Figuring out food can be tricky.

It should be simple, right? This is healthy, this is less healthy, stay away from this.

But nope. Marketers and multi-billion dollar companies have made it complex so we never can seem to catch up on all the new labels and what they mean. Not to mention, the rules seem to be changing daily and by the time I write this it’ll probably already be outdated.

However, here’s the breakdown that hopefully stays mostly accurate.

(Keep in mind, these are only U.S. labels. I’m not sure how many of these apply to other areas.)

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USDA organic

Anything labeled organic must have at least 95% organically produced ingredients. “They can not be produced with any antibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides, petroleum or sewage-sludge based fertilizers, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation.”

Organic is one of the more regulated labels compared to the others. On-site inspections and random inspections happen before and after being certified. There are no GMO’s allowed in the organic label.

There are varying tiers of organic:

  • 100% Organic – everything in it must be organic
  • Made with Organic Ingredients – must be made with at least 70% organic ingredients

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Natural Ingredients

This means nothing. It’s a word made up by marketers and the USDA doesn’t define it in any way. Watch out for this one.

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Cage Free / Free Range

This label means the animals cannot be contained in any way. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are treated well or that they have a lot of space to roam. It just means they’re not in a small cage. Yes, it does mean the animals are allowed access to the outdoors, but it’s a minimally regulated term. Applications and certifications are not required.

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Non GMO Project

This label means that the product doesn’t contain GMO’s. I’m not even going to go into the debate on GMO vs. Non-GMO in this article, but that’s what the label means. It is a regulated label, so at least you can know it’s almost always accurate. It takes between 3 and 6 months to become certified and it requires food testing and proof to meet their requirements.

If a product has a label such as “GMO free” or “Free of GMO’s” that doesn’t mean anything with this specific label. This label is currently the only non-GMO label that is verified.

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Grass Fed

Grass fed means the animal was fed grass for the lifetime of the animal. They have access to pasture during the growing season. The government has finally started putting more and more regulation into this label.

Under the grass fed label, there are pasture-grown, free-roaming, and meadow-raised which all mean the animal has access to the outdoors for a minimum of 120 days a year.

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Gluten Free

This label means it’s free of gluten (wheat, barley, rye, malt, brewer’s yeast, and non-gluten free oats). As someone who is celiac, this is a tricky label because they still allow the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten in the food which can still cause reactions in some people. According to celiac.org, “Manufacturers are not required to test for the presence of gluten in ingredients or in the finished “gluten-free” labeled food product. However, they are responsible for ensuring that the food product meets all labeling requirements. Manufacturers will need to determine how they will ensure this.”

How to Avoid Palm Oil in Your Products

Although it’s one of the most commonly used oils on the planet, palm oil is threatening sensitive habitats.

Palm oil only grows in tropical places, and it’s essential to the health of our planet to keep such places alive and thriving. Palm oil has been linked to the destruction of rainforests and also to destroying habitats for endangered species such as orangutans, tigers, elephants, and rhinos. WWF outlined other ways the palm oil industry hurts the environment, you can read: here.

According to Greenpeace’s in-depth report on the palm oil industry in Borneo, titled Cooking the Climate, the incineration of South East Asia’s peat forests has released 1.8bn tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In statistical terms these gases count for 4% of climate-change emissions globally, from only 0.1% of Earth’s land. Most of the cleared land was used to grow palm oil plantations. Source

Any environmentalist should want to reduce their use of palm oil, or at least switch to only ethically-sourced options. (Side note, some sites say there’s not really a lot of truth behind sustainable options, but we’ll see what happens with more research.)

WWF has a great resource that breaks down all the possible products palm oil is in (it’s a lot!). You can find it in bread, cookies, soap, chocolate, detergent, ice cream, instant noodles, pizza dough, and more.

Avoiding palm oil is not only good for the planet, but it’s good for your waistline, too. “Alarmingly, chips made with palm oil contain 75 percent more saturated fat than chips made with sunflower or canola oil.” Source.

You’ve probably heard stories floating around the internet of how orangutan’s are treated on plantation properties, although climbing trees are part of their natural habitat. It has been such a problem that the International union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have been put on the “critically endangered” list. At the rate it’s happening, orangutans are likely to be extinct within 10-20 years.

How to Fix This and Avoid Palm Oil

One of the biggest goals of this blog is to not simply just give you the facts, but to give you easy ways to fix the problem.

In 2010, the biggest user of palm oil was Unilever. Following close behind were companies like Kraft, General Mills, HSBC bank, Cargill, and Nestle. However, the unfortunate part is that even if you read the ingredients on everything you buy, companies don’t always have to list palm oil as an ingredient.

In come countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, palm oil can be labeled as “vegetable oil”.

One way to get around this is to see the saturated fat content in what you’re buying (if it’s food). If the saturated fat content is around 50%, it is most likely palm oil.

Most pre-packaged snack food made by a giant corporation is likely to have palm oil in it.

Keep an eye out for foods that have the oil type labeled such as coconut oil, sunflower oil, olive oil, etc.

Here is a list that is specific for Australian purchases.

According to WWF, here are all the different names that palm oil can be listed as:

INGREDIENTS: Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat, Palm Kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Fruit Oil, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitic Acid, Palm Stearine, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate, Hyrated Palm Glycerides, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol

CONTAINS: Palm oil

Say No To Palm Oil has a great 28 Day Challenge to get you started on right right foot, you can check that out: here.

This is also another list of products that agree to not use palm oi.

The Eco Friendly Holiday Shopping Guide – 2016 Edition

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Happy (early) holidays everyone!

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a huge head start on my holiday shopping this year because I never, ever start early enough and then I’m running out at the last minute trying to put everything together.

Now, since this is a site that focuses on an eco-friendly lifestyle and gardening, I’ll also be mentioning some non-profit idea to donate to if you prefer to go that route over the holiday season.

These are items I personally love. I could go the route that most bloggers to and include gifts I’ve never tested myself, but that just feels icky. Instead, this is a shorter list with my absolute favorite products.

If you have any eco-friendly holiday favorites, leave them in the comments! I’m always trying to keep an eye out for quality, earth-friendly products especially if you know about eco-friendly fashion (that’s definitely not my expertise).

Here are my suggestions:

 

Glass straws

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As I’ve mentioned, I love glass straws. I worked for a glass straw company in my last year of college and I realized how quickly I use these things in absolutely everything.

My favorite ones are Simply Straws, which you can buy: click here, but there are a ton of glass, metal, and bamboo straws on the marketplace to choose from.

World’s Healthiest Foods

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This book is my life. I came across one and thought it was 100% unnecessary to need a book this large about fruits and veggies, but you guys, this book is a lifesaver.

It has all the nutritional information about most of the fruits and veggies out there, but it also has recipes, how to cook each of them, and how to store them.

Every single recipe has been 100% dead-on and I refer to it so much that I’m on my second copy now. (Plus people keep “borrowing” it aka keeping for months.)

I’m always cooking and when I have some leftovers or just want to cook something simple, I whip this book out. Plus, the storage knowledge and the tips on knowing when something is ripe has saved me all kinds of money by keeping my food fresher longer. Throwing away food is the worst feeling, and this book has helped me stop storing my veggies in a way that made them rot faster.

You can buy it: click here.

Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots

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I initially received this book years ago from Johnny’s Seeds when I put in my very first order of veggie seeds. It was beyond cool of them to do so, and this book is a true treasure.

Actually, all of Sharon Lovejoy’s gardening books are just amazing, but this one is especially cute because the ideas in side are truly backyard goals. For example, one idea is a “pizza” setup where you grow all the things you would need to put on a pizza.

I haven’t had a backyard with enough space (ah, city living), but the day I do I’m doing all of these.

This book is mainly for kids, but let’s be honest, a lot of us adults are kids at heart so don’t let that deter you.

You can buy it: click here.

Johnny’s Seeds

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I have been on Johnny’s Seeds mailing list since I was a teenager and through my dozens of moves since then I always keep my catalogue address updated (maybe in a past life I was a farmer?).

As I mentioned with the above book, when I placed my first order as a youngin’ with Johnny’s Seeds (actually, TBH my mother did because I was around 12 or 13), they sent me a free book with all these great imagination-stirring ideas. Rarely do companies go above and beyond like this, so it’s something I haven’t forgotten and I’ve put in an order almost every single year.

Not to mention, the quality of seeds always exceeds expectations.

Maybe it’s weird that I love getting seeds at Christmas, but maybe there’s a few people out there who are the same.

Visit Johnny’s Seeds: click here.

Ball glass jars

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I know, I know, these are on everyone’s eco-friendly lists, but that’s for good reason. These are amazing. I have over 20 in my house and I use them for everything. Brewing tea, drinking water, iced coffee, storing leftovers, etc.

Out of all the ones I’ve purchased, my Ball ones seem to actually stay together. Too many out there start to get rust all over the lids, but so far so good with these ones.

Buy Ball jars: click here.

Mini Greenhouse

I won’t rave about these again since I already wrote a huge post on how I use my mini greenhouse in my apartment: click here.

Non-Profits

This section might be hard to really cover since there are thousands and thousands of non-profits out there doing the hard work that needs to be done.

Donate to your local animal shelter. (On a side note, a lot of people want pets for Christmas and I’d highly encourage you to adopt a pet and not shop for one. Here’s why: click here.)

Adopt a farm animal. Farm sanctuary has a great program for this: click here.

You can buy jewelry from people in small countries (where your money has a way greater impact than one of these huge jewelry stores here). Some examples: click here.

There are so many causes and issues, but depending on what matters to you it would help them all a lot if you even received one less gift and donated that money instead. For some of these programs even $20 can help a lot. I decided to do this last year and cut back on a few gifts (because most of it isn’t really a necessity) and donated to a few causes I care about instead. Honestly, the donating felt better.

Final Notes

Above all, the holiday season is heavily focused on buying so much, and while there’s nothing wrong with shopping, taking a second to reflect on each item you’re buying and looking around to see if there is a healthier alternative out there.

Keep an eye out for certifications like the Leaping Bunny to make sure they’re not tested on animals. Little steps made by a lot of people add up to huge steps.

Happy Holidays!

Why You Should Have An Indoor Greenhouse

Being able to grow your own food is one of life’s simple pleasures.

Every spring since I was 12 was dedicated to seed growing. Except that one spring in my college dorm where my roommate hogged the entire window. Although a few boys down the hall did ask how to grow weed in their room. Ah, Colorado.

Mentioning Colorado, the seasons are completely different here compared to my much more northern state of Michigan.

The sun here is lethal.

One summer, I lived in this place where the patio floor would get so hot, I couldn’t even stand on it without my feet feeling like they were melting. Needless to say, nothing I grew that year survived that heat.

This is when I decided to invest $40 and buy a baby indoor greenhouse.

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This thing has been through three moves in the past few years and countless seasons.

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I’m not an expert by any means, but a few people have asked me the easiest way to keep a garden going all year in these cold climates and don’t have access to a full greenhouse… this is my solution.

If you’re looking for one, this one: click here, is very similar to the one I have (that I don’t believe is for sale any longer).

August 2016 Challenge: Go Without Plastic Straws

Few items beat the plastic straw in terms of pollution.

With plastic straws, you only use them once and they go immediately in the trash.

Some estimates say that over 500 million straws are used in the US every single day. That’s just the US. I can’t even imagine the numbers if the whole world was included.

I never even recognized this problem until I worked for a glass straw company.

Then, I realized how often plastic straws are used in the day to day world. At every fast food place, many restaurants, schools, sports stadiums… Everywhere.

Rarely are the straws available biodegradable. Instead, the plastic straws just break down over time into smaller plastic that generally ends up in our oceans and waterways.

Along with the plastic pollution from straws, it also requires oil and gas to create these straws in the first place.

Hot straws can cause the plastic to leak certain chemicals into your body as well. This isn’t always the case, but it’s something to keep in mind if you choose to drink something like coffee or tea through a straw every day.

Here are some more reasons that plastic straws shouldn’t be in your life.

What to Do Instead

There are so many alternatives to the cheap, common plastic straw.

There are some biodegradable straws on the market. Although those still require a whole process to create, they’re still a better alternative.

There are so glass, bamboo, and stainless steel straws.

As I mentioned earlier, I worked for a glass straw company and still use my glass straws every single day. I know it seems strange to spend $10+ on a reusable straw, since we have been conditioned to believe they’re cheap/free everywhere we go, but one straw can last years. Most companies also have a return policy if you break them.

It’s a small price to pay for the benefit of making my small, small, small dent of helping the planet.

So, for August try to avoid using a plastic straw all together or better yet, invest in a reusable one.

Feel free to share this with your friends and challenge them to go plastic straw free this month!

Also, subscribe and get easy tips right to your inbox for helping the planet. No spam ever! Just actionable, easy tips.

The Honest Company Breathe Easy Rub Review

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As I mentioned in my other post about the Honest Company, I think they’re great in general, so my opinion is a little biased in that regard.

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I saw this in the store and couldn’t help but try it. I’ve been using Vicks VapoRub since I was a kid and I was intrigued by an organic alternative.

The basics to know about the breathe easy product:

  • USDA Organic
  • Menthol and petrolatum free
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Made with organic aromatherapy oils

The first thing I noticed when I opened it and put it on was the fantastic smell. Most people know the Vicks smell if you’ve ever used it.

This does not have that smell. Instead, it has a wonderful eucalyptus, rose hip, tea tree, rosemary, and lavandin smell.

My allergies have been trying to kill me this season, and honestly this breathe easy rub helps a lot. I rub just a little right under my nose and it’s amazing how fast my stuffy nose goes away.

I haven’t tried this when I’m sick yet (fingers crossed that won’t be for awhile!), but it’s my new nightly routine to put just a small amount right under my nose and curl up and read before I fall asleep.

The only complaint I have about the product is that the great smell doesn’t last as long as I’d like. It’s gone after a few minutes, but thankfully the clear breathing continues.

Overall: I love this breathe easy rub so much and I’m going to use it for a long, long time.

You can get the Honest Co. organic breathe easy: click here.

It can also be found at your local store and they have a handy store locator: here.

Do The Best You Can

After my last grocery haul, I got home and realized some of the products were not products I really meant to buy.

Some were from companies I don’t support.
Some were not nearly as “healthy” as the label claims.
Some of these foods have ingredients I always try to avoid.

After being upset and debating walking all the way back to the store to return everything, I took my dog out and thought about it for a second.

Here’s the thing, sometimes we need to just relax.

Yes, it’s important to continue to give money to amazing companies and healthy products.

At the same time, we’re all just trying the best we can.

Some days everything goes well, and some days it doesn’t.

All that matters is that you never give up.

Earth Month 2016 Celebration Ideas

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Photo by Christian Joudrey from Unspalsh

Today is Earth Day, and although every day should be Earth Day, this is a good time to go through our lives and see if we’re helping or hindering the environment with our choices.

I know I personally have a lot of things to go continue to adjust, especially as I learn more things about companies and the things they try to sneak under the eye of the public.

While it seems like one person changing their habits won’t have a huge impact, when a lot of people collectively make a lifestyle change, the impact is huge. Don’t underestimate your influence on your friends, family, and community.

Here are some easy solutions this month for small habit changes:

Reducing plastic use

From our food packaging, to our bathroom items, to our childcare products, and everything in-between, plastic is in all of it.

While plastic seemed like a good, cheap alternative in the beginning to other options like glass and wood, it ended up being disastrous for the planet and our health.

Here are 11 more easy options from Treehugger to reduce your daily plastic use: here.

Simply Straws, a glass straw company, is giving away a free straw this month if you pledge against plastic on your social media account.

Cutting down on water use

“According to the U.S. Geological Survey the average person uses between 80-100 gallons of water per day and estimates that 95% of the water we use, goes down the drain (1). So we waste 76-95 gallons per day per person.” Source: Here.

That is an insane amount of water.

Walk or car pool

Living in downtown Denver has made it incredibly easy to walk where I need to go, but it’s interesting how many people I talk to that refuse to walk anywhere even if it’s just a few blocks away.

Grow your own herbs or plants

I have a whole post on this: here.

Spend time in nature

There is a ton of research on the benefits of spending time in nature, and Earth Day is a perfect opportunity to receive all the benefits from being outside.

Only recycle

The average American throws away 4.5 lbs. of trash a day. Try to make today at zero. Only recycle today, or better yet, aim for zero trash at all.

Buy from a farmers market

Items from a farmers market are usually more nutrient dense, but did you also know buying from a farmers market can help the environment?

Donate to a cause that matters to you

There are thousands of organizations across the world that work hard to save the environment. If you have anything to spare, a lot of those organizations could always use your help. Make today the day.

The Honest Company – Air Freshener and Tampon Review

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Just to note: I don’t have any children, so I haven’t tried any of the baby products. I’ve only made one small order so far but I will definitely be ordering many more products from here on out. Yes, I realize that just summarized my entire post: I love The Honest Company. Period. My entire apartment will be phased out of my old products and slowly only Honest products will be replacing all of them.

I first heard of The Honest Company through a business article. The traditional business world couldn’t believe this young, hip woman (Jessica Alba) decided to start a company based around the idea of being honest and she was making a nice profit by doing so. *gasp*!

What a crazy idea. Who knew people were sick of being lied to and poisoned? (please sense the sarcasm)

I immediately made a mental note to look into those products because I support companies fighting for a good cause. A lot of the products were for parents at the time, so I put that order on hold since there are zero children in this household. Except for myself when I’m geeking out over the new Agent Carter episodes.

It wasn’t until later on when one of my neighbors was recycling one of their Honest boxes that I decided to look into The Honest Company again. (Did I mention they have the cutest inside of a box ever?)

They look like this when you open them:

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Cutest ever. I don’t think this picture does it justice.

I only ordered four items: two air fresheners, a lemon and lavender, and two boxes of organic tampons. (Yes, those things are necessary in life as a woman, if this is an uncomfortable fact, just remember you came out of a woman who had to deal with this as well. Moving on.)

You can read new research: here and here on why women should consider organic tampons vs. regular ones. One surprising fact: “85% of all samples tested positive for glyphosate.”

Ummmm, yeah okay no thank you.

If these were not frequently used and needed items I wouldn’t think this was a huge deal, but actually these are things needed for sometimes 40+ years, soooo… Thank you Honest for making these available.

Without TMI, let’s just say these are great. They work better than I ever expected, so highly highly recommended. Plus, they have a biodegradable plastic applicator which is not easy to find in most products and is SO much better for not only our bodies but the planet.

Okay.

*ahem*

Moving on.

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I am OBSESSED with the air fresheners as well. I have a dog, and we all know they can be stinky (and I can be too, who am I kidding), so having air fresheners is a must.

You know how so many of them have that chemical-reeking odor after you spray them? And if you ever get some on your skin you do that nose-scrunch where you wonder if that’s even safe and look at it on your arm? Yeah, that doesn’t happen with these.

I’ll be honest that the lemon one is my favorite of the two smells, but the lavender one is still nice.

The thing that I find the most fascinating is that I use the spray daily around my apartment and after two months this is how far down it is:

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Like, what? This is AMAZING. It will last for months and months and months and make my apartment smell beautiful? GIVE ME ALL OF THEM.

Plus, I have accidentally sprayed some on my skin and it never ever has that sticky feeling that comes with most air fresheners. I feel great spraying a light mist on things, and it makes everything smell fantastic. It doesn’t just mask the smell with that harsh usual chemical smell. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.

The one thing to be aware of is to make sure you don’t accidentally sign up for the monthly subscription unless you’re ready for it. Almost every subscription company on the internet has that business model now (and I work in the marketing world, so I understand why it works), but all the complaints I see about Honest usually stem from that fact.

Read the fine print, don’t complain about something you openly agreed to. That’s not really their fault.

You can order the products without bundling and signing up. My own personal use of products is all over the place, so I’m not in the market for a monthly subscription yet, but hopefully one day, because I love these products, the company, and the ideals of the company.

I choose to put my money into companies that actually care, and I know Honest is one of those companies. They are still relatively new but I hope they’re around for a long time to come.

If you’re interested in ordering some products, check out The Honest Company by clicking here.

Yes, in full disclosure that is an affiliate link and I receive $20 if you order something. I didn’t even know that was a thing until way after I already ordered this and I’d be buying and endorsing this product with or without an affiliate link.

Microbeads: What You Need to Know

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Microbeads are constantly making headlines these days.

With California electing to ban microbeads in products sold in their state, people across the world are wondering what’s the big deal?

What are microbeads?

Essentially, microbeads are tiny little bits of plastic that have been put in our hygiene products to convince us they somehow “clean” better. They provide a bit of a rough feeling, which makes people mentally convinced that they’re better for cleaning. However, they don’t clean any better than natural alternatives like sand, and on top of that, they’re terrible for the environment. You’ll often see them in things like face scrubs or body wash.

Not only are they clogging up our oceans, marine life eat them when mistaking them for food, which ends up getting plastic into our food chain.

Microbeads ended up in our oceans, waterways, and our food for no other reason than money. They’re cheaper to produce than the natural alternatives, so companies jumped on board to save on manufacturing costs.

For a more scientific approach from the Story of Stuff:

The composition of microbeads can vary and often include polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethlyl methacrylate (PMMA) or nylon. Bottom line, it’s all plastic!

A great video for reference: click here.

Why are they a big deal?

According to the Washington Post, around EIGHT TRILLION microbeads pollute aquatic habitats every single day. That is an insane amount of pollution entering our waterways.

These bits of plastic have invaded our toothpaste, body wash, face wash, and other various bathroom products.

The problem comes from the fact that most water treatment plants are not equipped to clear microbeads from the water, and as a results they end up in our oceans, lakes, streams, and our seafood. We end up eating the fish that eat the microbeads, which is how the plastic and chemicals that make up the beads get into our bodies.

During all my research, I could not find one good reason why microbeads exist. Exfoliation is wonderful for the skin, but that’s not what these are.

Are microbeads safe?

Great marketing campaigns have convinced us that microbeads are “better” for scrubbing, however, dentists have come out saying that these beads are getting stuck in people’s teeth and causing more damage than originally thought.

It ends up looking like this:

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Yeah, not exactly something you want in your gums.

As mentioned earlier, these are not just in toothpaste, they’re in a ton of household  and self-care cleaning products.

The best we can do is to actively spend our money on companies and on products that do not have microbeads in them.

How to avoid microbeads:

  1. Read the labels. If it has polyethylene, polypropylene, or polyethylene terephthalate in them, it’s plastic. You’ll want to avoid any products with this one the list. Not to mention, do you really want to scrub your face with plastic?
  2. Download the free PDF from beatthemicrobead.org to know what products to buy instead.
  3. Sign the petition from 5Gyres to ban the bead.

Want other ideas for small lifestyle changes for a better world? Sign up to never miss an update!