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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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Natural, Non-Toxic, Frugal, and Organic Hair Color

My New Red Hair

I don’t wear makeup very often, I use virtually no beauty products regularly… but I have colored my hair for YEARS.  Since I was a sophomore in high school in fact!  My natural hair color is a dishwater blonde that doesn’t really flatter my skin tone and it makes me feel very much like I recede into a crowd.  Coloring my hair is fun, makes me feel good, and allows me to shape how others see me.

But in the last 2 years, as I learned to live an increasingly sustainable life, I couldn’t bring myself to use those nasty chemicals anymore!  They are really bad for your skin, your health, and the planet.  I even tried some of the “natural” hair tints in the natural foods store, only to look up their ingredients and find they weren’t much better than the “non-natural” varieties.

A few weeks ago, however, I was feeling low and frumpy and overworked, and I hit my limit.  I needed a change!  I couldn’t bring myself to go to a salon and use all the crazy chemicals there.  So I went to the natural food store and read every single package of hair color.

Ick. This or that kind of alcohol or sulfite or SLS or – wow – I was so disappointed that there really wasn’t anything!

For twenty minutes I stared at these packages, hoping that somehow the ingredients would change before my eyes, or that maybe one of the colors didn’t have nasty stuff in it.  But alas, I began to walk away, giving up.

And then…

In the same packaging it had when I used to color my hair in college 15 years ago… Henna.

Ingredients:  Henna.

That’s all.

I was a bit apprehensive.  There were only 4 colors, and I’m used to having a high amount of control over the color process.  But it was only $6.  Yes, $6!!  So I bought it.

I got it home and looked inside the package:  green powder.  I remembered henna being pretty and giving my hair some nice, natural color and shine.  But I was still unsure.  So just in case, I looked up how to get out the hair color if I hated it.

How To Get Henna Out Of Your Hair

There are instructions inside the box for how to use powdered Minute Maid to remove the color.  Here are further instructions from Light Mountain – they recommend using the first two options within 24 hours:

A. For darker shades make a mixture of baking soda and molasses using equal parts. Make up enough of the mixture to be able to coat all of your hair. Apply this mixture to your hair and let it dry, a blow dryer can be used, until it is hard then rinse out.

B. For lighter shades make a mixture of Crystal Light lemonade mix  and a rinse out cream rinse/conditioner using equal parts. Use 1/2 cup of cream rinse/conditioner to one tub of lemonade mix. Apply to your hair and let dry, a blow dryer can be used, then rinse out.

C. If the treatment is older, more than 24 hours, you can try using a high detergent shampoo and a deep conditioner. The conditioner should be one that you leave on the hair for 20 minutes. You can also try a “clarifying” shampoo, also known as “swimmer’s shampoo”.

Easy enough.  Ok, I took the plunge…

Henna in Hair

Applying Henna To Your Hair

I followed the very detailed instructions that came inside the package.  It’s like putting mud on your hair – it takes a little getting used to.  (Yes, redefining normal:  it’s ok to put a mud-like substance on your hair rather than a chemical mess!)

  1. Protect. The package comes with gloves.  Use them!  Henna will color your hands a pretty color, too!  Also moisturize your face beforehand, and apply some kind of oil to your hairline around your face – I use jojoba oil, but olive oil or any other type of oil will work.  This keeps the henna from dying your face.  But don’t worry – chances are that you will drop some on your skin, and just make sure to get it off right away so it doesn’t sit there long enough to dye your skin.
  2. Mix. Pour the henna in a NON-METAL bowl with NON-METAL utensil.  In a NON-METAL container, boil 3 cups of distilled or filtered water.  Gradually stir in enough water for it to be thick but not too thick – about the consistency of pudding.
  3. Let it Sit. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes to 2 hours – the longer you let it sit, the deeper and faster the color (I let it sit for 2 hours).
  4. Apply. Apply it as you would apply any hair color:  divide your hair into sections with a NON-METAL comb or brush and NON-METAL clips.  Apply from the roots outward with your hands, comb or brush.  Cover with the plastic bag that comes with the henna.
  5. Heat. Optional.  Heat will enhance red shades in particular, and decreased the amount of time you need to leave the henna in your hair.  I blow dried my hair for about 20 minutes – I felt guilty about using the electricity but was too vain not to.  You can also sit in the sun if it’s a warm day.
  6. Leave In. Up to 2 hours.  The longer you leave it in, the deeper the color.
  7. Rinse. Rinse with warm water.  If you like, you can use a dilute baking soda mixture to help rinse out the henna, but don’t shampoo.  Wait for 24 hours before shampooing, so the color has time to set.

Hair drying henna

The Result

Seriously, my $6 application of henna came out just the way a $125 hair color would (and has) in a salon!  Not only that, but it is healthy for my hair rather than a depleting process, it doesn’t make my skin break out the way salon dyes do, it smells nice, and I’ve received a whole lot of compliments.

I’m hooked!  And I’m glad I didn’t have to use the Minute Maid.

My New Red Hair

What Do You Use?

Do you color your hair? If so, what do you use?

Watch Garbage Dreams Airing Tomorrow Night!

The following post is written by one of my lovely and talented writers at Re-Vision Labs, Martina Welke. Look for more of these posts in the coming months, as we aggressively build our Environment Lab to help environmental organizations to do their work better, faster, and more effectively.

Garbage Dreams

Waste Not, Want Not

This week, Director Mai Iskander’s film Garbage Dreams will premier on PBS as part of the station’s Independent Lens series.  The documentary features three adolescent young men “raised in the trash trade” in Cairo.  Adham, Osama, and Nabil are part of the Zaballen community, which is one of the oldest urban recycling cultures in the world.

The Zaballeen people saw economic opportunity in trash collection over a century ago, and have built their livelihood around the business.  Since there is not much money in garbage pickup, the Zaballeen make the majority of their revenue from recycling.  About 80% of the trash they collect is recycled by hand and then sold as raw materials.

The film chronicles the Zaballeen struggle to maintain their recycling program after the city of Cairo hires foreign corporations to take over garbage disposal in the city.  Although the corporate program recycles only a small fraction compared the to Zaballeen, the city government prefers the foreign companies because they are perceived as modern.

In an effort to combat the foreign competition, the Zaballeen community launches a grassroots campaign to organize the enterprise, modernize their services, and educate the surrounding community.  The community sponsors a Recycling School that teaches reading , writing and computer skills as well as safe recycling practices.  Iskander includes a few community meetings and some footage of door-to-door canvassing efforts, but I found myself wanting to see more scenes focused on Zaballeen community organizing than the one-hour time frame would allow.

One of the most interesting segments of Garbage Dreams is when two of the young boys, Adham and Nabil, are selected to travel to the United Kingdom in order to study modern waste management.  The boys are appalled at how much garbage is wasted at the high-tech plant they visit.  Adham tellingly remarks, “Here there’s technology but no precision.”

In a very brief segment near the film’s conclusion, Iskander included updates two years after the launch of the Zaballeen campaign.  Unfortunately, the foreign corporations seem to be winning the battle.  Yet there are still signs of hope, as one community member notes that people around the globe are finally starting to care about trash and understand its environmental, political and economic importance.

Garbage Dreams is the kind of documentary that left me wanting to see more, learn more, and do more.  Luckily, there is a fantastic interactive website that allows viewers to do just that.  The site is packed with additional information, discussion guides, and lesson plans to help people learn from the film.  There’s even a game that simulates the Zaballeen business process and challenges players to match the 80% recycling rate they have achieved (no easy feat, even for a die hard recycler like myself—I only reached a 32% on my first attempt.)

Garbage Dreams premieres tomorrow, April 27th on PBS.  Check local listings here.

What Else Can You Do With Trash?

$25 Gift Certificate for Abe's Market: Giveaway!

Abes Market

Abe’s Market is an online natural foods market founded by Richard Demb and Jon Polin:

For a long time now we’ve talked about starting a business that we’d feel great about – a business that is wonderful for both businesses and consumers and that would have a positive impact on the environment. As natural product enthusiasts, we envisioned a place that would enable shoppers like us to discover fantastic, hard-to-find products and to really connect with the product creators – the way markets were once run.

Richard Demb and Jon Polin

Launched in the summer of 2009, Abe’s Market features stories about each of their sellers – with videos, photos, and interviews.  “Discover remarkable natural products.  Meet the real people who make them.” Nice thought, isn’t it?

They also host periodic webinars featuring their sellers; plus you can reach Abe’s via live chat, phone, or email.  It really is like an old time grocery store, but on the internet.  I love the idea.

I believe that if I can’t find what I need locally, buying from a good company like this is the next best thing.  So….

Abe's Gift Certificate

$25 Gift Certificate

One lucky someone will get to try out Abe’s Market!  The winner will receive a $25 gift certificate, which can be used to buy anything on the site, it’s good for one year, and it doesn’t have to be used all at once.

Please leave a comment below if you’d like a chance to win.  The winner will be drawn on Sunday 2 May at noon!

Hay Is For Horses, Straw Is For Mulch

I love using straw for mulch – it’s cheap, breaks down easily, provides a nice cushion along garden paths, and extra bales are wonderful seats in the garden.

Most feed stores will sell both hay and straw, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the feed store and questioned myself about whether or not I was getting the right one.  I’ve noticed that many garden blogs use the two terms interchangeably, but they are ABSOLUTELY AND UTTERLY NOT THE SAME.  Gardeners beware!

Hay Is For Horses by Montanabw on Wikipedia

Hay? No Way! Hay Is For Horses!

Hay.  Hay is for horses… and pigs and cows and goats.  In the store it’s often a bit greener than straw.  Hay has SEEDS in it.  So unless you want to grow hay all over your garden, don’t buy hay for mulch.  Hay?  No Way!

Straw by Adamantios on Wikipedia

Straw Is For Mulch

Straw is a by-product of the wheat, oat, rye, or barley industries.  After the seeds have been threshed and sold, the dry husks are bundled up and sold as straw.  Straw, therefore, is without seeds.  Straw saves seedlings.  Straw is for mulch!

Any Questions?

Have you made the mistake of using hay?

An Internal Celebration of Earth Day


April 22 marks the 40th year Earth Day has been celebrated around the world.

Over the last several years, I have watched Earth Day become increasingly a holiday about green products. And that is not to say that green products are bad – I’m ecstatic that there are so many wonderful alternatives to the things I need on a daily basis. I remember when I first became an environmentalist in college in the 90s. It was a tough world to be in – many people thought we were nuts. There were few alternatives to eating sustainably – farm raised anything couldn’t be found, organic was not a word I ever remember using, and very very few clothes or other daily items were sustainably made. So there are good things about a push toward green products and green consumerism, for sure.

But this year I’m searching for a more internal, reflective celebration of Earth Day….

Come read the rest at the co-op!

I would love to read your thoughts as well – please stop and leave a comment!

What Is The Best Form Of Exercise?

Why Am I Asking This Question?

Because one of the keys to sustainable living is health and longevity.  If you are healthy, your life is sustainable.  And I love you all, and want you all to live long, healthy, and productive lives!

Are You Having Difficulty Exercising?

I have fought and fought myself about exercise over the years.  I’ve been through phases of aerobics, yoga, running, weight lifting, stair mastering, tread milling, rowing, biking, swimming, and lots more.  But all phases.  Nothing stuck permanently!

But if you need reasons to exercise, please read the Mayo Clinic’s top 10 reasons – they’re short and to the point.  Essentially the reasons are: to feel good, live long, be thin and healthy, and stay smart.  Pretty good reasons, don’t you think?  So let’s all just find a way to do it, shall we?

What’s the Best Form Of Exercise?

The one you’ll do.

My husband works out in the gym of our building.  I walk to work and garden.  Whatever works is what we stick with, because our health is the most important thing.  I found out over the years that I don’t like gyms.  I also can’t always afford yoga, taking exercise classes, or swimming.  But I can afford to walk, and I can afford to garden.  And so I allow myself to be ok with that.

You’re most looking for aerobic exercise that lasts 30-60 minutes at a time, and something you’ll enjoy doing every day or nearly every day:  brisk walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming, dancing, some types of yoga and pilates, tread mills (and equivalent gym equipment), etc.  There are 1,440 minutes in every day.  All you need is 30 of those to exercise.

Walk With Me!

If you enjoy walking, walk with me!  There are 24 of us walking together now – come join us!!

10,000 Steps Challenge

Bored walking alone?  Start a walking group!  Ask a friend to join you, walk with your partner in the evening, find a coworker who lives near you to walk with.

Be Smart & Safe

Wear Supportive Shoes

No matter what exercise you choose (except swimming), make sure you wear shoes that give you adequate support.  You don’t have to find them new – if you don’t have any good shoes, you usually find decent shoes at a local thrift store, just make sure the soles and arch support are still good.

Warm Up

Just like your car on a cold morning, your body doesn’t like to start up and go immediately.  Stretch and start out slowly, allowing your body to ease into your exercise.  Then do the same at the end: slow down and ease out of the exercise.

Be Safe

If you feel unsafe, exercise with a friend.  If you have heart troubles, make sure you consult your doctor.  Please be safe.

What Kind of Exercise Do You Like Doing?

Are you exercising now?  If not, will you start?  I want you to live long, be healthy, and stay smart.  So how about it?  (No excuses now!)

Kids In The Garden Book: Winner Plus 40% Off Coupon!

Kids in the Garden

Thank you all for your interest in Kids in the Garden. I LOVED all your responses and stories – it was really rewarding to read about you all passing on the enjoyment of gardening!

For those of you who did not win the book, I encourage you to check it out at the library or pick up a copy – I imagine when your children grow older, it will be a lovely hand-me-down.

40% Off Coupon!

Send an email to with the subject line “One Green Generation offer”, and Jessica will send you a 40% off coupon!  They are a lovely company – I encourage you to check out all their books.  (Ellis, our black dog, loves the name of the company, too!)


And the winner is…

Chidren in the Garden winner


Christina, please email me with your address, and you’ll soon be the proud owner of Kids in the Garden. (And please note that you have until 28 April at 12pm PST to email me, otherwise I’ll draw a new name.)

Thanks for joining in the fun!