What’s with Madewell’s (Re)sourced?

I got an email from Madewell today advertising their new (Re)sourced tote bag collection, made of nylon from recycled materials. Naturally, I’m excited about the prospect of bags made of recycled material, for obvious sustainability reasons. (Yes, I did need to remind myself I do not need a new bag, recycled material or not.)

Promotional email sent by Madewell on their new tote bags

Of course, as with any corporate marketing around sustainability, I’m wary of greenwashing. Madewell’s product description on their website provides little detail, only indicating the tote bags are “Made of soft and sturdy (Re)sourced recycled material.” The bag is nylon, so my guess is it is some sort of recycled nylon. “(Re)sourced recycled material” doesn’t seem to have a defined content spelled out by Madewell – for example, the bags here are nylon but other Madewell (Re)sourced products like this sweater are listed as made of “100% post-consumer recycled polyester.” I also find it a bit suspect there’s no percentage listed indicating the amount of recycled materials used. Is it 100% or only partially made of recycled material? Since other Madewell products are advertised as 100% recycled material, it leads me to believe the bags are only partially made of recycled material, because that’s a big selling point so it doesn’t make sense to leave it out if that’s the case.

The big recycled nylon product available is Econyl, manufactured by an Italian firm called Aquafil that mainly comes from sources like industrial waste and recycled fishing nets. Using Econyl does have benefits, like reducing plastic waste in the ocean and cutting down on the resource intensive process of manufacturing virgin nylon fibers. Fishing nets, in particular, are a plastic pollution problem because fishermen have to pay to dispose of them properly, which means they often get tossed into the ocean instead. (I’m not slamming the fishermen here; capitalism understandably incentivizes paying them as little as possible for their labor and unfairly foists the cost of recycling on them.) Like all synthetic materials, recycled nylon still poses the problem of microfibers. This is less of an issue for something like a tote bag, since it’s unlikely you’re putting it through a washing machine as often as clothing items and nylon is relatively easy to wipe clean without needing a full wash. (There are also products like the Guppyfriend that can help catch microfibers of all synthetic fabric types, but of course this adds onto your time spent doing laundry.)

Other well-known brands like Patagonia use recycled nylon in their clothing as well. On their own website, Patagonia states 67% of the nylon fabric used in their fall 2020 season contained recycled nylon. (Emphasis on contained, not 67% of their nylon fabric total.) Patagonia also states they’ve found a nylon yarn of 50% pre-consumer, 50% post consumer nylon. It’s not clear if this is the main yarn they use or just a yarn they use; “found” is an incredibly ambiguous term. Regardless, this information leads me to believe Madewell’s (Re)sourced tote bags are not 100% recycled material, since it doesn’t seem like 100% post consumer nylon currently exists as a feasible textile option. (The use of pre-consumer waste isn’t necessarily bad; Econyl sources pre-consumer waste from industrial scraps that may have been thrown out otherwise, so it still diverts material from a landfill.)

So are (Re)sourced bags a legit sustainable product? I’m ambivalent. Compared to a brand new bag made of virgin materials, yes. Thrifting and using what you already have are the best options, as usual. It’s really difficult to compare them to other products made of recycled material since Madewell provides so little information on the amount of recycled content and the type of nylon yarn. I feel pretty confident that the recycled content is less than 100%, so it’s likely not more sustainable than products made of 100% post consumer plastics. If there’s a large percentage of pre-consumer nylon involved, I would also like to know if it’s coming from nylon scraps or if new, virgin nylon is being created for the purpose of making the bags. Obviously there are a lot of factors to consider beyond recycled content percentage. Nylon is pretty durable, so it may be more important to have a bag that will last years and years than just one made of more recycled material.

I have emailed Madewell asking for more information on their (Re)sourced bags and will provide an update if I hear back!

Loop and Ulta partnering

Found an email from Ulta Beauty in my inbox this morning announcing their Loop x Ulta launch is imminent. I’m super interested in this and have been on the wait list for the launch for months now. Unfortunately there’s very little information on Ulta’s website on what exactly their partnership with Loop will entail, but I hope it expands Loop’s current offerings to brands stocked with Ulta. I also hope that a major chain jumping on board a deposit packaging system spurs others to follow suit. (Looking at you, Sephora.) I have shopped at Ulta for years – hell, I have their branded credit card – so I cannot wait to try this. The beauty industry is so wasteful and loves extra packaging way too much and I consider any move away from that a step forward. However, I always have a healthy dose of skepticism around these things, since so much of it turns out to be greenwashing.

My email from Ulta

Great day for some sustainable cleaning out!

I’ve been spending my time sheltering with family trying to clear out my childhood closet. There are so many old clothes I dont need or want. I managed to sell some items on Poshmark but otherwise that’s been slow-going. I got super lucky this week though, as both my Marine Layer Respun bag came and ThredUp is finally accepting clean out kits again!

I’ve mentioned both ThredUp and Marine Layer previously, talking about moving out of my apartment and trying to get rid of things I didn’t want to bring with me sustainably. I was happy to see that Marine Layer’s Respun envelope is a lot bigger than previously. I couldn’t fit that many tees in it last time, typically around 3 to 4, and I wear an XS. (Although some I sent were bigger sizes and I was getting rid of them because they were t-shirts I got for free that I never wore because they were too big on me.) The new envelope I was able to fit 7 t-shirts in. I won’t get any store credit at Marine Layer because I sent shirts previously and you can only get up to 5 $5 credits, one per shirt. But that’s fine with me – the point is to get rid of things and store credit would just tempt me to buy something new. I was never motivated by store credit anyway, I just wanted a good way to get rid of t-shirts that weren’t good for donating.

My absolutely stuffed tee recycling kit!

ThredUp, meanwhile, had suspended clean out kits because of staffing and distancing requirements due to the pandemic. I signed up to be notified when they came back and SURPRISE! They finally did. I went with printing out a label at home and reusing my own box, because it would take longer if I had to wait for a clean out bag to arrive, and because it’s always good to reuse packaging. I got an assortment of shirts and old dress pants and blazers to fit in there. Maybe I’ll get some money, maybe it’s all outdated and worthless, but ThredUp passes off unusable items to its textile recycling partners. (You can also pay for “return assurance” where unselected items are sent back to you.)

My big ol’ box of clothes and ThredUp’s mailing instructions.

Now, off to the post office!

February’s Mighty Fix!

My MightyFix subscription for this month got here today! I got refills of my silk dental lace floss (which I ran out of a few weeks ago) and a soap lift.

This is the second soap lift I’ve ordered – I really like them! It’s such a simple thing but it helps my bar soap last longer and helps it not be constantly wet all the time. Might get third one now that I use shave bars and know I want to keep using them.

Recycle your contact lenses!

Wearing contact lenses is probably a top waste-creating habit in my life. I’m not proud of it. I know the little dried up disks and blister packs have got to be TERRIBLE for the environment. Worse, I wear dailies and not extended wear, because while I used to be able to wear the 2-week wear ones a few years ago my eyes could no longer tolerate them, and I had to switch to daily disposables. I have cut back my wear a lot in the last few years, because reordering dailies is not cheap, I just can’t tolerate contacts like I used to so even wearing dailies day-in, day-out, for full days gets very uncomfortable and the pandemic has made me a lot less conscious about my appearance. Still, I wear them occasionally. My glasses fog up with my mask, they’re annoying to exercise in (ever experience sweaty glasses sliding down your nose on a run or have them fall off your face mid-downward facing dog?) and sometimes they also irritate the bridge of my nose and I need a break from them for a day or two.

Contact lenses and their packaging in the trash contribute to microplastic build-up. They also are not recyclable in your typical curbside programs because of the small size, so keep them out of there. But there is an environmentally-friendlier option! Bausch & Lomb will recycle your old blister packs and your old lenses through TerraCycle, a program I think I was vaguely aware of but never consciously thought about much. You can look up a nearby drop-off location (typically an eye-doctor’s office) or you can order a shipping label and mail them in if there are not locations close by. If you mail them, be sure to save up your blister packs so you can send them all at once. You can send in any brand of contacts, not just Bausch & Lomb ones, and you do not need to clean the packaging at all, just make sure there’s not leftover solution in your blister packs.

I’ve already started throwing my blister packs and used lenses in a cup in my bathroom cabinet! Not going to lie, it feels weird to save them, and it kind of grosses me out to have a cup of garbage in my cabinet and muscle memory means I have definitely thrown some in the trash totally on autopilot. If you’ve ever lost a contact lens and then found it dried up and crusted next to your faucet or on your floor a few days later, it’s kind of nasty to accumulate a pile of them. But it’s such a small inconvenience (BARELY an inconvenience at all, honestly) to be more sustainable that I got over it quickly. Just waiting for the day I have to explain it to a weirded-out houseguest!

My very sophisticated used contacts collection system.

Successfully unloading old stuff

While I’m sheltering with my parents, I’ve been trying to unload a lot of stuff in my childhood bedroom so they aren’t stuck with it forever. I did a couple of Retold Recycling bags already for clothes that were unwearable but I barely made a dent. There’s just so much stuff. But I did have some successes this week:

  • Sold a second item on Poshmark! I’m not super successful with Poshmark, which isn’t a knock on them, because I know a lot of my old clothes I listed are suuuuper dated or for specific occasions (think homecoming dances, other party and formal clothes) that aren’t really happening during a pandemic. I also am not great at staging things for online sales- I don’t have a mannequin or anything like that or good lighting. I’m getting better at this though! But today someone bought a baseball cap I listed that I have worn once and is incredibly not my style at all, because I bought it to wear for a theme party in college.
  • Sold my old Gameboy Color on eBay. I posted a bunch of random stuff on eBay, mostly old CDs I got as a teenager, that I didn’t really expect to sell at all but don’t really have a good idea on how to responsibly get rid of. My Gameboy Color that I must have gotten 20 years ago had been sitting in drawer, untouched, for over a decade, and I figured might as well list it instead of sending to e-waste recycling right away. To my surprise it got hundreds of views! Apparently there must be a market for this type of thing. Anyway, I’m just happy someone else can enjoy it for a bit longer.

Let’s hope I get better at this kind of thing. I’ve also been conscious about shipping things in reused boxes from things I’ve ordered online. I feel kind of like a hoarder watching them accumulate but I can’t just let them go to waste!

On the hunt for sustainable tech

I got my current laptop a little under 5 years ago. This is about the timeframe my last laptop (which I wrote about finally recycling here) lasted before it completely died on me, never to be revived. It’s gotten kind of slow and sometimes the keys don’t respond and it likes to shut off if I hold it the wrong way. When it’s plugged in the charger interferes with the wi-fi depending on how the power cord is laying, a phenomenon I do not understand at all but is getting increasingly annoying. I’m between full-time jobs right now and my current income source is from a contract project, so since I don’t have a work computer I’m getting anxious about the idea of my laptop going belly-up suddenly and leaving me scrambling to buy a new one. Basically, I’m pretty sure my laptop is at the end of its life, so I’ve started research potential replacements for it. This made me wonder: what’s the most sustainable/eco-friendly laptop?

Labeling tech “sustainable” or “eco-friendly” is a bit of an oxymoron. Our phones, TVs, computers, smartwatches – you name it – are very draining on the environment. Water and energy are used in their production and there’s lots of toxic chemicals involved. The precious metals needed for some parts have to be mined. Besides the environmental impact, there’s the human impact from manufacturing our gadgets, often under questionable and hazardous labor conditions and unsafe mining practices. Then there’s all the e-waste generated. Like most things regarding sustainability, industry-wide changes in the tech space are needed and can’t be fixed with consumer choices.

That all being said, I’ve still pinned down some things I want in my next laptop to minimize my footprint as much as possible:

  • Refurbished. Just like thrifted clothes, the “greenest” tech is the tech that’s already made. There are a surprising amount of secondhand computers out there that are recent or current models, so you can avoid getting stuck with a machine that’ll be obsolete in a year. There’s also cost savings. Sometimes you can get a refurbished laptop that’s $100+ cheaper than the same model new. I prefer looking at refurbished specifically instead of “open box” or Craigslist hunting because refurbished products typically come with a warranty and have been inspected and repaired before being resold, but it really depends on your comfort level and each individual vendor’s standards for re-selling used devices. Best Buy and Tiger Direct have good selections of refurbished laptops with warranties, and it’s pretty easy to Google around to find the best refurbished deals going on. However, listings change quickly so don’t expect any item to be available for long and be prepared to do more legwork than you would buying new.
  • EPEAT Rating. EPEAT was created with a grant from the EPA and is run by the Green Electronics Council. To qualify as EPEAT registered, a product “must meet environmental performance criteria that address: materials selection, supply chain greenhouse gas emissions reduction, design for circularity and product longevity, energy conservation, end-of-life management and corporate performance.” EPEAT independently verifies manufacturers’ claims around their “greenness” and rates them on a bronze, silver or gold scale based on a selection of required criteria and optional criteria available here. Bronze products meet all required criteria, silver products meet all required criteria and at least 50% of the optional criteria and gold products meet all of the required criteria and at least 75% of the optional criteria. The rating system is a little confusing to me but you can search the EPEAT registry here and get a rundown of how each product performed in each criteria. A product that is considered to be EPEAT registered meets all the required criteria for its product category plus a minimum of the optional criteria, which differ depending on the product category. I’ve found you can check EPEAT qualified as a search filter on some electronics websites, like Best Buy, to help filter your choices.
  • Repairability. The easier it is to repair something, the longer you’ll be able to use it, and typically your repair costs will be less expensive. Look for computers that have easily removable parts and don’t use a lot proprietary tools or techniques for repairs. Parts that are soldered in are going to be difficult-to-impossible to upgrade or fix. (As someone who has had multiple hard drives crash on me and had to get them replaced, I hate this, not just from an environmental standpoint but also a financial one!) A lot of Apple products are notoriously bad in this respect due to restrictions on repairs and their habit of not making parts easily removable for replacement. (I type this as my iPhone sits a foot away from me.) IFixIt rates some popular laptops on repairability here with a brief explanation on how they assign points. I was pretty shocked and disappointed on how many popular computer models aren’t designed to be easily repaired. Apple honestly does terribly and the Microsoft Surface laptop got a ZERO because it’s “not meant to be opened or repaired; you can’t get inside without inflicting a lot of damage.” A laptop that’s cheaper upfront may cost more in the long run if it’s not easy to repair, so that’s something to weigh when you shop.
  • Recycling options. Does the manufacturer have a take-back program? It’s always good to see if the company you’re buying your tech from offers trade-in or recycling options. For example, Apple and Google will send you a shipping label to send back your old iPhone or Pixel to be recycled, even if it’s broken and/or too old of a model to have any trade-in value. Basically, does the manufacturer just shrug and leave you to deal with recycling the e-waste yourself or do they offer some sort of take-back option? E-waste recycling is far from a perfect option for growing e-waste creation and many recyclers aren’t transparent and hide their own unethical practices, but in the US only 35% of e-waste is recycled so increasing the amount that gets diverted from decomposing in a landfill and leaching caustic chemicals into the ground is still vitally important. $57 billion in gold, copper, iron and other minerals were in our e-waste in 2019 and reusing a greater portion of those materials would decrease the environmental impact created from mining for new ones. Corporations constantly pushing you to buy things and upgrade your tech should actively take responsibility for disposing of the waste created, especially when they build planned obsolescence into their products that give consumers little choice.

Ultimately, I’ve determined that my best course of action is to look for a laptop that is refurbished, at least EPEAT registered and ideally EPEAT gold, and that is rated highly for repairability.

There’s a few other things to also consider when replacing your tech. The “greenest” option is to keep using the thing you already own. Do you need a new thing, or mostly just want it? Be realistic with yourself. How old is the product you’re replacing, and does it work still? If it has an issue, have you looked into fixing it? People are hanging on to their smartphones longer than they used to before upgrading, which is a promising trend. I personally like to use my electronics until they die, partially because I’m cheap, and partially because I am stubborn and don’t like to upgrade once I’m used to using something. I begrudgingly replaced my iPhone SE in March because the screen came clean off and it was unusable, but I think everyone knows someone who just has to line up at the Apple store when the new iPhone drops or whatever. If you really must have the most up-to-date tech offerings at all times, at least be diligent about trading in or re-selling your old devices so someone else can use it. (And you get to recoup some money in the process!)

Tech sustainability is super underwhelming right now but it’s looking up as manufacturers are getting better at it since consumer preferences are pointing more and more towards sustainability. I’m super intrigued by the Fairphone, which is designed to be easily repairable and upgradeable and allegedly uses ethical labor processes. It’s unfortunately not currently available in the US but I hope it encourages other electronics producers to follow suit and becomes popular enough abroad that competitors take notice. Until then, I’m just going to do the best with what I can!

No, your armpits don’t need to “detox”

One of the frustrations I run into most being in the zero-waste space and also being vegetarian is a lot of wellness nonsense that vaguely warns you about “chemicals” and “toxins.” It’s really tiring. Using the word “detox” in virtually anything is an immediate dismissal from me. Your liver and kidneys already detox you fine. If they’re not, you need serious medical intervention and not activated charcoal/juice/”clean” eating, and you should be taking lifestyle change advice from a medical professional.

Trying to just find a plain, functional deodorant that comes in recyclable or compostable container has been like sifting through a terrible catalog of wellness fads all fear-mongering about how your deodorant is going to give you cancer. First of all, anytime you read about aluminum in deodorant, it really means antiperspirant. That’s not my main gripe here, but I’m annoyed that marketing preys on people who may never have been using a deodorant with aluminum in it to begin with by misleading them in such a way. A lot of deodorants are 2-in-1 deodorant-antiperspirants, but you can’t blanket claim that every drug store deodorant is an aluminum-filled antiperspirant. (It doesn’t help that a lot of bath and body brands just advertise everything as deodorant.) Second, it’s already dubious that aluminum in antiperspirant causes cancer or Alzheimer’s or whatever else you’ve heard. The National Cancer Institute and the Alzheimer’s Association have been unable to confirm a link between aluminum and cancer or Alzheimer’s. Researchers injected rabbits with aluminum salts in the 1960s and found they developed brain degeneration – but you’re not injecting deodorant into your bloodstream, hopefully. Your skin isn’t absorbing your deodorant; it might sit in your pores, but your pores aren’t tunnels into your bloodstream. (If they were, you probably would have been infected and killed by something long before you had to worry about deodorant.) Plus, you’re already eating 7 to 9 milligrams of aluminum from your food every day, which is more than you’re being exposed to by swiping on an antiperspirant.

There’s nothing wrong with avoiding aluminum in your deodorant if you personally want to, and indeed the history of antiperspirants stems from a lot of gross shaming geared towards making women feel bad about sweating. Aluminum in your deodorant isn’t giving you cancer, but sweating is a normal thing your body does and it’s arguably silly to buy things that suppress it. There is a real concern about using deodorant-antiperspirant with aluminum in it in regards to people with low kidney function – since your kidneys filter out toxins, if you have poor kidney function, your kidneys might not be able to filter the aluminum out of your bloodstream fast enough. If you have concerns about whether you can safely use a deodorant, you need to discuss that with a doctor, not a deodorant ad.

But the most bizarre claim I see around “natural deodorants” is that your armpits need to “detox” when you switch to a natural deodorant from your typical antiperspirant. Your body does not sweat out toxins. That’s not how toxins are eliminated. (See above note on your liver and kidneys!) If you want to switch to a natural deodorant, your BO isn’t worse at first because you’re “detoxing” from anything. Aluminum in antiperspirant works by blocking sweat glands so you don’t sweat as much. Your body still needs to sweat to cool you down, so it may start to create more sweat to compensate for the blocked sweat glands. When you stop using antiperspirant, suddenly all your sweat glands are open, but your body is still conditioned to make more sweat, so now you’re just sweating from everywhere. Eventually your body adjusts and stops trying to overcompensate. This is oversimplifying a bit, but regardless, there’s no “detox.” You’re not sweating out old, built up deodorant particles. Aluminum from your antiperspirant just dissolves – your body doesn’t expel it. It’s not false that there’s often an adjustment period when you switch from an aluminum antiperspirant to a deodorant without it, but “detox” is a terrible word to describe what’s happening. It’s more there to sound scary because “transition period” or “adjustment period” don’t zing as well and telling people they smell right now because it’s a cleanse is more appealing than just admitting everyone adjusts differently.

Use a natural deodorant because it smells nice. Use a natural deodorant because it comes in sustainable packaging. Use a natural deodorant because no one should be ashamed of the totally normal function of sweating. Use one for any number of reasons, as long as it’s not “aluminum deodorant is poisoning us.” And don’t say your armpits are “detoxing” if you stink and sweat for the first week or two of using it.

Using the Good On You app to look for ethical fashion

I downloaded the Good On You app this week and it’s a simple, easy-to-navigate app to look up your favorite brands and see how they stack up for sustainability – including how they treat their employees. It’s also free, and you can use the website as well if you prefer to look at things on your computer instead of your phone. (I’m far-sighted so I haaaaate when something is app only and I can’t pull it up on my computer screen or at least a desktop app.) Good On You’s rating system can be found here and weighs factors regarding how brands treat their workers, their impact on the planet and if and how they use animal products in their clothing. It also weighs a brand’s actions outside manufacturing its clothing, such as if they’re lobbying on legislation that would harm sustainable fashion efforts. No rating system is going to be foolproof, and I’m sure there’s room for improvement. I still think secondhand is the best option for sustainability but since we all need to buy something new occasionally it’s a positive development that there’s a quick and simple way to compare options, and there’s no reason you can’t also use them to look up brands you’re buying secondhand.

Good On You also gives you the option to contact brands directly through the app to express your concerns about their practices if they have a poor rating. There is a pre-written template and everything. I have doubts about how much attention brands pay to these types of messages, but I will say it took me about 5 seconds, if that, to send feedback to Madewell. It’s hard to argue with how effortless the process is, which is crucial for any sustainability tool to gain widespread use by consumers. I liked Madewell since they’ll take back and recycle their jeans, but their treatment of workers in particular leaves a lot to be desired.

Madewell gets a “not good enough” rating, in part because it’s not doing enough to protect workers. Yikes!

Recycling an old laptop

I completely forgot about my old college laptop. At some point I just assumed I must have gotten rid of it, or that my parents probably disposed of it. But while going through my childhood bedroom’s closet to clean out things (listing things on poshmark and collecting old t-shirts to put in Retold bags!), lo and behold, on the floor of my closet, buried under a bag of miscellaneous clothes, was my previous laptop. It was my first laptop, which my parents bought for me for college, and it unceremoniously died a year after I graduated from undergrad the summer before I started grad school. (Was not happy to have to spend money on a new laptop, but was glad it bit the dust before I quit my job and relocated to an expensive city for my master’s program.) It doesn’t work. At all. It doesn’t even turn on. It’s close to ten years old at this point and has been sitting buried on the floor of my closet now for close to five. I replaced the battery once and the hard drive too, so it’s not even all original parts. To say it’s not suitable for resale or trade-in is an understatement. I doubt even listing it on EBay for parts would get me anywhere since it’s so outdated. I can’t even find a new charger for my current laptop that’s not from a third-party manufacturer because Dell doesn’t make them anymore (shout out to electrical tape for keeping it together!) and it’s only 5 years old. Definitely out of luck for a machine that’s twice as old. So, that leaves electronic recycling!

I went with Best Buy, because they had a close location, are open during the pandemic, (with masks!) don’t charge for most e-waste collection, and will accept close to anything. There are some states with more restrictions but mine is not one of them. It was a very painless experience! I just walked in, asked about recycling, and dropped it in a giant blue bin. I would also check and see if your local public works department offers e-waste recycling.