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I started my path down the sustainability trail long before my trip to Hippie Camp, a.k.a. Dancing Rabbit EcoVillage.  But my stay there challenged me to try to do more to reduce my impact on the planet. Living with people who are living more lightly allows you to realize how doable it is.  And going back to “concrete world” becomes a difficult transition.  The miles of asphalt, the multiple flushes of potable water every day, the huge amount of packaging, all grind away at my optimism that we’re going to be able to keep Mother Earth spinning in a healthy way. Maybe these ideas below are simple and small but they are doable and each and every act is a part of helping make the world a better and safer place.

WARNING:  There are some references to feminine hygiene so only proceed if you know you can handle it. There will be another warning before we get there…

There are so many ways we can simplify life.   Some are easier to do and some that take a bigger commitment.  Here’s what I’ve done so far to simplify:

  • Eliminated commercial toilet bowl cleaner.  Instead of blue goo in a plastic container, I use a ¼ c. borax and ½ c. vinegar. I let this sit for about 10 minutes and then I scrub.
  • Eliminated commercial shampoos and conditioners by making my own.  My shampoo is 8 oz. water, 8 oz. liquid castile soap, 1 t. grapeseed oil and 8-10 drops of essential oil all mixed in a re-usable plastic spray bottle.  Peppermint oil is good to wake up, eucalyptus oil is good for when you are fighting sinuses, lavender oil is good for before bed showers.  Adding 6-8 drops of tea tree oil will help with dandruff control.  I don’t use conditioner any more but they say ½ c. mayonnaise will do the trick.
  • Eliminated commercial deodorant.  I make my own by mixing ½ c. corn starch, ¼ c. baking soda, 5-7 T. coconut oil, 6 drops tea tree oil and 4 drops peppermint oil.  For sensitive skin, you can substitute lavender oil for the peppermint oil.  But then your armpits won’t smell like a candy cane! 🙂  I put this in a small tub as it can become liquid above 75° F.  I use an ice cream bar stick to apply. (Magnum bar sticks work the best.  Plus they are delicious!  The ice cream bars, not the sticks.)  Note that it takes the body a couple weeks to adjust from the use of commercial deodorant.
  • Created my own anti-bacterial foaming hand soap by re-using an empty hair product container that produces foam.  The recipe is ¼ c. liquid castile soap, ¾ c. water, 8 drops tea tree oil and 6 drops lavender oil.  This soap is antiseptic and smells lovely as well.  Instead of lavender, you can use a few drops of clove oil – also a lovely scent, especially for the cooler months.
  • Eliminated commercial toothpaste.  I basically dip my wet brush into a small glass of baking soda and brush.  I rinse with a shot of vinegar which foams everything up.  Then I floss. (OK, not every time, but often enough I feel no guilt when saying to the dentist, “Yes, I floss!”) My teeth feel super clean.  I sometimes use a drop of peppermint oil with the baking soda.  Tried clove once but it was a bit much…
  • Eliminated dryer sheets by using wool balls for static control instead.  You can make your own pretty simply but I bought mine from Norwex.
  • Eliminated commercial laundry soap and am now making my own.  This is SO SIMPLE and I just made my own batch recently as the huge jar my friend Karen Plemons had given me recently ran dry.  If you have a food processor, you can make a big batch in less than 5 minutes.  One 4.5 oz. bar of Fels Naptha soap (or Ivory or Zote), 1 c. borax and 1 cup washing soda.  Cut soap up into smaller chunks and then mix all in the food processor.  Store in a mason jar.  I put my batch into a big jar and keep a small jar on the shelf in the laundry area.  Only use 1 T. per load max and don’t put it in the dispenser but directly in with the clothes when loading.

WARNING – Here’s the feminine products part…  If you can’t handle it, or just aren’t interested, skip ahead to the next Quote Box and we’ll meet you there.

  • Eliminated the use of tampons and reduced the use of pads by using a menstrual cup.  Last chance to skip ahead…

So I get lots of questions on this from women and even brave guys who seem to understand that menstruation is a fact of life.  Actually, it is the source of life.  It is kind of amazing to me how squeamish the manliest of men can get when you mention feminine hygiene products.

Side story: Back when I worked in the steel mill, the Rolling Mill Clerk was having a big problem with guys taking all the time cards.  The blank cards had to be brought over from another building at the plant and were available on her desk but rather than take a couple, some guys would grab a stack, thus eliminating the supply for everyone who came after.  The ingenious solution?  Put some extra cards into an empty tampon box in her desk drawer.  Even if they opened the drawers to look for cards, they wouldn’t dare look in that box.  She never had an issue again with not having a few cards available.

As the Quality Manager at this same mill, when inputting a new Quality Management System, we found a system that allowed for tracking of all the training, which included the mandatory Plantwide Monthly Safety training.  OK, you smart ones see it already. But the quality team didn’t see it until after drafting several e-mails and, getting tired of writing out “Plantwide Monthly Safety”, decided to shorten it to an acronym… and oh, boy, did we have a big laugh!  The great thing is, it’s monthly!! There were guys who would cringe when you asked them if their “PMS training” was complete and up-to-date.  Yeah, I admit, we used this technique quite a bit.

OK, if you’re still with me and want to hear about this, I’m gonna share.  If you want to skip ahead to the next quote box, then you can finish out the blog from there, avoiding any adventure into the world of cups.

Last Chance.

So, what are menstrual cups?  I didn’t know either until I decided I needed to get greener and eliminate tampons.  Not only are tampons expensive, but they also have chemicals that I didn’t want getting into my body any longer.  You may not be aware but the vagina is one of the easiest places for your body to absorb.  Once you get across the vaginal epithelium (the layer of squamous cells lining the vagina), you reach a rich vascular system of connective tissue, muscle tissue, lymph vessels and nerves. While it has been known since ancient times that the vagina is a route for delivering drugs, there is a lot of research on this process of late.  This method of drug delivery can be especially effective as the venous drainage from the vagina doesn’t immediately go into the liver.

And since it absorbs drugs well, it can also absorb everything else… Hence, my desire to NOT put chemical-laden bleached cotton bombs in there.  Since I was a kid I was always freaked out by that toxic shock syndrome thing which was a big news item when I was younger.  For the particularly Non-Squeemish, you can see more at these sites: http://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/504375_5 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15763615 https://learn.pharmacy.unc.edu/pharmacopedia/pharmaceutics411/index.php/Rectal_and_Vaginal

So, I feel safer with my medical-grade silicone menstrual cup.  This device is basically a small cup that inserts into the vaginal cavity during menstruation to capture the blood flow.  Rather than capturing this fluid into a fibrous pad or tampon for disposal,  the fluid is simply dumped, thus reducing waste.   Here is a great article on WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/women/guide/menstrual-cup and this is the scoop.

  • Cups are a cost save: $30-40 for a 10-year tool vs. $5-8/box of 40 tampons which might last you a couple months.  As I was going through 10+ super tampons on a heavy day before I quit using them, my cup paid for itself in less than a year.
  • No leaks with Cups: With tampons I always needed a backup pad – and even with these sometimes there would be a bleed-out situation. Yes, this really sucked when I was at work…  I still sometimes wear a pad with my cup on my heaviest day, just to feel safe.  But as long as I stay on top of dumping the cup regularly, I end up with no need for it.  What is amazing to me is that I can dump that cup 8-10 times a day, that’s 8-10 ounces of blood loss!  It’s no wonder I’m so tired!  You remember that old commercial where they said the average period was like 3 tablespoons of blood.  Yeah, I’m calling BS.
  • Less changes with Cups: While tampons have to be changed every 4- hours, cups are safe for up to 12 hours.  They also hold up to 1 ounce, twice the carrying capacity of a super tampon. However, as noted above, don’t let your fill level limitation exceed the time limit allowed.  And yes, I can feel when the cup is full and ready to dump.  There is a slight pressure.  And if you wait too long, you will create a leak situation. I’ve figured out the timing needed to not overflow and on the heavy night each month, I’m up every 2 hours to dump.  But I would have been up more often changing tampons. Or just bleeding all over the bed… never fun.
  • Less odor with Cups: Since the blood smells when it’s exposed to the air, having a sealed cup gives you airtight protection.

So, what’s the downside?

  • You’re gonna get your hands dirty.  Personally all of the advantages outweigh the downsides for me.  I need to wash my hands anyway, so no big deal.  In fact, some believe it may be more important that you wash your hands before you use the bathroom as it’s more likely for your hands to contaminate your “goodies” than vice versa.  (I was going to give more detail on how to insert a cup but figured you can Google that if you’re interested.  It’s really simple once you get used to it.)
  • What about using the cup in public?  So the best practice is to dump the cup and then rinse it before re-inserting.  But if you’re in a public toilet, there’s not usually a sink next to you… So I typically will urinate into the cup and then dry it off with toilet paper before re-inserting it.  Contrary to popular belief, urine is not sterile, and can contain lots of bacteria if your body is fighting infection, which I keep in mind.  However, I have had no issues with using this technique.  It sure beats the heck out of removing the cup, getting all dressed again (while also holding your pre-rinsed cup), rinsing the bloody cup in the public restroom sink while anyone present wonders what you’re doing, and then going back in to the stall, or maybe different one if you’re at a really busy place, to undress, re-insert and re-dress again, which is quite a pain.  But I’ve done this as well.
  • Oh, what about sex?  Yes, I found out it is possible to have intercourse with the cup.  It was quite by accident how I found out… but now we know.  🙂
  • For those who are not averse to a little blue language, the following link is a hilarious rant on the menstrual cup.  There is some truth to it and it is pretty hilarious but I still love my Diva cup.  This should probably be required reading for men to know what women go through every month… https://www.reddit.com/r/TwoXChromosomes/comments/34qzzd/rant_goodbye_and_good_riddance_diva_cup/ OK, the more squeamish or simply uninterested among us are going to now re-join.

All of these products cost pennies while also helping make my household less toxic.

Welcome back!!

In general, the changes I’ve made have been easy to implement.  It’s no harder to sprinkle some borax and dump a little vinegar in the toilet versus squirting some blue goo.  It’s actually easier for me to open my tub and smear on a little deodorant than it was to pry off the cap, then twist up the product and rub it on my underarms.  Plus, if I run out of deodorant, it takes just a few minutes to mix up a new batch as it’s made with products that are readily available in my home.

It’s definitely far cheaper to live this way.  And it’s also less packaging waste and less toxic for my body, our home and the environment at large.  I feel good about these changes.  And that is important to me.

Maybe I’m not going to single-handedly save the planet, but I feel happy knowing I’m doing my part to make less of an impact with these simple, everyday changes.