Healthy options to replace toxic fabric softener and dryer sheets

Last updated on February 7, 2021.

Selection of fabric softeners at the supermarket. Photo by me
There are so many choices for fabric softeners and dryer sheets. But are they dangerous? Photos by me

I was an avid user of dryer sheets for most of my adult life until about 4 years ago. I liked that they removed static electricity, I thought my clothes felt soft, and I loved the way they smelled!

But then I found out how dangerous they are to our health. My mother mentioned it to me several times, so I began reading about the ingredients. I discovered that dryer sheets and fabric softeners contain hormone-disrupting phthalates, chemicals that damage the reproductive system, and compounds that trigger asthma. I just wanted clean-smelling laundry!

Toxic chemicals and ingredients

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “fabric softeners and heat-activated dryer sheets pack a powerful combination of chemicals that can harm your health, damage the environment and pollute the air, both inside and outside your home.”1 Fabric softeners are designed to stay in your clothes for a long time, so chemicals can seep out gradually and be inhaled or absorbed directly through the skin.2 Notice how the scent lingers on your clothing?

I learned that “fragrance,” a common ingredient in products ranging from shampoo to laundry detergent to baby products, is a term that refers to a range of chemicals. The EWG explains what this term means:

“The word “fragrance” or “parfum” on the product label represents an undisclosed mixture of various scent chemicals and ingredients used as fragrance dispersants such as diethyl phthalate. Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.”3

Bounce dryer sheets were my household's choice for dryer sheets for many years.
Bounce dryer sheets were my household’s choice for dryer sheets for many years.

I used Bounce dryer sheets for more than 12 years. EWG rated these dryer sheets as an F, the lowest rating they assign.4 The top-scoring factors were poor disclosure of ingredients; the product may contain ingredients with the potential for respiratory effects; the product can cause acute aquatic toxicity; and possible nervous system effects. EWG noted that “fragrance” was their biggest ingredient problem. Again, note that these problems are not only from scented products. Bounce’s Free & Gentle (free of dyes and perfumes) only scored a D on EWG’s Healthy Cleaning Guide.5

Selection of fabric softeners at the supermarket. Photo by me
Photo by me

Dryer sheets create extra waste

Additionally, fabric dryer sheets are harmful to the environment because they are designed to be single-use disposable items. They are not made of anything remotely biodegradable, and as litter, they remain in the environment indefinitely. There are many ways to re-purpose them, in fact, I used to reuse them for dusting. Unfortunately, I was exposing myself and my home to the chemicals a second time, and they still had to be thrown away. Like many other types of waste, they end up in rivers and oceans. I’ve certainly picked them up myself during litter clean-ups. I even found a dryer sheet woven into a bird’s nest.

Used dryer sheet wound into a bird's nest. Photo by me
Used dryer sheet wound into a bird’s nest. Photo by me

“These sheets…made from plastic polyester material, are coated with synthetic fragrances, contain estrogen-mimicking chemicals, as well as fatty acids that coat the clothing and reduce static.” -Sandra Ann Harris, Say Goodbye To Plastic: A Survival Guide For Plastic-Free Living

So what’s the solution?

If you are worried about these chemicals harming yourself or your family, stop using them immediately. The EWG recommends skipping fabric softeners altogether.6 There are many alternatives – and they are usually zero waste!

Your clothes don’t need to smell perfumed. They will smell clean just from being washed.

Distilled white vinegar

Add a half cup of distilled white vinegar to your washing machine during the rinse cycle (or put in the machine’s rinse dispenser ahead of time). The smell does not linger on clothes. This works especially well if you are line drying your clothes. (I’ve read that you should not mix vinegar with bleach, so be aware of what you are mixing.)

Line drying

Line drying is the most eco-friendly solution. I have a drying rack and a short clothesline outside that I use weekly for some items, but both only hold so much. I plan to install a longer clothesline outside. This makes doing laundry weather dependent, but there would also be a reduction in your electric bill. Additionally, the sun can remove bad smells from items because ultra-violet rays kill the bacteria causing the smell.

Line drying is an eco-friendly and healthy option for drying your laundry. Photo by Wolfgang Eckert on Pixabay.
Line drying is an eco-friendly and healthy option for drying your laundry. Photo by Wolfgang Eckert on Pixabay

Wool dryer balls

I use wool dryer balls for everything that I put in the dryer. These are either solid balls of felted wool or felted wool wrapped around a fiber core. They naturally soften laundry and reduce static. The balls also lift and separate clothes in the dryer, shortening drying time and saving energy. You can find them online or at some stores, just be sure you buy quality ones that are 100% wool and have good reviews.

wool dryer balls

Don’t over-dry

Static is caused by over-drying, plain and simple. Static especially happens when drying synthetic clothing, such as polyester, because they dry faster than cotton. If you don’t over-dry your clothes in the dryer, you shouldn’t have static.

Photo by Andy Fitzsimon on Unsplash.
Photo by Andy Fitzsimon on Unsplash

I hope you found this helpful! Do you have a different method that I didn’t mention here? Leave me a comment below, I’d love to hear from you! As always, thank you for reading.

This post does not contain any affiliate links.

 

Additional Resources:

Article, “Zen Laundry,” by Courtney Carver, Be More With Less, accessed February 3, 2021.

Video, (start at 1:45 for specific laundry tips):

Article, How Dryers Destroy Clothes: We Delve into the Research,” Reviewed, updated October 10, 2019.

Footnotes:

Breaking Up With Dawn

Last updated on August 13, 2020.

Dawn soap
Dawn dishwashing liquid soap

I’ve used Dawn dishwashing detergent my entire adult life. It seemed to work better than every other brand I  tried. The concentrated version seemed to go a lot further than other brands, therefore giving me my money’s worth. Even after I started reducing the number of products in plastic packaging that I buy, I kept buying Dawn. I use it not only to wash dishes, but I also use it in my Easy DIY all-purpose cleaner.

And, I was supporting clean up efforts and saving wildlife after oil spills, right?

I believed that Dawn products were helping clean and save wildlife after oil spills. And I think they do in some cases, as well as raise money to donate toward rescue efforts. According to this 2010 article in the Washington Post, Dawn is legitimately used by the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC). “After a 1971 oil spill, the California-based nonprofit group began experimenting with products including paint thinner and nail polish remover to find the least traumatizing method for cleaning oiled animals.” So in 1978, the IBRRC started a relationship with Procter and Gamble, the makers of Dawn. From the IBRRC’s blog: “Through trial, error, and our tenacity to find a solution, we discovered that Procter and Gamble’s Dawn dish soap, was the golden ticket! It was inexpensive, effective, readily available, and Procter and Gamble was excited to learn about this somewhat unusual use of their product.”

Dawn’s advertisements all pull at our heartstrings. One moved me to tears, which I originally shared in this post. The URL for that specific video has changed frequently, so I decided to just let you search “dawn oil spill commercial” on youtube.com where you’ll find many of these commercials.

Oil covered bird. Photo by Mike Shooter on Shutterstock.
Oil covered bird. Photo by Mike Shooter on Shutterstock.

Procter & Gamble heavily markets this campaign now toward conscientious consumers. I’m not saying this is wrong as it’s always awesome to be part of the greater good! But it is good marketing and it’s the main reason I’ve used Dawn for so long.

But Dawn is supposedly petroleum-based – so does that mean they’re part of the problem? 

NPR did a segment on this very issue after the BP oil spill disaster in 2010, looking at the story in detail and interviewing people from both sides. The overall conclusion was that yes, Dawn does help remove crude oil from the animals. But this is because the grease-cutting part of the solution is made from petroleum, according to Procter & Gamble, who was interviewed for the segment. There are alternatives to using petroleum products but need testing. Meanwhile, rescuers and veterinarians are sticking with what works – because, in the end, they are trying to save the animals’ lives. It’s a very good segment, please check it out.

Yet others find the product to be hypocritical. “Because Dawn is a petroleum-based soap, critics are concerned that the bird rescue groups are fighting oil with oil,” according to the Washington Post article. Shea Gunther from mnn.com wrote his opinion: “Every bottle of Dawn used to clean a bird actually adds to our nation’s demand for oil. Not only are we using an oil-based product to clean oiled birds, but we’re increasing the incentives for companies to drill for more oil, making it more likely that there will be another spill. Which, incidentally, will be great for Dawn’s marketing. It’s one big beautifully incestuous circle.” Well said, but I can understand the arguments from both sides. I support any effort that saves wildlife but I want to decrease the demand for petroleum!

oil rig, Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash
Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash

What about animal testing?

I found an online post about Dawn from a site that questioned Procter & Gamble’s animal testing practices. The author wrote that Dawn’s commercials for saving wildlife were not footage of actual wildlife and that it was a “simulated demonstration.” I went back and watched the same commercial above. Sure enough, that caption with “no oil used,” does briefly appear. The author indicated that they verified this with the American Humane Association. “They intentionally covered at least three animals with tempera paint and corn syrup to simulate oil, just so they could wash them on camera.” Ugh, seriously?

That post concluded that the company does animal testing sometimes when required by law and should be boycotted. I happen to agree but conversely, the company has indicated that it is advocating for ending the legal requirement of testing on its website.  But if you’re animal rights person and want to be plastic free and toxic free, here’s a list of Procter & Gamble brands so you’ll know which ones to avoid.

rabbit, Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash
Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

What about the ingredients in Dawn?

I decided to check into the ingredients of Dawn through the Environmental Working Group, or EWG. Dawn Ultra Concentrated Dishwashing Liquid (Original), the very product I normally buy, received a D rating (on A-D and F grading scale). One of the main concerns was the lack of ingredient disclosure. There are not many laws in the United States regarding chemicals in household ingredients and products. Procter & Gamble is not required to tell us what is exactly in their product. Many companies like to keep their ingredients and formula a secret, to prevent others from copying. EWG’s Top Scoring Factors for this Dawn product were “Poor disclosure; May contain ingredients with potential for acute aquatic toxicity; respiratory effects; nervous system effects.”

Procter & Gamble claim to be using biodegradable surfactants in Dawn and claim to be trying to improve and reduce packaging. They have additional information posted about their sustainability efforts on their website.

Plastic-free dishwashing?

Dawn dish washing soap has been one of my hold-over’s from going plastic free that I haven’t been able to kick yet. Then this weekend, I ran out. I used to buy the economy size bottles, tricking myself into believing that buying a larger plastic bottle was better than lots of little bottles. But I was unable to find that size again at my regular grocery store. And short of running around to Target or Walmart or searching online, I decided maybe this was a good opportunity to try something different. Here were my options:

Seventh Generation dish soap. Photo by me.
Seventh Generation dish soap. Photo by me.

Ugh! My only choices were plastic, plastic, and more plastic. However, this store also carries Seventh Generation brand dish soap. If you’re not familiar with this brand, they use ingredients they believe to be safe and healthy as well as using post-consumer recycled packaging – and I love that! This bottle that I purchased is a plastic bottle marked “100% recycled plastic.” They also list all of their ingredients on the back of the package. Last, Seventh Generation does not test on animals.

Unfortunately, before using this product at home, I checked the EWG’s site to see if they’d tested it. Sadly, it only received a C rating, meaning “some potential for hazards to health or the environment. At least some ingredient disclosure.” While they found their ingredient disclosure good, they found that this dish soap has ingredients that have some concerns, mostly aquatic toxicity, respiratory effects, and skin irritations. Seventh Generation does follow the regulations for the EPA Safer Choice certification, but EWG still found concerns.

I tried it anyway since I’d already purchased it. It cleans great and I like the smell! And it is not tested on animals; it comes in 100% recycled plastic; and it has much safer ingredients than most of the brands on the shelves of most stores.

washing a fork, Photo by Catt Liu on Unsplash
Photo by Catt Liu on Unsplash

What am I going to do next?

Dawn and most other major brands of dishwashing soap are going to have the same issues with plastic packaging, animal testing, and unsafe ingredients. With all of those things combined, I am going to try going plastic-free on dish soap after I use this bottle of Seventh Generation. Because even that 100% recycled bottle has an afterlife. And there is no guarantee that that plastic bottle won’t end up floating in the ocean someday.

I decided to check with an expert on being plastic-free, as well as an expert on zero waste. What would they do? Beth Terry from myplasticfreelife.com says on her blog that you can use bar soap, or even just baking soda! Bea Johnson from zerowastehome.com has a recipe for liquid soap used for both hand and dishwashing in her book. I learned about a company called Fillaree from Kathryn from goingzerowaste.com, which is a subscription plan for dish soap using your own container. Fillaree offers refills in their stores but also by mail! They also use environmentally and human safe ingredients. What a neat company!

I am going to try using bar soap and baking soda next! I’ll update this post once I’ve used all of the Seventh Generation dish soap and try this new alternative.

What about you? Can you try a new solution for washing dishes plastic-free, toxic free, and animal-friendly? Join me in the adventure and be the change. Please share other ideas as well! Thanks for reading!

Update, March 15, 2019: We have been using plastic-free bar soap for a couple of months now to wash dishes. And it’s working good! We just rub the scrub brush and Skoy cloth against the soap and then wash our dishes and pots. I’ve been trying different brands but we have been favoring good old-fashioned Castille bar soap.

I’m also now using baking soda for cleaning pots, especially those that have stains or black areas. I learned this advice from Beth Terry at myplasticfreelife.com, and it does work – look how clean I got this pot!

 

Bar Soap & Why It’s Better than Liquid Soap

Last updated on December 26, 2020.

Bar soap is often plastic free, less expensive than liquid soap, and usually has safer ingredients. Photo by silviarita on Pixabay
Bar soap is often plastic free, less expensive than liquid soap, and usually has safer ingredients. Photo by silviarita on Pixabay

Bar Soap can be plastic free

Switching to bar soap is one big change you can make right away. Stop buying liquid soap that comes in plastic bottles, even the large refill bottles. Yes, those bottles are recyclable but please know that recycling isn’t what we think it is. If those items make it to the recycling center, they will be down-cycled (the chemical composition of plastic changes when heated) and cannot be a soap bottle again. So the answer is almost always to refuse plastic. Just stay away from it.

Unfortunately, many soaps at the local supermarket are plastic wrapped. Ugh! So you’ll likely need to find a moderately priced soap. You can find one or two brands that are plastic-free at Publix. I usually find bar soaps for our hands at Earthfare or Whole Foods, and again, I only buy the brands that have no plastic packaging. It’s just not necessary. For the rest of my body, I use Nourish brand bar soaps.

There are many bar soap choices, but most are wrapped in plastic. There's really no need for this. Photo by me.
There are many bar soap choices, but most are wrapped in plastic. There’s really no need for this. Photo by me.

Microbeads in body wash (liquid soap)

If you are or were using body wash with “exfoliating” features, please know that what you were most likely using to scrub your skin was little, tiny plastic beads. And those beads are now found in the ocean and the Great Lakes. When microbeads go down the drain, they pass unfiltered through sewage treatment plants and end up in rivers and canals, and eventually the ocean. The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 was passed in December 2015, and it amended the “Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to ban rinse-off cosmetics that contain intentionally-added plastic microbeads beginning on January 1, 2018, and to ban the manufacturing of these cosmetics beginning on July 1, 2017. These bans are delayed by one year for cosmetics that are over-the-counter drugs.” It was a fight to get rid of them, so thank you and congrats to everyone who contributed to that cause!

Is bar soap hygienic?

I have heard that some people believe that bar soap is less hygienic than liquid soap. I also believe that large companies have promoted this myth to consumers in order to make a higher profit. It’s likely cleaner and safer! The fact is, most dispensers, in the places your fingers and hands touch, are not clean. Think about that – do you sanitize your dispensers? If you do, congratulations on being so hygienic! But public restroom soap dispensers are often not sanitary. Have you ever noticed that most hotels provide bar soap and not liquid soap in the rooms? I imagine that has a lot more to do with cost than sanitation, but I’ll give them credit for both! I’ve also read that hotels take the leftover bar soap and melt it down to remake into new soap bars, although I have not verified this myself.

Upon an internet search, I discovered that the question about germs on bar soap is common, but most articles I’ve come upon indicate that the risk is low, perhaps lower than liquid soap in a dispenser. Many articles and posts cite a 1988 study done by the Dial Corporation, which found that bacteria did not spread through washing with bar soap. But sometimes companies drive profit up through fear. Regardless of that study, many companies encouraged the idea that using liquid soap was more hygienic and sanitary – and the idea stuck!

“Liquid soap requires about five times more energy to produce than a bar of soap, and it is almost always sold in a plastic bottle.” –Living Without Plastic: More Than 100 Easy Swaps for Home, Travel, Dining, Holidays, and Beyond 

Take care of your bar soap

So make the switch, and here’s the advice I’ve found online: First, let your bar soap dry in the open (as opposed to a closed soap dish). Second, if the soap is moist, run the bar under the water for a few seconds to rinse off the outside “slime.” Third, if you are sharing bar soap, you’re likely only sharing it with family members, and you share many microorganisms with them anyway. Last, if you are washing your hands the way you’re supposed to and for the amount of time you’re supposed to, you’re washing any residual germs away anyway.

Image of bar soap, Photo by Paul Gaudriault on Unsplash
Photo by Paul Gaudriault on Unsplash

Cost

Bar soap is significantly less expensive when compared to liquid soap because the amount of uses from bar soap is higher than with liquid soap. Cost analyses on the internet mostly show that bar soap is cheaper. I am no mathematician so I am not going to attempt the figures. But I will tell you that since I switched solely to bar soap in my household, we’ve seen a savings! Even with the moderately priced soaps we use. And it was one more step toward plastic free! Yay!

Safe Ingredients

I will not reinvent the wheel on this part – there is so much written about the ingredients in so many of our products, including liquid soaps. First, always check products through the Environmental Working Group‘s (EWG) website. They are a non-profit dedicated to being a consumer advocate, testing and reviewing products so that people can look up and understand what’s really in their products. They have guides to cosmetics, sunscreens, cleaners, food, personal care products, and even tap water!  They’ll be able to show you what’s really in that soap, liquid or bar, for many major products.

Second, Beth Terry at myplasticfreelife.com wrote about body wash and liquid soap compared with bar soap. She also reviewed some of the problems of liquid soaps including that soaps can contain toxic ingredients. I don’t see the need to reinvent the wheel since her article is so well written and thorough. Please read it!

DIY

You can even make your own bar soap, any shape or color you want! Photo by pixel2013 on Pixabay
You can even make your own bar soap, any shape or color you want! Photo by pixel2013 on Pixabay

Although I have not ventured into soap making yet, I likely will one day (and I’ll be sure to blog about it). There are probably hundreds of ideas on the internet for DIY soap. Making your own soap could be a new hobby, a family project, or a challenge among friends to see who makes the best soaps! Get your creativity on with different shapes, scents, and colors. I imagine Pinterest is bursting with ideas on soap-making!

I hope this post has been helpful to you. If you have questions or ideas, I’d love to hear them! Please leave me a comment below! Thank you for reading.

This post does not contain any affiliate links nor did I get paid to recommend certain products.

Sea Turtles are Endangered

Last updated on June 5, 2021.

Sea Turtle swimming in the ocean. Photo by Erin Simmons on Unsplash.
Photo by Erin Simmons on Unsplash.

Sea turtles are endangered, which is probably not news to you, but the reasons why they are endangered may be new to you. According to Oceana.org, sea turtles “play an important role in ocean ecosystems by maintaining healthy seagrass beds and coral reefs, providing key habitat for other marine life, helping to balance marine food webs and facilitating nutrient cycling from water to land.” I want to help people understand what we can do right NOW to help.

Sea turtles have been on the Earth for about 110 million years, and now human activities are to blame for their decline and endangerment. Six out of 7 sea turtle species are threatened or endangered due to human behaviors and activities. Following are the biggest threats:

    • Entanglement and Bycatch
    • Coastal development
    • Artificial Light
    • Coastal Armoring
    • Plastics
    • Beach (and Ocean) Litter
    • Ocean pollution
    • Global warming
    • Poaching and illegal trade of eggs, meat, and shells
    • Turtle Shell Trade
    • Adopt-A-Turtle

Let’s examine each of those further.

A green sea turtle entangled in derelict fishing gear at Pearl and Hermes Atoll.
“A protected green turtle entangled in derelict fishing gear at Pearl and Hermes Atoll. Three green sea turtles were freed during the mission.” Photo by NOAA Photo Library on Flickr (NOAA News 2014 October 28), Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

Entanglement and Bycatch

Entanglement is exactly what it sounds like, that is, entanglement in fishing nets and gear. Up to 40% of all animals caught in fisheries are discarded as waste. Bycatch refers to animals that were not the target catch – for example, dolphins getting caught in tuna nets. “Despite ‘Dolphin Safe Tuna’ labeling, approximately 1000 dolphins die as bycatch in the Eastern Tropical Pacific tuna fishery each year,” according to seeturtles.org. The World Wildlife Fund explains that “modern fishing gear, often undetectable by sight and extremely strong, is very efficient at catching the desired fish species—as well as anything else in its path.” Most often the animals die.

There are some protections for certain species, such as the dolphins mentioned above, but it is not a perfect system and the whole industry needs to find more solutions. “Each year hundreds of thousands of adult and immature sea turtles are accidentally captured in fisheries ranging from highly mechanized operations to small-scale fishermen around the world.” Companies that use devices called Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) are following regulations and best practices.

What can you do? Try to only buy responsibly caught seafood. Inform and encourage your family and friends to purchase seafood only from responsible fisheries.

Humans removing fishing line and hook from a sea turtle's mouth.
Photo by NOAA Photo Library on Flickr (NOAA/NMFS/Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center Blog), Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

Coastal Development

Coastal development is exactly what it sounds like. “Half of the world’s population lives on or within 100 miles of a coastline and this number will likely increase dramatically in the next decade.” Human presence deters turtles from nesting where they would normally. Additionally, humans create pollution and waste – whether it’s litter or waste-water runoff, light pollution, or danger from vehicles driving on beaches.

What can you do? Whether you’re just vacationing at a beach or residing there, educate yourself about habitats in that area. First, follow the scout rule of “leave it cleaner than you found it.” That means to leave no trace! And pick up after other people too, because it’s the right thing to do.

Second, always limit light on beaches (this will allow you to see the stars, too!). Are there conservation efforts ongoing? Are there laws prohibiting certain practices to protect turtles? If so, make sure you follow the laws or best practices. You’ll be making a difference. If you’re going to live coastal, this is even more important – search the internet for where you live so that you can do the right thing, and be the change.

No laws or conservation efforts where you live? How about starting those efforts? You can partner with a local aquarium; lobby city or town council to get signs posted near the beach access points; even host a local seminar at the library and invite residents!

Turn Off The Lights

As mentioned above, artificial light from human presence is a big problem for turtle nests. Sea turtles depend on a dark and quiet beach for nesting. If there is too much light, turtles will choose a less optimal nest site, which reduces the chances of the baby sea turtles surviving. Also, hatchlings have an instinct that leads them in the brightest direction which is normally moonlight reflecting off of the ocean. Excess lighting from the nearby buildings and streets draw hatchlings toward land instead, where they will likely die from predators, humans, or even swimming pools.

What can you do? Eliminate light whether you’re a property or homeowner, tourist, or beach walker. Make your property low light and encourage others to do the same – especially during nesting season!

If you’re walking on the beach at night, don’t use flashlights and phone lights during nesting season. Download a red flashlight app if you must have some light. If you live in a beach-front residence, turn your lights off. I’ve listed an article about turtle-friendly lighting under Additional Resources.

Here is a video from the Sea Turtle Conservancy about how to eliminate artificial beach lighting:

Coastal Armoring

Beaches are beautiful and the place many people want to be, myself included, someday. Coastal areas are prime real estate and many beaches in the world have been heavily developed. Coastal armoring refers to sea walls and similar structures that protect real estate property, but they are harmful to sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Conservancy explains: “Sea walls directly threaten sea turtles by reducing or degrading suitable nesting habitat. They block turtles from reaching the upper portion of the beach, causing turtles to nest in less-than-optimal nesting areas lower on the beach where their nests are more susceptible to wave action and more likely to be covered with water.”

What can you do? If you’re a developer or building a home for yourself, please always first check with local legislation. Many coastal places in the United States already have existing legislation sometimes called Coastal Zone Protection, Dune Protection, or Dune Management. You can search the internet for the area you are residing in or visiting for information. If your area of interest has no protections or current legislation, how about proposing it to the local council or government? Please don’t build anything without first doing careful research – there’s a ton of organizations out there that can advise or point you in the right direction. Do your homework, and the turtles (as well as other wildlife, humans, and the environment) will reap the benefits. Be the change.

Plastics

Well, this topic is what my blog is all about: plastics and other human-made waste. Hundreds of thousands of marine animals and fish, as well as over 1 million seabirds, die each year from ocean pollution and ingestion or entanglement in marine debris. This includes turtles. Most plastic waste reaches the ocean via rivers, and up to 80% of this waste comes from landfill-bound trash. How does that happen!?!? I’ll get into that in another post.

Plastic bags are a huge factor when it comes to sea turtles. Why? Because turtles eat plastic bags. They mistake them for jellyfish. Many species of turtles do not have taste buds, in case you’re wondering why they can’t tell by taste. See the videos below. The first one shows you the difference between a jellyfish and a plastic bag floating in the water.

The next video shows you turtles eating a jellyfish, to give you visual context.

What can you do? My number one recommendation for the first thing you should change to make a difference: use reusable bags only, and don’t accept plastic bags from anywhere! Getting rid of plastic bags does and will keep making a big difference on so many fronts, so I can’t stress this enough!

After plastic bags, start eliminating all plastics from your life, especially single-use disposable plastics. Recycle, or better yet, don’t buy plastic as much as possible. “Over 1 million marine animals (including mammals, fish, sharks, turtles, and birds) are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean. More than 80% of this plastic comes from land. It washes out from our beaches and streets. Plastic travels through storm drains into streams and rivers. It flies away from landfills into our seas. As a result, thousands of sea turtles accidentally swallow these plastics, mistaking them for food.”

Plastic bag from Walmart lying on the beach. I photographed this bag myself and yes, I did pick it up. At high tide that afternoon, it would've washed into the ocean and potentially harmed a sea turtle.
Plastic bag from Walmart lying on the beach. I photographed this bag myself and disposed of it. At high tide that afternoon, it would’ve washed into the ocean and potentially harmed a sea turtle.

Stop using disposable plastic straws and decline them at restaurants. Besides plastic breaking down into smaller pieces and polluting beaches and the ocean, these get stuck in turtles’ nostrils and airways. You don’t need a straw to drink most beverages. If you really must have one, carry a metal or glass straw with you.

Don’t release helium balloons! They burst and fall to the Earth or the sea, and sea turtles mistakenly eat the balloons and die. Or stop using balloons altogether.

Three people on a beach with over 100 collected balloons found during a beach clean-up.
“100 Balloons Collected at a Clean-up at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge on the New Jersey coast.” Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

Beach (and Ocean) Litter

Besides trash flowing into the ocean, litter on beaches prevents hatchlings from reaching the sea.

What can you do? Keep beaches clean. Don’t leave behind litter or beach toys when visiting the beach. I try to leave the beach a little cleaner than I found it, picking up trash that is about to wash into the sea with the changing tides. Participate in beach clean-up events or clean up with your friends or family.

Use coral reef-friendly sunscreen. Many of your average sunscreens have chemicals in them that are not only harmful to the ocean, but also to the human body. Look at the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Sunscreen Guide (see Additional Resources for the link).

Ocean Pollution

Although trash and plastics are one component, there are many, many other ways in which human activities pollute the ocean. Waste and by-products, like toxic metals, PCBs, petroleum products, agricultural and industrial runoff of contaminants such as fertilizers, chemicals, nutrients, and untreated waste; are all major problems for ocean and land dwellers. These are also causing major human health problems (many major diseases can be tied to these chemicals – again, another topic for another day). Oil companies are a big contributor to pollution, above and beyond oil spills.

What can you do? Buy less and consume less overall. Reduce how much meat you eat and how many animal products you use, because agriculture creates a lot of waste, methane, and chemicals. These chemicals make it into waterways and then the ocean, which poisons wildlife throughout the food chain. Buying from a farmer’s market locally or even growing your own food can reduce the amount of fertilizer and pesticide chemicals that make it into our water (because smaller farms don’t always use such harsh chemicals, and I doubt you do in your own garden). Reduce the chemicals you use in your yard and dispose of others properly through the hazardous waste collection in your area.

Global Warming

This is a sensitive topic because it is so tied to politics these days. But global warming is real and happening, at an accelerated rate, which means many species will not be able to adapt quickly enough. This means the possible extinction of plants and animals and fish that are necessary to Earth’s balance.

What can you do? Reduce how much you drive. Perhaps try carpooling or using mass transportation. Ride a bike. Buy an electric car. Tell the oil companies to go to hell. Reduce the amount of energy you use. Avoid using fossil fuel energy whenever possible. Eat less meat and reduce your water use. Those are the first steps – start there!

Poaching and Illegal Trade

In some countries, turtle meat and turtle eggs are a food source; in others, turtle eggs are collected by people for income in order to feed their families. Sometimes during nesting season, hunters will watch for nesting females. Once located, they will wait until the female turtle has finished laying her eggs, then kill her for the meat and take the eggs as well.

What can you do? If you travel, don’t buy food or products that use turtle, as that supports the practice. Organizations and governments are educating tourists and local inhabitants about the endangered turtles around the world. You can help by supporting the causes that protect and monitor sea turtle nests. You can help by spreading the information and helping to educate others about the problems. Participate in eco-tourism!

Turtle Shell Trade

This relates to poaching and illegal trade but is specific in regards to products made from turtle shells, aka tortoiseshell; and is usually specific to the Hawksbill sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Conservancy indicates that “scientists estimate that hawksbill populations have declined by 90 percent during the past 100 years.” This has been outlawed by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) which is an international agreement signed by 173 governments. However, the black market demand for turtle shells is still high.

What can you do? Don’t buy items that might be made from turtle shells or other turtle parts (including skin). Of course, those products likely won’t be labeled “turtle shell” or “hawksbill shell” but if you suspect, just say no and walk away. Unfortunately, the alternative is plastic, which I am trying to eliminate from my life. So be more minimalist and don’t buy either! You’ll remember your trip or vacation without a bunch of souvenirs anyway. Here’s a handy infographic put out by Travel For Wildlife to help you avoid turtle shell products:

How to identify & avoid Hawksbill Turtle Shell infographic

They also made this very informative video, so please share it on social media with your friends and family!

You can join me in signing the pledge to avoid turtle shells with the See Turtles Organization. They, too, have wonderful resources about how to identify real turtle shell vs. fake. Again, maybe just don’t buy either – it’s not worth the risk!

Adopt-A-Sea Turtle!

Last, you can symbolically adopt a sea turtle or a sea turtle nest. There are many of these, you’ll find many just by searching online but look for a reliable organization. Most of the programs help fund education about sea turtle nesting or protecting the nests themselves.

Turtle on beach, Photo by Isabella Jusková on Unsplash
Photo by Isabella Jusková on Unsplash

What other ideas do you have? Please feel free to leave a comment or question or idea! Thanks so much for reading. Please share and subscribe!

 

Additional Resources:

Article, “Beachfront Lighting: Turtle Friendly Lighting Examples,”

Article, “What Can You Do to Save Sea Turtles?” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, accessed June 8, 2021.

Page, “Turtle Excluder Devices,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, accessed June 8, 2021.

Website, My Plastic Free Life.

Online store, Life Without Plastic.

Article, “Help Protect Sea Turtles!” See Turtles Organization, accessed June 5, 2021.

Article, “EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens,” Environmental Working Group.

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