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!

Getting to Know: Lindsey McCoy and Alison Webster of Plaine Products

 

Refill, Reuse, Rejoice with Plaine Products

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

I’ve already said my piece here regarding reducing plastic waste in my daily hygiene routine, by switching to bars of shampoo and conditioner and soap. But what of lotion? What of wintry dry skin, flaking away at the shudder of a cold, harsh winter wind? We live in sunny Southern California, but nonetheless, sensitive, scaly skin prevails in this dry desertland. Surely, there is no lotion bar? At the very least, I have yet to discover it.

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There is, however, the introduction of a new company called Plaine Products. Focused on the idea of reusable containers, sisters Lindsey and Alison Delaplaine created a way to offer shampoo, conditioner, body wash, AND lotion in aluminum reusable bottles. The stuff itself is quite lovely and aromatic, with two scent options. A rosemary, mint, and vanilla combination for the fall and winter, and a citrus lavender for the spring and summer, or so I like to think. Associate with the scents whatever seasons tickle your fancy. I must admit that I was ready for an alternative that would allow me to switch back to liquid conditioners. Bar soap shampoos are fine in my book, but my hair was starting to hang a bit too heavy, giving it a sadder appearance than my cheery personality would like. Nothing Plaine Products couldn’t save. After one day of switching to liquid shampoo and conditioner, the flounce of the hair has been returned. And the lotion has got my skin feeling silky, without my conscience feeling plastic-guilt. It’s a thing, I swear!

The concept behind the refillability (not a word?) of the bottles is simple. It’s a wonder why it is not more widely implemented. A subscription can be shipped to your door in a box (made of 95% post-consumer waste and 5% post-industrial waste), which can act as the same vessel to return your already used and empty bottles back to the company. The bottles are then refilled, thus giving them a new life. You can opt to order the new bottle without the pump, if you already own a pump that’s easily reusable. The box is reused, the bottle is reused, and the plastic pump is reused. Multiply that to account for shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and lotion, and we’ve got ourselves quite an impact. Currently, face wash, hand wash, and face moisturizer products are in the works.

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In an effort to be all around environmentally friendly, the contents are well considered. The products avoid animal testing of any kind, is devoid of sulfates, parabens, and pthalates, and is designed to biodegrade more easily than typical, chemical products. The specifics of the contents can be found here, if microanalysis of such details are your thing, just as they are mine. Proudly vegan, the main component of their products are none other than Aloe Vera. The same extract that my mom would scrape from the plant leaves and weave into our hairs before a night’s rest. Less sticky, less messy, less fuss and crying and wails of discontent (sorry mom!).

I must admit, I do still have to deal with the internal struggle of whether the back-and-forth shipping of subscriptions really outweighs the long-term consequences of the plastic that never degrades. The elusiveness of the topic at large feeds the frustration I feel when well-intentioned actions are unclear in their effects. It’s as if a cloud is purposefully shifted above the whole matter, making it difficult to really measure the impact of hauling our goods versus increasing plastic waste, which alternatively blankets our ability to measure the opposite as well. While we could discuss this topic for a long time and perhaps stay stagnant in our search for an answer, I would like to say that for now, Plaine Products gives us plastic-avoiders a welcome alternative. As does nixing shampoo all-together, a step I admittedly am not ready to make.

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Care to give them a try? Order your first Plaine Products today! TheDebtist readers will receive 10% off of their purchase when the code thedebtist10 is entered at checkout. The shipping was quick, and hassle-free, with an option to subscribe to their products for regularly spaced deliveries, if simplicity is kind of your thing.

This post was sponsored by Plaine Products. All opinions are my own.

Minimalism: In the shower

Before you even begin to think that this post is going to be a bit too TMI for your taste, it’s not, I promise. Just hear me out.

I had a house guest once who stayed a few days at our place, and obviously, at some point, she did have to shower. I walked her upstairs to our bathroom and gave her a tour, to show her where everything is. The first thing she said was, “You have absolutely nothing here!” She was literally quite astounded. At first, I did not understand. I had everything anyone would ever need in a shower. Confused, I asked her what she meant. She said that in her own shower, and in other people’s showers where she’s visited, there would be a whole collection of products strewn across the sills and the floor. In my head, I thought to myself, what products? I guess there is more to showering than just soap, shampoo, and conditioner. When I asked her how many, she said ten to twenty! And here I was thinking I was going overboard by having conditioner around. No joke, I thought about nixing it. So the next time I went to my parent’s house, I looked in their shower, and sure enough, there were about ten items there. A bar of soap, but also, a bottle of Bath and Body Works Body wash. There was a second bottle of body wash for men, likely my dad’s effort to not smell like Cinnamon Apples. A plastic loofah. There were separate shampoo and conditioner bottles, one of each specifically catering to men and to women. There was a facial scrub, as well as an exfoliating scrub, which I’m assuming is for the rest of the limbs. Thus, my count added up to a total of ten products, just as she said! So I guess her shock was accounted for.

I wonder what happens if she ever stays over again, for our bathroom has gotten a tiny bit sparser than before. She may be even more baffled that all three of our products (soap, shampoo, and conditioner) now come in bar form at our house, and stay in one tidy little corner of the bathing area, tucked neatly away in a row. This is a pretty recent development in the household, but one that I won’t turn away from any time soon. In an effort to seriously reduce my plastic waste moving forward, I reconsidered many household items that came in plastic but had alternatives, shampoo and conditioner being two of those. Mike and I were already using soap bars, and have been for years, but bars for the hair was a revelation to us. There are people who say they can never get used to the feeling of using a bar for their hair. Fair enough. For me, it reminds me of younger years in the Philippines where we would just use the same bar for our bodies and for our hair. It wasn’t a big deal then, so to me, it’s not a big deal now. The shampoo bars create really great suds actually, and my hair feels much cleaner, and less oily, than when I use the liquid alternatives. Then again, a different (likely drier) hair type may consider it too dry. To each their own. Lucky for me, these work.

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To further reduce plastic waste, our bars are purchased without packaging. Now, these bars could get a bit pricey, I must admit. We have found some go-to brands at places like Whole Foods, Mother’s Market, as well as other local stores for around $2/bar. It’s still more than your Dove bars of soap (unfortunately packaged in either a box, or a set of boxes, wrapped in plastic), but the extra cost is worth it to me. The shampoo bars can be even pricier, with Lush Cosmetics selling them at about $12/bar. However, they do last 80 washes, which is about a month and a half for us two. And the conditioner bars at Lush are equally as expensive, but since I consider hair conditioner as a luxury, I don’t use it on the daily, and if we run out, I just go without for a while.

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So frugal me, how do I cope? We make do by asking for them as Christmas and birthday presents. We specifically ask for no plastic packaging of any kind. Most give us our gifts without packaging at all, which is perfect! Sometimes, soaps wrapped in paper get thrown in, but we recycle that right away, so I can still sleep soundly at night. It’s a consumable gift that brings me a lot of joy (knowing that it came package free) and that brings me a very pleasant experience (if you’ve ever used a Lush shampoo bar, you would understand). This past Christmas, we asked for bars of soap, shampoo and conditioner from a lot of our loved ones, and I think we received enough to get us through March or April. Which is convenient because our birthdays come around in June and July. So we can replenish our stocks once again, in due time.

I’m not saying every one needs to switch to bar form, right this moment. I’m just saying, if our house guest was correct in saying that everyone does have ten to twenty products in the shower, then as long as every household cuts that number in half, what a difference that would make in plastic waste! You don’t even have to get rid of the bottles if you really don’t want to. If men and women could share the same product and not buy into the advertising, then they can purchase in bulk, larger bottles, and produce less waste overall. Perhaps Mike is lucky in the sense that I have absolutely no interest in smelling like a walking flower. Good scents to me include cotton, charcoal, sage, and lemon verbena. Maybe I’m the lucky one, since Mike actually likes scents of Lavender and Vanilla, too. Whatever the case may be, there must be a mutual ground somewhere. Why not choose a scent or product that can work for both? Or why not just forget all the hype about scents and go with a good ole bar of non-smelling soap. Gasp!

Either way, I am pretty happy about my minimalist shower. I don’t even consider it minimalist at all, really. Sure, I may get push back after posting this post. Maybe some people will tell me I just don’t understand their skin type or their hair type. How they have needs to prevent flaky skin or flat hair. How they easily get split ends, or oily foreheads. I almost didn’t want to post this after writing it. But then I think back to when I used to join kids and shower in the middle of the street when it rained. Where a bath meant taking a bucket from a pot of hot water and carefully making sure to rinse as much of myself off as I could, so as not to waste it. I think of families who don’t even have a means to heat up their water, of kids who have to walk to a river. I think of people swimming in plastic waste in small islands such as the Philippines and Tuvalu, because of the prevalence of single use containers. How This Documentary Shows Us What Our Plastic Trash is Doing to Animals and the Environment

And I thought to myself, yeah, I’ll post it. These bars of soap are indulgences. They don’t come cheaply, and their value (and ethics) is worth way more to me than choosing a brand name, or smelling a particular way. All I ask is for you to consider it. Please.

Other things I consider when purchasing GOOD soap: 

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Palm oil free: I first learned about palm oil when we went to New Zealand, last year. We were at the zoo, listening to the talk about orangutans when the topic came up. At the time, both New Zealand and Australia’s governments were trying to pass a law requiring the labeling of all products with palm oil, so that Kiwis could decide which products not to buy. A country very invested in issues surrounding sustainability and conservation of species and habitat, they were very aware of the illegal deforestation resulting from the growth of palm oil for product use. The deforestation is affecting many species, orangutans included, by depleting them of their habitats. I try to look for soaps that are palm oil free, but unfortunately, most aren’t labeled appropriately, so you just never know. I am particularly fond of GOOD soap, which can be found at Whole Foods, and which uses only Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.

Ethically made and sustainability: A majority of the soaps I purchase advocate Fair Trade principles in order to get the ingredients for the soap. Additionally, I tend to prefer brands with sustainability in mind. All of this takes extra work and care to produce. This is part of the reason why the prices of these products are higher. Since we always revert back to buying GOOD soap when we run out of holiday gifted soaps, here is a list of ingredients used to make their soap.

Primary, Active Ingredients:
Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter (Certified Fair Trade)
Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil (Certified Fair Trade)
Sodium Palmate (Certified Sustainable Palm Oil)
Sodium Palm Kernelate (Certified Sustainable Palm
Kernel Oil)
Water (Aqua)
Glycerin (Vegetable Source)
Goat Milk Powder
Minor Ingredients (less than 0.5% by weight)
Lavandula Hybrida Grosso (Lavender) Oil (Lavender Only)
Sodium Citrate (helps with lather in hard water)
Titanium Dioxide (natural color)
Chlorophyllin-Copper Complex (Fresh Mint only, natural color)
Iron Oxides (natural color)
Natural Fragrance (non-synthetic scent from plant oils and extracts, added in Sunshine, Prairie
Rose, Fresh Mint and Coconut bars)

– Societal Impact: There are an increasing number of products being released that have efforts to give back to less privileged communities. Good Soap sales fund Alaffia community empowerment projects in West Africa. Alaffia aims to empower individuals and their communities through long-term, effective projects with the end goal of
poverty alleviation, gender equality and human rights for all. Alaffia’s community projects include:

  • Alaffia Bicycles for Education: Since 2006, Alaffia has distributed over 6,300 bicycles to rural, poor students in Togo. With emphasis on girls, the goal is to reduce the high dropout rate (91%) by providing a means of transportation to and from school.
  • Alaffia Maternal Health: In sub-Saharan Africa, 400 women die each day due to pregnancy or childbirth related causes. Alaffia provides pre-natal and delivery care to 1,000 disadvantaged women each year in rural Togo, saving mothers and babies for strong families and sustainable futures for our communities.
  • Alaffia Reforestation: Alaffia has planted over 42,600 trees in an effort to help our Togolese communities better withstand effects of climate change, to slow  desertification and to increase food security for families.