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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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For Older, Wiser Ladies: Green Solutions to Incontinence

The other day a reader wrote me anonymously asking if there were any green solutions to the normal leakage that occurs with getting older.

Our society is just full of “taboos,” right?  I received many emails from women thanking me for bringing up the idea of greening our menstrual cycles.  It’s a shame to me that we don’t talk about these things more readily – especially since they are so much a regular, normal part of our lives!  So I encourage you all to be a little more forthcoming about it, a little more willing and ready to discuss it, a little more ok with the fact that we are women and this is what our bodies do and that is just normal!

And to our lovely male readers – maybe you can help us all be ok with these normal parts of our lives, too?

I would say the same is true for incontinence.  It’s an embarrassing part of growing older and wiser, but it is a normal part.  Our muscles change over time – and that is that.  I want to anonymously thank the reader who asked me to write about this – it was brave, and it was just right on – thank you.  I know you’re not alone in looking for these solutions!

So…  Here’s the thing:  I’m not there yet, so I don’t know personally.  However, I did do some research.  Here’s what I found…

Panties for Incontinence

Green Solutions to Incontinence

  1. Lunapad – I asked Morgan, who so graciously offered the Lunapad Giveway.  Here was her response: “Cloth pads and pantyliners are a great eco-friendly solution. We have quite a few customers who use our products for just such purposes. Here are our recommendations.”
  2. Moon Pads – In addition to their cotton pads, Moon Pads have a line of waterproof pads that they recommend for incontinence here.
  3. Sckoon Organic Underwear – Sckoon has a line of Organic Cotton Reusable Urinary Stress Incontinence Underwear, where the liner is built into the product.  Check them out here – they look like a pretty light-weight solution, if you just need a little safety mechanism.  (They’re also available on Amazon, if you prefer shopping there.)
  4. HealthDri Cotton Panties – Available for men and women, there are several styles to choose from here.  They vary from light volume to much heavier volume.
  5. NatraCare Organic Cotton PadsThese incontinence pads are not reusable, but they are organic cotton and available in most natural foods stores.  I imagine they are much more comfortable and comforting than Depends.
  6. Nighttime Pants – If you need more protection in the evenings, I found these washable bedtime pants that are quite discreet.
  7. Bedding – You can find small bed pads at almost any department store, which you can just slip beneath your sheet.  I won’t list them all here, as there are so many good options I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding them in the bedding and nursing sections of a local store.
  8. Other Resources for Panties, Pants and Pads – While I don’t know these companies, I found several online that have quite a lot of options:  P&S Healthcare, Metro Medical, and LL Medico.  Each of these has a variety of styles, several of which are quite beautiful looking.

What About You?

Please let me know if you have tried any of these, or if you know of other good solutions.  If you’re shy to write a comment, please feel free to send me an email instead.  Or, in this special case, feel free to comment as “Anonymous”!

And younger ladies, feel free to share these tips with your mom!

What Is Your Favorite Local Business?

Handmade Toys

We haven’t discussed local living for a while, but I believe it to be a big part of sustainability. Essentially, I believe :

  1. One of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to buy locally-sourced goods.
  2. Supporting local businesses you believe in is of the best ways to build a like-minded community that will help support you economically, emotionally, and sustainably.
  3. Local economies support you, and make your neighborhood more resilient to national and international crises. (For every $1 spent in a local business, almost 70 cents remain in the local economy; for every $1 spent at a national chain store, however, around 40 cents or less remain in the local economy – Civic Economics.)
  4. You’re supporting local jobs, and generally you’re supporting businesses that provide a living wage.
  5. You can often walk, which saves money and energy on gas and helps keep you healthy.
  6. It’s fun to connect with real people who care about you.

I sat and thought about it for a while and realized my favorite local place is the wooden toy shop down the street. I walk past every day on my way to and home from work. On the way in the middle-aged toy maker smiles at me, and I smile back at a man who so clearly loves his work. In the evening I walk past when the toy maker has long since gone home, and I peer through the window marveling at the new toys he’s crafted. The store also sells mobiles, bags, and toys made our of different recycled materials. It’s fabulous.

But you know what? I’ve never been inside! It’s one of the most warm and cozy neighbors, but whether it’s because I’m starting a new business and expendable cash is not a luxury, or I haven’t yet found a reason, I haven’t gone in!

Tomorrow I might just make the time!

Tractor Toy ferry

What Is Your Favorite Business?

Ten Ways Cloths Can Save the Planet Paper and Save You Money

Saving paper is one of the easiest ways to save both trees and money as you’re redefining normal on your path toward sustainability.  Some of these changes are difficult to get into at first – for some reason we have a mental barrier against making these types of changes.  But once you’ve passed that initial barrier, it is extremely easy to get used to using cloth.

10 Ways Cloths Can Save Paper and Money

  1. Handkerchiefs – instead of paper tissues.  Quick tip: if you’re going to buy handkerchiefs, try to buy ones that will look ok to you without ironing – it’s a handkerchief after all!
  2. Cloth Napkins – instead of paper napkins.  There is an elegance that cloth napkins add to a meal as well!  Again, make sure to buy napkins you don’t need to iron – 100% tight-weave cotton seem to work best for us.
  3. Rags - instead of sponges or paper towels in the kitchen or around the household.  Make these out of old worn towels – if you don’t have any old towels, you can find some in a local thrift store.
  4. Kitchen towels – instead of paper towels.
  5. Cloth Diapers – instead of disposable paper diapers. There are so many diaper services now, that if you don’t want to clean them yourself, you can just send them out to be cleaned!  However, if you can handle doing it at home it is sooo much cheaper!
  6. Glad Rags or Luna Pads – instead of menstrual pads.  You can read more about greening your cycle here.
  7. Cloth wipes – instead of toilet paper.  While I have not yet been brave enough for this change, Crunchy Chicken is full of cloth wipe challenges to get you started on the path.
  8. Dusting Cloths – instead of paper towels.  You can use the special microfiber dust cloths (I have some of these), or just cut up an old t-shirt or cloth diaper.
  9. Cloth Bags - instead of paper (or plastic) bags.  I wrote about how to make these very easily here.
  10. Cloth wrapping paper – instead of paper wrapping.  I have loads of cheap scarves I’ve been collecting over the years from thrift stores.  Several times I’ve wrapped gifts or flowers in old scarves and given them away – it is a beautiful wrapping paper that can be reused over and over again!

Many times using cloth instead of paper ends up emoting a feeling of nostalgia for older times.  That rag that used to be your favorite beach towel, that handkerchief that used to be your grandmother’s, the dusting cloth that was once your husband’s favorite t-shirt or your grown child’s old infant blanket….  So come, try it out!

What Else?

I’m sure several of you have more clever ways to save money and paper – please share.

For Ladies Only: DivaCup Giveaway!

DivaCup Giveaway!I’m so glad many of you loved my article last week: For Ladies Only: Greening Your Menstrual Cycle.

If you haven’t made the switch to green your cycle, please jump aboard – I can tell you it has been very liberating for me, and by far the easiest “green” lifestyle change I’ve made!!

And…

If you’d like to try the DivaCup for FREE, leave your name in the comments below. Next Sunday at noon I will randomly select a winner, who will receive a brand new DivaCup in the mail!

I LOVE my DivaCup – it’s a time and money saver with less mess, greater comfort, and better for the environment.  If you have any questions about it, the DivaCup website is full of answers -  plus feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below.  Many thanks to Stacey and the DivaCup team for this opportunity.

Enter Your Name In The Comments For The Drawing!

For Ladies Only: Greening Your Menstrual Cycle

I thought about that title for a while, hopefully not offending anyone by excluding you gentlemen while still making the subject clear enough!  Gentlemen, hold your ears and close your eyes… That is, unless you are interested in passing on this info to your wives and girlfriends!

I received a wonderful question from Emily a few weeks ago:

One thing that I’ve been wondering about is how you deal with menstrual issues…. Assuming that you have periods, do you use/have you considered cloth pads, menstrual cups, or anything else along that vein?  Even if you, personally, don’t use these types of products, they may still be worth a mention as fairly healthy and environmentally-conscious alternatives to typical tampons and pads.

Thank you for asking Emily!

For Your Flow

I have tried just about everything.  Here are the results of years of experiments:

Organic Cotton Tampons

These are great if you are not yet ready for a big switch, but you are ready to get the toxins out of your body.  Conventionally grown cotton is FULL of pesticides, and you just don’t want those in your body.  And I know this sounds crazy, but when I switched to organic, my cramps got better – it was the weirdest thing!

My favorite is Natracare – they come in several sizes, and were the first ones readily available here in the US.  Seventh Generation makes them now as well, though I haven’t tried them.  I go applicator free, because I can’t stand wasting the paper.  I just wash my hands before and after.

Chemical-Free or Chlorine-Free Pads

I am not really a pad person, because it seems like so much product that goes to waste.  Also they don’t work all that well for me (organic or no) – I never have found one that protects well enough, even with wings!  But I have tried these once or twice in a pinch. Again, Natracare makes plastic-free, chemical-free pads from plant cellulose.  Seventh Generation makes a chlorine-free pad – but it does contain silicone.

Handmade Cloth Pads

I’m sure at one point or another, we have all used a cloth in an emergency, haven’t we?  There are loads of instructions for how to make good ones yourself online, but the principle is the same:

Purchased Cloth Pads

You can buy those same cloth pads if you don’t like or don’t have time to sew.  Here are some good places to purchase them:

Reusable Cups

This is my method of choice.  Love, love, love them!  So nice.  They can last up to 12 hours without needing to be removed, so there is no need to change it at work.  They last at least a year – if you keep it regularly cleaned you can probably make it last quite a bit longer.  I’ve used my Diva Cup for about 2 years now, and LOVE it.

I’ve only used the Diva Cup.  It comes in 2 sizes, based on your age and whether or not you’ve given birth (basically, our muscles tend to get a little less elastic and our hips get a little bigger).  I am well over 30 and started out using the smaller one because I hadn’t had children, but I just bought my second cup in the larger size and like it better.  It’s not a whole lot different, but it is more comfortable actually.

You can also try The Keeper – I’ve heard good things but have not tried it.

For The Cleaning

I received an email recently asking how to remove stains from cloth pads and clothing – thanks to Jean for asking this question!

On Clothing

Matt’s mother is a nurse, and taught me the most amazing trick a few years ago.  Being a nurse, she has had to clean up her fair share of blood on clothing.  The trick?

  • If it’s a little bit, dampen a cloth with straight hydrogen peroxide and dab it on the clothing.  You’ll still be able to wear the clothing.
  • If it’s a lot, poor straight hydrogen peroxide on the spot and leave it for several hours.  It doesn’t matter if it’s color or white fabric, this works on both types, and I have never found a fabric that this ruined.

You can buy hydrogen peroxide in any pharmacy, in the first aid section.  It’s usually in a dark brown bottle.  Or you can buy it in a health food store in the non-chlorine bleach section – it’s exactly the same thing!  There might be a slight variation in the percentage of hydrogen peroxide in each – don’t worry about the difference, I use both interchangeably.

For Reusable Pads

Wash them in hot water, with detergent and 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide.  If you left them sitting out for a while, soak them in a bowl full of hydrogen peroxide mixed with water (1:6).

For Reusable Cups

Clean each time you change it (at least twice per day), and just use warm water and mild hand soap.  After your cycle, wash and rinse the cup, and then submerge it in a pan of boiling water for 20 minutes to sterilize it.  Then store it in a clean place – the Diva Cup comes with a little pouch you can store it in.

What Do You Use?

Have An Organic Valentine's Day!

Organic Bouquet flowers to benefit Amnesty International

What do you do if you are a romantic and want to celebrate Valentine’s Day with your special someone?  You don’t want to betray your heart-felt feelings of social and environmental sustainability, yet you want to show your heart-felt feelings of personal affection….

Organic, Fair Trade, and Eco-Friendly Ideas

There are many little things you can give that don’t betray your values of organic, fair trade, local, and even frugal (sometimes).

  1. Give love and affection. This is number one on my list.  You don’t have to buy things to show your love.  Do nice things, make nice things, have a nice time… these are often far more meaningful than bought things!
  2. Give organically grown potted plants or bulbs. Nothing says I love you like something that will live on long past Valentine’s Day!  If you’re really industrious you can start these from seed yourself.  Otherwise, buy them from your local farmer or farmer’s market.
  3. Send organic flowers.  I came across Organic Bouquet recently.  With their Flowers For Good program, 10% of their profits go to a non-profit of your choice.  Their delivery is also carbon offset.  You can also try CaliforniaOrganicFlowers.
  4. Give or plant seeds and flowers. Does your mother or sweetheart have an empty pot or bald winter spot in her yard?  Plant some bulbs or cool-weather flowers!  Or give her flower seeds for her to scatter about the yard in the spring.  Here is a list of my favorite seed companies, all of which carry flowers.
  5. Sign her up for a flower CSA. Find a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in your area at LocalHarvest, and find one that has flowers in addition to fruits and vegetables.  What a lovely thing to have fresh local flowers every month!
  6. Give Sustainable Chocolates. Yes, the chocolate industry is full of really bad players – don’t let them leave a bad taste in your mouth when you want to enjoy the day!  Look for Fair Trade, Equal Exchange, and Certified Organic labels.  Your local natural foods store likely has several offerings.
  7. Give Handmade Gifts. Make something or buy something from a local member of your community which will show your affection and last.
  8. Give Fair Trade Gifts. There are several places online to find fair trade chocolates, jewelry, and much more.  There are likely also places locally, so check around your neighborhood too.  Global Exchange, The Rainforest Site, and Ten Thousand Villages are just a few of the many online stores offering fair trade gifts.  You can look up a local store selling fair trade items here, but likely any local natural foods store will care fair trade chocolate and gifts.
  9. Uncaged canary ring at Green KaratGive Sustainable Jewelry. If jewelry is the way you like to say I Love You, please consider the origins of your gift.  Matt and my wedding rings are from an awesome online retailer called Green Karat – they were lovely throughout our transaction and I recommend them highly.  (Our rings are made from recycled palladium and white gold.)

Persuasive Facts

  • When you inhale the sweet smell of a store-bought flower, you are also inhaling up to 127 different types of chemicals used on commercially-grown flowers, many of which are banned in the United States, like DDT. Organic Consumers Association
  • From stem to store, flowers travel an average distance of 1,500 miles, adding significantly to global warming and pollution. Every three hours, one 35-ton cargo plane departs from Colombia, carrying flowers around the globe.  Mother Earth News
  • Two-Thirds of Colombian and Ecuadorian flower workers suffer from problems associated with pesticide exposure, including nausea, conjunctivitis, neurological disease, reproductive problems, and birth defects. Guardian
  • Twenty percent of flower workers in Ecuador are children. International Labour Organization via Planet Green
  • Fifty percent of workers in the Costa Rica flower industry have symptoms of pesticide poisoning. Organic Consumers Association In California, ornamental plants are among the top five crops associated with acute pesticide poisonings.  Mother Earth News
  • Cocoa farmers are often forced to sell their harvest to local middlemen who use rigged scales or misrepresent world prices, forcing poor working and living conditions.  Furthermore, in 2001 the International Labour Organization and others reported child slavery on many cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast, source of 43% of the world’s cocoa.  Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International
  • Cocoa sold with the Fair Trade label still captures just 0.1% of the cocoa market.  International Cocoa Organization It’s up to us to change that by redefining what is normal.

How Do You Celebrate Valentine’s Day?

Do you find yourself trying to choose between the environment and showing your passion?  Does this list help you think of other ways to show your love?  Do you have any other suggestions?  Please share!

Ten Places to Find Cheap, Free, and Green Books

Living Room - Plants and Books

Our Living Room Bookshelf

Last night I went to my first book group gathering with a bunch of lovely, interesting ladies.  It was so nice to just sit around the table and chat for a bit.  I do that at work, but at work we talk mostly about serious things.  It was nice to relax.

Anyway, here is a list of resources we came up with last night for finding cheap, free, and eco-friendly books (thanks ladies!), and I thought it worthwhile to share with you all…

Where to Find Cheap, Free, and Green Books

1.  Trade with friends, family, and co-workers. Duh, but sometimes we forget.  I’m going to ask my mom if she has the book we’re reading for next month before looking anywhere else!  We’re also setting up a lending library at work, to make it easy for everyone to bring in and exchange books regularly.

2.  Free Used Book Exchanges. BookMooch and PaperBack Swap are both good options (BookMooch is run by some lovely people, I know less about PaperBack Swap but I’ve heard good things and they have a better website).  It’s free.  You enter in the books you have to exchange, and the books you want.  All you pay is the postage (which is a cheap “book rate” when you’re sending books.)

3.  Your Local Library. So many books, so easy.  Most local libraries now have their catalogs online, where you can peruse, reserve, and renew books all online!  Some will even send you email reminders before they’re due.

4.  Half.com. Buy and sell used books at half.com.  I haven’t used it, but one member of the group swears by it (and I trust her)!

5.  Online Used Bookstores. Biblio (described in #6), Alibris, and Powell’s are all ones I’ve used and loved.  (If you have a favorite, please share in the comments.)

6.  Biblio. Matt just ordered a textbook on Biblio.com.  He ordered the very same textbook he would have found in the US for $35.  Rather than $165 at Amazon!  The only difference is that the book is printed on thinner newsprint paper versus the glossy textbook paper you normally find in the US.  You do have to weigh the ecological benefits of the more ecologically sound paper with the further shipping distance.  And arguably the economic and social issues with buying foreign products (though I’d argue the book companies could take a hint from this and maybe cut down on the trees they cut down).  Yet the cost is so different, it gives you economic freedom to do more with your money.  You can also choose carbon-offset shipping.  And they have many used books.

7.  Amazon Used, Rare, and Green. If you are a lover of Amazon, or you have a gift certificate left over from the holidays, try their amazing selection of used books.  In the books section, when you search for a book in the top of the site, use the pull-down menu to select “Used Books” before clicking “Search”.  Amazon also has used textbooks, bargain books, Amazon Green, and Rare BooksAudio Books can also be a good eco solution.

8.  Your Local Independent Book Store. IndieBound is a great place to find your local store – many indie stores sell used books.

9.  Blog Giveaways. I’ll be doing more of this in the coming months, as I’m receiving more and more requests to review books.  There are several other blogs with great books to giveaway – keep your eye out (and let us know in the comments if you have specific sources).

10. Ok, I have 9.  Please help with the tenth! Where do you find used, cheap, free, and ecologically sound books?