A Change Of Identity

A few years ago I started writing a blog.

I had recently become overwhelmingly inspired by some environmental activists that I’d met, and felt that I too needed to do something to make a positive difference. The concept of the blog was as much about embarking on a journey of self-education as it was to share information with others. After a few posts, a change to veganism (don’t worry, I’m not one of the preachy ones) and a smattering of lifestyle alterations…life got in the way. My journey of self-exploration continued but the blog came to a grinding halt.

That was then, and this is now. LiveTheNewNormal finds itself in the middle of a global pandemic. I think it is fair to say that we are all looking to make sense of what is a nonsensical era. Everything is on pause, in flux and uncertain. Some people have suffered and continue to suffer huge losses and setbacks. Others have found new and innovative ways to operate, and there are those still who have created phenomenal successes.

In areas of the world where the initial wave has passed, society is keen to “return to normal”. And this got me thinking…is this a good thing…is this possible…and what is “normal”? Is normal a measure of excellence, an aspirational status quo or is it simply an uncontested state of being that we are all used to? If normal turns out to be the best, most efficient and successful way of behaving then by all means, let’s attempt to recapture it. If, however, we have the unique opportunity to reimagine normal, maybe even live a new normal, then surely we would be remiss in ignoring such an extraordinary opportunity.

Political, social and environmental landscapes are changing. People are making waves on the global stage, the ripples of which can be felt in many aspects of our daily lives. What’s more, individuals are finding new ways to operate. Businesses have diversified, social interactions have been largely digitized and in spite of lockdowns, communities have opened up to help and support each other. Rather than lament what has changed in the wake of the event, these are exciting times. I look forward to see where this blog takes me and hope that you will join me.

Retain & Sustain – The beauty of prelonging ft. Laura Zabo

Before reading this post, try a quick exercise. Picture your wardrobe or chest of drawers and choose the item of clothing you believe is the most ‘sustainable’. If you’re anything like me you will have chosen an organic cotton tee-shirt (based on the mode and method of production) or a pair of jeans (as you wear these at least 3-4 times a week), or perhaps a beloved item that you’ve owned for years and years and is still going strong. This is a bit of a trick exercise, since the fact is you could have chosen any item that you already own. Is it preferable if it was manufactured in an ethical and sustainable way? Undoubtedly, but the very fact that you already own it means that it has begun its own path to sustainability. This item now has a life. A life that it is your job to prolong, giving it the ability to sustain itself for the future.

Modern society has not only lost the notion of previous generations to ‘Make do and Mend’ but since the introduction of so-called ‘disposable’ living, our expectations have been drastically diminished with regards to how long items should last. In her outstanding book A Life Less Throwaway – The Lost Art of Buying for Life, Tara Button speaks of planned obsolescence, essentially the concept of designing items with a short and finite lifespan, unable to be fixed, rendering the product useless and in need of replacing. This pattern has ‘helped’ countless manufacturers the world over to achieve consistent financial growth through fast product turnover. At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, the idea of buying a new toaster or kettle every 3 years or so is simply ludicrous. There is no reason (other than for companies to persuade you to buy a new product) why items could not and should not be designed to be fixed.

So who is at fault? The answer to this is all of us. It is the fault of the manufacturers that products are rarely being built to last, but it is also our fault as consumers. We need to be incredulous, up in arms and demanding more. Ask yourself one simple question and be honest…when you last purchased a product, say for the kitchen (be it a toaster, frying pan or smoothie blender) did you make a conscious decision to buy the best you could so that the product would last, or was your primary concern how much the product cost? Possibly it was a bit of both, but we are all guilty, me included, of putting cost too high up on the list when it comes to purchases. When I needed to buy a new kettle last year, my decision making process went along the following lines:

  1. Does it match my toaster and look good in my kitchen?
  2. Is it a brand that I know of and by extension believe to be good (based primarily on effective advertising)?
  3. How does it compare in price to other kettles that fit with the above criteria?
  4. Is it discounted from its original price (because I love a bargain)?

Oddly, I wasn’t overly fussed about its ability, speed and effectiveness in boiling water. Most worryingly, it never entered my mind to look at reviews to discover the average longevity of the product, or indeed investigate the construction to see if it was potentially fixable.

Top dollar doesn’t always equal top quality. It is worth remembering that the best products on the market are not necessarily the most expensive, however, we would do well to remind ourselves that it can often be far more cost effective to spend 25-50% more on a product that will last 20 or 30 years (or more) as opposed to buying and replacing cheap products every 3-7 years. There are many ways to discover the best bang for your buck. Which? has long been a go-to reference for savvy consumers. Whilst not exhaustive, it offers a good range of options to compare and contrast, helping guide you on your path to becoming an educated consumer. Tara Button’s website BuyMeOnce is a one stop shop “to change the way we shop and live by championing the longest-lasting and most sustainable products on Earth”. When my husband and I got married, we like many others had a gift list should any of our friends and family wish to buy us a present they knew we really wanted. Much to our delight his colleagues at the time chose to buy us a very large Le Creuset casserole dish. I remember Rich mentioning that one of them had apologised for giving us such a boring gift! On the contrary, this ‘boring’ gift though much used, still looks brand new after 8 years and I fully expect it to be the last and only casserole dish we will ever own. Built to last, it is the ultimate in sustainability.

Sustainability is not about recycling, but repurposing, reworking, renewing and reusing. Recycling is a complicated subject, one that requires and deserves a blog all of its own. Suffice it to say that it takes a phenomenal amount of time, energy, money and resources to provide and produce effective recycled products. Of course this is not to say that we shouldn’t recycle, but if a product can be used by someone else in its original form, close to its original form or in an adapted form, so much the better.

A champion of creating the new, beautiful and innovative from another person’s trash is designer Laura Zabo. Often the most creative and stunning items are born from that which is functional, mundane and ugly. Enter tyres and inner tubes. This designer has well and truly reinvented the wheel. In fact, she’s kept it spinning by upcycling car and bicycle tyres and inner tubes into jewellery, footwear, bags, belts, guitar straps and dog accessories. Originally inspired by her travels around Tanzania where she “caught sight of some handmade brightly-painted sandals at a Maasai market” made entirely from repurposed car tyres, Zabo “immediately fell in love with the idea that functional products could be created out of trash”.

With “3 billion tyres dumped globally every year”, Zabo recognised that there was a wealth of raw material, if only she could get her creative hands on it and work some magic.

 

Beginning her journey by designing and crafting tyre belts from her home in London, she has grown her eco-conscious, sustainable and ethical business to include all manner of breathtaking products. Constantly looking to build upon her range she is working on a new footwear range for this autumn. Visit her website to find out more! Simply put, Zabo has turned a problem into a solution and created something exceptional in the process.

 

So what can we do to live a more sustainable life? The first and most important factor is to ask ourselves if we need to make a new purchase. So-called ‘retail therapy’ creates a feeling of euphoria. The excitement of buying something new provides a very real but short term high, after which you may well experience buyer’s remorse. Ask yourself if anything you currently own can fulfil the same function as that which you’re about to buy, or can it be adapted to do so? Above all, do you need to buy brand new or could you buy second hand? Purchasing upcycled or repurposed items prolongs their life, therefore you become a link in the chain of sustainability.

Giving away unwanted items that you already own is nothing to be ashamed of. It is far more wasteful to give houseroom to things you’ll never use rather than offer or sell them to someone who may be able to imbue them a new lease of life. Investigate whether you have any local shelters that may be grateful for clothing, furniture and household items, donate to your local charity shop or upload bits and pieces to a local Facebook or ‘boot sale’ site. If you have a good recycling centre they may well have a shop that would be only to happy to receive items that they can restore and sell on at a small profit. If all else fails, seek out a clothes bank or find out the appropriate and eco-friendly way to dispose of your unwanted items. Remember when throwing things away, there’s no such thing as ‘away’!

Above all, if you must make a new purchase, ensure you’re buying the best for the job. Is it produced ethically? Does it come with a lifetime guarantee? Does it have the potential to be fixed down the line? Has it gained good independent reviews and recommendations?

 

One person’s trash really is another’s treasure…we just need to recognise the value in the first place.

 

 

Natural Deodorant: Does it actually work?

Deodorant. It’s a daily necessity and a crucial part of modern personal hygiene. But, how harmful are traditional deodorants and antiperspirants to your body?

I was inspired to write this post after a significant amount of nagging from my other half to focus on how the products I use (and sometimes over-use) could be effecting my health. As a slight departure from my previous posts, I’ve chosen to focus this blog on health, rather than the wider issue of the impact of deodorant and antiperspirant products on the environment. This isn’t to say that I’m ignoring that side of the coin, far from it. More that I feel the environmental impact of beauty and cosmetic products deserves its own post. The products I’ve chosen to review are in fact all eco-friendly, using naturally derived ingredients, many organic, packaged in both glass and recyclable plastic.

So to begin, let’s face the taboo head on.

Sweat. It’s a natural process in order for the body to cool, shed excess heat from working muscles, detoxify, and send sodium back into the body to maintain healthy levels of salt. There are over 4 million sweat glands all over the human body. The apocrine gland (found in the armpits) is a sweat gland that produces sweat containing protein, fat and carbohydrates. This can create those unsightly yellow tinged stains on the underarm of your shirts as the sweat mixes with natural bacteria found on the skin. It also has a thicker, more milky consistency than secretions produced from other sweat glands. This can create a pungent smell, loosely known as body odour. This bacteria, however, is healthy bacteria. It may offend your nasal sensibilities, but it certainly isn’t harmful.

Next, let’s squash a bit of a myth sold to us by the beauty industry.

The skin doesn’t ‘breathe’. The skin, the largest organ of the human body is porous. These pores naturally secrete and absorb, and they do take on a small amount of oxygen from the atmosphere, but this is not akin to breathing. However, and this is a big HOWEVER, it is not healthy to block the skin’s pores. This is exactly how antiperspirants work. Containing active ingredients such as aluminium chlorohydrate (part of a group of aluminium salts) and aluminum-zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly (a chemical plug), antiperspirants obstruct the pores to limit the natural flow of sweat towards the surface of the skin. Classic deodorants on the other hand are mostly alcohol-based. Consisting of compounds like sodium stearate, stearyl alcohol and sodium chloride, these ingredients target acids and salt in an attempt to limit fermentation by bacteria. There are also some ingredients like triclosan and EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid), which are antimicrobials working to impede bacterial growth in the underarm region.

Now to address the extremely controversial and emotive topic of cancer. There has been a great deal of coverage in the media regarding potential links between deodorants/antiperspirants and breast cancer. Aluminium being applied and absorbed near the breast tissue has been suggested to have estrogen-like (hormonal) effects. Some scientists have indicated that since estrogen can promote the growth of breast cancer cells, that “the aluminium-based compounds in antiperspirants may contribute to the development of breast cancer. In addition, …aluminium may have direct activity in breast tissue.” At this point it essential to remember that this research has not (yet) been confirmed by the scientific community and that a 2014 review concluded that there was “no clear evidence showing that the use of aluminium-containing underarm antiperspirants or cosmetics increases the risk of breast cancer”

The debate clearly rages on, with research continuing to investigate any and all possible links. It is worth noting that I have personal experience of a handful of women who having recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, have been advised by their GP to stop using traditional antiperspirant deodorants, in favour of the natural alternatives.

I think from my perspective the approach is ‘better to be safe than sorry’.

So, with all this information in mind and my commitment to providing greener lifestyle (products) without compromise, I took it upon myself to test 5 natural deodorants to see how they stand up against the chemical alternatives. I have to confess, it was with a great deal of trepidation that I embarked on this task. I decided to purchase 2 of the 5 from local independent shops, and the other 3 from mainstream retail. I wanted to ensure that the products I tested were not only natural and environmentally friendly but that they would also be easy to obtain, and that there was an offering for both men and women. Here’s what I found:

Earth Conscious Natural Vegan Deodorant – Citrus

Made in the U.K. from 100% natural ingredients, this soft, creamy deodorant is applied with the fingertips. With ingredients such as coconut oil, shea butter and fragranced with lemon and orange oils, the deodorant claims to have natural antibacterial properties.

 

  • Fragrance: 4/5
  • Application: 3/5
  • Daily freshness: 3.5/5
  • Overall Rating: 3.5/5  

As you apply the deodorant it smells fantastic. It is a little messier than the other 4 as you apply with your fingers, however it does feel soft and creamy. The fragrance sadly fades throughout the day and having sat in the hot sun for a couple of hours it did make me feel rather damp. That said, I had no body odour and felt fresh again once I had dried out a little. This is as natural as they come and a great option but perhaps not one for those who are currently attached to their antiperspirant. Also available in Lavender, Pure and Strong Mint.

(Purchase direct from Earth Conscious, from Amazon UK, and at Boobalou Eco Living)

Close to Nature Natural Roll-on Deodorant – Soft Citrus

 

This natural deodorant claims to be kind to sensitive skin, leaving no white marks and offering 24hr protection against body odour.

 

  • Fragrance: 5/5
  • Application: 4/5
  • Daily Freshness: 4/5
  • Overall Rating: 4.3/5

I love the smell of this deodorant. The moment you apply it, you feel and smell fresh. However, heed my warning…if you apply this directly after shaving be prepared for pain. I made this mistake and spent the next 5 minutes holding a cold flannel to my armpit to cool the burn. The reason behind this, is that this deodorant contains alcohol. The overwhelming positive is that once the deodorant had been applied, the fragrance lasts all day. As your body heat rises it further triggers the aroma. After a long day in the sun and a run around the woods with my boys, I felt fresh, dry and odour free. It’s eco-credentials may not be as glowing as the other deodorants I’ve tried, but it’s a great transition for those who are attached to their current deodorant/antiperspirant. Also available in Water Lily and Pomegranate.

(Purchase from Waitrose)

Alva Crystal Deo Intensive Roll-on – Neutral

 

According to Alva, this deodorant provides 24hr  fragrance free protection with crystal minerals to help prevent body odour. Organic aloe vera and comfrey care for sensitive underarms.

 

 

 

  • Fragrance: N/A
  • Application: 5/5
  • Daily Freshness: 4/5
  • Overall Rating: 4.5/5

I was really keen to trial a couple of fragrance-free deodorants. Free from perfume, this eco-deodorant is truly unisex. Since it contains no alcohol it is safe and comfortable to apply straight after shaving. It goes on smoothly and takes a couple of minutes to dry. Once dry, this really does offer all day, odour-free protection. Even though I’ve rated this deodorant very highly, I feel I should mention that I personally prefer deodorants with a scent. I find it reassuring to smell the product and find that it adds something to my feeling of freshness. Even without a scent, this deodorant really does live up to its eco-credentials.

(Purchase direct from Alva, from Big Green Smile, and Amazon UK)

Neal’s Yard Remedies Roll On Deodorant – Rose & Geranium

 

Neal’s Yard state that this product is formulated to provide 24hr protection.  Lightly and naturally scented, the deodorant uses moisture-absorbing bamboo powder to maintain a fresh, dry feeling.

 

 

 

  • Fragrance: 3.5/5
  • Application: 4/5
  • Daily Freshness: 4/5
  • Overall Rating: 3.8/5

This is a bit of a marmite deodorant. Some days I absolutely love this fragrance and imagine I’ve just entered a spa. Other days it just doesn’t quite do it for me. I’m not sure if it’s due to changing moods/hormones but the floral scent is very distinctive. Oddly, I particularly enjoy using this deodorant in the evenings as I find the scent very relaxing. In terms of feeling fresh and dry, this deodorant is up there with the Close to Nature offering and is certainly more eco-friendly. Also available as a roll on in Peppermint & Lime, and a spray in Lemon & Coriander and Lavender & Aloe Vera. I feel that I need to try the other fragrances in order to provide a more accurate rating.

(Purchase from your local Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic consultant, via the Neal’s Yard Remedies website, and from Waitrose)

PitROK Crystal Original Natural Deodorant Stick – Fragrance Free

 

According to PitROK, with natural bacteriostatic agent, this crystal helps to prevent odour causing bacteria from developing. Suitable for sensitive skin, gently wet the stick with fingertips, then apply as you would a regular deodorant to freshly cleansed skin.

 

 

 

  • Fragrance: N/A
  • Application: 4.5/5
  • Daily Freshness: 5/5
  • Overall Rating: 4.5/5

I have to admit, although I’ve tested this deodorant I defer to my husband for this review. Having used a traditional aerosol antiperspirant until a week ago, he’s been using this deodorant exclusively since. He leads a busy life and has been testing this product to its limits, heading out on his road bike in the evenings. Whilst he has been left with small damp patches on his t-shirt at times, he’s remained odour free and feeling fresh. I was surprised how effective this deodorant has been, although surprisingly I did find it very uncomfortable to apply directly post shaving. Naturally my husband didn’t have this issue! There is also a new Extra Sensitive version which looks to be geared towards women. I am keen to try this and anticipate that it may well solve the post-shave burn. I’ll keep you posted!

(Purchase from Boots, Superdrug, Big Green Smile, and Waitrose)

As an overview, I’ve been particularly impressed with all the deodorants I’ve tested. They’ve proven to be a lot more effective than I’d anticipated and both my husband and I are devout converts. It is worth noting that it can take your body a while (apparently up to 6 months) to get used to using a more natural product, especially if you’ve been clogging your pores with antiperspirant. Also, the amount people sweat varies a lot from person to person, as well as at different times of the month, during different activity levels etc. If you are really concerned about waving adieu to your antiperspirant, by all means begin the weaning process by switching to a traditional deodorant before making the move to a life of eco-armpits. Happy, healthy sweating!

As always if you have any recommendations/comments, I’d love to hear from you.

 

All plastics are equal, but some plastics are more equal than others

Plastics-both useful and diverse, are here to stay. Their application in medical implants and devices alone have created huge forward strides in modern medicine. It is, however, impossible to ignore the darker, more harmful impact of plastics on the environment. Before you read on, just know that I am no scientist. In fact, as soon as I was able to give science up for more artistic pursuits I smashed my test tubes, waved adieu to the Bunsen burners and hot-footed it out of the lab. However, having done some research, it is simply astounding the extent to which the average consumer is driven to purchasing plastic products to the detriment of the environment and their personal health. Information that should be accessible and transparent to all of us is clothed in cyphers, abbreviations and symbols.

When you begin to delve into the world of green products, a host of codes come to the fore, some of which may mean something to you, others, you’ll have no idea of their significance; BPA for example. I know that BPA free is something I should be looking for in a drinks bottle or a reusable plastic container, but neither have I known what BPA is, nor why it should concern me…until now.

Brace yourselves, here comes the science bit. BPA or bisphenol A is an industrial chemical used to make certain plastics and resins. It’s been used since the 1960’s and is found in many polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. A number of reusable food storage systems and drinks bottles are made from these polycarbonate plastics. Epoxy resins are used to bind a whole host of everyday products from handbags and costume jewelry to eyeglass frames and synthetic clothing. Whilst the FDA (the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S.) has declared BPA to be safe at low levels, BPA has been linked to adverse effects on the brain and prostate glands of fetuses, infants and children as well as potential links to increased blood pressure. Perhaps one of the most worrying aspects of BPA is that it is used so widely it is not always clear to the consumer when they may be at risk. It’s one thing to avoid plastic bottles containing BPA but most cans and tins are lined with BPA containing resin.

The real kicker comes when polycarbonate plastics are heated to fairly high temperatures (e.g. placed in a dishwasher or used in a microwave). In this case, the plastic may break down over time and allow BPA to leach into food.

So perhaps it’s safer to use cling film/food wrap? Not if PVC has anything to do with it!

PVC or Polyvinal Chloride is a plastic so widely used that it is (almost) impossible to avoid. It really is the plastic that keeps on giving from conception to disposal. From the moment of production PVC begins to release dioxins, a highly toxic by-product created from a host of industrial processes. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), dioxins belong to the so-called “dirty dozen” – a group of dangerous chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). They can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, interfere with hormones and cause cancer. WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has categorically confirmed that PVC is a known and recognised human carcinogen. Phthalates, used as plasticizers to increase flexibility, transparency, durability and longevity (primarily employed to soften PVC) are thought to have potentially detrimental effects on the reproductive system, as well as disrupting the larger endocrine system.

According to the European Commission, PVC has been at the centre of a controversial debate during much of the last two decades. “A number of diverging scientific, technical and economic opinions have been expressed on the question of PVC and its effects on human health and the environment. Some Member States have recommended or adopted measures related to specific aspects of the PVC life cycle. However, these measures vary widely.”

Despite efforts by the global environmental community to introduce measures relating to PVC production, China, the largest producer of PVC, remains relatively unregulated. Disposal of PVC as stated on the website pvc.org is safe!

In reality, whilst some PVC can be and is recycled, much of it either ends up in landfill, being incinerated, or being dumped illegally.

Information gathered by an independent evaluation contracted by the European Commission in 2000 to cover the following 20 years, noted that post-consumer PVC waste accounted for 88% of all PVC waste. At the time of the report, 82% of PVC waste product ended up in landfill, with 15% destined for incineration, the remainder accounting for illegal disposal and recycling. The issues with landfill disposal and incineration are similar; the hazardous, toxic chemicals contained within PVC are likely to be released/leach into the environment, leaving a harmful and long-lasting legacy.

So with all this information swimming around in our heads, what next?

There are a number of non-plastic, zero waste options available which won’t cost the earth. Glass, stainless steel and porcelain are all sensible and useful alternatives that you may already have knocking around your kitchen. Remember, if you have an abundance of plastic containers, rethink their usage before disposing of them. Use them for containers in the shed. They make great paint mixing pots for messy craft days with the kids. Perhaps they could be used to store old coinage, bits of wire or keys for that god-awful drawer we all have (don’t even pretend you don’t have one)! When it does come to their disposal, the best approach is to go to your local recycling centre and find out how and where they will be treated. It isn’t always ideal but it may save them adding to landfill. If you would like to investigate some alternatives, I would love to share some of the products that I’m currently using to solve some of the most common ‘plastics’ issues:

If you follow the link to my Featured Products page, you will find a number of useful items. Perhaps the best advice I can share is to ‘be prepared’. It is relatively easy to make your home an environmental haven, but it isn’t so easy when you’re out and about, especially if you have kids in tow. It takes no time at all to slip a couple of stainless steel straws into your bag, along with a reusable cup and some bamboo cutlery. Yes, you feel like a bit of a pack horse but I cannot convey to you the satisfaction I experience when I can politely refuse the dirty, plastic alternative. The bonus is that some of the alternative products are not only useful but beautiful. The design and aesthetics of many eco-friendly products are almost as important as the practical application. See for yourselves…

For more information on how to decode recycling symbols, please visit my eco-glossary.