Straws

Straws? Straws. We aren't talking straw-filled mattresses (we've covered those in a different post here). We are talking about straws you drink from, when you're sipping your sippy drinks (like that blueberry sangria over there).

Mostly, when we use straws, they are plastic and, as you've probably heard from reading elsewhere or from our posts on the topic, drinking from plastic is not a great idea. But, the question really starts with what straws are made of, which is...what?

What straws are made of

The vast majority of straws that we use are made from plastic. But, even plastic straws are made from a range of plastics. Historically, straws have been made from polystyrene, and many still are. You may recognize polystyrene as those straws that crack (I may be known to chew on straws, which did not make feel good while writing this piece, let me tell you). Polystyrene is the plastic found in many disposables, like Solo cups, some plastic dinnerware, and to-go containers. Polystyrene also contains a neurotoxin, styrene, that can also cause liver damage. (Beer pong sadface).

Some companies have switched to other plastics as a result. So there are straws increasingly made from polypropylene or polyethylene. And this is where the matter of plastic straws becomes more subjective. I am wary of plastics, in case you hadn't noticed, and I want to admit that bias. These two plastics (polypropylene and polyethylene) appear to be much safer than polystyrene, but it feels like the list of plastics to avoid is growing, with more joining the ranks of PVC, BPA, and polystyrene. And most of the time that you're using a straw, you don't have access to the type of plastic it's made from.

A lot of this lack of certainty is due to the type of research being performed. As former EWG senior scientist Dr. Anila Jacob told Web MD, most chemicals around our food are considered "safe", but that's mostly not because they've been proven safe - rather, they haven't been proven unsafe. 

"There is very little published research on the potential adverse health effects of chemicals that leach from plastic food containers, so it's difficult to say they're safe with any degree of certainty, especially with long-term use," says Jacob.

So, I like to steer clear of plastic as much as possible, and have some straw alternatives that seem swanky to me.

Bamboo Straws

These bamboo straws are made from whole bamboo that is not processed - they also can last for years, sparing your body a lot of plastic and helping the fish in the sea in the process.

Part of what makes the above straws great is that they are reusable. And, that means, like all reusable things, they require some cleaning. Now, we may vary in how much we want to clean things, but having a straw cleaner is handy. I have equivalents of these for bottles, and they come in handy for getting down in there. 

I want more than one! and throw in a cleaner please.

Now, you don't have to get the cleaner separately if you like either of these options. The cleaner comes included. 

References

Styrene. Occupational Safety and Health Agency. https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/styrene/

Styrene. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=74

Pick Plastics Carefully. Environmental Working Group. http://www.ewg.org/research/healthy-home-tips/tip-3-pick-plastics-carefully

Drinking Straws. The Soft Landing. http://thesoftlanding.com/drinking-straws-getting-to-the-bottom-of-it/

Decoding the Mystery of Safer vs Toxic Plastics. The Soft Landing. http://thesoftlanding.com/decoding-the-mystery-of-safer-vs-toxic-plastic/

Hoffman, Matthew. Pots, Pans, and Plastics: A Shopper's Guide to Food Safety. WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/cookware-plastics-shoppers-guide-to-food-safety#1

Solo Plastic Cups. ULINE. https://www.uline.com/Product/Detail/S-19462R/Cups/Solo-Party-Cups-16-oz-Red?pricode=WY568&gadtype=pla&id=S-19462R&gclid=Cj0KEQiA88TFBRDYrOPKuvfY2pIBEiQA97Z8MRCKlG9mMN53-GEyKigAIICFVi-MvLxjI3mtmK3lHIUaAgos8P8HAQ&gclsrc=aw.ds

Comforters to LOVE

We've talked about the toxic chemicals and off-gases that come from your mattress and other furniture. These chemicals can be unfortunately found in your comforter and duvet too. Similar to what we described with mattresses, chemical fire retardants are used in comforters and duvets. And they may be made with synthetic materials that release harmful chemicals during the day and while you sleep. 

The good news is that there is a growing selection of options that are natural, humane, and organic that offer a healthy, deep, feeling-good sleep. Here's a selection of some of our favorites!

Available in Twin, Full/Queen, and King

Available in Twin, Full/Queen, and King

Organic cotton comforter

This comforter is certified Global Organic Textile Standard, the most stringent standard for organic textiles, which includes social and ecological requirements, so your comforter is better for you, the people who made it, and the environment.

Available in colors shown: White, deep pewter, pale ocean, and french blue

Available in Twin, Full/Queen, and King 

Available in Twin, Full/Queen, and King 

Organic wool duvet from humanely-raised sheep

This duvet comes with it all. It's made in the USA, in Michigan, at a company that sources wool from farms on the East Coast that treat their sheep humanely. The wool is washed with biodegradable soap. And it doesn't stop there. Wool is naturally fire retardant and non-allergenic. 

One of our customers who ordered this duvet even messaged us today saying, "LOVE my comforter."

Down comforter made from humanely-raised birds

This comforter is made with the lowest-carbon material out there - down - and that down comes from humanely-raised birds. These comforters are made in the US, and are lightweight, hypoallergenic, and biodegradable. 

The comforter is certified to the Responsible Down Standard. As Bambeco, the manufacturer says, "This means that our geese and ducks are never live-plucked or force-fed, and that they are treated well throughout their lifetimes." So, you can sleep in a cozy comforter whose weight feels good year-round - and have a clear conscience while you sleep. 

Plus, this comforter ships carbon-free!

Mattresses: What You're Sleeping On

When I go to bed, I'm looking for a good night's sleep. Maybe some sweet dreams. But, mostly some good, restorative sleep.

What's crazy to me is that the mattresses (and pillows) we are sleeping on pose some health risks. The main risks come from chemical fire retardants and volatile organic compounds, both of which are toxic and found in the majority of mattresses, especially memory foam mattresses. We won't go into that here, but if you're interested click the links below to learn more.

These nasty chemicals are worth avoiding. But, you also need to make sure you choose a mattress that enhances sleep and helps with any issues like back pain. Plus, you and your partner may want to be able to accommodate different firmness preferences. 

Your average memory foam mattress, such as the common TempurPedic mattress, are made with proprietary blends and do not disclose what they are made with, including the fire retardants used. However, Ryan Trainer, EVP of the International Sleep Products Association (an industry group) says that most [foam mattresses] use "various types of barrier fabrics" like cotton treated with boric acid or rayon treated with silica—relatively benign chemicals—as well as fire-resistant materials such as modacrylic fiber (which contains antimony oxide, a carcinogen) and melamine resin (which contains formaldehyde). In addition, around 15% of customers complain of off-gassing and odors from memory foam mattresses in general. This number is higher for TempurPedic mattress customers, with 18% of these customers complaining of off-gassing. 

So, what are your alternatives?

We recommend three mattress options below. Our first recommendation is the IntelliBED, which offers a balance between quality and affordability, and they hit the important health issues that I look for when sourcing mattresses for Cara’s Market: absence of chemical fire retardants and low levels of other volatile organic compounds that have serious health impacts. The following two options provide information on two mattresses that are further along on the healthiness spectrum. 

Option 1: The IntelliBed - with a 10% discount from Cara's Market

The best alternative that I have found comes highly rated for having fewer harmful chemicals in it, while also being comfortable and more affordable than some full-out organic, wool or natural latex mattresses. The Intellibed focuses on “non-toxic sleep” and balances quality (good cushioning, durability) with safety. They test all of the materials they use for safety, opting for natural and organic materials where they can. Their adult mattresses are made with non-toxic materials in the main sleeping portions, and the rest is made from polyurethane foam that is Certi-pur certified, meaning it is low in VOCs, and made without the most harmful fire retardants such as PBDEs, and other chemicals such as lead, mercury, and formaldehyde.

They have multiple options for adult mattresses, with different levels of support (see here: http://www.intellibed.com/mattress-comparison/) They offer a range of prices, to help balance cost with quality, while addressing health considerations. In addition, while they don’t have retail locations, they offer the opportunity to do a consultation to help you select the best of the four options for your needs, if you want to ensure it addresses your specific needs.

For example, the Posture Perfect comes with a 60-day in-home trial and a 30-year warranty. King-size Tempurpedic mattresses range in cost from around $2,299 to $5,299, so the cost between the two brands is comparable. 

Lastly, we are excited about these ones because we have a 10% discounts on these mattresses for customers that use discount code CarasMarket10


Option 2: Coyuchi

Coyuchi's organic mattress takes it to the next level, and is for those that want - or need - to go the full health distance. Their mattresses meet all flammability standards without using toxic chemicals and come in three different firmnesses. They are made in the US and meet a variety of health standards, including being built in a Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)-certified factory in Ohio using GOTS-certified organic cotton, Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)-certified organic latex and wool, and are tested for off-gassing and certified to the GREENGUARD Gold Standard.

Beyond the incredible healthiness, Coyuchi offers a lot of customization. The first neat feature is that you can specify different firmnesses for the two sides of the mattress. The second neat feature is that the mattress is modular, so you can swap the top layer for different firmnesses, if your needs change over time (there's a simple zipper for swapping out the layer). Plus, you get free shipping. Lastly, if you get the mattress and the firmness isn't right, you get one complimentary layer exchange (excluding shipping) within 90 days of purchase. 

 

Staying Cozy and Healthy in these beautiful, natural blankets

I'm so excited to share these fantastic blankets - I hope you enjoy these patterns as much as I did! Click the images if you're interested in learning more about them from our partners.

100% wool throw made from free-range sheep in Portugal

100% wool throw made from free-range sheep in Portugal

Linen - cotton blend blanket

Linen - cotton blend blanket

100% wool throw made from free-range sheep

100% wool throw made from free-range sheep

Organic cotton throw

Organic cotton throw

100% cotton blankets in multiple colors

100% cotton blankets in multiple colors

Natural wool blanket, made in a small mill in Canada

Natural wool blanket, made in a small mill in Canada

Organic cotton - merino wool blanket

Organic cotton - merino wool blanket

Organic cotton blankets, available in twin, full/queen, and king sizes in multiple colors

Organic cotton blankets, available in twin, full/queen, and king sizes in multiple colors

Love your Keurig? These K-Cup Substitutes are Pretty Lovable Too

First off, this Atlantic article is super interesting background on Keurig and K-cups. As the author highlights, Keurig machines have taken over at-home coffee consumption, and have secured a reliable profit stream. As with razors and their heads, printers and ink cartridges, Keurig machines offer convenience that comes with expensive lock-in. K-cups generate sales of coffee at $40 per pound. As the creator of the Keurig, John Sylvan, said, "I don't have one. They're kind of expensive to use." 

Pricey lock-in aside, it is the waste that gets me down most. And I'm not the only one. Of his invention, Sylvan told James Hamblin at the Atlantic, “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it.”

In 2014, the number of K-Cups sold was so high that they would circle the globe 10.5 times if placed end-to-end. Almost all of them ended up in landfills. They also are not recyclable due to the combination of 4 plastic layers. And, Sylvan thinks this will be difficult if not impossible to fix, based on his experience of materials they tested, and the number of different components required.

Reusable K-Cup Alternatives

So, instead of waiting, here are a couple reusable options to save us from the apocalypse depicted in that video up there.

 

 

 

References

James Hamblin. A Brewing Problem: What's the healthiest way to keep everyone caffeinated?https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/03/the-abominable-k-cup-coffee-pod-environment-problem/386501/

Thermoses

You know you want to avoid plastic around your hot beverages, so now what? Here are some of our favorite thermoses (they also work for keeping your beverages nice and cold when summer rolls around). 

If you missed the memo on avoiding plastic, check out our post on heated plastic.

Keeping that Coffee Hot! with a Stainless Steel Insulated Thermos

This is the thermos I use and love. If you want to be able to keep your coffee or tea hot (or cold), this thermos is for you. Since heating plastic increases leaching, the benefits of a stainless steel thermos are especially big. 

The one caveat with this thermos (and sadly most others) is that it has a plastic lid that you sip through. We still recommend it for a few reasons:

  1. Practicality is important
  2. Plastic lids seem to offer more functionality (aka sipping and not spilling on yourself)
  3. Drinking out of a stainless steel thermos in general is a massive step in the health direction

A second option we love: The Yeti Rambler

I don't know about what's going on where you live, but these Yetis have exploded in Charlottesville. There may be some loyalty play there, given one of the founders went to Darden. However, I overheard my fiance saying last night, "Those Yetis are great. I put some cold seltzer in mine and then went for a run and forgot about it for three hours, and it was fantastically cold when I got home." I laughed at him, told him he sounded like an ad, and then asked how he felt about being quoted. 

About VOCs - Volatile Organic Compounds

VOCs (Volatile organic compounds) are chemicals that can easily turn into vapor. They are released when burning fuel, but also can off-gas—release airborne particulates or chemicals—from furniture, paint, and a range of household items. They can also be found in air fresheners (of all ironies), as well as dry cleaning chemicals and hobby supplies. 

Sure, chemicals are what everything is made of but some of the most common VOCs released from household products are chemicals such as formaldehyde, benzene, ammonia, and toluene[1]. These guys probably sound familiar.

You likely recognize formaldehyde for being linked to cancer.[2] Other VOCs have been linked to a range of health issues from allergic reactions and skin irritation to asthma attacks and lymphomas[3].

The bad news doesn't stop there. VOCs are hazardous air pollutants that combine with nitrogen oxide to create smog and contribute to climate change.

References

[1] Custom Made. https://www.custommade.com/blog/off-gassing/

[2] National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/formaldehyde/formaldehyde-fact-sheet#q3

[3] Custom Made. https://www.custommade.com/blog/off-gassing/

VOCS - Volatile Organic Compounds. ToxTown. National Institutes of Health. https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/text_version/chemicals.php?id=31

About Chemical Fire Retardants

Chemical fire retardants are used so that furniture can meet state and federal open-flame regulations. They originated with the best of intentions. California passed a law requiring furniture and other items be able to withstand ten seconds of open flame. 

While there are natural ways to meet these standards, most furniture companies started using chemical fire retardants. Unfortunately, since these changes, substantial scientific inquiry has shown these chemicals are bad for human health. Given that they are in our mattresses, some pillows, couches, some child pajamas, among other products, this is not to be taken lightly.

Chemical fire retardants can damage reproductive systems, and impact motor skills, learning, memory and behavior. Some have been linked to cancer[1]. Children and pets are especially vulnerable to the impacts of these chemicals, possibly because they are more likely to lick hands/paws as well as toys, etc. They also are bio-accumulative[2], meaning that they build up in the body, reaching toxic levels, rather than being excreted from the body.

These chemicals are often put into furniture using foam, which breaks down over time into dust and particles that end up on the floor. From there, they get kicked up and breathed in - which is another part of why children and pets are so vulnerable because unlike adults (with the exception of my dad) they spend a lot of time hanging out on the floor.

We recommend avoiding chemical fire retardants, and suggest a range of furniture free of them for our customers.

References

[1] Environmental Working Group. http://www.ewg.org/research/healthy-home-tips/tip-4-avoid-fire-retardants

[2] Green Science Policy Group. http://greensciencepolicy.org/topics/flame-retardants/

Heating Up Leftovers, Heating Up Plastic

Following our blogs on water bottles and tupperware, one of our readers suggested we talk about one of his pet peeves - heating up food or drink in plastic. 

I share this pet peeve. Several weeks ago while traveling, I was leaving a restaurant after breakfast, rushing to a meeting. I hadn't finished my tea, and was hoping to take it with me. The host said, no problem, and before I could say anything, poured the hot tea into a plastic cup. 

I thanked him, and grabbed the cup, and yet I knew that now the cup and tea were going to be wasted. Drinking out of plastic is a health compromise I hate to make - especially hot drinks in plastic. 

I admit, there are still a few plastic tupperware in my home and we are still looking for an alternative to our Brita filter, but I have gradually replaced the vast majority of plastic-ware around the house, and try to never eat or drink out of heated plastic in particular.

Heating Plastic

Components in plastic containers can leach into food and drink, and that leaching process is accelerated when the plastic is heated. These leaching components are plasticizers, additives to plastic that help plastic things retain their shape. Two common plasticizers are endocrine disrupters - bisphenols and phthalates1 - a word whose spelling continues to baffle me.

Funny names aside, both of these are known endocrine disrupters, and those are no joke. According to the National Institutes of Health, "Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife2."
And they are found in many items we use every day, from plastic bottles to cleaning products to cosmetics to toys to furniture. The existence of these chemicals in every day items - and the fact that so many people don't know these chemicals exist and are influencing their lives - is why Cara's Market exists.

Want us to investigate a household item and the chemicals in it? Curious if one of the products you use has endocrine disruptors or other harmful chemicals? Click the button below to contact us and share a topic.

boy-child-fun-beach.jpg

Plasticizers leach into food, but this leaching process is accelerated when plastic is heated. In addition, containers that have been microwaved many times or are old, scratched, or cracked may leach more3.

References

Harvard Health Publications, Microwaving food in plastic: Dangerous or not?, http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/microwaving-food-in-plastic-dangerous-or-not
Environmental Working Group. http://www.ewg.org/bpa/

Safe, Healthy Tupperware?

Like waterbottles and water, tupperware holds the food we put into our bodies. And, similarly, tupperware materials can leach into our food1 and from there into our body2, if we aren't careful. The risk with tupperware may actually be greater because we heat up our leftovers in tupperware3. If we are using plastic food containers, this can cause increased leaching into our food.

Cara's Market recommends several alternatives for housing your food. 

My personal favorite is glass tupperware.

Less-ideal attributes include:

  • Heavier than most other options
  • Some reports of exploding tupperware when going between extreme heat

Benefits include:

  • No risk of leaching and no linings, phthalate free
  • Easy to clean and dishwasher-safe
  • Microwavable

Despite the cons, this is the option I prefer for my home - it gives me the most peace of mind. Below are some options if you are interested in glass tupperware. Otherwise, there are other additional tupperware solutions below.

Stainless Steel Tupperware

Less-ideal attributes:

  • Can't be microwaved or easily re-heated

Benefits:

  • Lighter than glass, good for lunchboxes and the road
  • No BPA/BPS, no lining, phthalate free

 

    Not all tupperware is created equal for your health

    Silicone Tupperware

    Less-ideal attributes:

    • Doesn't maintain shape under higher temperatures

    Benefits include:

    • A lightweight option
    • BPA/BPS and phthalate free
    • Should not leach chemicals into food

    References

    Harvard Health Publications, Microwaving food in plastic: Dangerous or not?, http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/microwaving-food-in-plastic-dangerous-or-not
    Environmental Working Group. http://www.ewg.org/bpa/
    Harvard Health Publications, Microwaving food in plastic: Dangerous or not?