This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.
Hi everyone! I wanted to reach out and invite people to join me for Plastic Free July. Plastic Free July is a movement created to challenge consumers to refuse plastic use in July and is meant to raise awareness of the problems with single-use disposable plastic. The challenge is very easy; Create no plastic waste for the whole month of July! Startinggggg, right now (Happy first!). If you feel as if this is too overwhelming, then maybe take it back a notch and refuse all single-use disposable plastic (consider triple or quadruple used plastics oh-kayed). Why is it that this movement exists? A few facts…
Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.
50% of the plastic produced is used just once and thrown away.
Virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form (with the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated). Source
A trillion plastic bags are used around the world each year. Source
The average time that a plastic bag is used for is… twelve minutes! Source
Watching the Plastic Ocean documentary on Netflix was such an eye-opener for Mike and I, and for others who we have recommended the documentary to. I think that’s also another good place to start to learn a little bit more.
Meanwhile, I will try to make a weekly suggestion list of ways we could deny ourselves single use plastics in our everyday lives during this month. I have written about bathrooms extensively in the past, but I think it is one of the easiest places where we can cut down plastic waste. So I am writing about it AGAIN. Many products that you find in a bathroom are packaged in plastic containers or bags. Try counting the number of plastic containers in your bathroom right now. Search in every cabinet and drawer, and I am sure you will find more than what you first thought. Here are some tips from related posts, wrangled into one place.
Going for a safety razor it’s the most eco way to shave. They’re made out of stainless steel so they’re recyclable at the end of their life.
Ok, you don’t have to DIY, but there are some great natural deodorants out there that help you cut down on aerosols, chemicals and plastic. I personally use Schmidt’s, packaged in a glass jar, to try to limit the plastic packaging.
Go back to soap
Good old soap has been forgotten – but it’s a pretty amazing multi-tasker and can work as a lather for shaving, a cleanser and even shampoo! I wrote about my love for soap once, but if you don’t feel quite ready to make the switch, try choosing refillable aluminum cans for your shampoo and conditioner with Plaine Products. They also released a new face wash and face moisturizer. To get 30% OFF of their new releases, use code PPNEW2018 at checkout. Also, for the first week of July, they will be running a sale for all their other products. To receive 20% OFF, use the code PFJ20 at checkout between July 1 and July 7.
Brush with Bogobrush
There are many toothbrushing options out there, from bamboo to recycled plastic to biodegradable hemp, and more. I personally use Bogobrush, but any of those options are fine. Since all options are manual toothbrushes, make sure to brush well. Here’s a guide if you need a refresher! Use the Bogobrush link on my page to receive your first subscription for FREE.
Tackle your toilet paper
Most toilet paper comes wrapped in plastic (and is made with trees). Go for a bidet, or Who Gives A Crap, which isn’t wrapped in plastic, and which is $10 OFF using my link.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.
Toilet paper is a thing you never want to run out of. But as of late, I have been suffering from qualms about where to source ethical toilet paper. I have switched over to Seventh Generation toilet papers more than a year ago, because they are 100% recycled, but I still didn’t like that they came packaged in plastic. Try as I might, there was nary a roll that could solve my anti-plastic problem. It perturbs me so much that a necessity such as TP should require plastic wrapping, that I started considering alternatives and having conversations with friends who have gone the bidet route instead. Bidets are awesome and zero waste, and everyone who owns one swears by them. However, I am not about to spend a couple hundred dollars in order to go zero waste. And then I remembered, oh wait. TP is NOT a necessity. It’s a privilege and a convenience. Didn’t I say I was going to rid my life of conveniences that are unfriendly to the environment and do not align with my core values? So I started to think about nixing toilet papers all-together without getting a bidet, and doing things the old-fashioned way.
I remember the first time I started using toilet paper. I was thirteen years old. Ew, you say? No, not ew. Actually, on the contrary, people from my culture find butt-wiping with paper to be quite unsanitary, ineffective, and unclean. Think about it – you’re essentially using paper to remove particles, without even so much as a way to wash or sanitize your bum. In the Philippines, there is no toilet paper, typically. Go to a public restroom and all you’ll see is a bucket in the corner by the sinks filled with water. You take a small little bucket and grab water if you are going number two, and if you are going number one, then you pass on that. I remember returning to my country for a one-week dental mission trip, and hearing stories of colleagues twerking in stalls next door. Funny thing was, I myself was perturbed and had Kleenexes in backs of scrub pockets just in case I needed to go to a public restroom. According to my home country’s standards, if you were actually to clean yourself, you would wash with water and soap after every seat you take on that porcelain bowl. That’s just the way it was done. My mom was anti-toilet paper for the longest time. I remember cousins visiting from Virginia and my mom complaining that they were “wasting paper”. So yeah, for the first thirteen years of my life, I did not use toilet paper. Like, ever.
I was just about to revert to my old ways when I discovered Who Gives A Crap, which is probably what you’ve been wondering during this post thus far. Finally, TP packaged and delivered in bulk, with not a single ounce of plastic in sight.
Good for the world, their toilet paper is made from 100% recycled paper, thus saving trees from having to wipe our bums. Speaking of bums, they’ll be happy to learn that the paper contains no inks, dyes, or scents. More importantly, this TP makes a difference for people in need.
Who Gives a Crap is an Aussie company started by three dudes (Simon, Jehan and Danny) when they realized in 2012 that 2.3 billion people across the world do not have access to a toilet. That’s roughly 40% of the global population! It also means that 289,000 children under the age of 5 years old die every year from diarheal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That’s almost 800 children per day, or one child every 2 minutes. So they decided to give a crap about it. Who Gives A Crap donates 50% of the profits to help build toilets and improve sanitation in the developing world. To date, they have donated over $1.2 million Aussie dollars to charity, while saving trees, water, and energy. You can learn more about their impact here.
On top of that, their marketing is AH-MAZING. I mean, selling toilet paper does not seem like a fun job, but they definitely make it fun! The packaging around each roll has suggestions on how the paper can be reused – ie: as wrapping paper or gift tags! Three of the thirty rolls are dedicated for emergencies. As in, DO NOT OPEN these rolls unless you are running low, or for the unplanned. A perfect reminder that a new box is in order. And if you think that recycled paper is uncomfortable for the bum, trial proves that it is not. Tres-ply paper goes a long way, although for those seeking a more luxurious feel than saying “three” in French, there IS also the “premium” option, made from 100% bamboo. They also sell forest friendly tissues and forest friendly paper towels, in case you haven’t made the switch to linen just yet.
Now I know the question that’s all on your minds. What’s the cost? The price is actually not bad! They have bulk orders of 24 double rolls for $30 but by using this link HERE, you can get $10 OFF, which then makes it $20 for 24 rolls! Or you can order 48 rolls for $48, and with the $10 OFF, it makes it very comparable to other toilet paper rolls selling at Target. Plus, it is important to note that you aren’t just buying toilet paper. You are buying others access to dignity, health, and an overall improved quality of life! Plus, trees are meant for Koalas, not bums. So next time you are running low, use the code and try Who Gives A Crap. Because we ALL should give a crap.
PS: I am still considering the bidet route though. Friends still swear by it. Or going primal and embracing au naturale. But at least I have this option too.
I was sitting cross legged on the hardwood floors of my friend’s house, immersed in a board game that took three hours of our day and a hundred percent of my concentration, when one of us took the gold and the end of the game dawned on us, as well as a realization that our bellies have been grumbling for half an hour. As I pushed myself up, I felt that achey feeling in my hip joints, as my knees struggled with the unbending. My twenty-eight year old comrades were also having difficulty lifting limbs without cracking joints. It took a few seconds before the pain started to go away, as blood started to flow again. I’m not sure if you’ve ever felt this, but I feel this all the time. Even sitting in bed for an hour writing a blog post can trigger this spasm as I force my body into a new configuration.
A few months later, I read about how people in Japanese culture hardly have trouble at all with their hips and knees. I thought to myself, how could it be that an entire group of people in a particular culture could escape the achey pains that I attributed to age? As I looked more into the topic, I realized that these joints see a lot of movement in their lifestyle, since most meals are eaten on the floor with low tables, and beds are made of futons lying on the ground. Even Japanese worship comes in the form of kneeling and meditating on mats, rather than sitting or standing. Which got me to thinking, how does our sedentary lives affect our physical bodies? And down the rabbit hole I flew, constantly evaluating how non-movement in our everyday is slowly deteriorating our bodies over time.
Many of our physical ailments in later life are masked by medical terms. We give them a name, such as high blood pressure, and arthritis, and diabetes, and high cholesterol. Some say it is for lack of exercise, but I would like to dismantle that theory and say that it is caused by one thing: our lack of movement due to our sedentary lifestyles. We are humans, and our bodies need movement. It blows my mind that the common prescription by medical professionals is exercise. Exercise in the form of gyms and sports, an hour or two of our days before or after work, dedicated to, essentially, movement. But what’s the point of it all if it is negated by sitting (or standing) at a desk for 8 hours a day? We return back to being still, weighing down our joints, starving blood of flow anyway.
When you think about it, what a strange “need” exercise is. Growing up, my idea of exercise was composed of physical education classes (ugh!), gyms, yoga studies, tracks and machines; things that just don’t grow on trees. For this thing that we physically need, does it not seem strange that it doesn’t occur in nature? We know that the nutrients we need in food grows from a tree in the ground and is present in other living organisms which makes a lot of sense. The fact that the Earth contains what we need makes sense to me. But the fact that this exercise that I needed required factories and metal bars and air conditioning and music seemed a little bizarre. But that’s just it.
I don’t think our answer lies in exercise. I think it lies in movement. It also lies in the way we move. If we move in very stressful ways, trying to make gainz as some would call it, our bodies will be taxed. But constant gentle movement throughout the day can do us better. Why is it that we need to go to the gym? It’s so we can offset the rest of our lazy days. Think about how we moved as a species in earlier times. We moved to harvest our food, to collect water from a stream, to carry our babies. Now we have groceries, water filters, and strollers to do our work. It seems to me as if a life of convenience is the reason why we live sedentary lives.
Think of the implications of this one item: a chair. We choose to sit in chairs, rather than the floor. We go to the gym for an hour at a time to do squats. If we just get rid of the chairs in our home and workplaces, we would make this same squatting motion a hundred times throughout the day. Katy Bowman, a biomechanist who has been studying movement for twenty years recognizes the implications of this one piece of furniture. After the realization that movement is what keeps us healthy (not exercise), she has chosen to embrace couch-less living, futon sleeping, on-the-floor dining and barefoot walking. She has two young children, which some may argue calls for chairs, but they have no chairs at their home. She has chosen to implement these intentional addition of inconveniences for the improvement of their health. Creating a home that requires one to move is a way in which we can turn away conveniences and choose a healthier lifestyle for ourselves.
“If aliens came down and looked… it would be clear that we prioritize sedentarism, culturally… that that’s of value, so that we can maximize our time gathering income through the least amount of effort as possible. That’s actually our culture in a nutshell….As the culture, whether they are aware of it or not, buys into the idea that less movement is better, (aka: more convenience is better, because those statements are inter-changable), it becomes more and more challenging in our habitat to find movement because the technology is there before we can even request it”
She has even gone so far as define these everyday movement as nutritional. We all know that we need food, and we know that not all food is equal. There are more nutritional foods that our bodies need to be healthy. Likewise with movement. We all know we need some form of movement, but it has been sold as simply exercise. But our bodies need more than exercise. Movement needs to come in different ways, with certain frequencies, engaging multiple body parts. The fact is that movement should be elements of all parts of our day.
What happens, though, when we tell a group of people that they need to move more? An avalanche of excuses start to collect. Most frequently, the excuse that we do not have time in our day, which is far from the truth. We need to prioritize body movement more than work and money. What is the point of being rich and successful when your body ails you? I don’t know about you guys but I don’t want to be forty and creak like the floorboards of my grandma’s home. What we are talking about is not something unattainable or difficult to do. Take a few minutes each hour to do hand stretches. Make chairs taller so that your feet can’t reach the ground, and you can kick, kick, kick. Put phones far away from your reach, so that you physically have to get up and get it. Take an interest in fixing things at home for yourself, instead of hiring a handyman. Eat with your hands once in a while. Walk barefoot on the lawn. Bike to work, if you can. Take a walk on your lunch break as you eat a sandwich, instead of sitting in a break room watching TV. Take the stairs to the sixth floor of your office instead of an awkward elevator ride. Park your car as far as you can from the entrance of your workplace. Carry your babies on your back when you are traveling or running errands. Add inconvenience back into your lives, for health’s sake.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.
Hearing about the environmental impacts of our everyday lifestyle choices can be a bit overwhelming. The realization that 300 million tons of plastic is produced each year, and that half of that is meant to be single-use can be very depressing. One may want to change that statistic, but it is easy to feel like the power of one is so small. I am here to tell you that it is not. Because the power of one turns to two and then to four, and so on. Imagine, if only 20% of the world’s population changed their consumption so as to create less waste, that would mean that there are 1.52 BILLION people who are consciously choosing not to use a plastic water bottle every day they go to work. Multiplied by the number of days in a year, and you can see the tremendous impact that may have. Extrapolate that to also forgoing plastic bags at the groceries, and to-go utensils at a fast food restaurant, and you’ve got a big dent in plastic consumption already. So we must try. I believe that each individual can contribute to a massive change.
The question is, “where to start?” That, itself, can be overwhelming as well. I am here to say that starting the process is very simple, and easy. You don’t have to go zero-waste like, TODAY. That’s very unsustainable, and will probably make you want to quit faster than anything. We want the change to be slow, but steady. Choose one change that you can make each month, or week, or if you’re like me, each day. Practice that change and if you slip up, no worries, you learn and you can continue on for the next time. We all have slip ups! And we also all have our limitations. If you try to implement a change and you REALLY cannot stick to it, then that’s fine. Try a different one. Maybe come back to it at a later stage, when you’re more well-versed in letting waste go. All I know is that over time, the changes become easier and easier. I want to show people that creating less waste is a simple act of being mindful of what we do. It is easier than most think, and has impacts more than just environmental, which you must discover for yourself. The only way I can think of showing people, is to make a list of things I do myself.
Start with one.
Practice, practice, practice.
Have a reason, “Why”.
Be okay with failure.
Plastic drink bottles – I now carry around a re-usable water bottle wherever I go. The reason is two-fold. First, I am ALWAYS thirsty. And second, you never know if you will have access to water sans plastic where you go. You can be going to a friend’s house and all they still have available is water packaged in bottles. So I take my water with me, everywhere.
Plastic Grocery Bags – Bring your own re-usable grocery bags. I was so happy when the law got passed that grocery stores will charge an extra fee for plastic bags, but I was unhappy at how little it curbed people’s habits. People’s number one excuse? “I accidentally leave it at home”. Do what I do, and keep it in the back of your car, always!
Plastic produce bags – I never package my produce in plastic anymore. I just grab my fruits and veggies and throw them right into my grocery cart. I also have two mesh bags to keep together bunches of stuff, such as brussel sprouts for instance. Anything that can be difficult to put on the conveyor belt at the check-out stand in one go. But mostly, I go without. Why do we need separate bags for our produce? Even the wet lettuce just gets thrown into the bin. It’ll dry on it’s own.
Paper Towels – I wrote about how I nixed paper towels by replacing them with rags. Even better, our rags are a collection of old T-shirts amongst us three roommates.
To -go cups – I carry around a Keep Cup in the back of my car at all times. Even though this is useful for coffee mostly, it can also be used for soda from a soda machine. It is actually my universal cup. The lid seals and I can throw it in my purse, even with liquid in there! It’s my favorite.
Frozen foods – There are some types of food you just can’t buy without plastic. Frozen foods is one of them. I have not bought frozen foods in over a year. The cost for convenience is just too great. And my health is better for it, too! In general, I try not to buy anything in plastic when we go grocery shopping. Plastic jars are traded in for glass jar alternatives. Meats and cheeses are purchased fresh and wrapped in paper. Pasta and bread and ice cream are made at home, using ingredients that could be bought in paper bags or glass containers. I even bring my own jar to get fresh squeezed orange juice, or cold brew, or peanut butter. The list goes on, here.
Plastic utensils – I actually carry around metal spoons, forks, knives, straws and wooden chopsticks in my purse, all the time. I have a utensil holder that keeps them clean and together, too.
To – go containers – I have been seen to pull out a tupperware from my purse to package the food that I don’t finish when we dine out.
Fast food, in general – This is another one that is better for our health. Fast food is typically wrapped individually, and sometimes contain plastic. We will break our fast food streak once every 2-3 months, to purchase things wrapped in paper, I suppose. But in general, even the paper we try to avoid.
Single use products for the menstruating person- I wrote about how menstruating persons should invest in a reusable cup, to get rid of single-use tampons and pads. It’s environmentally friendly, and cost efficient to boot!
Plastic covers and wire hangers from the dry cleaners – I am one of those people who goes to pick up my clothes from the local dry cleaners, and strips them off the of hanger and out of the plastic right then and there. They look at me funny, but never say anything. They take the hangar and plastic back for re-use.
Shampoo, conditioner, and lotion packaged in plastic bottles – I have switched over to Plaine Products, which packages toiletries in aluminum cans that are refillable!
Plastic toothbrushes – We have now switched over to exclusively Bogobrush toothbrushes, although I am open to try bamboo toothbrushes in the future.
Deoderant packaged in plastic containers – I buy deoderant in glass jars such as this. I wish it were refillable – I guess my next step would be to make some at home in order to reduce waste all together.
Gift wrap and greeting cards – I love the way a present looks wrapped up with a bow, all pretty and sparkling. But then I think about what happens to all that fluff once the present is unwrapped. Most likely, without a two year old to play with it, it would go straight to the trash bin. It’s true that we have cut down our gifting significantly, but even those few gifts that we give, they are now given without gift wrap, or covered in a linen napkin, if anything.
Gift cards – Money placed on plastic cards; ugh. If we are gifting money, we either write a check, or better yet, hand over cash, so as to avoid wasting a check.
Cosmetics – I never was into make-up. Luckily, I never feel the need to wear it. I have created a very minimalist make-up routine, and since then I have switched over to a traditional pencil eyeliner and an eyebrow pencil, which are sharpened to wee stubs, and which are essentially just wood. I used to wear mascara but when my last one ran out, I couldn’t find an alternative without plastic. So I have actually been going without, and no one has mentioned a thing yet.
Driving around everywhere – The best investment Mike and I ever made were two bikes. I guess you can’t call mine an investment, because it was a hand-me-down from my old man. But Mike bought a used one from Craigslist for $100. We have now made a huge effort to reduce carbon emissions by biking on weekends to our coffee shop dates, farmers markets, and groceries. Anywhere, really, that we could bike to.
Stuff, in general – I have less of everything, which then creates less waste. Why I ever needed multiples of stuff, I will never know. I used to have like fifteen water bottles, over fifty pairs of shoes, hundreds of articles of clothing and accessories.
We all have potential to make change. I am a firm believer in one’s ability to be an influencer for others in the name of good. But I was still extremely surprised (and very impressed) when I learned that my own Mr. Debtist implemented a change of his own at his workplace.
As you all may know, Mike is a big coffee lover. He has a friend at work who owned his own coffee roasting company, and his coffee beans were featured at our wedding. Between the two of them, they alternate bringing local third wave roaster’s beans to work, making a batch of pour-over each day. Typically, each batch will result in left-over coffee, so they’ve made a habit of sharing the left-over with co-workers who are in need of a cup of Jo.
The problem Mike was seeing was that people kept coming up to them to fill up disposable styrofoam cups provided by the break room. He realized that their coffee sharing has resulted in 2-3 styrofoam cups entering the landfill each day. So one day, he spoke up. He said that he is trying to live a zero waste lifestyle and that he does not want to contribute more plastic to our environments. Because of this, people can only drink the left-over coffee if they bring a re-usable cup.
The amazing thing is that now, every co-worker around them comes with a re-usable mug. Maybe the free coffee was worth the change. But by simply speaking up, Mike has been able to implement a zero waste policy amongst his nearby co-workers at his workplace. It was a reminder, even for me, that we all hold potential. And that staying silent can do no good. So if there is some change you want to see in your own environment, remember that it starts with you.
Birthdays are kind of a tortuous thing for me these days. At some point, I think we all kind of went a bit astray and, may I say it, b-o-n-k-e-r-s, with the whole celebrations thing. I understand celebrating an event or accomplishment, but the whole excess consumption tied to each holiday really bothers me. I wanted to do something very different for this year (and hopefully here on out).
Over the past year, Mike and I have been struggling with trying to relate to family and friends that we want celebrations to be centered around less stuff. When we tell them we don’t want gifts, they insist that we must get something. What ends up happening is that they get us random things, or things we don’t even need, and these things literally immediately go to someone else, or get donated to Goodwill, because we do not want more stuff. So then we started to tell them specifically what things we want with an emphasis on the fact that we want to stray from plastic and excess waste. But then the packages show up wrapped in layers of colored paper and plastic ribbons tied to plastic balloons. Those who want to gift us money put them on plastic gift cards. I mean the whole ordeal has just been very difficult.
We have finally come to a point where we have wrangled down the gift giving quite a bit. Our immediate families STILL insist they get us a gift, so we have an agreed upon one from each side, instead of one from each person. My family got me pasta roller attachments so I can make pastas at home, and Mike’s side got me a pizza stone and peel so I can ramp up our homemade pizza game. As for the others, I wanted a solution. It’s so complicated explaining to 30 relatives why we don’t want gifts and then fighting their resistance against our request. It was time-consuming to make a specific list for them last Christmas, and then frustrating to find that our “bar of soap purchased without wrapping” was wrapped in cellophane with bows. I am not ungrateful, but I AM almost near hysterical. When did we all get so carried away? When did celebrations become tied to wayyyy more than just gathering together to relish in the joys of our accomplishments? Why is it so difficult to untangle people’s perceptions of what a party should look like from the actual party?
My vision of a birthday celebration includes:
+ A get together at a park (or beach, or home).
+ Sharing a meal cooked by loved ones.
+ A home-made birthday cake.
+ Sitting around a circle, telling stories or jokes.
+ Taking photos, or sharing old ones.
+ A birthday song, perhaps.
+ Hugs, kisses, and high-fives.
Not much more than that.
This year, I got a little inspiration from Mr. Money Mustache, and we found a way to do our birthday in a very Debtist way. In the past, we would dine out with our friends and families, usually at a restaurant, for our birthdays. Each person’s meal would cost $15-$25 per person. If we weren’t doing that, someone would be throwing us a party, paying $50 for a cake, the same amount for balloons, confetti and decorations that we would trash that day, and so on. I used to count how many presents I would get each year at my birthday or during Christmas, and it would always be more than 20 gifts. I thought to myself, “Wow, what a waste to have people spend ludicrous amounts of money to throw parties and give gifts, while there are people who exist and barely have any food to eat.” So, I spoke to Mike, who feels the same torture as I, and whose birthday is two weeks away from mine, and we decided to do something different this year.
We created a FEED supper instead. The idea is simple. One hosts a supper (or in our case, a brunch) where each guest makes a donation to provide meals for families in need across the country before attending the event. 100% of the FEED supper donations will provide meals to American families through Feeding America. An estimated 42 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they do not know where their next meals are coming from. By coming together “to truly share a meal”, we can help change that. We wrote our families and friends the following letter:
We can do a world of good.
For us, a simpler birthday is a more meaningful birthday. Instead of asking for gifts or inviting you guys to dine out this year, we request your help in feeding those in need! This year, we are hosting a FEED supper (erm, well, brunch…). For those who are able, we request a donation to FEED and in return, every person who makes a donation is invited to come over to our place on Sunday, July 1 at 10 a.m. for home-made pastries and coffee! I have gotten into quite the baking habit and Mike makes wonderful coffee selections from local coffee roasters.
This helps to avoid stressful shopping and allows folks to focus dollars where really needed.
The best present for us is getting together with you.
It’s hard to believe that over 40 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. We can do something to change that.
Please consider making a small donation before attending this FEED Brunch, where we can celebrate our collective impact together.
It only takes a little to make a big difference. By giving just $10, you can provide 90 meals to American families through FEED’s domestic giving partner, Feeding America. Our goal is to raise $500, but if we go over, even better! 100% of the proceeds will go towards Feeding America.
We love you, and we appreciate your help in making a difference in the world.
The letter links them to a website where they can make a donation of their choice. We have also invited them over to our house for pastries and coffee on a day between our birthdays. It’s something simple, but also something Mike and I are passionate about! We are very excited to see familiar faces, not only to celebrate our birthdays, but also to celebrate our impact!
Even after all of this, we were still asked to go out on my birthday to grab food by friends and family members. It took everything I had in me to flat out decline. It’s so hard to say no because you see the disappointment in their faces and hear it in their voices. But I had to stand my ground, otherwise I would have been the unhappy one. I gave them the spiel about how I did not want to do ANY spending on my actual day of birth. I emphasized the fact that we created the event to bring awareness to the excess consumption that advertising and social media has melded with the idea of celebration. I offered alternatives, such as joining us for a hike, or a bonfire. Interestingly, no one took us up on our offers, not even my parents. My mom was insisting we go out for breakfast at Lola’s Cafe, and when I said no to that, she insisted going to Breugger’s Bagels, because it is a cheap way to celebrate. She said, “We just want to spend time with our daughter on her birthday.” But when I declined again and asked if we could hike or go to the beach instead, she said they were busy. I think doing something so mundane was not considered a celebration, even though the celebration itself is internal, no?
Anyways, yesterday ended up being a good day. After helping my patients at work, and visiting with my family for an hour after work, Mike took me on a three mile hike to circumnavigate the only natural lake in Orange County. We then went home and made pasta. He had previously picked up a Coffee, Whiskey, Peanut Brittle Ice Cream from Kansha Creamery on his way home from work Friday (in a re-usable container, off course) and we dipped into that with a week-old left-over slice of cake from my mom’s end-of-the-school-year party. It was, I think, very reflective of the things I valued and what I envision my life to really be about in the upcoming year. More importantly, it was what made me happy. It’s a slow process, and maybe people will never understand the repercussions of our extravagant, Great-Gatsby lives. At least this year, I didn’t have to contribute.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.
Heather McDougall is the co-founder of Bogobrush, along with her brother John McDougall. Both are children of a dentist who pursued careers in other fields but they have come full circle and returned to the toothbrush. More importantly, they are using this single, everyday, taken-for-granted item and using it as a means for social change. More than just another toothbrush company, Heather has some very inspiring ideas about the ways in which the toothbrush can affect our environment and under-served communities, as well as communities in other impoverished areas outside of our borders, in a positive way. The Bogobrush is a great example of how the items we choose in our lives could carry a value that goes way past a monetary number.
How did Bogobrush come about? What were the inspirations, motivations and goals that fueled the birth of the Bogobrush?
John and I say the idea came from when we were kids, growing up as children of a dentist. But, really, neither of us had any intention of following the family business. John went to design school while I went to law school. During those years, we realized our shared passion for sustainability. We wanted to do our part, so we talked about a lot of ideas. We kept coming back to a toothbrush. It’s something people use everyday! More than half a billion manual toothbrushes end up in landfills or polluting natural habitats in the U.S. alone, and more than 80 million Americans lack access to adequate oral care. We had somehow come full circle from childhood.
What was it like growing up with a dentist in the house? I am sure you learned a lot of oral hygiene tips and tricks. Is that the part of the reason why you felt a calling towards helping people with their at-home oral hygiene?
Growing up was a blast. Our mom and dad always encouraged creativity, play, and adventure. Naturally, we also learned a lot about oral health: tips for best ways to brush teeth, what the best toothbrush bristles are, the foods and drinks that are harmful to oral health, how oral health affects heart health, and as we got older, we’d hear how lack of access harms a variety of communities around the country and world, and how policies and diet habits are barriers to quality care. I don’t think we felt a calling at the time, but it certainly helped us see oral health as a real issue to tackle for sustainability.
I understand that currently there are two models for your brushes- a recyclable plastic and a biodegradable handle. Could you describe each in more detail? Why did you guys decide to have a plastic one, rather than going entirely with biodegradable options?
Our plastic brushes are made from entirely recycled plastics that would have been thrown in the landfill. We use what is technically called “re-grind,” which is the plastic waste from other manufacturing projects. We get it from those projects, re-grind it up, and it become the recycled Bogobrush. The handle is 100% recyclable – just toss it in the recycle bin when it’s use is over.
The biodegradable Bogobrush is made from leftover plant material from farms across midwest America. The plant material gets mixed with a vegetable based oil and turns into a material that can be molded like plastic but is biodegradable! Both options can be found here.
We have both options so Bogobrushes can choose which end of life stream is best for their lifestyle. Not everyone composts or has access to community compost so recycling is the best bet. Same thing in reverse. And while composting is awesome, recycling has now become more energy efficient than landfills, and that’s an important industry to help advance.
I totally agree! We, ourselves, do not have an option for composting, and I am a huge proponent of supporting the recycling system in order to advance its abilities for future generations. So, what now? What exciting plans do you guys have in the future for the Bogobrush?
Later this year we’ll be launching a whole bunch of new products. We’re launching new colors, new biodegradable materials, and an updated design – still the same beautiful product, just more refined and less material so it’s better for the planet. Plus, the cat’s not quite out of the bag, but we’re also working on a children’s collection. We have some really fun things launching with that, and we hope you’ll follow along later this summer when we announce it fully!
Definitely! I will be very much interested in the kid’s toothbrushes, since we see a lot of children in our office! Besides Bogobrush, what are some of your other favorite oral hygiene brands?
I love Cocofloss for my dental floss. I’d love to do a partnership with them for Bogobrush some day, too. 🙂 I also really love the Toothy Tabs from Lush Cosmetics. So easy to travel with and they have super random flavors. One of my faves is Grapefruit and Black Pepper. Mint toothpaste loyalists beware. Ha!
Bogobrush stands for Buy one, Give one. I think it’s amazing that you guys are devoted to making a social impact in the lives of under-served communities. What are some communities that benefit from the Bogobrush?
To date, we’ve worked with low cost health clinics in communities across the U.S. For instance, in Detroit, we partner with Covenant Community Care. These clinics serve populations who are under-insured or don’t have any insurance at all. They provide a beautiful health clinic, and top quality care. We think quality matters and helps everyone feel valued.
Recently, we decided to start expanding our giving beyond clinics and even beyond toothbrushes when the case is right. This past May, we partnered the Engineers without Borders from North Dakota State University on their work in a partner community in Guatemala. This will be an ongoing relationship and we’re excited to see how we can help support their work for educating about engineering, clean water, and health. We’re also working to get connected with urban farming and art education. Anything that we think relates to sustainability, we want to join the communities and lend our support.
Currently are you guys accepting applications from other organizations to be a part of the Give Back program? If other communities are interested in benefitting from the Bogobrush, how might they became part of the program?
Yes! We are actually just creating an official application process for this. We’d love to hear from folks interested in partnering – once, twice, on-going, or any ideas welcome. Send an email to email@example.com to get started.
Do you guys plan to extend your outreach program to international levels? I have a bit of wanderlust in me, so this question definitely peaks my interest.
Yes again! The Engineers Without Borders program is international support. We’re also working on a relationship with some folks in Spain who are doing reforestation and ocean clean-up work. For us, it’s all about the community of Bogobrushers and their communities of giving back. The Engineers Without Borders are at NDSU, and North Dakota is where John and I grew up so we have loyal supporters in that community. As long as people feel a personal connection to the give, we aren’t too concerned about geography. The folks in Spain will sell Bogobrush, so their sales and customers will be connected to their outreach work.
How may dentists in particular become more involved with spreading Bogobrush’s impact?
We’d love to talk to dentists about providing Bogobrushes to their patients. This could be through resale, or the brush dentists often give after hygiene appointments. Longer term, we’d love to develop a program through our subscription service online that helps dentists remind their patients of appointments and other important oral care check points. And, if dentists have any outreach causes their connected to, let us know and we can find a way to work together. Of course, on the simplest end of support dentists can spread the word on social media, offer to write blog posts, and share knowledge with our community.
What is the most difficult obstacle in trying to convince others to switch to a Bogobrush?
Our biggest obstacle has been getting the story out. Most people don’t care about their toothbrush. It’s an object that they have to use, and they dont’ think about it much beyond that. This means, a toothbrush, especially a manual toothbrush is mostly commodity and price-based. We are using values to sell a toothbrush. That means our job is to tell stories. To show people why a Bogobrush is worth paying a few dollars more for – the environment and helping your community. This fall we’ll be doing a lot more sharing our story because we have funding for marketing!
How do you guys overcome difficult times?
Stay focused on the bigger mission. If we wanted to sell a cool looking plastic toothbrush, the hurdles would be much smaller. We’re trying to push the needle on a variety of fronts, though. We talk about our dreams for the world, we talk about our dreams for our own lifestyle, we talk about our vision for the company as it expands beyond Bogobrushes and into even more products that can help the world. Bogobrush is an amazing toothbrush, but for us, it’s so much more than that. It’s the start of something so much bigger.
How do you unwind and refresh?
Unwinding and refreshing happens for me whenever I turn off the switch on work, and let my mind roam freely through other adventures. For instance, John and I both love to be active and moving. For me that means yoga, hiking with my husband, or walking my dog. For John, he snowboards, hikes, or goes indoor climbing. Unwinding can even be dinner as a family, ditching my phone for a few hours, dancing in my living room, or playing music.
What would you consider your greatest success so far? And what is one moment you won’t ever forget?
Regarding success with Bogobrush, there are moments in time that we celebrate, but right now the greatest success that comes to mind is the very first step. The first decision to type into google “toothbrush manufacturer.” A close follow-up to that is learning to evaluate the balance of persistence and pivoting. We’ve been working a long time on this. We could give up at any number of challenging times, but our persistence and faith in our vision keeps us going. And our ability to see that sometimes the path forward is to turn right or left allows persistence to pay off.
One unforgettable moment is from 2014. John and I were in our bristling partner’s facility watching our first run of recyclable handles go through the machine, and success! We’d first tried to make Bogobrush from bamboo with overseas manufacturers. This didn’t work, and in bristling we lost more than half of the handles to breakage. Being with John, 2 years later to watch our pivot turn into success was so amazing.
If you could give one piece of advice to other creative entrepreneurs wishing to create social change, what would it be?
Know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Question why you’re doing what you’re doing. I don’t think 100% certainty is necessary, but a gut level peace and energy will keep you moving. And bonus advice – when you get stressed, do something else that’s fun! Nothing is as big of a deal as we think it is. I’m super guilty of this, but step out, do something fun – even if it’s forced. 🙂
Thank you Heather for taking the time to interview with me. You’re an inspiration to the dental field and a wonderful reminder that we can make changes beyond the doors of a dental office. Bogobrush is currently offering TheDebtist readers their first subscription for free. Mike and I have personally been using Bogobrush since January of 2018 and we will not go back.
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Yesterday, I was reminiscing on the broad spectrum of topics that I address on this blog, which fall under the categories of finance, minimalism, ethical consumerism, ecofriendly habit shifts, and slow living, with occasional pesky posts spilling outside of these confines. I addressed on Instragram the difficulty with sticking to all the things that make up a whole “me”, adding a friendly reminder to always do “you”. The one thing that I did not speak aloud but which was ever present in my conscious mind was the fact that every one-way conversation I have on this site (and other platforms) has privilege written all over it.
There, I’ve said it.
Privilege is a word that has taken on a new meaning in today’s social context. When I bring up privilege in a conversation, people tend to act in a very defensive way, as if I had called them a name or said a bad word in front of the kids. They usually comment how they are not at all privileged and that they fall under a meager “middle-class” title. Do not get me wrong. I am not “wealthy” by American standards. As you all know, our net worth is negative half a million dollars, we rent a space and rely on co-housing in order to save money, we use travel rewards to travel, and our grocery budget is $50 a week. Still, I am able to say that as a middle-class U.S. citizen, I am extremely privileged.
When it comes to finances, it is apparent that I am of a well enough financial status to be able to look at my money and direct where it is going. I am able to have the access to loans in the first place to get a good education and to secure a career. I am then able to make enough to pay down the debt and to plan for a future. People around the world cannot even plan for a meal to eat tonight, let alone a safe place to “live”. Having a way to choose to budget my way towards financial freedom at a young age is something I feel very lucky to be a part of.
When it comes to minimalism, I have enough stuff that surrounding myself with only things I love requires constant re-evaluation. The problem that we face when people refuse to honor our request for no gifts on special occasions is a problem many others would embrace. The fact that we are in a constant state of de-cluttering is only a painful and embarrassing reminder to myself that there are other people in the world who would beg for these things, but to whom I cannot get access to give these things to.
When it comes to ethical consumerism, I have access to markets that are mindful with their practices in production. I have the monetary ability to support ethical companies, and I have the material excess to not support unethical ones. I am able to be selective and can choose to go without when the price is too high, or when the ethics is absent. There is a quote that states that every dollar we use to consume goods is a vote towards the world we want to see. However, I recognize the unfairness of that quote. A mother in a third world country who does not have the money to pay for an expensive, ethically-made shirt is not automatically a mother who does not want to see a better world for her child.
When it comes to eco-friendly habit shifts, I am aware of the resources needed in order to create lifestyle changes for the better of the environment in the first place. It is already difficult enough to find the resources to be eco-friendly in a well-off community of Orange County, California. Imagine how much more difficult it must be for a Filipino to find sources of clean water outside of plastic bottles. As the island sinks underneath its own waste, don’t you think it has crossed their minds that this is unhealthy to the environment? And yet I ask, where do you expect them to get clean water?
When it comes to slow living, I have the space and time to reflect on ways in which I can have less in my life. I run away from having too much. I have a career that allows me time away from work in order to focus on myself. Me, me, me.
The complexities of privilege are so immense, and so conflicted, and so twisted, that it’s hard to describe exactly where each of us falls. What I know is this. If you are reading this blog, and you are trying to attempt financial freedom, or be an ethical shopper, or curb your environmental footprint, or embrace minimalism and slow living, please pause and recognize that you are of the privileged. Please use that privilege to make a difference in the world by being extremely intentional in the way you live, and the way you consume all things. Not just for the factory worker or child laboring in a far off land, but also, for the mother in your neighborhood who lives off of food stamps and does not have the extra dollars to “cast a vote for the world she wants to see.”
In writing this, I am not a martyr or a saint. The martyrs and saints are swimming in poverty, faced with disease and famine, caught in a state of war, plagued with injustice and ill-fate, and still, are trying to raise their children to be good people.