Tread Lightly – Shoes with a small footprint

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Steps on the ethical footwear journey.  Allbirds merino shoes on the left, Po-Zu Fairtrade sneakers on the right.

How often do you think about shoes?  Shoes are often overlooked when it comes to ethical clothing choices.  Unfortunately they are not readily recycled at the end of their life and so they usually end up in the landfill.  Many shoes that are available (and affordable) are made from non-biodegradable materials that will linger for many years (perhaps even thousands or tens of thousands of years), leaching toxic chemicals into the environment as they decompose.  What’s more we’ve all heard the horror stories of the treatment of workers in shoe factories around the impoverished “developing world”.  How can we ask those workers to care about the environment when they can’t even afford to care for themselves and their families?

It turns out that ethical footwear is pretty expensive and hard to find when you are in a hurry to replace a much loved shoe that’s fallen to bits.  We humans have been making shoes a long time.  People were making sage brush sandals ~10,000 years ago in Oregon!  Leather has been used to make shoes for 5500 years.  Things have certainly changed a fair bit in the shoe department.  This is particularly true since the rise of plastics and synthetic materials.

Several years ago we began to wonder how ethical our shoes were.  At the time our eldest was heavily influenced by her peers and wanted a pair of Nikes.  We had seen articles in the news about the treatment of Nike workers.  I was reluctant to purchase Nikes because I didn’t want to support a company that didn’t value human rights.  Our daughter was horrified when we found a few age appropriate videos on YouTube for her.  She wanted nothing to do with Nike.  We opted for  Mizunos  which are a more ethical alternative, and she was happy with them instead of the ever popular Nikes. Given the time pressure, the price we could afford and what was locally available in a hurry we think it was a good compromise.  Even better, it sparked a lot of discussion around the dinner table about what brands were ethical and what ones weren’t.  That was the beginning of the shoe journey.

What is the environmental impact of the shoes you wear?  How often do you stop to consider it?  Many people I have talked to seem to think that the only environmental impact of their shoes comes at the end of their life, but in actual fact that is only part of the impact.   In general, sports shoes for example comprise dozens of mostly synthetic materials.  A single sports shoe can contain 65 discrete parts that require 360 processing steps for assembly.  Using life cycle assessment methodology the carbon footprint for a typical pair of running shoes made from synthetic materials is estimated to be approximately 14kg CO2-equivalent.  The bulk of carbon emissions for a shoe is found in processing materials, and the manufacturing process.  Unlike many other consumables they are not energy intensive to use or maintain (which is the opposite of electronics for example).

If your shoes are made in New Zealand then the electricity used to power the manufacturing process is largely renewable.  But if it comes from China then coal is the dominant source of electricity and is also likely used to produce steam for other processes in the factory as well.  China is making strides in adopting greener energy alternatives but the majority of its electricity is still from unsustainable and polluting forms of power generation. This is an important consideration when trying to purchase ethical footwear, and it is one that is not easy to assess when you are in the shoe shop!

There are practical steps you can take, like buying quality shoes that have a longer lifespan, and only buying what you actually need.  You can repair your shoes too, I wrote a blog about repairing  jandals with a soldering iron.  Ultimately however, they wear out and you are likely to be left with a bulky piece of synthetic foam, imitation leather and vinyl, or a plastic sole to bury somewhere for the next 10,000 years.

When considering leather, there is more  than meets the eye.  Obviously leather is not an option if you are particularly bothered by animal welfare.  If you are comfortable using leather products, then you might want to consider where your leather is manufactured, under what laws, and if it is tanned using chromium or vegetable tanning processes.

NZ has a large leather industry (something I never knew anything about).  Workers are covered by our labour laws and there are environmental controls in place.  Overseas it is often a very different story.  The leather industry in places such as China, Bangladesh and India for example, is hazardous to both the environment and the people who work in the factories.  Leather is often produced in areas without strong environmental protection laws.  The primary cause of environmental damages from the leather industry is from the dumping of waste products (both solid and liquid) that contain chromium and other hazardous compounds.

While I understand why some people choose to avoid leather (or any animal products) out of concern for animal welfare, I am very wary of a so called “animal friendly” shoes that are instead made from synthetic materials and plastic soles.  It is all very well to refuse to use animal products, opting instead for a product that is impossible to recycle, will be consigned to landfill to leach toxins into the environment, and cause harm to the very animals you are trying to help.  They can’t drink from contaminated waterways, and they can’t eat fragmented remains of plastic shoes as they float in the ocean.  If you are concerned about animal welfare then you need to look more widely than whether or not the product came from an animal.  Instead you also need to consider the impacts of the production of synthetic alternatives on the environment and wildlife as well.

The following list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully it will provide a starting point for you to make a step in the direction of more sustainable and ethical footwear choices.

McKinleys

We have been buying McKinleys for our kids for years.  All three have had them and all of them have been unable to wear them out.  In fact, our eldest (long ago) hit on the bright idea to try scuffing holes in them so we would buy her a new pair.  She tried for a long time but gave up in the end because she was able to make them look worn, but not wear them out.

They come in two main styles for children (although they do a separate range of black school shoes and sandals). Style one is a pull on boot with an elastic gusset.  The second is an old style T-bar sandal.

Pros:

  • Available in a rainbow of colours, (red, blue, orange, bronze, green, pink…..etc).
  • Modest range of styles for adults.
  • Made in Dunedin NZ, under NZ labour laws protecting workers rights.
  • The leather for McKinley’s is sourced from Tasman Leather, a New Zealand owned tannery in Whanganui, using New Zealand hides, subject to NZ environmental and animal welfare protections.
  • Our kids shoes are usually $89-$99 but the last pair cost $65 because they were the last in a discontinued colour line.
  • Very durable.

Cons:

  • Soles are PVC or nitrile rubber, which is the only area of concern for me.
  • Our only issue so far has been that the buckles on a couple of shoes have not lasted. Both were able to be cheaply mended by the local shoe repairer.

Etiko

My husband decided to try these after becoming frustrated with cheap Warehouse shoes.  He is very hard on shoes, and so any shoe is in for a battering if he is wearing them.

Pros:

  • Amazingly comfortable casual shoes to wear.
  • Looked fantastic.
  • They are 100% biodegradable and sustainable
  • The sole was much better quality than equivalent Warehouse casuals.

Cons:

  • These shoes were terribly short lived. They had torn across back between sole and upper after only 3 months, of regular wear, which was very disappointing. The quality of the manufacturing seemed to let these shoes down.

Allbirds

My husband and I both have pairs of Allbirds.  We initially thought these looked like a great ethical choice but subsequent research has shown that there are issues with these shoes in terms of their soles and part of the lining of the upper. We were excited by the idea of a wool shoe.

Pros:

  • Super warm and comfy.
  • Ethical B-corp manufacturing.
  • Sustainable insole and part of upper.
  • Reasonable price.
  • They last better than you would expect a woollen shoe to last.
  • Fine for flat unchallenging surfaces.
  • They are definitely machine washable.

Cons:

  • Very slippery on some wet surfaces.
  • Undisclosed nylon in upper.
  • Soles are standard EVA and non-biodegradable.
  • My husband’s Allbirds haven’t held their shape. They now resemble booties! Mine are still fine despite a lot of wear.
  • The upper lacks enough support. Because the upper is stretchy my feet slide forward walking downhill and it’s actually downright weird on unevenly sloped surfaces and my feet slide sideways over the edge of the sole on steep terrain.
  • Not suitable as a running shoe despite advertising.

Po-Zu

My husband decided to try out this brand after seeing international reviews.  He got a semi casual pair for work.

Pros:

  • Vegan and chrome free leather options available.
  • 100% biodegradable, sustainable.
  • Fair trade.
  • Beautiful manufacturing quality.
  • After several months of regular wear they look barely used.
  • Warm and comfortable.
  • Good looking.

Cons:

  • Higher price, not available in NZ so difficult to get correct sizing.

 

Brooks

My husband decided to try these after his last running shoes wore out. This brand is the only proper sports shoe with ethical credentials that we could find.

Pros:

  • Huge commitment from company to living wages,
  • Ethical supply chain management
  • Real commitment to improving their environmental standards.
  • Biodegradable soles which make up the bulk of shoe.
  • Recycled content in upper.

Cons:

  • Shoes are still petro-chemical based and the upper is not biodegradable or recyclable.

I am choosing to make my choices count.  I support buying local NZ made where possible.  I always check the label to see where the shoes are made.  No matter how nice, if it is made in China for example I won’t buy it (unless it has exceptional accreditations to help me make an informed choice). I try to consider the end of life of the shoe too.  I don’t want something that is going to end up in landfill.  If it can be composted or recycled then that is a huge plus for me. I acknowledge how hard it can be to make these choices when you are urgently trying to replace your children’s shoes, but every choice you make has a flow on effect.  Even avoiding cheap synthetic shoes from China is a good place to start.

I believe we can transform the world with our choices.  Even making the effort to avoid a pair of shoes that is not ethically made in favour of a shoe with better ethical standards is a step in the right direction.

Kid’s backpacks – a burden of responsibility.

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Two very happy children and two ethical backpacks. Cotopaxi bag on the left, and Recycledbag.co backpack on the right.

We have just started a new school year.  The summer holidays are over.  It is back to school with all the fun of buying stationary and the grind of making school lunches.  This year we have had to buy school bags too.  Making an ethical choice in the back to school madness is an interesting journey.

My children are the best part of my life.  They bring so much joy and fun.  When it was just my husband and me on our own we thought about the future, but I don’t think we really felt how important it was until we held our children in our arms and watched them sleep at night.  My children focused me firmly on their future not mine.  My point of perception stretched from the immediate – to far in the future when my children and potentially grandchildren might be struggling to understand why we thought and acted as we do right now in 2018.  There are many paths to this realisation, and not all of them require kids, (that’s just been my personal experience).  But all of them permanently alter your perception of what is truly important.

The people making cheap school backpacks in sweatshops probably feel exactly the same about their children and the future they will inherit, but they are dis-empowered from taking any action because their labour is cheap and there are few laws to protect them.

I don’t want my children to have products that exploit another person.  I’m really bothered by the idea that my child might be wearing a school bag manufactured by workers in a factory who may not able to provide for, or even spend proper time with their own children.  My children feel the same way.

The more I have looked into ethical and eco choices the more aware they are of the reality of what goes on to make their things.  As a result my children are equally bothered by plastic waste, and they are horrified by the idea of people slaving away in factories for a pittance to make the things we end up buying.  They can’t believe (with their childish innocence) that this isn’t easy to fix.  “Why don’t people just say they don’t want plastic”?  “Why don’t people just stop buying things if they are made in sweat shops?  And “why don’t we just ask for the workers to be paid more”?  Why indeed?

In the past we have always been in a rush at the last minute and ended up buying what we could easily get hold of in the local shops.  However, these bags are usually made in China, are most often cheap, and clearly not well made.  These are the bags you usually find in the “back to school” sales.   I’ve never seen an ethical alternative.  The best you can hope for is to buy a bag that is designed to be more durable so it will be a while before it ends up in the landfill.

My little man has just started school.  He wanted an ethical back pack to replace his tiny kindy bag.  Fair enough we thought, he is going to have to fit more in his bag now than lunch and an emergency change of undies.  My 7 year old needed a replacement bag.  She was particularly keen on fair trade backpacks.   And so the search began.

It’s hard to find an affordable fair trade backpack in the local mall, so we didn’t even look.  We simply turned to good old Google.  We found a few option, some Fairtrade, some made from recycled materials.  They are a bit more expensive, but mostly they seem to be made to last. When it comes to ethical choices I think Vivienne Westwood summed it up nicely when she said “Buy less, choose well, make it last.”  This is exactly what we are trying to do.

Mister 5 initially chose a backpack from Patagonia.  He was really excited.  But although we had been impressed by Patagonia’s environmental and social responsibility claims we were sorely disappointed.  They do have outlets in NZ but they don’t necessarily stock the full Patagonia range and they don’t stock this little backpack.  We decided to try buying online from the US but they refused to ship to NZ under any circumstances.  They wouldn’t even ship to a US address if it was coming to NZ.  I don’t know how ethical they really are if a customer in NZ wants to buy an ethical product from them but they won’t allow that to happen.  I am really disappointed and I won’t be buying from them in future not even from their NZ outlets.  A truly ethical company needs to ensure that any person wanting to make an ethical choice is empowered to do so no matter what country they are from.

Following this disappointment my little man considered his options with us and decided to choose a backpack from Recycled bags.co which we purchased through an online shop called The Spotted Door  that specialises in recycled products.  Recycled bags.co is an Australian company making sustainable eco-friendly products from recycled fish feed and cement bags.  Their mission is to bring economic empowerment and a sustainable income to artisans in Cambodia where many people live below the poverty line on less than $1.25 a day.  Mister 5 is particularly anxious to stop plastic ending up in landfill so he was thrilled with this recycled bag.  He also instantly fell in love with the little elephant on the back. All in all, this bag was a super choice.  It has a couple of pockets, two on the outside and one on the inside.  It is the perfect size for him.  He insisted on wearing it for the first time on a family tramp to celebrate Waitangi Day.

Miss 7 looked at a number of options before settling on a Backpack from US company Cotopaxi.  She chose this neat little number in purple and it arrived the same day as Mister 5’s arrived.  It was like Christmas again in our house!  Cotopaxi products are guaranteed to last 61 years – the average lifespan of a person living in the developing world. If something goes wrong they will repair or replace the product, which might be a bit hard for NZ customers but I really like the intention behind it.   Cotopaxi is a public benefit corporation which means it is focused on public good rather than just pure profit.  Each year Cotopaxi provides targeted grants to non-profits, and this can include volunteering at local farms or helping install irrigation pumps in Myanmar. Cotopaxi are committed to helping eradicate poverty. They are also B Corp certified .  And it came with a photograph of the person who made the bag and a handwritten note.

Cost wise the Recycledbag.co pack we got for Mister 5 ended up being $75.00 NZD including postage.  The Cotopaxi pack was $65.00 NZD including postage.  Although much more expensive than a $15 cheapie from the Warehouse or some other budget place, our kids have helped to change the world!  These bags are designed to last, and in the case of Cotopaxi that guarantee should take Miss 7 through to when she is 68 years old!  It is a good sized bag for someone who is 7 years old, but it is still perfectly wearable for me so she should be able to get excellent mileage out of it.  It is designed and intended to last most of her life!

During our search we did find one Kathmandu backpack made from recycled bottles, but it was far too big for a kid’s school bag, and a bit pricey for us too.  But if you are interested it is worth taking a look.

So there is our ethical school bag journey.  We are very happy with the bags our kids chose and so are they.  They are proving a talking point with lots of people, who had no idea there were ethical bag choices out there.  I think it was all worth it.

How to keep your other half happy! Bottle cutting and Karma Cola.

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Before and after up-cycling!

In line with our families desire to step away from consumerism and pointless plastic clutter, we have been looking for ways to up-cycle things.  For some time we have admired various up-cycled bottle ideas.  So with that in mind I got my wonderful husband a glass bottle cutter  off Amazon.  This amazing gadget allows you to cut a glass bottle and turn it into a drinking glass or other interesting knick-knacks.

I don’t know how many other people out there sometimes struggle to get their other halves Christmas or birthday presents.  I can’t be alone.  I’ve heard the stories.  I am lucky to be married to a multi-talented amazing man, who has eclectic and varied interests and often expensive tastes.  He is usually pretty specific about the things he likes and doesn’t like.  He doesn’t like leather slippers for example (I didn’t give him those), he does like expensive woodworking tools (I can’t afford to buy him those).  Every year I field a range of phone calls from people wanting to know what they should get him for Christmas.   Occasionally I do hit the nail on the head.  Last Christmas was one of those times.  I got it right!

For a variety of reasons drinking glasses have a rather short life in our house.  We must be a fumble fingered family, but every month or so another one bites the dust around here.  Cheap Warehouse style drinking glasses last us about a week a glass (no joking).  I have been reduced to eating a specific brand of chocolate hazelnut spread each time a glass was broken because it comes in a glass jar that then works perfectly as a drinking glass.  I assure you that I don’t break drinking glasses on purpose to justify buying the spread…..I would never do that!

In all seriousness, although it tastes SOOOOO good, I am aware hazelnut spread isn’t good for me, and I am also aware that most brands of the stuff contain the dreaded ingredient palm oil.  I am happy to switch to something more sustainable and better for my health.  And thus the bottle cutter looked like a good idea.  We have already switched to avoiding plastic bottles where possible in favour of glass.  Now we can save cool and quirky glass bottles and up-cycle them into drinking glasses. And that is exactly what my husband has been doing.

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We saved a couple of karma cola bottles and he has now turned them into drinking glasses (still with their stickers on).  They look awesome.  My husband has been happily cutting bottles and grinding and sanding the tops to make them smooth.

Karma cola is an amazing company with a social conscience.  They are Fairtrade, and organic, and now their bottles are getting a new life as drinking glasses.  Karma Cola operate principally to benefit the people who grow the cola nuts they use to make their drinks.  It takes social responsibility seriously.  The Karma Cola Foundation has enabled the building of a bridge (for safe transportation), provided scholarships for young children to attend school, supports teachers, built rice processing plants and much more (read more on their website). Karma Cola aims to make sure that the people who grow the cola get something back from the people (like us) who drink it. I love drinking something that does so much good and tastes fantastic too.

So I get to drink Karma Cola, I have a happy husband busy in his man cave being creative, and a new set of glasses in the cupboard!  It’s all win win and loads of fun to boot.  Who would have thought that a dinky little glass cutter would have been such a great idea?

The eco-mundane, plastic free dishwashing!

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Sustainable alternatives to plastic in your kitchen.  From Left: Dishy bottle brush, Wet-it! kitchen cloth, Eco Max dish brush, and Ecostore dish brush.

A year ago I began the task of “de-plasticking” my kitchen.  This is something I’d wanted to do for a long time but hadn’t known where to begin because there is so much plastic in my kitchen.  In the end I started by getting an Ecostore dish brush to replace the bright plastic one that had finally worn out.

Look around the average kitchen and you will be amazed how much plastic you can find. Most measuring cups are plastic, most kitchen cleaning cloths and sponges are synthetic.  There is plastic cling film, there will be a plastic dish brush and more than likely a plastic pot scourer.  Bottle brushes are plastic, there are plastic storage containers, (Tupperware Sistema and more). Many pantry items are wrapped in plastic or come in plastic bottles or containers.  Even cucumbers are wrapped in plastic these days!  There are often nylon cooking tools, maybe even plastic mixing bowls.  And this is only the beginning.  There are so many other plastic items you can add to that list!  What’s important to keep in mind is that any little pieces of these things make their way down the drain and into our oceans.

Now that I look around my kitchen with my eyes opened to the global plastic problem I am horrified and guilt struck that I opted to buy these things in the first place.  I did choose quality plastic products most of the time, which are lasting and haven’t had to be thrown away.  The most environmentally friendly thing I can do is to use them carefully and stretch out their lives to the maximum before putting them out to recycle if I can.  I have opted to not replace any plastic utensil or tool in my kitchen unless it has reached the very end of its life. Thus the first thing I replaced was my red plastic dish brush. I moved it into the laundry to become an all-purpose scrubber for showers, buckets, and garden tools.  In another year or two it will end up in the landfill because it isn’t deemed recyclable.

I chose to replace it with an Ecostore dish brush with a handle and replaceable brush head.  I first ran into these when I worked at the Ministry for the Environment where all the staff kitchens had one.  I was skeptical of how well they would work, but was pleasantly surprised.  Now all these years later, I decided to get one and I was ridiculously pleased with it.  At my husband’s suggestion I oiled it with cooking oil to prevent cracking and started using it.  Interestingly we all found it to be more effective on most cooking remnants that the plastic equivalent.  The softer bristles are more densely packed and do a much better job.  Where it falls down is when something is burned on (of course that hardly ever happens in my kitchen!) or dried on.  The softer bristles don’t do so well then.  I have a much tougher natural bristle potato scrubbing brush that seems to do well for that.  All in all it works fine and lasts OK.

The one problem I’ve had with it is that the handle and the head keep coming apart now after a year of use.  It seems that the ferrule is not strong enough to prevent the brush head rotating or falling out.

I have found this very frustrating.  I am not sure if it is a design flaw or if it is peculiar to this one dish brush.  I have new Ecostore dish brush and handle now, so I’ll be able to see how it performs compared to its predecessor.  I also have an Eco Max dish brush purchased at Commonsense Organics.  This one is made of coconut fibre and seems to be practical.  It doesn’t look to me like it will be prone to coming apart.

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The not so useful Eco Max bottle brushes (left), my old faithful but slightly irritating Ecostore  dish brush with the rotating head (center), an old Ecostore dish head (nearly ready for composting) and my amazing Potato brush!

I have also tried to replace my ancient plastic bottle brush.  This has been more challenging so far.  We bought an Eco Max bottle brush that is made of wire and coconut fibre, but it is much too large to go into most of our bottles.  The more flexible handle is both useful and problematic.  Being able to bend the handle has its uses for odd shaped bottles and hard to reach corners.  But, apply any pressure and the handle bends and any stubborn muck remains hard to remove.  We bought a smaller one in the same brand but it is still too big for most bottles and is considerably shorter so doesn’t reach the bottom of taller bottles and vases.  I really wanted this to work out, but really I don’t think having 3 different sized bottle brushes to cater for all possible bottles makes much sense.  The only thing I would say that they are an OK-ish substitute for dish brushes when the regular one has gone walkabout.  I wouldn’t recommend this brand for bottle brushes unfortunately.

Luckily I recently found a Dishy bottle brush.  Unlike the Eco Max bottle brushes this one isn’t vegan, but it is all natural, biodegradable and contains no plastic. This has been a success as it fits in all bottles in the same way my manky old plastic one did. I love it.

So if you are looking for an alternative to your supermarket bought plastic dish brush, or bottle brush, rejoice!  There are alternatives out there and you can find ones that work perfectly well.  Next time you need to replace your unsustainable plastic dish brush, try a sustainable biodegradable alternative.  They are not hard to find.  I have seen them at Commonsence Organics, Palmers Garden Centre, Moore Wilsons, and online.  They are a great way to start reducing plastic in your kitchen.

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Compostable alternatives to synthetic kitchen cloths.  Top: Wet-it brand (in cute caravan print).  Bottom: The Green Collective brand cloths after two months in my kitchen.  They don’t look too shabby do they?

I have also been slowly replacing my synthetic yellow fluffy supermarket bought kitchen cloths.  I liked them because they hold a lot of fluid and are easy to rinse.  But I don’t like the fact that they are synthetic.  That bothered me a lot.  A few months back we found The Green Collective sustainable kitchen cloths.  They retail for about $8.99 online and I think that is what we paid for them at Moore Wilsons.  They come in lots of snazzy designs and colours.  They are made from 100% natural and renewable materials – cellulose blended with cotton. They are super absorbent and can be composted at the end of their lives.  Mine are lasting much better than I expected.  No real sign of wear and tear even after 2 months.  They are machine washable and I have had no trouble reviving them with Ecostore stain remover in an overnight soak.  I am very happy with them.  Another brand we found a week or two back is Wet-it! which we spotted in Commonsense Organics for $5.

A good friend of mine has another approach.  She cuts up old cotton tee-shirts and uses them as kitchen cloths and cleaning rags.  This is what I grew up with as my Mum used old tee-shirts for kitchen cloths and general purpose cleaning rags.  There is nothing wrong with this approach either, and it certainly is moneysaving.  Old tee-shirts repurposed into cleaning cloths can be composted when they are more hole than rag provided they are cotton (or other biodegradable fibre).  In my laundry I have several of these old tee-shirt cloths for household cleaning jobs.

So there you have it.  A few easy ideas to start reducing the plastic in your kitchen this New Year!  There is never going to be a better time to make a resolution to reduce your household plastic consumption.  Why not commit to reducing plastic in your house in 2018?  It is not hard and it doesn’t have to be expensive.  We owe it to the environment to give it a go and we owe it to our children to change our habits now that we know how big the plastic problem is!

 

Something to sink your teeth into…..Bamboo toothbrushes and more!

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A selection of the bamboo toothbrushes we have tried.  No complaints at all.

Today I am writing about toothbrushes.  Something we all take completely for granted as an essential item these days.  Apparently 3.6 billion toothbrushes are produced each year (worldwide), almost all of them plastic. Most of those toothbrushes end up in landfill, but many are washing up on beaches. Each toothbrush lasts between 1 and 3 months and is then discarded.  In the course of an average 75 year lifespan you can use and discard between 300-900 toothbrushes (depending on how frequently you replace them).  In our household of five we go through at least 20 toothbrushes a year.  These figures are astonishing.  Recycling options are starting to become available but many people are unaware of this.  I didn’t realise that toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes can be recycled until I noticed a collection point for them at kindergarten.

In researching this post I became curious about the history of the toothbrush that we take so much for granted these days.   When did toothbrushes and tooth brushing become common?

Here is some fascinating information for you.

The Egyptians were making something called “tooth powder” as far back as 5000 years BC.  It apparently consisted of ash from ox hooves, myrrh, eggshell fragments and pumice.  It was likely applied with a finger as there is no record of a tool.

The earliest known actual “device” for cleaning teeth comes from ancient Babylonia between 3500 and 3000 BC, and was called a “chew stick”.  A chew stick is basically just that, a chewed stick with a frayed end that was used to clean teeth.  Different types of aromatic twig were used, presumably to freshen the breath.  Sometimes one end was sharpened into a toothpick.  Chew sticks are still used in parts of Africa today.

The Chinese used chew sticks as well, and it also seems that they developed the earliest actual “brush” around 619-907AD during the Tang Dynasty.  They used boar bristles (!) attached to a bamboo stick or bone.  Writings from 1223 describe monks using horse hairs in a bone handle to clean their teeth.  Chinese toothbrushes were introduced to Europe by travellers and became popular in the 17th century.

One of the earliest accounts of an actual “toothbrush” is found in the autobiography of an Oxford antiquarian (person who studies, collects or sells antiques) called Anthony Wood. He writes that in 1690 he paid a J. Barrett for a toothbrush.

In 1780, William Addis of Clerkenwald, England decided to produce a more modern toothbrush (while he was imprisoned for starting a riot).  He used a bone, drilled some holes, tied bristles (obtained from a guard) into tufts and glued them in the holes!  On his release he began manufacturing his toothbrushes and became wealthy doing it.  He left the business to his son when he died and the business continues to manufacture toothbrushes today (Wisdom Brushes).

Europeans loved the toothbrush and it became the height of fashion to own one during the 1800’s.  During the 1900s, bone handles began to be replaced by celluloid handles.

During WW1 the War Department began enforcing hygiene orders to combat a number of problems caused by men living in close proximity.  A soldier was expected to brush his teeth daily.  By the end of the war daily brushing had become a habit.

In 1938, DuPont Corporation began manufacturing nylon bristle brushes.

The toothbrush we are familiar with became common somewhere between the end of WW2 and today.  I couldn’t find out exactly when the majority of toothbrushes came to have plastic handles, but by the turn of the 21st century moulded plastic handles are the norm.

And that brings us to today’s problem of plastic toothbrushes and the impact they have on the environment.

In the supermarket today you can buy any number of brightly coloured plastic toothbrushes.  Each brand claims to have its own unique attribute essential to dental hygiene, from angled bristles, gum massagers, tongue cleaners, ergonomic handles, electric toothbrushes, vibrating toothbrushes and goodness knows what else.  But all of them are plastic.

I found a plastic toothbrush in the seaweed at the beach earlier this year.  I saw one in the gutter recently.  They don’t all end up at the dump.  Once discarded it is out of sight out of mind.  Yet it will take hundreds of years for them to degrade.  They are here for the long haul whether we like it or not.

That toothbrush in the sand got me wondering.  Surely there must have been something before plastic and if so perhaps there could be alternatives available now.  I sat myself down and googled it.  Guess what?  There are alternatives out there.  Bamboo toothbrushes!   To find an alternative to the plastic status quo you’ll need to visit somewhere like Commonsense Organics, or shop online.  I decided to trial some and see what I thought.  I got bamboo toothbrushes for the family in several different brands.  After a full 6 weeks of using them I can honestly say that they are reasonably priced and perfectly functional.

All the bamboo brushes that I have come across come with soft bristles. This is because (although some people like firmer bristles) soft bristles are recommended by dentists because they don’t damage gums.  All the brands of bamboo brush I have come across make both adult and children’s sizes.

I’ve been using The Humble Brush and I really like it.  It is the only brush that seems to also be socially responsible as well as environmentally friendly (at least as far as I can tell).  Every purchase goes to fund projects for children in need through the Humble Smile Foundation.  My brush was purchased from Commonsense Organics, but they are also available online.

My kids (aged 7 and 4) have been enthusiastically using Mama Bear brushes.  They both love them and are very excited to have ditched another plastic product.  The handles are round and this seemed to be easy to grasp and manipulate.  To be honest I think it is easier for little hands to use these than the bulky plastic junior brushes we were buying.  I am not sure why the handles of the plastic brushes have to be so chunky, but these bamboo brushes seem to be easier all round.  We purchased these online from the Cruelty Free Shop.

My 14 year old daughter tried out the Environmental Toothbrush  (also purchased online from the Cruelty Free Shop) and really likes it.  She prefers the handle to the plastic brushes she was using.  Usually very hard on her toothbrushes, this one has lasted the same length of time or perhaps slightly longer than her old plastic ones.  I think she was taking more care of it because she liked it so much!

My husband has just started using a Go Bamboo toothbrush tonight after finally putting his old plastic one out for recycling (yes you can recycle plastic toothbrushes).  He seemed pretty happy with it.  Another friend of mine has been using this brand for a week or two since I gave it to her to help with a “rubbish free week” challenge.  She is also very positive about it, particularly the soft bristles. These brushes were purchased at Commonsense Organics.

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An up-cycled toothbrush in it’s new life as a plant label.  I found it easy pulling out the bristles with pliers.

Because they still have nylon bristles you have to either pull out the bristles with pliers or break off the head and dispose of the bristles in the rubbish before composting the handle.  I am perfectly happy to do either in order to reduce the amount of plastic I send to landfill each year.  I have decided to up-cycle the bamboo (once it is de-bristled) by using them as plant labels when I grow seeds for our garden.  You can write on the handles with ballpoint or vivid just fine.

So all in all I can’t imagine ever going back to plastic toothbrushes.  The bamboo alternatives are brilliant.  As far as I am concerned I will continue to reduce plastic by sourcing bamboo toothbrushes for my family.

So there you are.  All you need to know about bamboo toothbrushes.  I encourage you to give them a go.

 

SUST Product Review #1: Ethique

Here I am doing my first SUST product review.  Exciting times!  I don’t know how many of you are aware that there are some companies out there making solid shampoo bars, bodywash alternatives and even deodorant.  Ethique just happens to be the first I have been able to sample myself.

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The packaging is 100% biodegradable.  I didn’t think of taking a photo before I started using these products, but this gives you some idea what I am talking about.

Have a look at Ethique’s website and see what you think.  Ethique state that they are plastic free and their packaging is fully compostable.  They are cruelty free (not tested on animals), sustainable, and locally made in Christchurch NZ.  They are B corp. certified and a Climate Friendly Business.

I love that the packaging included no plastic at all.  It was so refreshing not to have to put a whole lot of plastic out for recycling or to landfill.  Not even the postal packaging was plastic.  It also came complete with a neat little card stating that I had saved the equivalent of two plastic bottles!

The body sampler pack was particularly neat and nifty.  One of these (or one of their other sampler packs) would make an excellent birthday or Christmas present.

Here is a rundown of the products I have sampled.

The Lime and Ginger bodywash bar is wonderful to use.  It smells fresh and leaves me feeling clean.  It is lasting really well and it’s not just me using it, the kids like it too.  In contrast, the Lime and ginger body polish is lovely to use, however it is clearly not going to last anything like as long as they claim.  After only two uses the sample block is shrinking away.  The other bodywash samples are lasting much longer.

The Glow Lavender and Vanilla deodorant is INCREDIBLE.  I have never used a product this effective. After a morning application I had no BO problems at all.  I know because I kept incredulously sniffing my armpits every hour or so expecting to have to reapply.   At bed time I could still clearly smell the deodorant much the same as when first applied.  I couldn’t detect any BO at all.  I‘ve been using it for weeks now with no problems.  I certainly won’t bother with the products in regular supermarkets ever again!

The In Your Face cleanser is another winner!  It is lasting well, it smells divine (think raspberry sherbet) and leaves my face feeling incredible.

My husband is trialing the suave shampoo and shaving block.  So far he says it is very good, equivalent to mainstream shaving products he has used, but is bit expensive.  It works nicely as a shampoo, and works well for shaving.  It seems to double as bodywash perfectly adequately (which is a bonus when traveling).  Recently overseas for work, he only needed to take one solid bar instead of three plastic bottles!

I was sceptical of the solid shampoo idea, but it really is effective.  I like a good lather that leaves my hair squeaky clean.  I also have a sensitive scalp that is prone to irritation.  I am pretty attached to my favourite shampoo, so the Damage Control shampoo bar had a lot to live up too.  I was very excited to try it.  I rubbed it on my head as per the instructions, massaged it in a bit and hey presto!  Bubbles and lather everywhere.  The smell reminded me of oddfellow mints.  The only thing I noticed is that the bar gets slippery very quickly so I have dropped it a couple of times leading to some very flat corners.  I’m now careful to put it up high on the shower caddy away from splashes and shift it to the window sill where it can dry out between washes.

Coconut and lime butter block is the only thing I haven’t sampled personally.  I can’t stand the smell of coconut on me.  A strange personal foible I know, but I don’t like coconut to eat or to wear!  I was dubious that everything would smell like coconut, but in fact the butter block is the only one I didn’t like.  Everything else smells fantastic.  I got my 14 year old daughter to try it out instead and she loves it!

I have atopic syndrome which leads to skin rashes for much of the year.  At its worst I am totally miserable.  I have a lot of trouble finding beauty products that don’t make it worse or set it off.  So far the Ethique products I have trialed have been OK. After years of bland smelling hypo-allergenic products it is unbelievably nice to use such lovely smelling things.  Every shower is bliss!

Using solid bars rather than liquid products seems to require a bit of a shift in how you do things.  For example, the bars don’t like staying wet.  The deodorant got a bit damp and moist when left in out in the steamy bathroom so I keep it in the bedroom instead.  The shampoo needs to dry out between uses, so I put it on the bathroom window sill.  All in all, the only things that need a big change are our buying habits and a few minor alterations to where you keep your products.

Why is this brand so exciting?  For me it is because these products tick so many boxes for us on our ethical and sustainable journey.

Some of Ethique’s products are expensive, but with the exception of the body polish bar (as mentioned) they all seem to be lasting well.  I am not yet certain if they will live up to the promise to outlast a liquid equivalent.  I don’t have reliable usage data to compare to.  However, so far the deodorant, and bodywash are performing very well and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they do outlast my usual products.  At $9.50 for the lime and ginger bodywash, I think this is great value because it is considerably cheaper than the $14 I have been paying for my usual brand.

The shampoo, seems to be going well for me too.  The shampoo bar cost $22 which is the same as a bottle of the only stuff I have been able to find that doesn’t irritate my scalp.  I would happily use either.  I think I still prefer my old brand for scent though!

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This photo gives you an idea how the products are going after five weeks of use.

Ethique have several charities to which they direct a portion of their profits (WSPA, International Animal Rescue, The Orangutan Project and HUHA).  They also sponsor an orangutan and a slow loris).  Disappointingly, they do not appear to be helping any of New Zealand’s iconic native species that teeter on the brink.  I would love to see them sponsoring a few predator traps or adopting a yellow eyed penguin.  For a New Zealand company I feel this is a glaring omission.

A testament to the success of Ethique’s products is that they are often out of stock on their website.  It is well worth a look if you are interested in plastic free locally made beauty products.