Posted in Environment

Natural Toothpaste Recipe

Why make your own toothpaste?

I tried it because I didn’t like the disposable plastic tubes that you buy from the store and can’t recycle. You can sometimes find tooth powders or pastes that come in reusable jars and bottles. However, I’ve found those to be too costly and the ingredients are usually simple enough that I can make my own.

I found out rather late that some toothpastes you buy in the store contain plastic microbeads, so that’s something to avoid as well if you want to stop adding plastic to the ocean.

The main ingredients:

Baking soda usually features in natural toothpaste recipes. It abrades (scrubs) the teeth and deodorizes, and has some antibacterial properties.

Another ingredient you will often see in natural toothpaste and tooth powder is bentonite clay.  It is basically volcanic ash. Like baking soda, it’s abrasive and serves to scrub the teeth. There are a lot of other supposed benefits of this clay (it contains minerals and is said to help with remineralization, although I’m not sure how effective it is to apply the stuff topically against the teeth rather than swallowing it), and it may help to soothe inflamed skin/gums. By the way, I don’t recommend swallowing your toothpaste after you’ve used it, because – remember – you’ll be swallowing a bunch of plaque and bacteria that has just been removed from your teeth. (Yuck.)

Some people add a drop of trace minerals to their DIY toothpaste recipe. Once again, I’m not sure about the effectiveness of trace minerals being applied topically to the teeth, so do your own research, but I’m not recommending swallowing trace minerals either. Good diet does help with remineralization.

Coconut oil is used in a lot of DIY personal product recipes, and that includes many DIY toothpastes. It does have some natural antibacterial properties, and some people “pull” with coconut oil on its own, which basically means putting some coconut oil in your mouth and swishing it around for an extended period of time (like 10 minutes) to improve the health of the gums, teeth, and throat. I’ve tried it and noticed that it successfully soothed a canker sore and left my mouth feeling moisturized. Despite some claims that it works ‘better than flossing’, I personally wouldn’t replace flossing with oil pulling because it doesn’t physically get in between your teeth or hug the gums. In any case, using coconut oil in your oral health routine doesn’t hurt you. There’s nothing to say you couldn’t use castor oil or some other vegetable oil in your toothpaste recipe though.

I think it’s important to choose fair trade coconut oil when you use it, since its demand worldwide as a luxury product is rising like crazy, and yet the agricultural workers responsible for making it available aren’t fairly compensated; not even close.

So, here’s my toothpaste recipe. It doesn’t replace flouride* treatments, but it can be used safely, it removes the gritty feeling from your teeth, and it doesn’t taste too bad…although if you’re accustomed to sweet toothpaste, this will take some getting used to. Also, if baking soda irritates your gums, you might have to modify the recipe by reducing the amount of baking soda, or alternating your DIY toothpaste with a different one from time to time.

*By the way, if you’re worried about flouride in the water supply and think I’m crazy for mentioning flouride as a positive measure to prevent cavities, please consider that ingesting more-than-trace-quantities of flouride is different from using it topically on the teeth at your dentist’s office and then spitting it out. We should all make sure to go to the dentist regularly, of course, for the sake of our oral and heart health.

Toothpaste recipe:

  • 1 part (ex: 3 tbsp) of fair trade coconut oil
  • 1 part (ex: 3 tbsp) cruelty free baking soda (ex: Bob’s Red Mill)
  • a sprinkling (about 1/2 tsp) of bentonite clay (optional)
  • up to 5 drops of essential oils, like peppermint and/or tea tree (Neem oil is also sometimes used in skin and oral care products – it has antifungal properties and can be helpful if you suffer from angular cheilitis or other fungal problems in the mouth)

How to make it:

This one is easy. You just melt the coconut oil, add the dry ingredients and mix them in to make a paste, and then add your essential oils and mix them in. You should use a small pot or jar that you can easily scoop a small amount of paste from.

Posted in Environment

Natural Deodorant Recipe

Why make your own deodorant?

I started making my own deodorant to avoid triclosan, an antibacterial endocrine disruptor that is found in some deodorants and antiperspirants, as well as a lot of antibacterial soaps and other personal products. My original reasoning was to avoid breast cancer, although I’ve since come to think of triclosan as more of an ecological threat than a health risk to me personally. It bioaccumulates rather than being quickly excreted or breaking down in animals’ bodies, and we keep flushing this stuff into the ocean and the soil, where it acts as a toxin to countless species. (Regulating my diet and exercise can do much more to protect me from cancer than avoiding certain personal care products, according to the current evidence.)

You can also buy natural deodorants that work quite well. I just find them a bit pricey, and I like making my own so that I can make it the right consistency and scent for me. This also lets me re-use containers over and over.

The main ingredients:

Most natural deodorants use baking soda as a main ingredient, mixed with coconut oil or some other vegetable oil to act as a moisturizer and help with application. You may also see beeswax or some other hard vegetable wax to make the deodorant more solid so that it can be used in a bar form.

Arrowroot powder can be an alternative to baking soda that is milder on the skin, although I do find it’s not as powerful for deodorizing, so I usually use a combination of baking soda and arrowroot powder. Some people use corn starch, but I don’t like the texture.

So here’s my recipe:

  • 1 part (ex: 1/4 cup) baking soda
  • 1 part (ex: 1/4 cup) arrowroot powder
  • 1 part (ex: 1/4 cup or 4 tablespoons) fair trade coconut oil
  • *3-5 drops of Tea Tree Oil
  • *3-5 drops of Lavender Oil
  • Optional, for a deodorant bar: No more than about 1 teaspoon of beeswax, or hard vegetable wax like candelilla wax (1 unit of candelilla is worth about 2 units of beeswax, because candelilla is harder)

*You can use whatever scented oil you like, or none at all. Rosemary mint is a good combo, or vanilla, or citrus.

How to make it:

  1. Melt the coconut oil (and wax if you’re using it for a deodorant bar) either on the stove top or very carefully in the microwave. Don’t boil your mixture by accident, as it could end up smelling burnt.
  2. Turn off the heat
  3. Add the baking soda and arrowroot powder to the liquid and mix it in
  4. When the consistency is even, add your scented oil and stir it in
  5. Pour the mixture into a mould (you can re-use empty roll-up deodorant bar containers) or container of your choosing (a little metal pot with a lid is fine – I’ve used re-purposed candy or mint tins, for example)
  6. Let it cool and harden completely in a safe place – just let it sit and don’t touch it for about 24 hours. Some people put it in the fridge to speed up the cooling, but I notice this can lead to big cracks forming in the product. Not that it really matters…

I’ve also tried using a slice of lemon as a deodorant in the morning. That’s it. Just take a lemon slice and rub on the underarms, wipe up any excess juice, and you’re done. It works about as well as some of the natural deodorants out there. It’s just not easy to re-apply when on-the-go. I’ve used birch oil in the same way (this stuff, for example, is meant to be used to reduce cellulite, but I used it on my underarms because I love the scent and the moisturizing properties), and it seemed to work pretty well.


Posted in Environment

Prolong the life of fresh produce and reduce food waste

Considering the very high ecological impact of refrigeration practices worldwide, and the impacts of HFCs on climate change, innovations that could reduce the need for refrigerating perishable produce are really exciting to me. Check out this produce coating that keeps food fresh longer:

Posted in Environment

“Green Growth” or Greenwashing?

A short but sweet video outlining some evidence that green growth may not be possible.

If you’re wondering where they got the number of 50 billion tonnes as a maximum for resource extraction, it appears the number comes from the following study for UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization) and others:

Dittrich, M.; Giljum, S.; Lutter, S.; Polzin, C. Green Economies around the World? Implications of Resource Use for Development and the Environment; SERI: Vienna, Austria, 2012.

Posted in Environment

China’s National Sword – recycling

China is tightening its standards and refusing to accept as many contaminated recyclables from other countries.

Well, it does point to a problem that has to be dealt with eventually, right? We have to deal with contaminated batches of recyclable materials (hopefully through better prevention and reduced waste overall, as well as new legislation regarding how manufacturers are allowed to package their goods – maybe it’s time all disposable food containers were compostable???). Some of the problems include bales of moldy paper – which is a potential public health risk – and improperly sorted or badly soiled mixed plastics that end up needing to go in the garbage.

Nobody wants to be stuck dealing with a bunch of somebody else’s trash. If we want recyclables to actually be recycled, and to really be a resource, we have to clean up our act.


Posted in Environment

Should we stop talking about ‘decoupling’ growth from environmental impacts?

I often hear about the idea that GDP growth can be “decoupled” from environmental impacts. There are a lot of articles out there explaining how this might be achieved, and there are a also a lot of good articles explaining why it can’t be done. I wanted to share an overview of why GDP can’t keep increasing in a meaningful sense (so de-growth or steady-state might be the only options).

Posted in Environment, Wellness

Using mindfulness to combat compulsive buying

So, I shop and make purchases compulsively sometimes, and it can be a problem. It’s wasteful of resources, it wastes my time and energy, the purchases are unnecessary, I don’t enjoy the process (except for a little ‘rush’ of adrenaline or dopamine or something, which is over quickly and is followed by feeling crappy) and it’s hard on the pocketbook. (I know, first world problems, right?)

Lately, I’ve been doing some ‘training’ in mindfulness meditation. I’ve been trying to use a 3-minute breathing space tool (available from a lot of pages online, youtube, etc.) to put a bit of distance between my impulse to shop and the actual behaviour of shopping. It doesn’t mean I never shop, but I have been:

1) shopping less often;

2) spending less time per shopping session (most of mine are online); and

3) making fewer purchases.

Plus when I do shop, it seems more like a conscious decision than something I can’t stop myself from doing. I remember I used to spend hours shopping online without even realizing how long it had been, and I couldn’t remember ever having started the shopping session, or having made the decision to shop in the first place.

The 3 minute breathing space goes like this (you can do it whenever you like – any time you have three minutes):

When I feel the urge to shop, I mentally press PAUSE and take a 3-minute breather. (BTW, first I had to train myself to recognize the impulse, rather than diving straight in before I even knew what I was doing.)

I don’t tell myself “NO” or insist that I mustn’t shop, and I don’t beat myself up for having the impulse. (I acknowledge fully that the habit is destructive and counterproductive, and I take responsibility for it. Nevertheless, it doesn’t help me to beat myself up or run through a laundry list of why it’s bad. I just don’t find it effective; when I’d beat myself up, I’d end up feeling bad and shopping anyways.)

An audio recording of the 3-minute breathing space is saved on my desktop so that it’s on hand right away, and I also have a little paper poster tacked to my wall, which outlines the activity.

It’s basically as follows:

Sit comfortably and close the eyes.

Step one: Awareness.

Attend broadly to one’s experience. Just silently take note of it without judgement, and without the need to change what is being observed. Especially pay attention to how the body feels. How does the skin feel? Note temperature, tingling, etc. How do the muscles in the different parts of the body feel? And so on. What are the thoughts going through the mind right now? What feelings do you find in yourself at this moment? Acknowledge whatever you happen to feel, even if the feelings are unwanted. 

Step two: Gathering.

Focus on the breath. Narrow the field of attention to focus on the breath in the body, and the various sensations associated with it. Attend to each in-breath and out-breath. If you forget to notice a breath, just congratulate yourself for noticing, and gently bring attention back to the breathing.

Step three: Expanding.

Attend to the body. Widen your attention again to include the body as a whole and any sensations that are present. 


It sounds hokey, but if you try it and don’t like it, you will have only lost 3 minutes, so who cares?

Some sensations and thoughts I’ve noticed in myself right before I was about to shop have included sensations of tightness in the shoulders, a knot in the belly, and thoughts like “I need a pick-me-up,” or “I can’t focus on this deadline, it’s too stressful.” Just realizing that I’m having these kinds of thoughts and feelings helps re-orient me to the reality that my urge to shop usually has nothing to do with actually needing or wanting to buy something. (Usually I’m avoiding something.) Taking a moment to attend to the breath and the body serves to ‘anchor’ me in the real world and helps me deal with stressful or overly-dramatic feelings and thoughts, like “I can’t finish this task in time! I’m DOOMED!”


Also, when I do end up shopping, I do a 3 minute breathing space right after I’m done. It helps me, I think, to be more honest with myself and more realistic about how I really feel after having shopped. I usually assume shopping will make me feel better, but to be honest, it basically never does.

Again, it’s not about beating yourself up for having done something foolish. It’s just a way of being aware and mindful of what you’re really feeling, and about the types of thoughts you’re having. With practice, you can start to notice yourself having certain thought biases that basically everyone engages in at some time or other. It’s normal to have these kinds of thought patterns, but it’s also helpful to recognize them for what they are when they occur, so that you can react to them intentionally (rather than automatically and without even realizing how you arrived at a particular outcome).


Posted in Environment


I fairly nice summary from worldwatch of the problems created by greenwashing.

My favourite point: If you can figure out a way to get by without a product, then not buying it at all is always a better option than buying the ‘environmentally-friendly’ version of that product. Buying stuff never does the environment any favours.

Posted in Environment, Food Systems

Plant-based diets

Check out this infographic from Civil Eats about meat eating in America.

Canadians were also eating less meat in 2015 (though it depends on how you define meat; apparently we were eating more chicken…) and like our American neighbours, cost was a main reason. Health and ethical/religious concerns were some other reasons.

I’m currently not a vegetarian (I eat animal products), but I am trying to be more selective about which animal products I buy, and fish/poultry is a fairly small part of my diet. I basically stay away from ‘red meat’ other than the odd exception, and I don’t miss it. I’ve never much liked pork, so that was easy to cut out.

A lot of the taste appeal of meat is, I think, the seasoning and the juices (fat). Getting your legumes and adding nutritional yeast or mushrooms (some prefer soy sauce…to each their own!) to savory plant-based dishes adds a nice umami flavour that meat-eaters might otherwise feel like they’re missing out on. It could also be the texture though…If you get a chance to try jackfruit, that has a very ‘meaty’ texture and can be incorporated into some very tasty stews and curries.