Responding To The Latest Environmental News Holistically, Sustainably, Realistically

Image of Earth by NASA/Suomi/NPP; edited by CS Sherin

CS Sherin
November 8, 2018

A grassroots, holistic approach to sustainable living is inclusive, with a common goal of greater health for all life.

When we address issues individually, the solutions or ongoing management can be largely unique and fluid, with change and necessary adaptations, for each person’s circumstances–geographical, physical, and financial.

While our responses and approaches may necessarily vary greatly, we still face the same main issues and goals together, such as: climate change, plastic pollution, toxins, and the need for sustainable, healthy ecosystems, biodiversity, and communities; as well as healthy air, water, soil, and food.

We received great news with the Midterm Election results yesterday morning–over 100 women were elected into the House and Senate–with many groundbreaking firsts for Native American, African American, Muslim, and LGBTQ representatives! That is something to celebrate!

This needed progress greatly impresses upon me the fact that–there is so much important work to be done–and we can’t do it soon enough.

The current Administration has been actively working to dismantle all protections set for our air, water, endangered species, people, children–and the list goes on and on. We must maintain our sense of urgency, while also breathing deeply with the peace of knowing that we are in this together, and are moving forward.

As we continue to dedicate our focus to ongoing pressure–on politicians, policy makers, manufacturers, and corporations–to do the right thing for health, civil rights, and environment; we will also continue the interpretive dance of living a holistic sustainable life each day, best we can. As we know, this culture of consumerism, fast convenience, and single-use plastics sets us up to fail. Still, we are smart and determined enough to keep adapting, and pace ourselves for the long haul. Let’s continue to insist upon kindness, ethics, compassion, and healthy standards for each other, and all life on this planet.

Today we are looking at an Environmental news report from six days ago, in order to review the facts, how we may respond to it, and what to take into consideration as we do so.

On November 2nd, the BBC (Science & Environment) reported on “Five products you didn’t know were harming the environment“.
We will explore these five products from the article, and brainstorm possible solutions below.

Birth Control Pills

Image by @simonevdk on Unsplash

The article cites a 2016 Swedish study which found that a synthetic hormone within the pill found its way into fish via wastewater, and had altered their genes. This resulted in the fish losing the ability to capture food consistently and effectively, as well as negatively affecting the ability for the fish to procreate. Even at low levels, the effects of the synthetic hormone from the pill are harmful to fish. The ramifications may be nothing less than an extinction of the specific fish affected, along with cascading results within the ecosystem.

We already have known that pharmaceutical drugs have been showing up in the water supply via wastewater, and that synthetic hormones used to create plastics are harmful to water and health in general, and many similar toxins bioaccumulate.

The disturbing aspect of pharmaceuticals showing up in waste water due to the fact that we necessarily ingest them, is particularly difficult to come to terms with. We know that birth control and antidepressants can be positively life-changing for those using them.

What comes to mind immediately is the urgent need we have to recognize the faulty and erroneous nature of our decision to make water our main disposal method for our urine and feces. If we were to stop utilizing water for waste, we would begin to create composting systems that could present real solutions for clean energy, in addition to the obvious choices of geothermal, solar power, and hemp. I cited some major innovations regarding this in Recipe For A Green Life: Powered By Pee and Turning Feces to Fuel in Kenya. Also, composting toilets are a thing: Composting Toilets Offer Solution to Water, Sanitation Problems. In addition, on October 24th of this year, University of Cape Town made a breakthrough by successfully growing human urine based bio-bricks in a zero-waste process.

What can we do to address this, at a personal, grassroots level?

Push for new systems for waste and recycling. Invest in a composting toilet if you can afford it. Educate and raise awareness about these issues, as well as the positive solutions that are within our reach. All movements protecting water of the planet are essential.


Image by Sandid on Pixabay

The article cites the Water Footprint Network’s calculations, which reports that a single avocado requires an excessive amount of water to grow (60 gallons per avocado). This need for so much water to grow avocados, in Chile, led to farmers illegally diverting water sources–depleting it, and contributing to drought and the subsequent harsh water shortages for locals.

Of Chile’s exported avocados, Europe takes in about 60% of it, and the US takes in about 16%. California is the source of most our supply in the US. In fact, here in the US, California produces more than 1/3 of our vegetables, and 2/3 of our fruits and nuts. That means that 80% of all water used in California is for that produce. According to the New York Times, “the average American consumes more than 300 gallons of California water” weekly, by eating the produce. With California experiencing droughts and wild fires, farming is anything but predictable there.

What can we do to address this, at a personal, grassroots level?

As always, being aware and educating others about these kinds of serious and changing dynamics with water and demand for certain foods is paramount. If we live in a climate where we can grow our own produce, being self-sufficient in that way, and learning about permaculture methods to renew soil and conserve space and water is a smart move. Encouraging food forests and community gardens that are both business or residential is another important action to consider. The Yard Posts is a website in California that gives advice and well-measured guides to growing produce, especially avocados, at home. For those of us who cannot grow our own avocados, like with everything else, we practice ongoing mindfulness of the sources we choose for our produce, how much strain they may put on our resources, and how much we want to buy, reasonably and ethically, on a regular basis.


Pineapple Fields in Panama, 2014, by Bernal Saborio; Flickr

There has been a upsurge of demand for pineapples in the UK, exceeding the demand for avocados. Costa Rica is one of the largest world suppliers of pineapples. The article cites the Costa Rican Conservationist Federation, which reported that entire forests were decimated for mono-culture pineapple crops, causing irreparable damage to the small country’s landscape. In the Spring of 2017, demonstrators in San Jose, Costa Rica gathered to protest the expansion of Del Monte near protected land. There have been ongoing violations that so many in Costa Rica have been concerned about related to pineapple production: contaminated soil and water from excessive pesticide use, abusive labor conditions, and infringement on Indigenous peoples’ land. There is much to protect in Costa Rica–the Osa Peninsula alone contains 2.5% of all biodiversity on the planet!

It was recently revealed that the USDA allowed Costa Rica producers to sell pineapples grown with pesticides, which are banned by US organic standards, as organic…. $6 million worth. If we cannot trust the standards of organic certification regulated by the government, then there is no protection against fraud, which greatly degrades organic in our country.

What can we do to address this, at a personal, grassroots level?

The shortest, simplest answer is for us to buy Fair Trade organic pineapples, if we can’t grow them where we live. A company in Germany, Kipepeo, exports Fair Trade organic pineapples from 250 small farmers in Uganda. This kind of partnership is humane, environmental, and beneficial for all parties. Fair Trade organic pineapples are not usually found in conventional grocery stores. If you are unable to find ethically sourced pineapple, it may be best to avoid it. As always, we seek to support small organic farms with a fair wage and ecologically sustainable practices in place. This is in addition to organic/permaculture gardens at home and in the community at large.


Palm Oil Fields in Indonesia, 2008, by Achmad Rabin Taim; Wikimedia Commons

The article highlights the fact that destructive, unsustainable palm oil is found, not only in countless food products, but in many other commonly used products at home, like shampoo, lipstick, detergents, soaps, and toothpaste.

The article cites the WWF 2018 “Living Planet Report”, which includes information about the massive amounts of carbon dioxide that is polluting and contributing to climate change, and destruction of habitat and species–all created by palm oil plantations.

Not only can palm oil be found in conventional products of all kinds, palm oil can be found in way too many plant-based foods marketed for vegans as well.

What can we do to address this, at a personal, grassroots level?

Much of what makes a difference is our awareness and our willingness to gently and patiently educate others, and only once we have educated ourselves–which is an ongoing process. Issues with sustainable and unsustainable palm oil are muddy, troubling, and complex at best. With the same level of importance, we embrace creating homemade DIY recipes to replace products that are not safe, ethical, or humane. It is possible to make and use soaps and detergents without unsustainable, harmful palm oil (or Shea).

As always, for those of us on plant-based diets, sometimes financial restrictions prohibit us from making the ethical choices we deeply desire to make. The key is to keep aiming for better choices and doing the best we can each day. Our problems are systemic and that is why our approach must be holistic. With fair wages in our country comes a greater ability to invest in the ethics we stand for.

Air Fresheners

‘Natural’ scents by Toban B., Ontario, Canada, on Flickr

The article highlights the dangers of indoor air pollution due to toxic chemicals found in air fresheners, like limonene. They clarify that limonene isn’t really dangerous by itself, but released into the air, limonene was witnessed to react to ozone, then producing carcinogenic, asthma-inducing formaldehyde.

Other harmful chemicals that contribute to indoor air pollution include synthetic perfumes/fragrances, scented candles, dryer sheets and liquids, cleaning products, and all sorts of air fresheners (spray, plug-in, diffuser, car air fresheners, etc).

Many synthetic fragrances can negatively affect our health. Some of the ingredients used can be addictive, in a way. There is a complete section in Recipe For A Green Life with citations outlining chemicals commonly found in fabric softeners. Here are some commonly used ingredients in fabric softeners, known to have narcotic-like qualities, for example: benzyl acetate, ethyl acetate, and pentane.

What can we do to address this, at a personal, grassroots level?

There are many ways we can freshen our air and fabrics more naturally, without compromising health and polluting our own indoor air. Open a window. Wash and clean with chemical free soaps and detergents that contain fragrance from essential oils, citrus, and plants. If you choose to use essential oils, make sure that they are pure (not synthetic or diluted). Choose candles without synthetic fragrances. Use incense and diffusers that are completely natural and chemical free.

When you use essential oils as a natural alternative, consider the following. Essential oils are extremely concentrated and utilize huge amounts of an herb, plant, or fruit in order to be created. We must commit to conservation in our use and demand for essential oils. In addition, it is important to research which essential oils are going to be incompatible with you or your family member’s unique health needs.

Even natural, chemical free ingredients can be bad for certain health conditions. As we turn to DIY recipes to avoid toxins and Green our habits and lifestyle, it is of the utmost importance that we take the responsibility to research even natural ingredients. We need to commit to recommending recipes and products with side notes to research more with sustainability and demand in mind, as well as safety precautions, which may be otherwise overlooked. Doing this ensures that we all experience fewer setbacks and road blocks to an ongoing practice of a holistically sustainable lifestyle.

Originally published at on November 8, 2018.