The Refill Shoppe enforces zero-waste packaging, provides bulk refill solutions for myriad household and beauty products

March 5, 2019 by  
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With the nearly constant conversation about zero waste and minimization in general, single use packaging is a hot topic. For many consumables, customers don’t seem to have many options in avoiding packaging waste. Think about the liquid products in your home and you’ll know what we’re talking about here. Shampoo bottles, hand soap containers, dish soap, cleaners, bubble bath and massage oils are just a few commonly-used items that come to mind. One company has taken a stand against single-use packaging and now provides a refill service so you can use your favorite containers again and again…and again, without the waste of individual bottles. The Refill Shoppe opened their flagship store in Ventura, California in 2010 with the idea that customers should have a place to refill regularly-used products. Think of it as a bulk section for household liquids. The founder, Michelle Stevens admits that she wasn’t sure people would buy into the business model. After all, it was a relatively new idea in this era of convenient consumables. But it didn’t take long for people to find out about the business and begin frequenting the location. Related: Oregon initiates first modern statewide refillable glass bottle system in the US The idea took off and now the company offers an online, mail-order options so you can order refills from the comfort of your home, even if you don’t live near the store. The process is as simple as any other form of online shopping. After scouring the website, customers choose the products they want and select their favorite scents. Up to six scents can be combined for variety. If you don’t already have an adorable bottle that you’re looking to refill , you can choose one from the site. Otherwise, you order will be refill pouches filled with your favorite product. Whether you bring your own container into the store or request a mail order, all ingredients are charged by the ounce. In-store, you can even bring a partially-full bottle . You simply weigh it with the contents before adding more and then weigh it again to calculate the amount of product you’re buying. For mail order, all per-ounce prices are listed on the site. Shipping fees are a flat rate $7 or free for orders over $100 throughout the continental U.S. They also ship to Hawaii, Alaska, Canada and Mexico for an additional charge. The website offers hundreds of products you likely use daily. Bathing and beauty products include face wash, shampoo, scrubs, salts and lotions, but they also offer sponges, brushes and mitts to apply the products. For the home you can find dishwashing liquids, laundry products and even yoga mat sanitizer, alongside reusable containers and other zero-waste products. They also stock cleaning products and eco-friendly supplies like wool dryer balls and burlap gift wrap. They even have men’s care, perfume and baby products. The Refill Shoppe realizes that no business model is perfect for the environment but they focus on doing everything they can to operate with a low-carbon footprint . All refill pouches are reusable , so after you’ve emptied the contents into your favorite container at home, simply drop it back into the pre-paid envelope and send it back, where it is sterilized and refilled for the next customer. All packing materials are reused and they try to use paper products exclusively. For packaging glass bottles, however,  they do employ pre-used bubble wrap. Because transportation emissions are a major eco-no-no in general, the company relies on USPS in an effort to deliver using regular, already-traveled routes. This avoids sending trucks out on special routes that increase emissions . Another way the company reduces transportation issues is with domestic production. With the exception of Himalayan bath salts, all items are produced in the United States. Related: Some of the largest manufacturers are going green with the milkman model   In addition to reducing waste, the company aims to provide products that are eco-friendly , cruelty-free, mostly vegan (with the exception of honey and beeswax in a few products), mostly gluten free, although items are manufactured in a facility that handles gluten, 99.7 percent GMO free, and proudly void of a host of toxins commonly used in other cleaners and beauty products. For their efforts, The Refill Shoppe has passed the qualifications to become a Certified B Corporation. This stamp of approval means they’ve passed rigorous standards of environmental and social responsibility up and down the supply and customer chain. In fact, the company has been recognized with awards and accolades by many notable agencies such as the Ventura County Reporter, Ventura County Board of Supervisors, California Air Resources Board, State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and the California Resource Recovery Association. In a country a long way from leading the planet in sustainable practices, companies like The Refill Shoppe not only offer an alternative for those aiming to live more sustainably, but also bring awareness to an industry currently guilty of significant plastic waste . + The Refill Shoppe Images via The Refill Shoppe

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The Refill Shoppe enforces zero-waste packaging, provides bulk refill solutions for myriad household and beauty products

Poor air quality found at over 2,000 sites across the UK

March 1, 2019 by  
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A new study shows that close to 2,000 sites across the U.K. have poor air quality due to excess pollution. The cities most affected by high levels of toxic gas were in Wales, England and Northern Ireland, all of which were tested well beyond what is considered safe. One of the main culprits behind the alarming numbers is nitrogen dioxide, a gas that is considered one of the most harmful of urban pollutants. Kensington, Chelsea, Leeds and Doncaster all tested high in nitrogen dioxide in 2017. This gas irritates lungs and creates breathing issues. One of the main sources of nitrogen dioxide is vehicle emissions. Related: Toxic smog causes school closures in Bangkok Earlier this week, London’s mayor announced a pollution alert as residents in the country enjoyed a rare warm spell for February. The warning was the first of its kind since last summer and was precipitated by light winds and lack of storms, which usually help drive away harmful gases. While poor air quality is a major issue across the country, London is about to initiate a plan to help clean things up. The city is establishing an ultra-low emission area in central London that will vastly improve air quality. The initiative is expected to remove around 45 percent of emissions by this spring. The researches who conducted the study are part of a group called Friends of the Earth. Based on their findings, the group called for better emission standards throughout the country and are urging ministers to tighten up government control. “It’s unforgivable that across the UK there are nearly 2,000 locations over air quality limits, leaving millions of us breathing dangerously polluted air,” one of the researchers, Simon Bowens, explained. Air pollution has been previously linked to major health problems in human populations, including heart disease, dementia and even miscarriages. Children are particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of air pollution, which can damage lungs and even impact intelligence levels. If London’s new program is successful, hopefully other cities will follow suit and start improving air quality before it becomes an even bigger problem. Via The Guardian Images via Foto-Rabe

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Poor air quality found at over 2,000 sites across the UK

New study predicts mass extinction in 140 years

February 25, 2019 by  
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A new study suggests that the old saying about history repeating itself is absolutely true. In this case, history repeating itself pertains to none other than the topic on everyone’s minds— extinction. Researchers believe it’s taken 56 million years for earth to face another mass extinction that can occur in as little as 140 years.  The research, released last Wednesday and published in Geophysical Research Letters , compares conditions in the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) period with our planet’s present warming condition. Back in PETM days, carbon dioxide shot up, increasing Earth’s temperatures by 9 to 14 degrees. The tropical Atlantic heated up to approximately 97 degrees. Land and marine animals died. It took 150,000 years for the planet to recover. Related: Global warming will melt over 1/3 of the Himalayan ice cap by 2100 Unfortunately for us, carbon dioxide emissions are rising ten times faster now than they did during the PETM. Back then, wildfires, volcanic activity and methane wafting from the seafloor and permafrost were the culprits. Today, it’s down to us. Last year, emissions in countries with advanced economies rose slightly after a five-year decline. At this rate, the study predicts Earth’s atmosphere will be comparable to the beginning of PETM in 140 years, reaching a peak in 259 years. The result? Mass extinction. Philip Gingerich, the study’s author, did a literature review of previous studies on PETM and the rate of carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere. Based on eight studies published between 2009 and 2018, he used models to project future emissions caused by humans. Gingerich is an emeritus professor in the University of Michigan’s earth sciences department. He directed the university’s Museum of Paleontology for nearly 30 years. “[It’s] as if we are deliberately and efficiently manufacturing carbon for emission to the atmosphere at a rate that will soon have consequences comparable to major events long ago in earth history,” Gingerich told Earther. As he states in his study, “A second PETM-scale global greenhouse warming event is on the horizon if we cannot lower anthropogenic carbon emission rates.” Via Earther Image via nikolabelopitv

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5 key benefits of green buildings on the environment and your lifestyle

February 21, 2019 by  
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The importance of buildings in society and everyday human life can’t be underestimated. They are the center of just about everything we do — from work to play — and for most people living without them is unimaginable. However, traditional structures are damaging the environment and green buildings just might be one of the most powerful tools we can develop in the fight against climate change . According to National Geographic , by 2050 nearly 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas . Even though the cities of the world cover just two percent of Earth’s land area, they are responsible for 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions  — with nearly one-third of those emissions coming from buildings. Those numbers are the result of traditional construction, and the exciting thing is green buildings could drastically change things. Already, green buildings in the United States have reduced CO2 emissions by 34 percent. Related: 6 places to find the best recycled building materials What are green buildings? There is no specific standard for green buildings , but some of the features are energy efficiency, less water usage, better indoor air quality, improved acoustics and green roof systems. Those goals can be achieved via various methods including using alternative energy sources like solar panels, high-efficiency light fixtures and natural light, not to mention, incorporating sustainable and eco-friendly building materials into the design. But the benefits of green buildings are not just limited improving the environment, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to green buildings and their extensive benefits. Green buildings save money The initial construction costs for a green building might be a bit higher, but they are cheaper to operate and maintain, which ultimately makes them a good long term investment. According to the California Sustainable Building Task Force, a two percent investment in green design will save you more than ten times that investment in the long run.  So, if you have a $1 million building project and invested $20,000 in green design, it will lead to $200,000 in savings over 20 years. Using renewable energy sources significantly reduces the cost of power, heating and cooling, making maintenance costs 20 percent lower than traditional buildings. In general, the resale value of green buildings is higher because potential buyers know that their utility costs will be lower than normal. Federal tax incentives are also available for both residential and commercial green buildings, with many local and state governments following suit. Related: Potato peels offer a sustainable alternative to traditional building materials Extensive environmental benefits This is the most expected benefit of green buildings, but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked. The reduced energy consumption, water conservation, lower emissions and reduced waste from green buildings is invaluable to the fight against climate change. Physical and mental health At first, the green building concept was all about reducing environmental impact.  But now, studies have shown that working in a green building is good for both physical and mental health, and this has led to many building developers adding space for health and wellness activities. Many green buildings create an environment for better physical activity by using vacant areas for green spaces, yoga studios and gyms, making bike racks more accessible, or adding things like massage chairs and sleep chambers to reduce stress, boost job satisfaction and cut down on absenteeism. Another growing trend in green buildings is better use of staircases. For decades, architects have hidden staircases so well that you can’t even find them in some buildings. But now, staircases are coming back and this means workers are taking more steps every day. Employee perception of green buildings is that they are cleaner and better maintained, and the use of non-toxic chemicals and better ventilation has led to a reduction in sick building syndrome . According to the EPA, poor air quality and indoor pollutants in non-green buildings have caused some lung cancer deaths and many cases of asthma. Increased productivity A UCLA study showed that employees who work in green buildings were 16 percent more productive than those who work in traditional buildings. Study author Professor Magali Delmas says employees in green buildings and those who adopt green practices are “more motivated, received more training, and benefit from better interpersonal relationships.” A Harvard study also showed that employees in green buildings were better at making decisions and reaching goals. Also, including green elements in a building led to a higher level of perceived well being and better task completion. Happy employees Engineering consulting firm Cundall found during a survey that green elements like eco-friendly flooring, green views, improved acoustics and better air quality led to the attraction of more workers, improved employee retention and also made employees prouder of their workplace. In the previously mentioned Harvard study, it also found that better lighting design in a building — natural light, LED, task lighting, dimmers — has helped circadian rhythms, which means you sleep better at night. Ditching fluorescent lighting and opting for energy-efficient lighting in green buildings also made occupants happier and more productive. Via BigRentz Images via Shutterstock

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Solar-powered Dutch home brings the coastal woods indoors

February 21, 2019 by  
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Dutch design studio Natrufied Architecture has embedded a solar-powered home into the coastal woods in the old artist town of Bergen, the Netherlands. Dubbed Bosvilla, the 4,305-square-foot abode is built with a variety of timbers, inside and out, that combine with floor-to-ceiling triple glazing to create an environment that feels like an extension of the outdoors. For energy efficiency, the architects blanketed the building with a green roof, used highly insulated materials and installed 35 solar panels to offset energy demands. Bosvilla consists of the main house, a guest house, a carport and bicycle storage in separate buildings carefully laid out to capture forest and dune views. Nestled between oak and pine trees, the main house features an open floor plan as well as large revolving and sliding glass doors that create a seamless flow between the indoors and the outdoor terraces. The cantilevered roof helps protect against unwanted solar heat gain while allowing copious amounts of natural light and nature views into the interior. “The intentions for the design were to embed and create living spaces in balance with nature,” the architects explain in their press release. “The guesthouse in the back of the plot provides guest with similar nature experiences, making spaces flow inward out, capture tree and dune views as well as enjoying privacy and seclusion. Both the carport and bike storage are structures completely integrated in the landscape. All walls and roofs are covered by nature , only showing a central opening for access.” Related: Dreamy treehouse hidden in Woodstock offers magnificent Catskills views Responsibly sourced natural materials used throughout the home tie the architecture to the landscape, from the variety of woods to the Belgian flagstones. The columns and beams are built from laminated Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified iroko, while the substructure is made of local pine and the windows and doorframes are built of FSC-certified Jatoba. FSC-certified Afromosia was selected for the ceiling and bamboo for the interior sliding doors, bedroom floor and doorframes. FSC-certified Afzella make up the stairs, ground floor and terraces. FSC-certified Cumaru wood clads the facade. + Natrufied Architecture Images by Christian Richters, Berlin/Boris Zeisser, Bergen

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This Cradle to Cradle certified outdoor furniture raises the bar on sustainability

February 21, 2019 by  
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It’s no secret that single-use plastic has caused massive worldwide pollution . While some companies have embraced the technology behind turning single-use plastic into fabrics and other materials as a way to remove it from the waste stream, they often only include a percentage of the recycled material, still relying heavily on virgin materials. They often are still producing waste during the process and after consumption of the product. Meanwhile, one company, Loll Designs, has taken the  plastic  recycling method to the top level by maximizing the percentage of recycled materials in its outdoor furniture line as well as ensuring that the products are recyclable at the end of their usable lifespan. Loll Designs’ durable, all-weather outdoor furniture is made from 100 percent  recycled materials, such as single-use milk jugs. This has resulted in recycling more than 95 million milk jugs into modern furniture. In addition to responsibly sourcing materials, the company understands the impact of manufacturing, so 95 percent of manufacturing waste heads directly to local recycling plants to be used again. Even better, at the end of the life cycle, all components of the products, from the plastic to the brass inserts and steel fasteners, are recyclable. Related: Interview with green architect and Cradle to Cradle founder William McDonough As a manifestation of this dedication to sustainable practices in the sourcing of materials and throughout the manufacturing process, Loll Designs recently earned the coveted Cradle to Cradle certification for its efforts. With the highest level of transparency and required third-party verification, this is a pinnacle achievement in the industry. Cradle to Cradle certification is measured through an intense review of five categories including material health, material re-utilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship and social fairness throughout the organization as well as the supply chain. C2C certification is an empowering way for consumers to know their purchasing dollars are supporting sustainable practices. As a further marker of the company’s investment in sustainability and human health, it participates in 1% for the Planet, makes its furniture in the U.S. to support local economies and reduce transportation emissions  and regularly plants trees as well as participates in community trash pick-up events. + Loll Designs Images via Loll Designs

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Rwanda hopes to increase energy efficiency with new cooling initiative

February 14, 2019 by  
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Rwanda has big plans for a more sustainable future and is launching a new cooling initiative that will increase energy efficiency within the country’s booming electricity sector. As part of the new plan, Rwanda hopes to provide a cooling solution for food storage and indoor spaces without adding to the world’s greenhouse gas problems. The new initiative, called Rwanda’s National Cooling Strategy, assessed the current need for cooling products as well as the future market. Although countries traditionally meet cooling needs with the use of modern refrigeration, Rwanda is looking towards more sustainable methods that do not use as much electricity . “Through the Rwanda Cooling Initiative, we have conducted a cooling market assessment, developed a national cooling strategy and minimum energy efficiency standards, and created financial tools to support businesses investing in clean cooling,” Rwanda’s Minister of Environment, Dr. Vincent Biruta, explained. Rwanda is currently witnessing some of the fastest growth in the electricity sector in all of Africa. With 12 million people to serve, the East African Country is already looking for energy efficient options to meets those needs. Related: Top 10 states for LEED green buildings in 2018  Fortunately, Rwanda has been a leader in adopting sustainable practices. In fact, the country was one of the first to ban the use of plastic bags. A few years ago, Rwanda hosted a global treaty that agreed to an amendment to the Montreal Protocol. The initiative decreased the use of certain chemicals that are popularly used in air conditioners and refrigerators. But combating the use of harmful chemicals is only half the battle. As part of the National Cooling Strategy, Rwanda hopes to boost energy efficiency by regulating how much electricity can be used by modern air conditioners and refrigerators. The country also plans to raise awareness about other cooling techniques, including natural ventilation and shading. The new plan is the first phase of Rwanda’s larger cooling initiative. If other countries follow Rwanda’s lead, a large amount of greenhouse gas emissions could be cut over the next decade. Some experts predict that we can curb global warming by as much as 0.4C if countries increase their energy efficiency. Via United Nations Environment Image via Tumisu

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An auditorium uses translucent ETFE panels for a surreal look

February 14, 2019 by  
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Spanish design firm SelgasCano has completed the surreal Plasencia conference center and auditorium in Spain . Shaped like a giant boulder, the multifaceted building is wrapped in a translucent skin of ETFE panels that floods the interior with natural light during the day and glows like a lantern when illuminated from within at night. In contrast to its pale exterior, the interior is dominated with vibrant colors — from a bright orange entry hall to a deep red auditorium — that heighten the structure’s ethereal feel. Evocative of a futuristic spaceship, SelgasCano’s design of the Plasencia conference center and auditorium was selected in a 2005 competition. However, financing issues severely delayed the project’s completion to 2017. Now in operation, the building spans 7,500 square meters and includes an entrance lobby, a flexible 300-person secondary hall that can be split into three 100-person halls, the exhibition halls and the restaurant area. Set on a steep hillside straddling the border between urban development and the rural landscape, the conference center and auditorium was also designed to sit lightly on the land. Rather than fill in the site, the architects created a cantilevered shape to hover over the rocky terrain. They placed the entrance at the roadway, located 17 meters above the terrain, while inserting ramps and stairs that descend down to the various rooms. Related: SelgasCano’s incredible glass office gives employees a bug’s eye view of the forest floor “The building will be visible in the distance from an entire western perspective, from north to south,” the architects said. “It will be seen when passing by at high speed in a car, which is why we have planned it as a snapshot or a luminous form, acting as a sign for passengers by day and by night, playing at being a correspondence between sensation and reality, between the position it seems to be heading for and the position from where it will move.” + SelgasCano Images by Iwan Baan via SelgasCano

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An auditorium uses translucent ETFE panels for a surreal look

Fast food industry under pressure to decrease its global footprint stat

February 8, 2019 by  
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Fast food is one of the most popular conveniences of modern society, but it comes at a huge risk to the environment. Amid growing concerns of agriculture and water risks, a group of global investors are putting pressure on the fast food industry to come up with a sustainable model to lower their footprint on the environment. The investors, who manage a combined $6.5 trillion, issued letters to six of the largest fast food chains in the United States. The letters asked the companies to explain their plan to reduce risks associated with meat and dairy products by the spring of 2019. The companies targeted include McDonald’s, Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Chipotle Mexican Grills, Yum! Brands (Pizza Hut and KFC) and Wendy’s Co. There are over 80 investors who signed on to the initiative, which is also backed by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR). The ICCR has a long track record of talking with fast food chains about environmental issues, such as water hazards and deforestation. Related: Prosecco production is destroying soil in some Italian vineyards “Every day around 84 million adults consume fast food in the U.S. alone, but the inconvenient truth of convenience food is that the environmental impacts of the sector’s meat and dairy products have hit unsustainable levels,” said Jeremy Coller, the head of Coller Capital, in a statement. One of the biggest issues with fast food restaurants is their dependency on agriculture, specifically the beef industry . With fast food continuing to rise in popularity, the demand for more beef has reached unsustainable levels. Not to mention, the severe impact the dairy industry has on the environment. To help combat the situation, the new initiative hopes to work with companies to reduce water waste and deforestation, as well as improve conditions in animal agriculture all across the board. Working together, companies in the fast food industry can improve the environment and help cut down on greenhouse gas emissions . It is unclear how the fast food companies have reacted to the letter. If they choose not to act and better the environment, experts predict the agricultural industry — which includes dairy and meat production — will account for around 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions within the next 30 years. Via Ceres Image via Shutterstock

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France is the first country to ban all 5 pesticides linked to bee deaths

February 8, 2019 by  
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In a decisive move, France has become the first country to ban all five of the top pesticides blamed for bee die-off around the world. The phenomenon dubbed “colony collapse disorder” has seen bees dying in record numbers, and scientists are pointing fingers as neonicotinoid pesticides as the primary suspect. The EU led the charge by banning three of the pesticides: clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. However, France took it one step further by also banning thiacloprid and acetamiprid in all farming activities, including greenhouses. Related: Bee hive vandalism in Iowa kills tens of thousands of honeybees The neonicotinoids ( with a similar structure to nicotine ) were introduced in the 1990s and work by attacking the central nervous system of the insects. With the same chemical being dusted on plants that bees target, they also ingest it. Researchers report that neonicotinoids are responsible for a lower sperm count in bees, cutting reproduction rates. Other reports have shown how the chemicals interfere with memory and homing skills, resulting in bees flying away and not returning to the hive. The latest research suggests bees may find the toxic chemicals addictive, keeping them returning for more. The scientific link between pesticides and the declining health of bee populations has many concerned about the future of our food products. Plants, flowers and trees won’t grow without the pollination that bees provide, which means food won’t grow, either. Some farmers are reporting near total losses to their bee populations, which has a dire effect on the workings of the farm. While environmentalists and bee keepers are saluting the decision to ban these pesticides , some farmers are feeling disheartened by their ability to compete in the food production market without chemicals to protect them against invasive bugs and harmful insects. The farmers feel there is not enough evidence to support such a dramatic move. The elimination of these pesticides begs the question of what will replace them and what potential issues could arise from those solutions. In contrast to the landmark move by France, President Trump repealed an Obama-era policy that had banned the use of these pesticides near national wildlife refuges, once again allowing farmers to use them in otherwise protected regions with limited oversight. Via The Telegraph Image via Anna Reiff

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