One Small Step: switch to loose leaf tea


For challenge 3 in One Small Step, I thought I’d zoom in on seeking more sustainable options for our daily cup of tea.

I’m a tea drinker, smitten with strong black tea with milk and honey each morning. I’m also a fan of herbal chai on the weekends, homegrown tulsi when I’m stressed, and a relaxing herbal blend before bed.

And until this month (and the inception of this blog series), 99% of the times that I reached for purchased tea, I reached for a packaged tea bag.

Truly, there was very little I questioned about the process. I’d rifle through the boxes, choose my envelope, rip it open, and brew. I would steep my tea, then toss the spent tea bag into the compost pail, the wrapper into recycling, and sip my cup.

Until I discovered that actually, it wasn’t quite that simple.


Because while there are exceptions, most bagged tea (even organic tea) has some sustainability issues. It turns out that a majority of tea bags are made of a paper-plastic blend. The plastic helps the tea bag hold its shape in your cup, and not leak leaves into your brew. Tea bags that are fused closed (versus stapled shut) use plastic to create a tight seal.

That means that when you drink tea brewed with this common, standard type of tea bag, you’re drinking micro- and nano-plastics with every sip. Plastic! (Some tea bags, like those made completely of thin, woven plastic, are logically even worse.)

That means that many of the tea bags that I tossed in to the compost heap actually deposited a fine layer of plastic in my garden soil. Ew.

To make matters worse nearly all of the paper envelopes that tea bags come individually wrapped in are not recyclable either. Take a close look when you rip them open, and you’ll see that most of them are comprised of a non-recyclable frankenpaper, made of paper and plastic, inseparably fused. There’s even an organic brand that I love that I was disheartened to discover shipped their bags in non-recyclable, non-compostable mylar.


So what’s a tea lover to do?

Don’t despair. I’ve outlined some simple, accessible solutions below. As a bonus, since making this change, I’m enjoying my tea ritual more than ever before.

Sustainable Tea Solutions


Leaf over bag

Choose loose leaf tea, whenever possible. Purchase from your natural food store bulk bins if possible, decanting tea into your own refillable jar. You (like me) may be surprised to discover that your tea expenses are reduced by more than half when making this simple shift! (It turns out–like with so many products–what we’re paying for is mostly the packaging.) Give bulk teas a sniff before buying, to make sure it isn’t stale before you bring it home. Choose a different variety if it is. You can also buy tins of loose leaf tea, though they tend to be more expensive per ounce. If you have the means, switch to organic loose leaf tea for even greater sustainability.


Plastic-free brewing solutions

Brew your loose leaf tea using a simple, basket-style tea infuser. I find this type to be ideal, as it lets the tea leaves move freely for a well-brewed, flavorful cup. And it isn’t fiddly to assemble like some tea infusers, and doesn’t won’t leaves into your mug. Check at your natural foods coop or tea shop to see if you can find something similar locally. If you want to go even more low-consumption, brew in a pre-warmed mason jar, then decant into your cup by pouring through a stainless sprouting lid. or a small metal strainer the right size for your cup. I picked mine up at a thrift store for 35 cents, and kept it out of the landfill to boot. Win-win! (Wrap your hot mason jar in a towel before pouring, to prevent burns.) (afflinks)

Choose bagged teas wisely

If you do choose to continue to buy bagged tea, choose a plastic-free option. Newman’s Organic Black Tea comes wrapped in compostable/recyclable paper only (not a fused paper/plastic mix), and to my knowledge their tea bags are plastic-free. (The box does come plastic-wrapped, however.) Other brands have clean tea bags too (like Pukka), but many lack the plastic-free individual wrappings.

Here’s a list of plastic-free tea bag brands to get you started.

For pod users

And if you use Kruig tea pods, purchase a stainless steel, refillable pod. You’ll save a ton of money, and reduce your trash generation by leagues. (afflink)


Grow (or forage) your own!

I you’re an herbal tea fan, homegrown tea is one of the most rewarding crops to grow. And it’s as zero-waste as they come: no carbon footprint for packaging, transportation, fertilizer, and more.

Need inspiration? I forage dandelion, linden, burdock, nettle, wild peppermint, mountain mint, mullein, bee balm, and chicory (among other wonderful weeds), and grow calendula, chamomile, anise hyssop, echinacea, sage, thyme, rose, and more for our tea pantry. I store the dried tea in mason jars as individual herbs, and in blends I dream up for tummy aches, bedtime, anxiety, etc.


All this said, there is still a lot of tea in my house and at work that I purchased in individual packets right now. A lot. My plan to drink and savor what I’ve already purchased (shame-free), and then, when it’s time to restock, do better.

That’s what this challenge is all about, after all. Starting where we are, and making better choices from here.


Are you a tea drinker? Have you made the switch to loose leave over tea bags? What other tips would you add to the list above?


You can find the entire One Small Step series here, or click through below for individual posts:

One Small Step: a year of small actions with huge impact

Swap Plastic Bottles of Soap for Bars (plus a DIY liquid recipe)

Buy Less Stuff

One Small Step: buy less stuff


For challenge 2 in One Small Step, our simple sustainability journey,  I ratcheted up the challenge level a few notches.

Because oh, my, if this one doesn’t get to the heart of the matter–on so many levels.

When we master this step, our impact spills over into all of the other sustainability goals that we may have (like generating less trash, using less fossil fuels, etc.). I’m not going to lie–this step is a doozy. And while I might have waited until we were a little more warmed up, today felt like the right time–especially as here in America, Black Friday looms ever nearer.

This week’s challenge? Buy less stuff. 


Less clothing, less housewares, less gadgets, less toys–less stuff.

Because when we buy fewer things, both we and the earth benefit. We learn to make due, we learn to make repairs, we learn to make connections. And we lighten our impact on the earth in countless ways.

And when we buy fewer things we may just discover how little we truly need, and how–not surprisingly–we’re happier without all the excess.

Less things mean less resource extraction, less pollution, less human exploitation, less packaging, and less obsolete products heading to the landfill. It’s a win on every level.

But is it easier said than done?

Not if we shift our habits and think clearly about what and why we’re buying. And then start in earnest from where you stand today. You don’t need to become a zero waste master to participate. You only need to begin.


Why we buy + the business of selling

Why we shop is a pandora’s box of human nature. Your reasons and mine are surely different, but for most of us it’s often more than just filling a tangible, physical need.

We’re not only buying necessities. And in most cases, the things that we buy leave our lives as rapidly as they came. Just 6 months after purchase, only 1% of the things we buy are still in use! 1%!*

So why are we buying–then tossing–so much stuff in America and western society in general? For most of us, one or more of the “why we buy” reasons below are at the root of their purchases. (Confession: even I relate to some of these.)

Why We Buy

  • Marketing makes promises that compels us to buy
  • Shopping is entertaining or fun
  • We feel an emotional lift when we buy
  • We’re in a hurry and don’t have time to seek out a more sustainable solution
  • We are disorganized and can’t find the things we already own
  • Convenience drives our purchases
  • We don’t want to disappoint a child or other loved one by not buying
  • We’re trying to buy the intangible (a feeling)
  • We don’t want to miss out

But when we find healthier ways to navigate our complex human emotions and look objectively at our purchases before we make them, we can unplug from the cycle of mindless consumption.

Only then can our purchases can be needs-driven, and can we can look more objectively at the stuff we welcome into our lives.


The Business of Selling

When I was a business coaching client, one of the primary messages our coach drove home was this: You never sell a product. You only sell a feeling.

Happiness, belonging, abundance, beauty, love, relaxation, joy, freedom, fun, health. These are the feelings we are seeking when we buy new Ipods and jewelery, pressure cookers and blenders, dress shoes and gaming systems. And while there is truth that sometimes we buy things that deliver those feelings, mostly they miss the mark.

Because we can’t buy joy, belonging, abundance, or any of those feelings. We can only buy things that–for a fleeting moment–help us tap us into that emotion. Then the feeling fades and we’re searching (or shopping) once more, in an effort to regain it.

But when we keep our money in our pockets and find other paths to entertainment and connection, we are far happier than when we attempt to shop our way there. And the earth reaps the rewards when we make this shift as well.


Buying Less: a simple how-to

Buying less is a deceptively simple challenge, because you decide how far you want to go. Do you have to be zero-waste and shun all things new? Of course not. In order to participate, all you have to do is begin. Then move as slowly (or as quickly) as you wish toward less shopping, less buying, less stuff.

The seven steps below will help you stay focused and mindful about the things you purchase, and ease your transition toward less consumption. (One afflink follows the irony of which is not lost on me). 

1. Use what you have

So often we’re lured by faster, fancier, newer, shinier. But is more really better? Before you buy, decide if you truly need that new item. Sometimes a one week waiting period will help cool your fire, and you’ll realized that you don’t need it after all (this is why most sales run for a short period of time, to seduce you into buying things immediately before you have a chance to think more objectively about your purchase).

Avoid items that only do one job (I’m looking at you, banana slicer), and extend the useful life of your belongings by repairing them when they break or tear (this booklet and this book have been such a gift for us for upping our mending game).

2. Borrow what you can

We all don’t need to own all the things that we use. Just last week, my daughter called up one of our friends to ask if we could borrow their angel food cake pan. We borrowed it for her birthday (the second time in six years), then returned it the next week when we were in the neighborhood.

Borrowing not only reduces the number of things we each must own, store, maintain, and clean, it helps build community and connection when we borrow from friends and neighbors. Win-win!


3. Choose second hand

If you do decide you wish to own something (say, if I’m suddenly hooked on angel food cake, and baking one every week), seek out that item second-hand before buying new. Second-hand goods are an environmentally sustainable choice, because your purchase keeps someone else’s buying decision out of the landfill.

Thrifting the things that we need can take time and patience, so plan ahead. Keep an eye out for a suitably sized pair of snow pants before that blizzard hits, for example. I often thrift with a list of items we’re in need of, knowing that it might take a few months of patient searching before we tick everything off the list. When my kids were younger, I kept a list in my wallet of the items and sizes that we needed for future season’s clothing, footwear, and outerwear. It helped prevent me from buying duplicates, while stocking up for the months to come.

Yard sales, thrift stores, and even clothing swaps are all great options for picking up some low-impact, second-hand goods.

4. Make you own

While it is not always possible, there are many instances when you can DIY an item off of your shopping list (bonus points of you can use some upcycled materials). You don’t have to be crafty to follow a simply online tutorial for whacking together a shelf, knitting up some mittens, or stitching yourself a zip bag.

If you’ve never made things before, this challenge is a great opportunity to develop some of this skills that your great-grandfather and great-grandmother had. Learning to work with a hammer and saw, a sewing machine, or a needle and thread will give you a skill you can use for a lifetime. Connect with a crafty friend or neighbor to learn some new skills, or contact your local university extension or folk school for assistance.


5. Where from?

So you’ve looked over the list above, and decided that you really do need to purchase something new. (It happens to all of us, more often than we’d like.) What now?

Before you dive in, consider where the item you purchase is from. Where it was made (and from what), where it has traveled, and where you choose to buy it all matter, and all impact the environmental footprint of your purchase.

Was your product made on the other side of the planet, or closer to home? Is it made of sustainable materials, or synthetics? Is it toxic or nontoxic? In each of these decisions, choose the past of lowest impact when your options and budget allow.

Remember, a high quality item will be more expensive today, but cheaper (and more sustainable) in the long run, because it won’t need replacement as soon as a cheaper model will.

Consider the packaging as well. If you have a choice that’s free of excessive packaging and another that’s shrink-wrapped, bubble-packed, and triple bagged, choose the first option.

And finally, if you have the choice between buying from a big box store (online or otherwise) or a small, locally owned shop, choose the latter.

6. Shop with a list

When you embark to make your purchase, let your shopping list serve as your force field. Don’t be distracted by the cute, shiny, fast, fancy new products that call to you with their seductive siren songs as you walk through Target. Buy what’s on the list, and only what’s on the list. Jot down things that call to you, and come back in a week (or a month) if you really need them.

7. Give conscious gifts

And finally, give better gifts. Our kids don’t need more plastic toys, we don’t need more whirring gadgets. Don’t throw the planet under the bus because you feel obligated to buy a present. Instead, give mindfully.

One blog reader here mentioned that she’s gifting freezer meals to her loved ones this year. We handcraft most of our gifts, and also give our sustainable body care. Consumable gifts and zero-waste gifts are always a win. Or make thoughtful donations to organizations doing good out there in the world.

Need more ideas? I shared 101 toy-free children’s gift ideas here, and many of them are zero-consumption/zero-waste, to boot.

What would you add to the list above? How do you keep too much stuff from coming into your life, especially at this time of year? 

* Only 1% of items purchased new are still in use after 6 months. Did this statistic blow your mind like it did mine? Watch the full video below for more staggering facts, and inspiration on why less stuff is good for the planet (and for our happiness).


You can find the entire One Small Step series here, or click through below for individual posts below.

One Small Step: a year of small actions with huge impact

Swap Plastic Bottles of Soap for Bars (plus a DIY liquid recipe)


One small step: Swap plastic bottles of soap for bars (plus a DIY liquid soap recipe)

One Small Step toward sustainability: swap plastic bottles of soap for bars.

Last week my 12 year old daughter and I jotted down a list of over 50 small, simple steps we all can take to change the world. We wrote down ideas for kitchen and bathroom, travel and housekeeping, dining out and gardening. So many fun, simple ideas to empower us all to make positive change.

But where should we begin this journey? Well, that was easy. Because our family runs a small, organic soap company. So why not start with the place that is nearest and dearest to our hearts?

With soap.

Nearly all of us have soap (or something like it) at our bathroom and kitchen sinks; in our showers or at our bathtubs. But have we given much thought to the type that we’ve chosen?

Because all soaps and cleansing washes are not created equal, and upping our sustainability game while we’re cleaning up is one small step toward a healthier planet.

Are you ready to dive in with our first small step? Me, too. Let’s get started.


Kick the bottle

If your soap/body wash/facial cleanser comes in a plastic bottle, the first thing to question is that packaging.

Just 9% of plastic is recycled world-wide. That’s a tiny fraction of plastic produced, with the bulk ending up in landfills, and a smaller percentage either being incinerated or ending as litter in our communities, country sides, oceans and waterways.

Is recycling a better option? Absolutely. But even much of the plastic that we toss in the recycling bin (trusting that it won’t end up in the waste stream) ends up dumped in landfills anyway.

Recycling, the go-to environmental action of the 1990’s, is certainly a small step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. Reducing our frivolous use of plastic needs to come first.

But there’s more to it than the impact of that bottle. Soap, body wash, and other bubbles sold in plastic bottles are made mostly of water. This adds to shipping weight, overall carbon footprint, and even the cost per use for you, the consumer.


Bars are better

Doesn’t soap need to come in a bottle? No way. High quality bar soaps are gentle on the skin, long-lasting, and in most cases involve no plastic waste. What would your great grandma have used? Simple, natural bar soap, of course.  No bottle, no waste, no fuss.

Here at LüSa Organics, we even offer our bar soaps “naked”. These zero-waste bars come without any packaging at all. (A 100% post-consumer recycled paper box is a second option for most varieties.)

We also sell the scraps, end cuts, and imperfect bars instead of landfilling them, making for a soap that truly is zero-waste.

Not all bars are created equal

Before you head to the corner store to stock up on bar soap, be aware: many of the things we refer to as “soap” isn’t. They are actually synthetic detergent bars. So read those ingredients, lists, won’t you? If possible, avoid synthetic preservatives, fragrances, colorants, and added alcohol which wreaks havoc on sensitive skin. While these synthetic bars do lack the bottle, they can be harsh for your skin and the environment.

Screen Shot 2019-10-29 at 5.29.52 PM

Photo by Alyson Morgan

What about kids?

We hear a lot of concerns from adults about children mangling bar soaps at the sink. “We need liquid soap,” they reason. “Or my kid will trash a bar of soap in one washing!”

We hear you. We had a pint-sized soap-strangler in the house for years. (Yes, they outgrow it.) And while our solution was to provide them with a smaller scratch-and-dent bar of their own, our friend Alyson took things one step further for her littles. She cuts a full-sized bar into tiny cubes, just right for small hands.

These cute little bars stand up to poking and prodding, and create less soap waste than handing your toddler a full-sized bar in the bath.

Natural bar soaps like LüSa are a breeze to cut with a sturdy kitchen knife, but mass produced detergent bars as well as more heavily processed bar soaps can crumble under the knife. Test the bar you use to see if it’s a match.


DIY Liquid Soap

Okay, so I haven’t convinced you to kick the soap bottle for good? Then how about you refill the bottle you already own with your homemade? All it takes is a scrap of good soap, some water, and a few minutes of your time.

Full disclosure: this liquid won’t lather like the store-bought kind, nor will the texture be what you’re accustom to from a liquid (it’s more viscous). But it will be a safe, healthy, plastic-free liquid option for those who want one–and if you use high quality soap like LüSa, it won’t dry your skin.

Ready to dive in? Here’s my how-to!

DIY Liquid Soap Recipe

Makes 1 quart


  • 1 oz high quality bar soap (scraps or Scratch-and-Dent bars are great)
  • 4 cups of water


  • Box grater or heavy duty kitchen knife
  • Cooking pot
  • Whisk


  1. Grate or mince your bar soap. Weigh out 1 ounce of shreds. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, aim for 1/4 of a full-sized bar.
  2. Add soap shreds to a cooking pot with 4 cups of water.
  3. Place over medium heat, whisking occasionally until all of your soap chunks are dissolved. (I hurried this process along with a submersible blender, but a whisk alone will suffice.) Do not whip into a froth (though some bubbles are to be expected).
  4. Your soap solution will be very thin and milky in appearance. Cover and allow to cool overnight, or until the mixture reaches room temperature.
  5. The next morning, your soap mixture will have thickened considerably and will now resemble a pet jellyfish. Don’t despair! Grab your trusty whisk, and give it another vigorous whisking. Do not use an electric whisk unless you want to make roughly a gallon of shaving foam that you will never be able to convince to become a liquid again. Ask me how I know.
  6. Transfer your liquid to a repurposed soap bottle, and store the rest in a quart-sized mason jar until needed.

Note: you may need to shake your liquid on occasion, as some separation is normal. Add additional water if desired for a thinner soap, or dissolve in more grated soap for a thicker mix.


How we make it

Just for fun, I wanted to share a peek into how we make our bar soaps here at LüSa Organics.

Because I think where the goods we use come from matters. And going back to how our great-grandparents did things (in some regards) is a step in the right direction.

Our process is low-tech, and begins with just organic, pressed oils (normally sunflower, olive, and coconut–never palm oil) and a carefully measured sodium hydroxide solution. These are combined, then gently stirred until the mixture begins to thicken. When it reached the consistency of pudding, it’s ready to pour.

If the soap is a scented one, now is when we stir in our essential oils, then the soap is poured into a butcher paper-lined soap mold. The bars are set to rest in an insulated room for three days.


Here the soap continues to work its magic (aka: chemistry!) and it goes through a series of stages of exothermic heating, becoming a gel-like liquid, then solidifying. This moment is when it’s time to unmold the soap and cut the blocks into bars (by hand with our people-powered soap cutter) before it becomes to hard to easily slice.

The finished soaps are carefully shelved in our soap curing room where they mellow and harden for one month before heading out the door to sinks, tubs, and showers everywhere.

The whole process is simple, organic, and low-tech. What’s not to love about that?


P.S. If you’d like to try LüSa bar soap for the first time (or if you already love us and would simply enjoy a little bonus bar), add a note of “kicking the soap bottle” to any LüSa Organics order and we’ll throw in a 2 to 3 oz. sample scratch-and-dent bar when we ship your order! With our thanks (offer valid through 12/31/19).

Have you already made the switch from bottles to bars? Was it challenging for your family? What do you love most about bars instead of bottles?  Leave a comment below sharing your experience.

Explore more statistics about plastic production, use, recycling, and waste here.

Scroll below to the green signup box, then add your email address. When I add more posts to the blog and the One Small Step series, I’ll drop you a note.


Photos 2, 3, 6, and 9-13 by Ray + Kelly Photography.


One small step: A year of small actions with huge impact


I’ve been thinking a lot about our planet and our future lately, and the changes we need to make in order to shift our trajectory as citizens of this lovely blue sphere. It’s something my kids and their friends are thinking a lot about too. But so often progress feels painfully slow.

I’ve been contemplating how daunting change can be, even for those of us with the best of intentions.

Our lives are busy enough without adding “saving the world” to our daily to-do list. And so we look away.

We feel overwhelmed with where to even begin, and so we don’t.

But climate change, pollution, microplastics, global extinction, and looming environmental disaster is everyone’s problem–and everyone’s job to fix. There’s no more time to look away.

And while our governments need to step up globally and act with urgency and without delay, I believe that this holds true for each of us as well.

We can’t just wait for them. We need to do something, too.

And so I decided to take one small step of my own.

Over the next year, I am committing to post a small, weekly or bimonthly challenge that you can take up to help reduce plastic usage, combat climate change, curb fossil fuel dependency, or otherwise have a positive global impact. Small, manageable, dare I say enjoyable shifts toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

These challenges can be tackled on your own, with your kids or partner, or with your community. I’ll share quick and simple swap-outs, easy DIYs, back-to-basics recipes, and other ideas that you can make your own and share with the world, reducing waste and reducing your environmental footprint.

In short, changes that would make your great-grandmother proud.


These aren’t huge life changes, either. They are small, simple, and accessible shifts that almost anyone can make. Yet they add up to a meaningful formula for change.

Every week or two, a new challenge; a new way to lighten your footprints on Mother Earth. A little something to empower you to keep going, to keep transforming, to keep doing something.

To keep making change.

Together these steps will transform the way you look at your habits, your impact, your children’s future, and the world.

Because change needs to start now, and it needs to start with each of us. And when we add one small step to another, week after week our impact is magnified.

Share these challenges with your friends and neighbors, gather with community to tackle them together, and now we’ve created something. Now small is magnified exponentially and we’re generating change on a bigger scale.

Because it matters. The earth is ready for us all to take action–one small step at a time. indeed, she needs us to.  Because there is no planet B.


Will you join me?

Sign up through the link below to be added to the LüSa Organics Blog email list. (Click here if you don’t see the link, then sign up with the green form at the bottom of the page.) Then each week when I post a new update, I’ll send you a link to the content. Join in the conversation in the comments below, challenge me when what I ask of you feels discordant or if I’m making assumptions from my place of privilege, expect the best of yourself and one another. And let’s do better, together.

Are you in?