How to Have a Zero-Waste Picnic

Spring has finally sprung, and I can’t think of a better way to soak up the warm rays and the sweet aroma of flowers in the air than by having a picnic! When most of us think of a picnic, we probably picture a red and white gingham blanket, a picnic basket, and maybe a few ants. But in reality, picnics often include to-go containers, paper plates, single-use plastic utensils, and disposable table cloths. A reason for eating outdoors is to be able to enjoy the nature and environment around us. Can we really enjoy the beauty of the outdoors if we bring single-use plastic into it? Keep reading to learn how you can have a zero-waste picnic and leave no trace!

The key to having a zero-waste picnic is to bring stuff we already have at home: food, utensils etc. By doing this, we can eliminate the extra plastic that is utilized in take-out containers.

What’s in My Basket? To transport my food, I brought an insulated picnic basket, which is very convenient when bringing perishable foods. Another great thing about this basket is that it has a portable table that lays on the top of the basket. All I have to do is fold out the legs and— voila, I have a mini table! Now, let’s talk about the best part of the picnic (aside from enjoying nature, of course): the food. I brought two turkey sandwiches with pepperoncinis, red onions, lettuce, pepper jack cheese, and mustard. Instead of bringing them in a Ziploc bag or wrapping them in plastic wrap/aluminum foil, I brought one in a reusable and resealable glass container. The other, I wrapped in Bee’s Wrap. This is a biodegradable and reusable food wrap made of cloth and beeswax (hint to an upcoming blog post). These two options are great for storing leftovers and for picnics! I used the same type of container to bring my strawberries. Lastly, we can’t forget about the charcuterie; I brought a similar glass container with a snap-on lid for the cheese and meat in order to keep it fresh.

Because my picnic basket is insulated, I was able to keep my food cold inside it with ice packs. A great way to practice sustainable habits is by bringing reusable ice packs, rather than using big bags of ice. If you have a small cooler/picnic basket, half of it usually ends up being wasted, not to mention the waste that comes from the plastic it’s wrapped in.

Instead of bringing paper towels or paper napkins, try to opt for reusable cloth napkins. As for utensils, I would recommend wooden reusable ones, as metal utensils can be heavy. (Note to self for next time.) In order to have minimal to zero waste, I brought glass cups rather than plastic ones. I probably should have brought reusable plastic cups, as it would have been more convenient. (Honestly, I was worried they were going to break when transporting them.) To truly make it a spring picnic, I brought some flowers from a local flower shop. For the blanket, you can really use any kind; it’s all up to your individual taste. Finally, don’t forget to throw away or bring home any trash you may have. (Leftover food scraps make great compost.) With these tips from my own experience, you, too, can have a wonderful picnic and leave no trace!

Take a look at the gallery below, and feel free to take inspiration from them for your next picnic!

Plastic Free Please!

It is so easy to get caught up in the fast-paced world that we live in, and because of this, we often opt for the quickest and most convenient way to get things done. I know I am guilty of this from time to time. But, there comes a point where we must stop choosing our own convenience over the protection and improvement of the environment. One of the simplest ways to start moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle is by bringing your own reusable bags and saying no single-use plastic bags!

It is estimated that over 100 billion single-use plastic bags are used in the U.S. annually. As mentioned in my previous post Which Plastics Can Be Recycled?, single-use plastic bags are hardly ever recycled. In addition, as hinted in the name, these bags have an extremely short life, lasting from the checkout point to the time they reach our homes. Because of their lightweight material, they often end up on the sides of highways, sidewalks, and even beaches.

My hometown of Dana Point, California passed a ban on the distribution of “single-use plastic carry-out bags at the point of sale” in local retail shops on February 21, 2012. This means that businesses in the city cannot distribute single-use bags at checkout. They can, however, sell paper bags and reusable plastic bags for a minimum of $.10 each. Being a coastal city, Dana Point passed this ban as an effort to protect the marine life and its beautiful beaches. The state of California shortly followed this ban in November of 2016 with Prop 67. Seven more states—Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Vermont—have since then all passed a similar ban on single-use plastic bags. While there have been efforts from cities and states to pass these bans, they have not gone into effect everywhere, and it is up to us individually to make a change!

Some great reusable alternatives to single-use plastic bags are canvas/cotton tote bags, jute bags (made from vegetable fibers), compostable bags, and net/mesh bags for produce. If you forget to bring a bag (because we all do), paper bags that are offered at grocery stores are a much better option than single-use plastic bags and reusable plastic bags. Remember: you are encouraged to bring your own bags to do other kinds of shopping other than grocery shopping!

You can really use any bag lying around your house to bring on your next shopping trip. I had these two cotton tote bags lying around my house, but I thought they were a bit boring on their own, so I decided to add my own touch to them. I embroidered flowers on the bags, knowing that I would be more inclined to use them that way. Now, I take them with me whenever I’m shopping! Sustainability doesn’t have to only be about changing our routines or sacrificing the conveniences we are used to, it can be a fun way to incorporate creativity and personality into our everyday lives!

Dairy-Free Milk: Unlike Any Udder Milk

“Add 75 cents for a non-dairy alternative,” reads the menu at my local coffee shop. You may be thinking, why should I pay more for a dairy-free alternative if I can just use regular milk for a cheaper cost? At almost every coffee shop now, non-dairy alternatives such as oat, almond, soy etc. are offered because of the increasing demand for non-dairy products. I recently conducted a poll on my Instagram story asking my followers whether they preferred dairy or non-dairy milk. In a sample size of 22, 17 preferred dairy-free milk and 5 preferred regular dairy milk, making the majority 77%. Dairy-free milk is not only better for our bodies, but also for the environment!

So Why Is Dairy Milk Not Sustainable? In order to raise a dairy cow, one must provide food for it for an entire lifetime. The grain they feed on requires lots of water and resources, and on top of that, we use pesticides on it, which can affect us down the line when we consume it. Water is not only needed to keep the grains alive for the cows, but it is necessary to keep the cows alive too! The biggest problem, however, lies in their bodily emissions. Yes, I mean feces, burps, and farts. While this may sound silly, it is indeed a serious topic, as these bodily functions release immense amounts of greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide into the air. Methane and nitrous oxide are very potent greenhouse gases, and they play a big part in climate warming.

What Are Some Side Effects of Consuming Dairy Milk? Milk contains a large amount of saturated fats that have been linked to heart disease and an increased risk of certain cancers. In addition, many people, including myself, have built up an intolerance for lactose. Consuming dairy when you’re lactose intolerant can lead to stomach problems such as diarrhea, gas, and bloating. Often, farmers will give their cows antibiotics and growth hormones to allow them to produce more milk. However, those substances seep into the milk and we consume it, increasing the number of unwanted chemicals in our bodies. Dairy has also been linked to skin irritation and an increased amount of acne.

Dairy-Free Alternatives

Almond: Many of you may have probably heard about the negative stigma associated with almond milk and how it is not very sustainable. These notions arise from the fact that almonds require a significantly higher amount of water than other nuts to produce one liter of almond milk. However, one glass of almond requires 371 liters of water and one glass of dairy milk requires 628 liters, which makes it more sustainable than dairy milk. Almond milk may not be as sustainable as other nut milks, but there are many other dairy-free options available. While almond milk is low in calories and saturated fat, it is also low in protein, making other dairy-free milks a better alternative for children.

Soy: This alternative is most similar to dairy milk in terms of protein which helps support our muscles and bones. Soy milk also provides lots of Vitamin B that is beneficial for our nerve cells. In addition, it also contains omega-3, which is beneficial for our brain health in preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Oat: Oat milk also contains more protein than almond milk, although not as much as soy. However, it does offer fiber, something soy milk does not contain. Instead of the saturated fats that dairy milk contains, oat milk offers unsaturated fats. In addition, it contains many types of vitamins and is cholesterol-free.

Rice: Rice milk contains more carbohydrates than other dairy alternatives, but it is these carbohydrates interacting with water that give rice milk its sweet taste. While rice milk contains no protein, it is high in calcium. This is a good alternative for those who are allergic to nuts.

Coconut: Coconut milk contains a high amount of saturated fats. However, it contains medium-chain triglycerides, which have been linked to weight loss. It also contains a lipid called lauric acid, which has been proven to support the immune system.

Things To Watch Out For In Dairy-Free Milk: Oftentimes, dairy-free milk contain added sugars and a potentially harmful thickener called carrageen, which causes inflammation and other digestive issues. Many companies have sugar-free and carrageenan-free options; it’s always important to check the label!

If you decide to make this switch in your diet, you are not only shrinking your carbon footprint, but you are also benefiting your body!

What You Need to Know About Orange County’s Oil Spill

144,000 Gallons. Yep. 144,000 gallons of oil have spilled into the ocean off the coast of Huntington Beach, California on October 2, 2021. This resulted in a 13-mile wide oil slick. Since Saturday, it has been spreading south into the cities of Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. Beach closures have been administered all the way down to my hometown of Dana Point. Many wildlife corpses including birds and fish have been washing up on the shores of our beaches. This is just one example of the damaging effects of offshore drilling.

Wildlife and fish can come into contact with the toxic oil through ingestion, absorption, and inhalation. Birds lose their ability to swim, fly, or dive when oil attaches itself to their wings, which often leads to drowning. When plankton and other small organisms are contaminated by the oil, unsuspecting fish ingest them and are subsequently contaminated. Then, larger fish eat these fish and these fish are eaten by bigger mammals etc, creating a process called biomagnification, where each subsequent level of the food chain ingests these toxic chemicals. As a result, the animal at the top of the food chain accumulates the maximum amount of toxins. These oil spills not only affect the fish and wildlife that inhabit the ocean, but they affect humans as well, as a lot of our food is sourced off our coast. Additionally, it is also unsafe for us to swim in it, as it can cause severe damage to our bodies.

What Caused the Oil Spill? While officials are still investigating the source of the cause, they seem to believe it was a ship’s anchor that punctured an oil pipeline on the ocean floor. However, the problem doesn’t lie in the cause of the oil spill, it lies in the process of offshore drilling itself. In addition to the negative impacts of the oil spills, offshore drilling has a direct correlation with climate change, as it releases greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the air. This is not the first large oil spill, and it certainly won’t be the last if offshore drilling continues. Now is the time to find more sustainable renewable energy alternatives before it’s too late!

Ways You Can Help: Below is a link where you can contact your elected state officials to call for permanent protection of California’s outer continental shelf from new oil and gas development. https://secured.surfrider.org/action/engagement?actionId=AR0033734&id=701i00000018YoU

If you encounter oiled wildlife, DO NOT attempt to clean or capture it yourself. Instead, CALL the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at (877) 823-6926.

What is Reef Safe Sunscreen?

Sunscreen: it’s supposed to protect our bodies from skin damage and skin cancer, but what exactly is it doing to our oceans?

When I was planning for my recent trip to Hawaii, I noticed that the state required sunscreen that is “reef-safe.” Being from California, reefs are not abundant on our beaches and I was not familiar with this term. I found that in 2018, Governor David Ige of Hawaii signed SB2571, Act 104, which bans the sale and distribution of sunscreens containing the popular ingredients of oxybenzone and octinoxate beginning on January 1, 2021. With that, Hawaii became the first state to pass this law with places such as the U.S. Virgin Islands, Aruba, Key West, Florida, Bonaire, and Palau quickly following in its footsteps. These two ingredients are extremely harmful to coral reefs and other marine life. They have also recently been found to be harmful to our skin as well. The act reads:

Beginning January 1, 2021, bans the sale, offer of sale, or distribution in the State of any sunscreen that contains oxybenzone or octinoxate, or both, without a prescription issued by a licensed healthcare provider to preserve marine ecosystems. (CD1)

Hawaii Sate Legislature (https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/Archives/measure_indiv_Archives.aspx?billtype=SB&billnumber=2571&year=2018)

At this point, you might be wondering what effects these ingredients have on marine life. Coral reefs are not just for our viewing pleasure on our next scuba or snorkel adventure, they are vital to much of the marine life that inhabit the ocean. While there are many causes to the rapid increase in coral bleaching, these ingredients, oxybenzone and octinoxate, in sunscreen play a part in it as well. According to the National Park Service, “4,000 to 6,000 TONS of sunscreen enters reef areas annually. This does not spread out rapidly or evenly over the entire ocean, but concentrates on popular tourist sites.” These sites include places such as Hanauma Bay on Oahu and Honolua Bay on Maui. Coral has a mutualistic relationship with a photosynthetic algae called zooxanthellae, where the algae uses photosynthesis to provide nutrients for the coral while the coral provides protection for the zooxanthellae. The zooxanthellae are also responsible for the vibrant colors that we associate with coral. However, when these zooxanthellae become stressed, due to carbon emission, increasing water temperatures, and exposure to ingredients such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, the coral can no longer support the zooxanthellae and it expels them, creating coral bleaching.

What is Coral Bleaching? Coral bleaching is the process where the zooxanthellae are expelled from the coral and leave a white coral skeleton. When these coral are bleached, they rarely come back, and if they do, it takes them decades. Zooxanthellae are not the only living creatures that depend on corals, but sea turtles, shrimp, crab, fish, and others rely on it for survival as well. Because coral supports organisms at the bottom of the food chain, each subsequent level is affected as a result.

What Sunscreen Ingredients Should I Look For? You should look for sunscreens that are mineral-based and contain natural ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. You should also look for sunscreens that are paraben free and non-nano. Non-nanotized ingredients mean that these elements are bigger than 100 nanometers wide, which is safer for coral reefs, as its size makes it difficult to be absorbed and ingested by other marine life.

Next time you’re out buying sunscreen, consider looking for reef-safe sunscreen, as it is not only better for your skin, but also the marine life in our oceans. I ended up using sunscreen from Salt and Stone and Vertra, and I cannot recommend them enough! Another alternative to wearing sunscreen is wearing a rashguard with UPF protection.

Caring For Your Monstera Deliciosa

The Monstera Deliciosa was the staple household plant in the 70s, and it is arguably even more popular today. This plant is native to Mexico and Central America and is known for its beautiful split leaves. It is also known as the Swiss Cheese Plant because of the holes in the leaves, aka fenestrations, that are formed as the plant ages. These fenestrations will not form on leaves that have already unfurled without holes. You will know if your new leaf will have fenestrations as it unfurls.

What Kind of Sunlight Does My Monstera Like? Monstera Deliciosas prefer dappled sunlight. Dappled sunlight is where the sunlight is filtered through leaves of other plants. This sunlight mimics the environment of its natural habitat, in the tropical rainforest. These plants can tolerate low light, but thrive best in dappled light. That being said, they cannot tolerate bright direct sunlight, as that will cause the leaves to burn and create brown patches on them.

How Often Do I Need To Water My Monstera? I would suggest watering it every week or so in summer months and every two in wintertime. If you aren’t sure if it needs to be watered, check the moisture level wither with a moisture meter or your finger. With the finger method, if the top 2 1/2 inches of the soil are dry (if no soil sticks to your finger) then it is time to water your plant!

Do I Have to Fertilize My Monstera? You don’t have to fertilize it, but it is highly recommended in its growing season of summer. I use a liquid seaweed extract fertilizer and mix it with water. After using the fertilizer, I noticed a huge increase in leaf production!

How Do I Prune The Leaves? It is normal to have yellowing leaves towards the bottom of your plant. Those don’t mean your plant is dying, they’re just old leaves. When you see these yellowing leaves, you should trim them so that your plant uses its energy on producing new leaves instead of trying to support dying ones. When cutting off dead leaves, cut it at the base of the stem. If you are pruning leaves to propagate, make sure to cut them below a node, which is where new growth will sprout!

My New Leaves Don’t Have Holes That’s okay! Not all Monstera leaves have holes, aka, fenestrations. Young Monstera plants will still produce leaves without fenestrations. The older the plant gets, the more fenestrated leaves it will have.

Below, is the process of a few of my Monstera leaves unfurling!

Camping in Joshua Tree

It was my first time in Joshua Tree, and I was completely blown away. It was crazy to me that these rock formations are over 200 million years old, and were once underground. There are many hiking trails in the park that wind through interesting rock formations—the most popular being Skull Rock (pictured below), Ryan Mountain, and the Split Rock Trail.

There are three camping areas in Joshua Tree that are first come, first served sites. Those are: White Tank, Belle, and Hidden Valley. These each cost $15 per night. Despite it being President’s Weekend, I was able to snag a campsite in White Tank, the closest first come, first served campsite from the northern entrance. The campsite has a picnic table, a fire pit, and toilets nearby. All the other campsites require reservations, and they fill up quickly, so definitely book ahead!

From my experience, I would recommend that you always check the weather before going. While you should do this any time you go camping, Joshua Tree’s weather can change very quickly, as it is in the High Desert with its high elevation and unique weather patterns. Although I checked the weather beforehand, I still thought it would be a good idea to camp during a high wind warning. I noticed many empty campsites, despite there being a “reserved” sign in front of them. I guess they must’ve left because of the relentless wind the previous night. I didn’t put two and two together and decided to camp anyway. I wasn’t about to let a little wind stop me from camping there! Can you guess what happened? Throughout the night, the wind blew the tent like crazy to the point that my air mattress moved as though there were an earthquake. It was so unbearable to the point that I decided to sleep in the car for the remainder of the night. The next morning, I woke up to a broken tent.

Despite the tent setback, I still had a wonderful time! One of my favorite parts of camping is sitting around the campfire. While I was warming myself by the fire, I looked up and was blown away by the star-filled skies at night; I had never seen so many stars before. It is such a beautiful place to camp, hike, and explore the unique terrain, and I would highly recommend it to everyone who can make the trip out there!

Which Plastics Can Be Recycled?

We have all seen the chasing arrows symbol with little numbers on the bottom of plastic products, but what do these numbers mean? Contrary to popular belief, the triangular symbol does necessarily not mean the items can be recycled. There are seven different categories of plastics. NOTE: Where you live will determine how feasible it is to recycle certain plastics.

1-PETE/PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) : These are the easiest plastics to recycle, and you probably held one of these in your hands today. Some plastics with PET include plastic soda and water bottles, cooking oil containers, and peanut butter jars. Recycled PET can be turned into more plastic bottles and polyester fibers for jackets, carpets, and other garments. These plastics are intended for single use, as multiple uses can cause bacteria to grow since this material is hard to clean.

2-HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) : HDPE plastic is also very common in day-to-day use items and relatively easy to recycle. It is found in milk jugs, detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, etc. Once recycled, these can be turned into more bottles or bags. While it is able to be recycled, it is always a good idea to consider buying glass alternatives or other materials.

3-PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) : PVC is found in pipes, cables, kids’ toys, plastic food wrap, and vinyl records. This material is extremely difficult to recycle and most of the time is not recycled at all. It also contains harmful toxins and should not be repurposed to use in contact with food. While it is in some plastic food wrap, those plastics are treated with other chemicals in order to be food safe. Despite this fact, use of disposable food wrap still puts unnecessary chemicals in your body. A good alternative to plastic wrap that I love using is beeswax wrap.

4-LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) : Some items that contain LDPE are plastic grocery bags, sandwich bags, dry cleaner bags, and plastic bread bags. This material is difficult to recycle, and it can only be recycled in certain locations. Some stores will collect these bags if you bring them in. A great cheap alternative to plastic grocery bags is cloth or canvas bags!

5-PP (Polypropylene) : PP is most commonly used to make straws, cereal bags, plastic bottle caps, and yogurt containers. This material is very difficult to recycle because of the many steps required to break it down. You would have to check your local curbside recycling facility to see if it is accepted. There are many great alternatives to plastic straws such as paper, metal, or glass straws.

6-PS (Polystyrene) : PS is found in styrofoam, disposable cutlery, takeout boxes, and packing peanuts. Despite being used so prevalently, it is very difficult to recycle this material because of its light weight. Also, it is important to note that once the material becomes dirty (with food, for example), it cannot be recycled.

7-Other: Items that fall under the “other” category are baby bottles, electric sockets, and water cooler bottles. Plastics with the number 7 are usually a mix of multiple plastics which become nearly impossible to separate, and therefore cannot be recycled.

Although these numbers are small, they play a big part in our environmental consciousness, and it is important for us to understand which plastics are able to be recycled. If possible, look for non-plastic alternatives. But if you are buying something made from plastic, look at the little number and make the best eco-conscious decision!

The Devil’s Bridge

Having seen countless breathtaking photos of the Devil’s Bridge on Instagram, I had to experience it for myself. If you’re wondering where to find this impressive rock formation, it is located on the outskirts of Sedona, Arizona. When you type it in on maps, it will take you directly to the parking lot and from there, you will find signs pointing to the trailhead. Once you arrive, there are many trails to get you there, ranging from easy to difficult. These are all out and back trails, meaning you return the same way you came. I took the easy route, and it ran about 4.2 miles to the top (about an hour and a half). While this may not look like an easy hike, it is relatively flat for the most part; the steeper part begins around the latter quarter of the hike.

I went in mid-March, and it was a relatively cool day, but it got quite warm quickly. I always bring my 2.5 L Osprey hydration pack in my backpack, but any container will do. Just make sure you bring enough water (about one liter per hour on a hot day) because there is nowhere to fill up your container once you begin hiking. In addition, there is very little shade, so wear a hat and sunscreen and moisture-wicking clothing with UPF. You may work up a sweat when making your way up, but it can get chilly once you’re up there, so don’t forget to pack an extra layer. I am sad to say that I did not get a picture of myself walking across the bridge itself; I wouldn’t have made it to the front of the line before the sun set. Wait times can be upwards of an hour during peak season. If taking an Insta-worthy photo is on your to-do list, then the line is definitely worth the wait!

The views are incredible throughout the journey, not just once you reach the top, although the best view is undoubtedly at the top. I don’t mind hikes that are purely about reaching the pinnacle, but I definitely prefer ones with little sights along the way. Among these sights, I saw fields of balanced rocks, a work of art, really. (Probably made by tourists). You can even try stacking your own! The trail on the way back becomes much easier because the majority of it is downhill. I hope you enjoy this hike as much as I did!

How I Started Hiking

I’ve always liked going on small hikes or strolls at the beach. But, I started getting into hiking during the summer of 2020 in the midst of the pandemic. With everything being shut down, it seemed that the only truly gratifying place for me to spend my time was outdoors. In Hiking, I talk about different hikes that I have done and explain the route, stopping points, and things to look out for so you can try them too!