Doing Things Eco-Style in North Carolina

Well, thanks to some very hard work by folks like Eric Henry at TS Designs and all the skilled, dedicated people along the supply chain, “Dirt to Shirt” is once again not only possible in North Carolina – but also ORGANIC!  Given our name, you can only imagine how happy that makes us.  So, how could we resist when the call went out for T-shirt orders.  Of course, we said “Yes!”

Like anyone else, we love a well-made T-shirt.  We also love our logo, even though we realize we’re not objective.  It just makes us happy to see it, each and every time.  We combined the two, and there you have it.  A shirt that started as a seed right here in North Carolina and ended up as a great T-shirt that has never left the state. Even our graphic designer lives here in the Triangle.

Here are just a few reasons that this shirt is changing your world for the better:

- This shirt did not pollute our water and soil with synthetic poisons.  Not in the field.  Not in the dyeing and screening.

- The seed from this cotton was not genetically modified and therefore did not add to our “franken-food” supply.  We don’t eat cotton you say?  Yup, we do. Cottonseed oil is in many consumer products.  Cotton seeds are fed to dairy and beef cattle.

- You can use the code on the label to get an interactive view of everywhere this shirt has been, from the name of the farmer to the folks who made the fabric and finally your shirt.  If you take this shirt on a trip with you out of the state, that will be the first time it leaves North Cackalacky!

- When this shirt sits on your skin or rubs against your loved ones or ends up in the mouth of your baby, you don’t have to worry about exposure to phthalates and other known disease-causing chemicals.  Those plastic designs on traditional T’s rely on some nasty chemistry to make them stick and keep them pliable.

- One last reason this shirt is different.  When you buy one, you are supporting a company that is in it for you, your children, our planet.


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Clothes and Climate? What about the weather?

Each morning, I make my way to our closet where the little weather station my family gave me for Mother’s Day sits on the shelf.  I just love to see the temperature, potential for rain or snow, and the symbol my older son coined as “fast clouds”, a line drawing of a cloud with lines coming off the back, to indicate wind.  Maybe I’m a bit obsessed because I grew up in Iowa where the flow of the local report each night was weather first then news and sports.  Weather was critical, not just to what we needed to wear or whether or not we could go for a swim.  Weather was critical, and still is, to farmers across the country betting sometimes everything they own so that we can have food on our tables and clothes on our backs.

So we understand that the weather impacts our choice in clothes, but what do clothes have to do with climate?  More than you might think.  It really starts with the fibers.  Whether it’s cotton grown using pesticides and fertilizers or polyester, which is made from fossil fuels, our choice in what we wear has an impact on our planet and the people who grow, fabricate, design, and create the clothes we wear.  In addition to the carbon dioxide created in making our fibers, we then seem very comfortable shipping cotton from North Carolina to China and back again as a chemical-ridden t-shirt found on some sale table for $4.  Logically, we know that if everyone in the process has been paid a fair wage and the planet treated well, there’s no way that shirt costs so little.  Something is subsidizing our closet.  Most often it’s both people and our planet.

So next time you think about how the weather is impacting your choice of outfits for the day, think about how your choice in clothes is impacting the climate.  It’s your choice.  You can choose to be “best dressed” by considering both the passing weather and our changing world climate.

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Happy International Women’s Day 2012!

In 1908, a group of 15,000 brave women marched through New York City demanding suffrage – the right to vote and run for office.  In honor of their courage, I have a brief story to share.

I love live concerts.  When my older son asked me to take him to Chicago for Lollapalooza a few years back, I immediately said yes.  We had so much fun that we’ve returned every year since, most recently adding to the fun by bringing along my younger son and niece.

A year ago, as we joined with thousands of others making our way into Grant Park for opening day, almost giddy with the anticipation of the fun weekend ahead, the mood of the crowd suddenly changed.  The snake of people had wound through a group of protesters spouting hate messages towards anyone and everyone with lifestyles other than their own.  Some of the concertgoers started shouting back at the protesters beginning an angry exchange.  As I clung to the joy and Zen feelings from just a few minutes earlier, I tried to feel empathy for these protestors, especially when I noticed women and children joined the men.

So what does all of this have to do with International Women’s Day?  My composure was shaken when I took a double take; one of the signs spelled out “Repeal Women’s Right to Vote!”  What?  I was dumbfounded.  It never occurred to me that anyone in this country felt that women should not have a say in our society.

For a split second, I felt like those brave women who took to the streets in 1908.  It would be 12 years later in 1920 that women in the United States would be granted the right to vote with passage of the 19th Amendment.

International Women’s Day is now an official holiday across the world from Afghanistan to Zambia.  Today is a day for men, women, and children to celebrate how far we’ve come as a global society, and our path together in making the world inclusive and socially just for all on the planet.  I will never again take for granted our freedoms and privileges.

Happy International Women’s Day 2012!

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What’s for dinner? Pesticides?

Unless you know your “Dirty Dozen”, you may be serving harmful pesticides on your dinner table. The Environmental Working Group annually tests 100 fruits and vegetables for pesticide residue. Peeling and scrubbing is not enough. The 12 worst offenders, aka the Dirty Dozen, should be purchased organic. Don’t despair. There’s also a “Clean 15″ list of produce, which are safe to buy conventional.

Dirty Dozen: Apples, Celery, Strawberries, Peaches, Spinach, Imported Nectarines, Imported Grapes, Bell Peppers, Potatoes, Blueberries, Lettuce, Kale/Collards.

Clean Fifteen: Onion, Corn, Pineapple, Avocado, Asparagus, Sweet Peas, Mangoes. Eggplant, Cantaloupe, Kiwi, Cabbage, Watermelon, Sweet Potatoes, Grapefruit, Mushrooms.

So what to do if you can’t find organic options for items on the Dirty Dozen list? Here are a few ideas. If the produce you want is on the “dirty” list, you may be able to find it organic at another store.  Or go to a farmer’s market and ask the farmer if, what, and when crops were sprayed.  If you still have no luck, you could consider a substitute, or just decide to wait.  Multiple studies have shown that we get better taste and more nutrition from our food when we eat seasonally and local.

Want a wallet-ready copy of the pesticide guide?  Click here for a printable pdf.

Posted in Blog, Feature, Organics, Pestidices | 1 Comment

Knowing Your Plastic Codes: No. 2

So the journey of avoiding plastic continues.  And instead of getting easier, I think it’s getting more difficult.  Just about everywhere I go, I find I have to make a compromise of some kind.  So does it really make me a bad person to use a straw?  Because despite the name, straws are plastic.  I’m guessing you may have seen those biodegradable straws?  Well, evidently I drink super slowly, because I’ve tried those and they tend to fall apart even before I finish my drink.  By the way, Happy Valentines Day.  I gave my loved ones dark chocolates wrapped in foil this year.  But wouldn’t you know it?  Even some candies come in a plastic bag.  OK, well onto number 2.

HDPE is high density polyethylene.  This plastic is used for products with short shelf life, like milk.  It’s also used for grocery and retail bags, but you bring your own bags shopping, right?  The plastic can be clear or colored, and because it’s crack resistant, this plastic can also be used for household chemicals.  Here are a few bottles you may want to flip over to see if they have a 2.

Sometimes used for milk, juice, syrup, vinegar, cocoa mix, shampoo, motor oil, margarine tubs, household cleaners, bleach and yogurt.  A good candidate for recycling, HDPE is used to make many goods ranging from oil bottles to picnic tables. I noticed on one of the HDPE containers in my pantry says “dishwasher safe”, so before you recycle you may think of a way to reuse, which is even better.

Posted in Blog, Environment, Feature, Plastic, Sustainability | 1 Comment

Knowing Your Plastic Codes: No. 1

Well, we’re into week 2 of “Plastic-Free February”, and it’s almost time to come clean on the plastic challenges I faced during week 1.  But before launching into confessions of plastic indiscretions, I thought it would be helpful to talk briefly about the different types of plastic.  So for the next 7 posts, I’ll talk about the 7 types of plastic according to those little recycling symbols on the bottom of your bottle, top of your coffee lid, and flip side of your shampoo.  Whether you are worried about your health or just always wondered about those little numbers inside the recycle symbol, just think how eco-smart you’ll be at your next party.

PET or PETE is polyethylene terephthalate. Turn over a plastic soft drink or water bottle and you are sure to find the number 1.  In addition to drink bottles. number 1′s are used for cooking oils, salad dressings, peanut butter, and even non-food bottles like medicine.  Some say you can remember not to reuse bottles with this number by thinking 1 is for “use it once”.  However, as far as I can tell, the main hazard from reusing the bottle is due to possible bacteria growth.  At our house, we use stainless reusable bottles we bought and skip the whole debate altogether.  PETE plastic is cheap, light, and recyclers like to take it and turn it into fleece, fiber, bags, furniture, carpet, and sometimes new bottles.
Now here’s my “plastic challenge” story of the week.  I went to a local French cafe where they make everything fresh, and ordered a cup of water with my lunch.  I was handed a plastic disposable cup.  I asked if instead they had any glasses.  I was told yes, and handed a corn-based plastic disposable “glass”.  Ok, I thought we’re moving in the right direction.  But I pushed it once more and said, “No, I’m looking for something that you are going to wash and reuse.”  So the woman helping me went to the back of the bakery and returned wiping off something that looked like an oversized shot glass.  She said she washed it for me! At that point I’m thinking, “Why did I open my big mouth?”  Did I use that bar glass for my water?  Yep, I did ask for it after all.   Maybe I should have had her fill it with whatever was in there previously, because by now there was a line of people waiting and watching the whole interaction and taking a shot of something would have been the cherry on top.  (Do you think the cashier is now writing in her blog about this crazy woman who is trying not to use plastic?)
Posted in Blog, Environment, Feature, Plastic, Sustainability | 1 Comment

Plastic-Free: Fact or Fantasy?

Just to set the stage before I begin to share my day as what I’m beginning to think of as “plastic-challenged”, I live in the real world.  Like many of you, I live in a residential community in the U.S.  I have 2 boys.  I have a patient husband who received a reusable bag from a friend of ours that says, “I Use This Bag Because My Wife Cares About The Environment.”  Oh, and that was over a year ago, and oh, the bag has never left the house.  So although I am keenly looking for ways that we can all improve our health and that of the environment, I am yet another  traveler on the path.

OK, so how did the first day “plastic-free” go?  I think it was an eye-opener.  I thought I was pretty conscious of plastic use before, but this, no this was an assault on almost every facet of life.  I did follow the rules, with one indiscretion, which I’ll get to in a minute.  But first, here’s a list of the sneakier plastics I encountered in day-to-day life.

Pens: My favorite pen is plastic.  So I have to pull out the metal.  Is that better?  I need more research on that.

Toothbrush: I’m not sure what I’m going to do about this one.  And while I’m at it, I’m pretty sure the toothpaste tube is also plastic.

Water filter: Our water filtering pitcher is plastic, and that’s what we’re using to avoid the purchase of bottled water.

Laundry soap: Even though it’s environmentally safe soap, the container is plastic.  And might as well lump in shampoo and conditioner here.

Toaster:  Yep, we have a plastic toaster.

Birdfeeder:  We’ve had it for years. In fact, my great Uncle Len and Aunt Mildred gave it to my grandparents decades ago and I salvaged it when they passed away.  But as I filled it, I realized it is basically plastic along with the metal.

I’m sure you were expecting me to list plastic spoons, plastic cups, plastic grocery bags, straws, and water bottles.  Those challenges are out there, too.  And I could go on.  But we have many days ahead.  And it’s going to be an interesting month.  Oh, and what was my “rule violation”?  I made this lovely, organic mushroom risotto last night and found that although I was able to store the leftovers in a ceramic bowl, the lid that goes with that bowl is – you guessed it – plastic!  I just couldn’t bring myself to waste foil when I could reuse that lid over and over.

So I did it!  I broke rule number 2. Today is a new day, right?  By the way, Happy Ground Hog Day!  Yeah, Phil did NOT see his shadow!  Tomorrow…

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Plastic-Free February Challenge: Day 1

We interrupt this “Top 10″ on your t-shirt to bring you news that I have just accepted the Rodale “Plastic-Free February” challenge.  This is going to be really tough.  Before I even get this thing going, I realized that the computer I am using to write this was made using plastics.  Ugh!  Well, assuming my computer can make it through the month, I should still be OK, right?

The ground rules are:

1. No buying or acquiring new plastic.

2. No cooking with plastic or storing food in plastic.

3. Minimize all other plastic use.

So here we go.  I am sitting at a great fair trade, organic, locally-owned coffee shop and as is true for all the shops I know, the lids supplied along with the cups to go are made of plastic.  Luckily, I brought along my own ceramic mug this morning.  And low and behold, so did the guy at the next table!  This has never happened.  Someone else brought their own coffee cup.  In fact, I was beginning to worry that I was going to become known as the “mug lady”, which would add to the title my 16-year old son is threatening me with of the “bird lady”.  Now really, is it that strange to fill a bird feeder and then watch who shows up?!

But I digress.  I’m taking this challenge seriously.  And although I think plastic in some applications is probably the right thing to do (I can hear the boo’s heading my way), I’m going to follow the rules and keep a list of all the plastic I encounter and avoid every day this month.  It’s not leap year, is it?  Thank goodness.  I think 28 days is tough enough.  I’m dreading the fact that my cling wrap and food storage bags are off limits.  Fortunately, rule number 3 is going to allow me to get on a plane later this month with my 1 quart “ziplock” bag of toiletries.

OK, so tomorrow I’ll have my first list of plastic tempters, traps, and with any luck, triumphs!  Until then, have a great plastic-free day.

Posted in Blog, Environment, Feature, Plastic, Sustainability | 2 Comments

Top 10 Reasons You Decide Your New Cheap T-Shirt Isn’t So Great After All: Number 6

That “groovy” retro imprint of the Rolling Stones is made of PVC with phthalates – so in addition to making you sweat, your new shirt is heating up our planet.  Two kinds of “hot” we don’t want to associate with Mick!

So what are these “phthalates” and why do you care?  Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make some plastics more flexible and resilient, and can also be used as solvents.  You care because these chemicals have been found to be human endocrine system disruptors.  This alone should scare us enough to find alternatives.  The endocrine system is a series of glands and organs that help maintain and control the nervous system, reproductive system, growth and development, energy levels, and balance of body systems.

Where else are these chemicals found?  Well, in the U.S. you can find them in all kinds of consumers products ranging from hair spray, shampoo, nail polish, perfume to food packaging, wall coverings, hoses, raincoats, detergents, and the list goes on.

And those “fab” colors? They were most likely produced by bleaching and then dying the cotton with toxic, synthetic chemicals, much of which is dumped into waterways in developing countries. Lead, mercury, cadmium, and selenium have all been found in water supplies in Mexico downstream from textile plants.  Your health and that of your family can also suffer as synthetic dyes remaining in fabric can cause rashes, headaches, and nausea.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.   Look for companies who use low-impact dyes, naturally-colored fibers, and clothes with the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) stamp.

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Top 10 Reasons You Decide Your New Cheap T-Shirt Isn’t So Great After All: Number 7

You wore your new red shirt once, and although you have come to terms with your new “pink” underwear, the shirt is falling apart and heading for a landfill.

Especially in these trying economic times, that cheap t-shirt seems like such a great bargain.  But if it’s one thing that really gets me going is the concept of disposable clothing.

Think about all the energy and effort that went into making even the poorest quality shirt.  The same steps go into making a shirt that will be around for one wearing as a shirt you’ll wear and enjoy over and over again.  So rather than spend your hard-earned money on a piece of apparel that you’ll wear and toss, a higher-quality shirt that costs a bit more will actually be a better bargain.

For example, you buy that red shirt for $5 at the big box store.  You wear it once.  That’s $5 for one wearing, and one more shirt in the landfill.  But let’s say instead, you buy a better-made shirt for $15.  You wear it many times and then pass it to charity for someone else to enjoy.  No need to do the math.  And no need to point out that you’ll look better and of course, smarter!

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