Getting To Know: Thea Merritt of EcoNow

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Thea Merritt, the founder of EcoNow, a resource for locally hand-made and eco-friendly goods. Thea created her company when she saw that there was a need for eco-conscious products in Orange County, California. She began by hand-sewing alternatives to single use items and offering them at local farmers markets. Eventually, she was able to open a store-front in Costa Mesa’s The Lab Anti-Mall. The store boasts a wide variety of goods, including an extensive refill station and many reusable, biodegradable alternatives to plastic. It has now become my go-to, one-stop shop for all of my daily household needs. To learn more about this amazing hidden gem, read the interview below.

When did you first start getting into living a zero-waste lifestyle? 

Throughout my teenage years I adopted a minimal living mindset. I didn’t like having too many things and liked to be very organized. About 5 years ago, I evolved my minimalism and non-attachment to material things into a sustainable living mindset that came from learning how a very small amount of “recyclables” are actually recycled. I wanted my carbon footprint to be minimal so I fully embraced biking to work and school, stopped relying on recyclable materials, and educated myself on the impacts humans have on the planet. 

What made you decide to start EcoNow? 

A lot of people would compliment my lifestyle and say things like “I wish I could do that,” and I would reply, “you can!” but realized quickly that without a resource to provide for people, it was all talk and no action. I tried searching for sustainable stores, restaurants, and organizations in Orange County, and I couldn’t find much. I felt pretty alone and then an “ah-ha!” moment came and I realized I could help create a sustainable community. I began sewing produce bags, cutlery pouches, and Eco Towels (our paper towel alternative) and I found a few local farmers markets to sell at.  I remember some of the people I met at my first market and I remember the feeling they gave me, I realized I wasn’t alone on this mission to sustainable living and living with awareness, and it motivated me to keep going, keep growing.

How did you go about creating your business? Did you go to business school or was this venture something that organically unfolded?

I did not study business but chose to study philosophy. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do with my life and I figured I could choose a career later as studying Philosophy leads people down many different paths.  In school I learned a lot about myself, such as how to think critically and to apply my morals.That was when I decided I wanted to provide for my community, do good for the Earth, as well as for people. Before starting Eco Now I worked with people with special needs and I thought I would become a teacher in that field. But as my love for sustainable living grew and I started making eco-friendly goods for other people, I knew it was my passion and I wanted to see if I could make it more than just a hobby. 

What does sustainable living mean to you?

Sustainable living to me is living with an awareness of myself, of others, and of our planet Earth. It is not only about consuming consciously but living consciously. Sustainable living is so much more than waste management. It helps you to be aware of yourself, of your choices and their effects even after they are out of sight. 

For me, sustainably living ties in nicely with slow consideration and intentional choices. Because of this, I find a greater appreciation for the simplest of tasks.

Do you also relate sustainability with a gratitude for the tinier moments?

100% – I did not name my business Eco Now to reflect immediacy, which I’m sure many people think. (I decided that it is okay if people think Eco Now is about immediacy because sustainable living is a very urgent and important topic to address). I named it Eco Now as a reminder to be present and aware. I wanted to share my own personal mantras through my business name. I ask myself often, are you present, are you aware of your choices, are you being eco now? My philosophy on life is that you only ever have this moment and it is important to know whether you are living in the moment completely, if you are present, and if you are acting in line with your morals.

What advice would you give to those just beginning their zero-waste journey?

Be easy on yourself, educate yourself, use what you have first, and buckle up because once you wake up to this lifestyle there is no turning back.

What advice would you give to those just starting a business?

Simple. If you believe in yourself you can do it. You will know when you are making the right choice and you will know when you are on the right path. Many things will be really fluid and easy and I believe that if they are it means it’s right. Whenever I have friction in a moment, I step back and assess and ask myself, “Am I looking at this the right way? Is now the right time to be focusing on this?” Usually, it just takes a moment of awareness to tell what move is the right move. Most importantly, be critical of yourself and be ready to put the work in. Your life will likely be consumed by your business and you need to decide if that is the kind of life you want to live. 

What are your favorite zero-waste local artists? 

I try to work with all my favorite local zero waste artists, you will find some of their stuff in our shop, or you will see us collaborating in some capacity. Here’s a list of some of the amazing local companies, people, and organizations I have discovered in the past two years. 

Backyard Bee’s is an ethical and local beekeeping service. They rescue bees, harvest honey sustainably, and make awesome beeswax based products like deodorant, shampoo bars, and body cream and they use sustainable packaging! You can find them at Orange Home Grown Farmers Market every Saturday and also we have few of their goodies in our store.  

Fleur & Butter, is a local artist that sews and plant dyes reusable bento bags. They also hand make bread and offer local delivery, they even wrap the bread in their sustainable bento bags! You can find some of their stuff in our shop or on IG @fleurandbutter

Community Consciousness, is a local organization that touches on many topics both sustainably and ethically, I believe they began as a resource for composting in Orange County and have now evolved into much more than that, they organize local events, beach clean ups, and fundraisers, they have a few artists on their team (if not all?) and their promotional gear always looks incredibly fresh! They are an incredibly compassionate group of people that have big plans for our Orange County Community and I can’t wait to see how they grow. Find them on IG @communityconsciousness

Thistle and Sage Botanics is a local candle and natural fragrance maker and you can even refill your fragrance bottles and candles with her! Her candles are top-notch, soy-based, and phthalate free. You can find a few of her best selling candles in our store.

Cycl – Cycl is an app created by a friend of mine here in Orange County. The app is a resource and voice for all who are trying to live sustainably but still want to eat out and shop with small businesses. The user can locate and rate restaurants and stores on their sustainable practices. I’ve needed this app in my life and I know that countless others need it in their lives as well, even if they don’t know it yet! Hopefully this app will motivate users and business owners to be more sustainable with their practices. Hopefully businesses will learn that more and more of their customers care about sustainable practices and that it is a factor in deciding where they spend their money. 

Popsikle Shop – A local thrift store on wheels here in OC. Yeah that’s right! Popsikle Shop runs out of this adorable camping rv and you can shop second hand clothing and accessories. Through COVID Popsikle Shop adapted with a power move and now they style second hand outfits virtually as an additional service to people. I love that they offer styling and shipping but I still can’t wait to see their second hand store on wheels in person again! They are more popular on TikTok but they have a page on Instagram and website for shopping as well.

If people wish to learn more, what resources (blogs, podcasts, books, or documentaries) would you recommend? 

I don’t always recommend topics that are solely focused on zero waste, sustainable living, or our planet’s environment state. I like to share materials on what I believe is the root of everything, self-awareness. Here is a mix of both:

Books: 

  • The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene by Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Masli
  • Be Here Now by Ram Dass
  • A New Earth: Awakening To Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhardt Tolle
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Podcasts: Science Rules! with Bill Nye

Documentaries:

  • Cosmos: A Personal Voyage with Carl Saegan
  • Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey with Neil De Grass Tyson

I want to thank Thea for her generosity and her time. I think that she has brought something that Orange County was sorely lacking and in doing so, has strengthened this community and made it a much better place. If you have been considering visiting EcoNow, I would highly recommend doing so. Feel free to bring your own refillable glass jars and bottles, but if you have none, no worries! They can be purchased in store. All bulk items are purchased by weight at very affordable prices. My favorite products are the Jojoba Oil (which I use as eye make-up remover), the Tea Tree Shampoo and Body wash, and the All Purpose Cleaner.

For those wondering, the shirt I am wearing is from For Days, the first-ever closed loop clothing line. They’ve just released these dual-colored retro shirts upcycled from previous shirts that they had on the site. The tees are vintage V-neck fit with a shorter hem. For Days has a great incentive for closing the loop, which is to trade in used For Days clothing for newer styles at a very steep discount. I would definitely check them out!

Less Waste: Facial Skin Care with Aesop

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

I’d be the first to admit that in an effort to rid our house entirely of plastic waste, I’ve been neglecting many aspects of skin care, and after a year and a half of doing so, it has started to show. In all honesty, walking down aisles of grocery stores in search of self-care products can be a bit nauseating for the environmental enthusiast. Almost every bottle promises some magical cure packaged in plastic capsules, listing a number of chemical compounds that stray far from being natural. Not a big fan of beauty products anyway, I decided it would be easier to rid my life of this added complexity by just ousting the need to buy. And while that has worked well with some aspects such as make-up routines, and substituting bars of soap and refillable aluminum bottles for daily necessities such as shampoos, conditioners, and lotions, I’ve found that when it comes to facial skin care, my skin has suffered and has started to rebel.

Admittedly, this past winter in California was the driest that we’ve had in a while. I woke up some nights with an itchy throat that needed clearing, and made a habit of having a glass of water by my bedside easily within reach. I recognized the dryness when our adopted toothless cat started to have asthma attacks in the evenings, waking us up and worrying us to death. And I couldn’t deny it any more when my facial skin started to itch, form a rash, and flake, when it has never reacted like that before.

Part of the irritation lies in the fact that I wear a dental mask every day, and the itchiness is localized around where my mask touches my skin. A visit to a dermatologist told me that it’s nothing that a good skin care routine couldn’t fix. She prescribed me a routine that required buying moisturizers, facial cleansers, sunscreens and ointments in plastic bottles, and at first I resisted. The resistance only lasted so long until my body signaled with fervor that it’s in need of some attention. Eventually, I did get her prescribed regimen, and I saw some improvement right away. My skin seemed satisfied, but I was not. I could not, in good conscience, bear to buy another round of plastic bottles filled with chemicals.

Then I remembered that when we went to Melbourne in January, we stayed at an apartment that was furnished with only amber glass bottles. I quickly started researching Aesop and was quite pleased with what I found. Packaged in those amber bottles were little doses of formulations created with meticulous attention to detail for one’s body needs. Their focus was to source plant-based ingredients mixed with lab-made ingredients that have proven record of both safety and efficacy. Headquartered in Melbourne, I was glad to learn that they had a store here in Southern California.

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Searching for something to soothe sensitive, dry skin, the knowledgable staff at the store was able to guide me towards a selection of bottles lined up on their walls, but only after offering me tea and refreshments. They then helped me sample the products and the experience was akin to being at a spa and being waited on hand and foot. They massage the oils into your hands while talking you through the best treatment methods and tips. They detail the differences in ingredients and explain why each one has a purpose. Every item smelled heavenly, and best of all, they were packaged in glass! The only plastic to be seen are the caps and lids, which is much better than the alternative options. Plus, when you take them home, they are sent home in beautiful linen bags that can be re-purposed for such things as jewelry bags and stationary tool kits.

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Off course, the price point is a little bit higher, but to be honest, not much different from the prescribed routine by my dermatologist. And you may call it a misperception due to my obvious affinity towards the brand, but I do believe it worked wonders much better then the Western medicine that was prescribed. Either way, I received these as gifts and took them home with care. Using them in my own bathroom elicited the same type of spa-quality that I experienced in store due to the fresh aroma and high tactile quality of the products. Lighted candle use, optional.

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So here’s to new facial skin care routines. Mine specifically:

This Gentle Facial Cleansing Milk  – panthenol, grape seed, sandalwood. $35 for 3.5 fl. oz.

This Parsley Seed Toner – parsley seed, lavender stem, blue chamomile. $43 for 3.4 fl. oz.

This Primrose Moisturizer – sage leaf, rosemary leaf, lavender stem. $49 for 2.1 fl. oz.

Mr. Debtist also walked away with this hand balm, for hard-working hands.

 

Less Waste: Starbuck’s New Plastic Lid

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

It thrills me that the plastic free trend is circulating the web and filling people’s conscience more and more. There’s nary a day that I am reminded by a fellow blogger or environmentalist about the effects of our daily lifestyle decisions. It seems to be that others are jumping onto the bandwagon too, as more people are following suit. Friends and family occasionally reach out to ask about our KeepCups, and a few have shared that they’ve been inspired to buy their own. So how excited was I when I first learned of Starbuck’s initiative to be more plastic free?

Starbuck’s drinkers have probably heard by now that Starbucks started deviating from the dreaded plastic straws in exchange for a straw-less lid. The lid allows you to drink your favorite cool, summery drinks with an adult lid that has an opening on the side. A little messier, maybe, a lot better for the environment. Or so we are led to believe.

Things to Consider

A more in-depth study on the plastic lids themselves revealed that there is something between 0.32 and 0.88 grams of increase in the amount of plastic in the newer lids when compared to the old lids and straws. In reality, then, more plastic is being created and introduced into the world. Since the plastic lids are brand new (It is cheaper to create plastic parts brand new than it is to create it from recycled plastic materials), they are technically contributing more plastic waste than if we stuck with the traditional straw and lid.

When Starbucks was questioned about the additional weight of the new lids, Starbucks acknowledged its truth. They did bring up a point, which was that the new lids were recyclable, whereas the old straws were not. Unfortunately, that leaves all responsibility to the consumer, who must have the drive to recycle responsibly. Changing the lid does not create a solution. We still need to push consumers to change their mindset about plastic. Awareness is key to the solution. Without that switch, what will end up happening is even more plastic being introduced to the environment.

The Good In All This

The good in all this is that ridding ourselves of plastic straws raises awareness. People who are used to getting drinks with straws will realize that we can do without. Additionally, they will slowly expect to have straws with their drinks less often. Lastly, people will have to think about the reasons behind the disappearances of straws, starting with Starbucks, but hopefully, the trend spread to other restaurants and fast food chains. And when we think about the reasons why, the hope is that we will start to merge into the “how”. How can we also move this forward in our own lives?

Ways You Can Help

There are many ways in which we can help the situation.

  • Start a conversation with your Starbucks barista. Ask them about their thoughts on the situation. Make it known that you are aware of the difference between lids. Perhaps the customer feedback will have them switching to a new, better solution.
  • Order your drink without the lid and the straw. With practice, you, too, will be capable of drinking a frappe from a cup or glass, without the spills.
  • Carry your own re-usable, metal straw. These are the ones that I carry around in my purse.
  • Carry your own cup. Our favorite one is the Espresso 12 0z. KeepCup, which can be found here. We have matching his and hers cups!
  • Recycle the lid, if one ever ends up on your hands.
  • Make coffee in the comfort of your home. We’ve got you covered with your cold-brew recipe and a Café de Olla recipe needs.
  • Don’t assume that companies’ efforts in reducing waste reduces waste. Delve a bit deeper and see how it creates an impact.
  • Spread the word by talking with your friends and family. Lead by example by nixing the plastic in your everyday. Get the conversation going.

Less Waste: Join Me for Plastic Free July!

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.

  • Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times.

  • 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.
Related Posts:

5 tips for a plastic free bathroom

  1. Switch to a metal razor

    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.

  2. DIY deodorant

    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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.