Repurpose

Today, I avoided a day of shopping by repurposing something I was going to get rid of.

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My plan for this windy Saturday was to drag myself out the door to shop for a mat to put by my bed. Despite some pre-weekend Google searches, I wasn’t feeling very optimistic about finding something that would work and that I liked.

I like having a mat by my bed for two reasons: (1) it’s a little warmer on chilly winter mornings, and, (2) my floor gets dusty and dirty when my windows are open (most of the time, most of the year), and I like to have a mat to wipe my feet off before getting into bed. It’s like a doormat, but for my bed. A bed mat!

Over the summer, I was using a woven mat I bought at IKEA a couple years ago. It’s simple, durable, washable, and just about the right size for the space.  But, it belongs by my front door, where it’s supposed to keep most of the outdoor dirt away from my living space. Over the summer, I put up with wiping my shoes on the carpet in the hall and taking my shoes off as I was in the doorway. But, the weather has been wet and I needed to put my mat back by the door to catch the mud.

One of the things that the temporary mat taught me was that I definitely still need something that can be washed. Even though it wasn’t getting outdoor dirt when it was next to the bed, it still got dirty. When it’s by the front door, I typically wash the temporary mat every month or so, but because the mat was next to my bed, I often wanted to wash it more often. Unfortunately, the mat’s bulky and the dye is slowing washing out (i.e., it’s not something I can easily toss in with other things). I would like to wash my bed mat every time I wash my rags and such, so I wanted to find something washable and not too bulky. A couple small, woven area rugs (2 x 3 feet) would have worked.

Initially, I considered going to Ikea, but that’s a long way (1-1.5 hours and 1-2 transfers) for a couple of cheap rugs. Winners is hit and miss. And, most of the decor stores in my areas either didn’t seem to carry what I needed, or had expensive options. I envisioned a lot of “nope” and “where do I try next?”

Have I mentioned I don’t like to shop at the best of times? Needless to say, I was procrastinating to delay what I expected would be a long and annoying day. I convinced myself that I “had” to sort my donation/sell pile into categories. And, that’s where I found my solution.

A couple of years ago, in one of my many attempts to pick up regular yoga, I bought a yoga mat towel (these, but a different design). It was the peak of winter (read: cold!) and I thought that the mat towel would feel warmer. I had also been told that it would protect my mat. I happened to find a beautiful design in dark blue (my favourite colour), but I found it very annoying. Yes, it felt warmer, but it also got caught up in my feet, dragged around, bunched up under me and didn’t feel as grippy as I would have liked. At the end of the day, I much preferred to go without.

It ended up being one of those things that I had a really hard time getting rid of – it was beautiful, it had been expensive … surely I just needed to get used to it! So, there it was, still in my donate/sell pile. And, there was the empty space by my bed. The yoga mat towel has silicone on the bottom to grip to the floor, it’s soft, it feels warmer, it’s washable, it’s not bulky, it’s colourfast, it sort of matches my bedding, and I love it. Also, it’s free because I already own it, and it saved me from a day of shopping.

Sure, it’s not a conventional option for a mat and it doesn’t entirely match my bedding style, but who cares. Using it by my bed means that I get to repurpose something I love but wasn’t using, and it allows me to save the money I was going to spend (or, to spend it on something else, like the Himalayan rock salt lamp I’ve been wanting to buy).

I’ll still keep my eye open for something better (like this, but in pink; or one of the many fabulous rugs I’m pinned over the years), but this meets my needs and will get me through the winter.

Sometimes, you need to think outside the box.

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Deodorants

I used to use antiperspirants from the drug store. It was what I grew up with and the only option I knew about. But, I hated them. Forget all the cancer scare stuff, antiperspirants stink of manufactured perfumes, irritate my skin, and don’t seem to work all that well in the long run.

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When I first learned about other options, I tried a couple but, at the time, I couldn’t afford to keep trying until I found something that worked. So, I went back to regular antiperspirants.

Years later, when I started walking to work, I struggled with antiperspirants even more because I would get super sweaty from the walk and that sweat turned to stink. Even if I cleaned my armpits and reapplied antiperspirant when I got to work, I would still have days when my pits smelled bad. I was worried that I might have a serious odour problem and started researching what the cause could be. When I couldn’t find an obvious cause (my diet was already good, I showered daily, etc.), I started to consider the possibility that I would need to buy industrial strength antiperspirant.

But, one morning, I forgot to put on any antiperspirant and didn’t realize it until I was most of the way to work. I dreaded the consequences, but it ended up being a good mistake: when I got to work and cleaned my sweaty pits, I noticed that I didn’t smell quite as bad as usual. On a whim, I decided to see what would happen if I stopped putting on antiperspirant before I walked to work. It wasn’t ideal (I still had armpit odour), but it didn’t seem to be as bad as before. It occurred to me that the odour from my sweat was probably being trapped and retained by the antiperspirant. It is, after all, a pasty substance.

This led me to trying rock crystal deodorant, which was the only non-pasty option I knew of at the time. It wasn’t ideal and I had to reapply throughout the day, but I found that I had significantly fewer days when my armpits smelled like something had died in them and my skin wasn’t as irritated or dry. Still, there were some days when the stress or busyness of the day made me regret not using something stronger. I eventually decided to use antiperspirant as needed. This was a mistake because I was back to having problems with the odour lingering in my armpits. There always seemed to be some residue left over from the antiperspirant and I think that trapped the odour.

I was determined to find a better solution and in a position where I could afford to try lots of new options. I did my research, I tried natural and “natural” options, I scoured the drug stores, I spent hours reading product ingredients, I tried random homemade options, and I did countless Google searches. There are far more options now then there were even a couple years ago: Kaia (Canadian) and Native (American, but ships to Canada) are just two of the brands that are similar to standard stick deodorants or antiperspirants. There are countless other options that you can buy from indie online shops, etsy, and your local eco store. A lot of them don’t work for me.

After trying more options than I can remember, this is what I discovered:

  • Baking soda works, but I can’t use it long term (ex: daily) because it irritates my sensitive skin too much
  • Gooey or pasty products (pretty much every stick deodorant or antiperspirant) don’t work for me as they seem to stick to my skin and trap the odours from my sweat
  • I’m really resistant to most floral scents, but naturally derived scents are so much better than manufactured ones (I already knew this, but trying deodorants was a good reminder)
  • Natural doesn’t mean that they haven’t been a bit heavy handed with the perfumes
  • Spray deodorants don’t leave a goey residue and you don’t have to wait for them to dry
  • There are no perfect options and it’s OK to use more than one product to cover all your needs

What I found was that the rock crystal and some deodorant sprays work well enough for most of my needs: they’re fine for quiet days, they wash off my skin or out of clothes with water, they don’t leave a residue on me or my clothes, and I can easily add my second deodorant over top. I’m currently using Green Beaver’s Lavender Natural Deodorant Spray (Canadian) or Lafe’s Soothe Natural Deodorant Spray. Neither are plastic free, unfortunately, and the Green Beaver spray deodorant has something in it that bothers my nose and lungs. It has more additives than the Lafe’s deodorant, and I assume it’s one of those that bothers me. Nonetheless, I have it and I’m going to try and use it up – I just hold my breath when I spray it on.

On days when I need a little extra help (lots of meetings, lots of stress, etc.), I use Schmidt’s Lavender + Sage deodorant (I’ve also used Routine, which is a comparable Canadian brand). The Scmidt’s deodorant is a baking soda deodorant, so I can’t use it every day, but the formula isn’t goey, so it’s easy to wash off and doesn’t leave a residue. It also smells amazing. It can be annoying to apply because you have to use your fingers, but it comes in glass jar that can be re-used. It also comes with a little paddle to get it out of the jar, which is plastic, unfortunately.

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I had hoped that I would find the perfect solution, but perfection doesn’t exist. I’ll keep looking for zero waste options (for example, I could make my own baking soda deodorant), but I’m happy with what I have now because they’re better for my skin, more in tune with my priorities, and both products are from indie companies.

There are lots of other options out there, but some of them can feel pretty pricy compared to the cheap drug store brands. But, if natural products, zero waste or low impact living are priorities for you, it’s well worth the money if you can afford it.

I don’t own any bamboo cutlery, and that’s OK

All the Instagram and Pinterest pictures suggest to us that we need to have fancy bamboo cutlery or a custom made travel spork to be zero waste or low impact, but we don’t. Just use your regular cutlery.

This is what I use:

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You shouldn’t have to buy things to be zero waste!

I own “fancy” cutlery because I inherited some silver plate cutlery, which isn’t really fancy or worth anything. But, it is pretty. Tarnished because I’m too lazy to polish it, but pretty. I take whatever cutlery I need with me, straight from my cutlery drawer. This is usually just a spoon because I eat soup at work pretty much every day. I toss my cutlery in the bottom of my lunch bag. Some days, I may wrap them in a napkin or put them in a reusable snack bag, but I don’t own one of those custom cutlery wraps.

I don’t use chop sticks. Yeah, they’re cool and all, but I fail at using them with any degree of grace and feel no need master them.

I do have a couple stainless steel straws (a gift), but haven’t used them. I honestly can’t think of when I might use them. I never use straws and I’m not against drinking smoothies without a straw. I’m told that makes me weird, but I’m OK with that.

I also have one of these Cuppow drinking lids (found at a local eco store) that turns a wide mouth mason jars into a sippy mug style container. I use it when I make iced tea because I can safely make the drink in a mason jar (they can handle temperature changes from hot to cold) and it means that I can drink it without ice cubes freezing my upper lip. It’s a bit of a luxury item for me and you don’t need it to enjoy iced tea!

I own this spork-like thingie because, several months ago, I got sucked into the “buy to be zero waste” nonsense.  The spork goes with a napkin designed to wrap up into a tiny travel kit. It was an impulse purchase that I haven’t used yet, but I think it could be useful for travel because then I don’t have to worry about losing my day-to-day cutlery. Instead of a fancy spork, you could just pick up a few extra pieces of cutlery from a thrift store or a yard sale.

I used to own a bamboo cutlery set, but I quickly realized that they were redundant. I gave the bamboo to an acquaintance who wanted some lightweight cutlery for camping.

I own linen napkins because I grew up using them and I love how useful they are. I found these dark blue ones at 10,000 Villages a year or two ago and bought them because my old linen napkins were falling apart. Again, use what you have or make your own. [Side note: in this case, I will recommend looking for linen and not that polyester or mixed fibre nonsense you usually see in kitchen/decor stores. Linen softens over time and it’s more absorbent. You can often find linen napkins at thrift stores. But, regular cotton fabric is fine (though it doesn’t absorb much), flannel works, and even an old shirt cut and stitched into squares will work. I opt for dark colours because I’m too lazy to deal with stains.]

I don’t have a Swell brand water bottle or whatever is on trend these days. Heck, I still use a plastic water bottle. At home, I have some re-purposed juice bottles (glass) that I use for water. But, plastic water bottles are super convenient for travelling or hiking. Plus, I already owned it.

I also have two insulated hot beverage mugs. I keep one at work to use as my water glass and tea mug. The second one is typically only use for hikes, travelling or days when I want to keep some hot tea insulated at home.

I also have a bunch of stainless steel food containers. I mostly use glass jars (mason jars, washed out condiment jars, etc.), but I decided that it would be nice to have a few light weight containers for lunches. I bought these because I needed to replace some old plastic lunch containers, not because Instagram told me they were cool. Though, they are pretty awesome because I saved up for some leak proof containers from Life Without Plastic.

I still have plastic containers, too. I will use these until they are no longer usable, then I’ll save up for some light weight metal containers because the idea of taking glass to the market makes me nervous.

The point of all this is to show that you don’t have to buy stuff to be zero waste or low-impact. You can buy things, but unless you’re replacing something that you need and use, it’s better to go without. It’s also better to keep using what you already have, even if it’s plastic, to get the full life out of the items before sending them to the landfill (bonus points if you can find a secondary use for the items, like using old plastic containers to separate things in drawers). When they need to be replaced, either buy second hand (even if it’s plastic) or look for eco-friendly options.

I made the mistake of buying a few things that I didn’t need, but now I’m more thoughtful about what I buy and more creative about finding alternatives, like washed out jars. When I go grocery shopping, I often think about packaging and how I can re-use it later. For me, buying a slightly more expensive bottle of mustard is worth it if it comes in a glass jar that I can easily re-use. The only issue I’ve had is with some spicy or strong flavoured things, like tomato sauce, which permeate into the lids. But, I try to use those bottles either for similar types of food (ex: left over pasta) or non-food items (ex: to hold rubber bands).

Plastic Free July – end of month check-in

Plastic Free July went as expected: not bad, but I still need to work on changing some habits.

After some adjustments to accommodate my lack of interest in taking the garbage out and the summer heat, I think that I’ve settled on a garbage bag free scheme that I can live with (see below). I just need to get better about taking the garbage out as needed instead of waiting for the garbage can to be full. I never let it get bad enough to have a smelly apartment (I live in a small space, so I refuse to live with bad smells), but there were times when I pushed the limits and ross things grew in my garbage can.

But, here’s what seems to be working:

As I mentioned in my kick-off post, my bathroom garbage doesn’t accumulate smelly or gross things. Mostly, it’s just a place to dump my dental floss and all the dust and such that I sweep up. It gets dirty from the dust, but it’s not decaying or rotting, so it’s fine and doesn’t require a garbage bag.

In my kitchen, I did have some problems with rot, decay and food sticking to the bottom of the can (which meant having to soak and wash the can before using it again). Because of this, and because it’s summer, I decided to default to freezing everything food related. It’s still been a bit annoying, I miss garbage bags, and I miss being able to just toss something in the trash instead of having to open the freezer, taking a container out, etc. But, it works.

I did try a few other options over the month:

  • I tried to convince myself to empty the garbage every couple of days (2-3), but that will require a fairly big habit shift or maybe storing my garbage bin by the door (not ideal – I prefer not having to look at it and I live in a small space). Again, I know it seems silly, but it’s not like I’m just walking to the end of the garden (I’m several floors up and have to open a dumpster, which can smell really bad in the summer).
  • I tried lining my bin with flyers to keep food from sticking to the bottom. It was certainly better, but not by much and I would still have to empty the garbage more often. Also, that still requires extra resources (flyers).
  • I considered using plastic bags I had on hand (from things like frozen foods that I could only get in plastic), but I worried that this was just one very tiny step towards spiralling back into either buying garbage bags or using it as an excuse to allow myself to buy more things in plastic. Not to say that I’m completely plastic free (I still buy frozen peas), but I’m trying to avoid plastic.

This is definitely something that I still need to work on to find a solution that works best for me, but I have some large yogurt containers that I could use for perishables. I’m considering keeping one on my counter until it’s full and allowing myself to accumulate a couple containers in the freezer before taking the garbage out. I’ll still use the garbage can for non-perishables and plastics.

Speaking of plastic, I’ve been tracking my plastic consumption these past few weeks to see where I can make improvements. It’s been an interesting project and I’m pleased to say that my plastic consumption has reduced in the past few months.I still have room to improve, but I’m happy with the progress.

Here are a few examples of the kinds of things I had:

  • Labels from jars that I wanted to save. A couple of thelabels were made of plastic. Needless to say, I’ll try to remember to always look for non-plastic containers with non-plastic labels.
  • The mesh and label from a package of garlic because I could not find it un-packaged that day, despite trying more than one store. Usually, I’m well stocked with garlic, so this is rarely a problem.
  • A chip bag (or two). I like chips on occasion, but I know I can find good enough options (like bulk pretzels or popcorn bought in bulk, made on the stovetop, and flavoured with herbs or with bulk flavouring that you can get at the Bulk Barn). This was a case of letting a bad day supercede my good intentions.
  • The packaging from frozen peas. I’m just not ready to give them up yet and bulk peas from the market are expensive, if you can find them. I do try to buy the largest bag possible (even if it means separating them out into a couple of containers in the freezer to keep them from getting too freezer burnt).
  • Odds and ends of things that were small but represented other areas I need to work on. For example, plastic from a package. I could have bought that book with less waste overall if I’d gone to the store when the book was published instead of pre-ordering it online.
  • A wrapper from a chocolate bar. It was fair trade chocolate (yay), but it still came in plastic (boo). I could stop eating chocolate (as if) or I could just get off my lazy butt and go to the grocery store that has really great bulk.

Despite not being plastic free yet, I think that the Plastic Free July challenge was incredibly helpful and a useful challenge. It allowed me to recommit to the idea of living a low-waste life and allowed me to finally give up something I’d been really resistant to giving up (who knew garbage bags were so important to me).

So, Plastic Free July was a success for me and I’m taking some new ideas and habits into August. My intention is to continue to be low-waste and work towards being as close to zero waste was I can.

Did you try giving up any plastic for July?

Plastic Free July – bamboo toothbrushes

Lately, the big buzz has been around banning straws as if banning just one thing will make the plastic problem go away. Well, what about all the other plastics we use? Disposable utensils, to-go cups for drinks, produce bags, tooth brushes, etc.

We have a long way to go (well beyond just reducing the number of straws we use) and in some cases there are still limitations that make it difficult for some people to switch to a plastic free or reusable alternative. I’m not even going to pretend that I can speak to the needs of people who are low income or who have disabilities – we should listen to them and make sure that they are still supported in whatever way we can (including allowing them to use disposable straws). But, I can share a bit of insight from my own experience with some alternatives, like bamboo toothbrushes.

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Toothbrushes have always been an issue for me. I have gums that are prone to receding and I’m a bit heavy handed when I brush. It’s hard to break out of a lifelong habit of being heavy handed, so I’ve always bought toothbrushes with soft or (preferably) ultra soft bristles. This, of course, seems left to the brand’s imagination – what some brands call soft is what I would call medium or even hard.

When I decided to switch to bamboo toothbrushes, I knew I’d continue to have issues, but I didn’t think that it would take me 2 years to find something that worked. I have tried every brand of bamboo toothbrush that I could find, including some that I had to order from out-of-country and as many variations as I could find (soft, children’s, etc.). These four are the most recent ones that I’ve tried.

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  1. Brush with Bamboo

This is a standard, generic bamboo toothbrush. I’ve tried a couple of brands that were just like this and they typically only had one bristle option (medium to hard). Their children’s toothbrushes are the exact same, but smaller. I would rate the bristles are being equivalent to medium. If you don’t mind the standard toothbrush bristle stiffness, this would be a very good option to start with as this brand is relatively easy to find (even in Canada) and relatively affordable. They’re not perfect (the bristles are part plastic), but they are one of the better options available. In a 2016 post, Kathryn discusses some of the benefits, including the sustainable and pesticide free bamboo sourcing for the handles.

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For the record, this toothbrush looks dirty because I was trying charcoal toothpaste at the time (this Canadian made brand). It’s nice toothpaste, but it was messy and it stained the bamboo.
  1. Senzacare

I bought this one specifically because the bristles were “ultrasoft”. While softer, I don’t know that the bristles rate as ultra soft. But, it’s a good option if you like a softer toothbrush. I used this for longer than the recommended 3 months and found that it stood up well to my rough use.

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  1. Redecker

I decided to try this because it uses natural fibers (sterilized goat hair) for bristles. I should have done a bit more research before buying this one because I assumed it would be soft-ish or maybe medium stiffness. I was wrong. The bristles are hard and I found them to be painful, even after soaking them in hot water for a couple minutes. I would rate these bristles as hard or very hard. I love the idea of a fully compostable toothbrush, but I could use this to scour my grout or pots!

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  1. Truly Bamboo

This was something I found by accident and immediately went to the website when I saw the tapered shape of the bristles. The last couple of plastic toothbrushes I used had the same bristle shape and I found them to be perfect for me – they clean well without damaging my gums. I ordered a box of 4 (they had a sale at the time, but I would have purchased them for their normal price, which his still fairly affordable for a bamboo toothbrush).

They’re from a company in the States, but they do ship to Canada. The bristles are nylon free (made of activated charcoal and bamboo). The bamboo is sourced responsibly and the bamboo handles are carved (i.e., not mulched bamboo fibers glued together).

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From top to bottom: Brush with Bamboo, Redecker, Senzacare, and Truly Bamboo.

While they’re becoming more affordable, bamboo toothbrushes will continue to be unattainable for some people because of the price. If you can afford it, I highly recommend switching to bamboo to eliminate a bit more plastic in your life. In all cases, you can either compost the whole brush or at least the handle (just use some pliers to pry out the bristles). Either way, that’s still a heck of a lot less plastic.

Here are some things to consider when looking for the bamboo toothbrush:

  • What are the bristles made of? You may need to remove them before composting the handle
  • How is the handle constructed? The carved handles will last longer and have a lesser environmental impact simply because they don’t require glues. They can also be used in your garden (as plant stakes or labels) without disintegrating too fast.
  • How is the bamboo sourced? Most companies use sustainable, pesticide-free bamboo, but it’s worth checking to ensure that you’re supporting sustainable practices.
  • Can I source them locally? It’s always better for the environment if you can buy something that was shipped in bulk.
  • Does it work for me? If a particular brand isn’t working for you for any reason (ex: the bristles are too hard), find the next best option. Finding an option that’s sustainable for you is just as important as choosing an option that has a low impact on the environment.

Plastic Free July – plastics I still own

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I’ve been doing a lot of reading and lurking on zero waste and eco-living websites lately. One of my favourite resources is the Green Indy Blog, run by Polly who’s a zero-waster with a realistic view of life. She is open and honest about when plastic or waste happens and why. And, she’s unapologetically reasonable about her choices. For example, she talks a lot about how to make low to no cost changes and she admits to times when she’s allowed (not accepted, but consciously allowed) waste. She’s taken a very open and welcoming approach to zero waste that allows people to simply do their best, instead of demanding perfection.

I think that a lot of people are starting to take this approach because they recognize that demanding perfection is unhelpful – if people can’t be perfect and/or can’t sustain big changes, they’ll stop trying as hard or simply give up. If we can foster a community that shows people that it’s not about being perfect, but about being more conscious about our decisions, then we’ll make it easier for more people to start making those changes and, hopefully, keep working towards a low-impact. This means that we’ll be more successful at finding new community members or allies, and we’ll have a bigger impact.

So, to do my part, I’m going to start sharing how I’m working towards being plastic free or zero waste, where I need to make changes, and when I allow waste. I’m going to start with my farmer’s market trips simply because I happen to have a decent picture of my most recent market haul.

This is what I bought this weekend:

  • Beans
  • Raspberries
  • A dozen cookies (plus 2 bonus cookies because they were broken)
  • 2 dozen eggs
  • Peaches
  • Blueberries
  • Spinach
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Please note all the plastic. There’s loads of it! Let’s look at my haul from the perspective of packaging:

Beans, raspberries, and cookies

I bought these plastic containers about 2 years ago for market trips. I buy a fair amount and walk/bus to and from the market, so things get squished or bruised. These are cheap containers, but they’re lightweight and very useful. When not being used for the market trips, I use them to hold veggies. Ideally, I’d use something that isn’t plastic, but: (a) glass is heavy and breakable making it a difficult option for market trips, and (b) metal is expensive, so I’d need to save up for new containers.

I would like to replace these some day, but I have no problem with using them. I’d rather

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What my fridge typically looks like after groceries and market – my plastic containers are used for any and all veggies, fruit, etc. And, I do have a few glass containers that I also use, but they’re not convenient for market trips as they’re heavy.

use what I have to keep this plastic away from the landfill for as long as possible. And, if I lose or break a lid? No problem – I can either find another lid option (ex: reusable waxed cloth) or find another use (ex: using them as lidless containers in drawers or cupboards).

I can also use these for bulk or deli foods at the Planet Organic nearby.

Eggs

Stonepost Farms takes back egg cartons (theirs and others), so I return my cartons each week and will give them other cartons if I ever have to buy eggs from elsewhere.

In the winter, there’s another vendor that I can get eggs from who also takes cartons back, though I don’t think that they take cartons from other brands. But, egg cartoons are both useful (ex: crafts or sprouting seeds) and relatively easy to re-purpose (i.e., I generally don’t find it difficult to give them away – all I need is to find a parent/teacher).

Peaches

I have an abundance of re-usable produce and bulk food bags. I could easily sew my own, but I really like mesh bags and mesh is a pain to sew. The one I used for the peaches was purchased as a bundle of three years ago, but I often see them in places like Planet Organic (usually near the produce or bulk items). The mesh is quite fine, so they work for both produce and many bulk items (beans, nuts, pasta, etc.). I also own some Credo bags, which are great for produce.

Blueberries

I ran out of containers and couldn’t resist this giant box of blueberries (just $10!). I’ll find out if the vendor will take it back next week, and if they don’t, it’s compostable or I can see if I can find another use for it.

This was a “whim” purchase. If the berries had been in plastic, I wouldn’t have purchased them. But, I was close enough to home to feel confident carrying them in this open box and blueberries are awesome.

Spinach

This is one of my allowable exceptions. Finding plastic free greens is difficult for me. In grocery stores, my options are typically low-waste (a twist tie or elastic) greens, bagged greens, or greens in plastic boxes. Most of them are from California or further. In the grand scheme of things, I think that buying some spinach in a plastic bag that I can reuse (or, return, as Stonepost Farms will take them back) from a local farm is better than buying food that had to be transported from another country (remember, I’m in Canada, several hundred kilometers from the border). I spoke a bit about it that at the bottom of my post about what plastics I’m trying to avoid for July. Buying local is something that I consider to be very important. It supports local businesses/vendors and food security, and it’s often a more environmentally friendly option.

I’ve already found a use for the last bag (protecting some packages of butter that I’m storing in the freezer) and I have no doubt that I can find a use for this bag, without it going into the garbage.

This is how raspberries usually come, but with plastic bags to protect them. This photo is from 2015, before I had a large collection of re-usable produce bags and while I was still getting used to using the few I had, so I bought the peas in a plastic bag (the other items were already in plastic).

So, yes, I have and use plastic, but I’m also reducing a lot of waste: the raspberries would have come in boxes with plastic bags to protect them; the cookies would have come is special branded bags that are a weird size/shape, so hard to re-use; the peaches and beans would have come in plastic bags, and I predominantly choose plastic free options, even though there were plenty of foods I would have loved to buy if they weren’t in plastic (I really miss cucumber!).

This is real life and not perfect. This is the best that I can manage at this time and provides options that are sustainable for me (i.e., that I can sustain and that won’t make me want to quit and go back to buying things in plastic).

As I mentioned in my post about Plastic Free July, this isn’t about being perfect – it’s about making the best choices possible and trying to reduce single-use plastics over time (give up straws tomorrow, produce bags in in a couple weeks, etc. – do what you can, when you can).

Plastic Free July – what I’m giving up

Plastic Free July - Choose to Refuse 300ppi

I’m giving up garbage bags this month, and that’s actually freaking me out a little bit

I’m participating in Plastic Free July. I wrote a bit about it and zero waste in my last post, but as a quick summary, it’s an event originating out of Australia used to encourage people to rethink their plastic use, especially with regards to single use plastics. I’ve already eliminated a lot of plastics out of my life, but I know I can make some improvements with regards to garbage bags and food packaging.

Garbage bags

I currently use compostable bags for my garbage, but I had to go find them and do a bit of research to confirm that they were actually compostable and not just biodegradable. There’s a big difference – biodegradable plastics may look like they go away, but they may just break down into smaller and smaller pieces of plastics (the microplastics that scientists are finding in the ocean and even in bottled water). My compostable bags are safe to put in the compost, so they probably aren’t doing that much harm (save for the resources needed to make them).

I use bags partly to avoid a gross garbage bin and partly because I typically only take trash out when I’m already heading out the door. That requires a bag or container of some sort that doesn’t need to be returned to the apartment. So, basically, I guess I’m lazy and grossed out by icky garbage.

I currently have 3 places where waste is collected: a plastic bin in my bathroom, a stainless steel bin in my kitchen, and a random (whatever I have available) bag to collect my plastic waste (I started tracking my plastic waste several weeks ago, so I’ve been separating it from everything else). I also have a large re-usable bag for recycling, but I don’t line it with a bag, so it’s irrelevant to this challenge (side note: did you know that blue bags aren’t recyclable? I learned that a year or two ago and immediately stopped using them for my recyclables).

The stainless steel bin in the kitchen can be easily washed and won’t absorb odors. It also has a handy lid with an odor neutralizing carbon filter. The plastic bin in the bathroom is the only thing I’ve ever found that fits in the narrow space, which is the only reason I put up with it being cheap plastic. I rarely put icky things in it as I only empty it as needed. In both cases, I can easily live without a garbage bag if I’m willing to wash them out as needed. And, I have some old yogurt containers that I can use to store things in the freezer temporarily (ex: organics that are wet or prone to rot/mold). I should note that I don’t eat meat, but if I did, I would try to find a re-usable container or re-usable plastic bag to store meat packing in the freezer until I was ready to take it out.

My plan for July is to not use any garbage bags at all. The cans will be emptied when convenient or as needed, and cleaned regularly to avoid bad odors or built up ickiness. And, I have an extra can that I can use for my plastic waste, so that I can avoid wasting a garbage bag to collect plastic waste.

It sounds so simple and easy now that I’ve written it down, but this is something I’ve considered and been really resistant to for a very long time. Rotting food grosses me out (just thinking about it is making me a bit queasy), so I’m not looking forward to cleaning out the bins. But, also, for some stupid reason, going down and up 6 flights in an elevator just to take the garbage out seems like a big deal in my head. But, it’s not and that’s no excuse to avoid this challenge.

Plastic wrapped foods

I’m embarrassed to admit that 5 years ago I called myself an environmentalist, but still bought tonnes of food wrapped in plastic: frozen entrees, prepacked fruit and veggies, boxed or bagged rice and pasta, packaged greens, etc. And, while I rarely ate in restaurants, I was always guaranteed to take part of the meal home in those little Styrofoam containers they provide, because I always forgot an extra container.

I justified these bahaviours in a couple ways:

  1. Most of this packaging is recyclable, so it’s not that big of a deal.
  2. Other than this, I’m low impact because I use transit, etc., so I’m still more environmentally friendly than the average Canadian.
  3. I don’t enjoy cooking and I deserve to be able to escape a chore I dislike on occasion.

The truth is that I was just being lazy. I have no children, I’m not expected to take work home at the end of the day, I have very few external responsibilities, etc. I just wanted yummy food that didn’t require any time in the kitchen.

One day I quit frozen entrees cold turkey (with the exception of the occasional frozen pizza). I just decided to quit buying them. I wish I could say it was because I realized how much plastic I was purchasing, but I think it was mostly because of how expensive they can be (I’m a picky vegetarian, so I rarely found cheap entrees). But, I still bought a fair amount of things in bulk: bags of lentils, containers of greens, bundled onions wrapped in plastic mesh, etc.

Since then, I’ve made a lot of changes in what I buy and how I buy it. One of the very few exceptions has been greens (lettuce, sprouts, spinach, etc.), which I continued to buy in plastic containers or wrapped in plastic. Part of the problem is that I haven’t found many low or no plastic options. Kale, the occasional beat-up bundle of spinach and bok choy are the only consistently low-plastic greens I’ve been able to find, even at the market. In fact, kale with minimal packaging is abundant, but I hate kale (I’m sensitive to flavours, especially bitter flavours, so kale tastes bitter and horrible to me, no matter how it’s prepared).

Other exceptions have included: cheese, the occasional bit of yogurt, the occasion frozen pizza, various nuts or grains, etc. I’ve already switched to buying as much as I can in the bulk food sections and I’m trying very hard to resist cheese. I buy yogurt very rarely and always re-use those containers multiple times over, so I may allow it as an occasional treat, but not during July (except that I already have some yogurt that I bought in June).

The last exception has been local food from the market, which often comes in plastic. This one is a hard one for me because food in my city is predominantly shipped from other countries (not as much in the summer, but even then, a lot of things are shipped from other provinces). Is it better to buy something local that’s in plastic that I can reuse, or is it better to buy something plastic free that was shipped from California or Mexico? Honestly, I’d rather buy the local foods. Plastic free isn’t the only thing I advocate for (shop local, low impact living, etc.), so sometimes I have to pick the “best” option instead of the plastic free option. This will be the one and only exception I will consider making for July.

So, my plan for this part of the challenge is to avoid plastic (with the possible exception of local produce at the market, if I can’t find a plastic free alternative). Of course, I do have some plastics that I bought before the challenge: some yogurt, some greens, two chocolate bars, a couple books that were preordered and may come in packaging with plastic, etc. So, I don’t expect my garbage to be completely plastic free in July, but I do hope to have hardly any plastic garbage and I expect to be able to account for any plastic that I’m responsible for. More importantly, I hope to both find alternatives where needed and shift my habits.

So, those are my two Plastic Free July challenges – no garbage bags and low to no plastic packaged foods. I expect it to be challenging, but not impossible.

Are you considering reducing plastic use in your life?

Plastic Free July challenge

Plastic Free July - Choose to Refuse 300ppi

I’m participating in Plastic Free July, which is a challenge created to encourage people to reduce their use of plastics, especially single-use plastics.

I’m not plastic free or zero waste, but I would like to be, as much as possible. And, it’s something that I’ve been working towards, especially these past few months as it relates to my goal to be more eco-friendly, which is part of my slow year experiment.

What is zero waste? A lot of people assume that it means zero waste produced, which would be extremely difficult for most people, especially people who don’t have access to the types of resources needed to be zero waste (ex: a garden to grow your own food). Many also associate zero waste with tiny jars of garbage. Though it would be wonderful if we all strived to only accrue a jar of garbage each year, or even each month, this is also unrealistic for most people and it gives you a false sense of how much garbage is actually produced to support you and your lifestyle (ex: even bulk food is shipped to bulk stores in bags or boxes of some sort, so buying bulk in reusable bags or containers still creates garbage). And, then there are the zero waste lifestyle fanatics who, much like the minimalist lifestyle fanatics, portray zero waste as being a trend that requires bamboo straws and coconut shell bowls.

Zero waste doesn’t have to be any of those things. The important thing is to make as many choices as you can to reduce or eliminate waste, which is simpler, more attainable, and more useful than trying an extreme or trendy lifestyle that you can’t sustain.

Plastic Free July isn’t about being zero waste, but reduced plastic and zero waste endeavours support each other and promote similar actions. And, zero waste focuses a lot on plastic use because a lot of the garbage households produce are plastic – plastic wrappers, plastic straws, plastic containers, etc.

People are finally starting to recognize that plastic is a problem and that plastics can last for generations (that straw you used this morning? it could still be here for centuries). Worse, despite what we all think, a lot of plastic isn’t recycled or recyclable (check with your local waste management to see what’s recyclable in your area). There are also a lot of plastic sources that people aren’t aware of, such as paper to-go cups. Disposable coffee cups are often lined with a thin layer of plastic, so they aren’t recyclable or compostable.

Think of every plastic item you touch in a typical day – how much of that is recyclable and how much of the recyclable plastic do you think will find its way into a recycling bin?

I’ve already eliminated a lot of plastics in my life, and I’ve continued to work on avoiding or minimizing plastics as much as possible, with the exception of plastic items that I already own (sometimes the best option is just to keep using that plastic container that you already have). But, after taking the Plastic Free July quiz and reviewing their action picker form, I realized that there were a few areas that could use improvement.

The action picker is a good tool to use to get started with the challenge. Each row includes what to avoid (ex: grocery bags), how to avoid it (ex: take a re-usable bag), and a graphical representation of how much of an impact that option makes, based on the positive impact for the ocean, landfills and global warming. Most of the actions are focused on ways to avoid plastics (food packaging, microbeads in cosmetics, plastic bottles, straws, garbage bags, litter, etc.), but they also include making sure that everything that can be recycled goes in the recycling, instead of the garbage.

I’ve decided to focus on garbage bags and food packaging, as most of the other items are irrelevant to me (my cosmetics and such are plastic free) or rare (I rarely eat out, so it’s rare that I would need to worry about plastic straws and such). I’ll talk about my plans in my next post. In the meantime, I encourage you to at least take the quiz and consider what single use plastics you might be able to reduce or eliminate, regardless of whether or not you participate in Plastic Free July.

A year of slow

I picked “slow” as my 2018 motto for a number of reasons, including the wish to be more thoughtful about things. I don’t want to set rules, but I do want to set out a few manageable intentions to keep me moving forward. So, here are the areas that I’ve decided to focus on this year:

Reading

I mentioned in my original post that I’d already planned to slow down my reading. I’m attempting to read or remove most, if not all, of my unread books by the end of the year, but I don’t want to take part in the competitiveness or need to read more more more that I feel when tracking on Goodreads. So, I’m reading what I want, when I want and I’m only sharing select updates: the occasional review and my monthly unread shelf project update. I track my reading at home in a notebook and in a spreadsheet because I like making charts.

I’m also going to stop making myself finish books, regardless of how much I’ve already read or how great the reviews have been. I’ll be more patient with non-fiction books as they can often be a bit more dry and because I picked them to learn something new. But, as a general rule of thumb, if I’m not enjoying a book, I’ll find something else to read.

Journalling

I’ve already found a better way to do this. I no longer use pen and paper because that creates to many limits for me – I have to be at home or have my journal with me and I have to print or draw things if I want to add a pictures. Keeping it digital means that I can access it anytime and I can even copy my blog posts in to keep track of my thought processes in a month.

This has also helped with time: instead of rushing to jot something down before bed, I use the time I have in the morning before work or during my lunch break to write my thoughts digitally. This has already allowed me to reflect and explore ideas and issues more fully.

Sketching

While I still want to continue my daily sketching habit, even if it’s just a silly doodle or a “crappy” sketch, I also want to give myself more time in case I’m in the mood to sketch several images or work on something more complex. This will also help me to find time to sketch ideas, practice techniques, and make notes about inspirations I’ve found throughout the day.

Fitness

We all need to exercise, but this year I want to focus on building habits instead of pushing myself to be stronger, faster, better. I also want to rediscover my love for walking and taking my jolly sweet time exploring the trails or my neighbourhood. Once I started to treat all my walks as fitness events, I started to feel like I had work harder, walk longer, and use every walk as a means of improving my fitness. Well, that backfired because I stopped enjoying it and stopped walking as much. I want to get back to a point where my walk is focused on enjoying being outside and not on trying to get in shape.

Being eco-friendly

I’m trying to work towards a more eco-conscious lifestyle. I used to be pretty hardcore about the environment, but I let other priorities and “busy-ness” get in the way.  Slow living works well with this because it encourages thoughtful consumption. For me, this means buying less, finding eco-friendly alternatives, and making my own things.

Reduce, reuse, recycle – reducing is the first and most important part of being eco-friendly. That’s why you see people who are trying to live zero-waste. I doubt I could ever be dedicated enough to be zero-waste, but I can slow down my consumption to be less-waste.

Simplifying

Tying in with the idea of reducing consumption, I also want to continue to work on simplifying my space. I know that there are still some areas with room for improvement (i.e., things that I don’t need to keep), but I would like to end the year with the comfort of knowing that I have purposely and thoughtfully made the decision to keep the things I have. This is partly because I’ve discovered that I really value living a more simplified life and partly because I want to set a good starting point for next year, when I will be working on redeveloping habits around things like book buying (i.e., not letting myself get back in a place where I have nearly 200 unread books).

That’s 6 things! They’re all things that I’ve already started to work on, things that support where I want to be, and things that will help me with some intentions I have for the future (being more eco-friendly, refocusing on my health, etc.).

I’ve already started to implement some practices that I think will be helpful. For example, I recently borrowed a cookbook, The First Mess Cookbook by Laura Wright, from the library and immediately wanted to buy it. Instead of ordering it on the spot, which had been my usual habit, I took some time with it. I reviewed the recipes, the types of ingredients needed, and even the author’s website. I then considered if I really needed it. In the end, I decided to buy the book – yes, I’m buying a book, but I came to that decision slowly and thoughtfully. Also, I’m getting rid of two old cookbooks that I never use.

Each month, I’m going to make a short (very short) list of things that I can work on to help me live by my motto and each day I’m going to try and remind myself to slow down, breath, reflect, and live more intentionally. This month, my list includes:

  • Remember to weed things with thoughtfulness and purpose, not just out of frustration
  • Have a nice hot bath with those bath salts you’ve been saving for a cozy night
  • Consider sketching with purpose, even if a piece takes more then one day to complete the picture
  • Take a few evenings to fill past sketches with colour, because colouring is fun

My list isn’t too serious, but it does help me work towards my goals. The challenge for me will be remembering to do these things.

Do you have a motto? If so, how are you working towards keeping that motto in mind over the year?

Book review: Locavore

On a whim, I decided to read some of the books recommended by the David Suzuki Foundation’s Book Club. The first I read was Locavore: From Farmers’ Fields to Rooftop Gardens – How Canadians Are Changing the Way We Eat, by Sarah Elton. I started reading it because I thought it might offer a bit of insight on the types of projects that are happening across Canada (I love reading about innovative projects). I assumed it would be just like most other eco-centered booked I’ve read in the past: a preachy treatise about the evils of the current system and how we’re all ruining the environment. But, I was wrong.

The author clearly supports the idea that local eating is do-able and very important for both the environment and for food security, but she’s honest about some of the hurdles (affordability, access to foods that can’t easily be grown locally, etc.) and recognizes that we’re long past the point of being able to move to a system that’s 100% local food. If nothing else, people are still going to want to eat the occasional tropical food that doesn’t grow well in Canada.

I felt that she gave a thoughtful, honest, and very interesting account of the past, current and (potential) future status of farming in Canada, including the past booms, the lack of respect for farmers, and people who’ve taken risks and tried new things. Many of the stories she shares are about farmers who started or got involved in co-ops, selling directly to the consumer, and trying greenhouses to be able to supply goods year round. She also spoke with a lot of chefs who are dedicated to using local foods (not just high end restaurants, for example, she profiled a small pizza franchise that buys from local farmers).

I was disheartened, but not overly surprised, to learn about how some grocery companies work and how food imports can affect farmers. She spoke of how groceries stores will buy what’s cheapest, which makes sense from a make-money perspective, but food that’s shipped from other countries can be much cheaper, even if it’s been shipped long distances or in specialty containers. If we paid the actual cost (not necessarily the environmental cost, but just the cost of time, equipment, gas, etc.), we’d be paying quite a bit more for some foods.

The author also had a lot of good news stories: a farmer who was able to keep his farm even after the suburbs surrounded it, unlike what’s happening to this sheep farm hobbyist here in Alberta; farmers who went from the brink of bankruptcy to success because of local food initiatives; a farmer who partnered with an eco-organization to buy some land and protect a large piece of natural landscape at the same time; etc. But, my favourite parts were where she discussed urban farming (farming in the city) and innovations in roof-top or balcony gardens. I love that some people are seeing the value in keeping their own gardens in the city.

She ended the book with a list of things that we can do to help support a better food system that supports local food initiatives:

  1. Ask questions (where is the food grown? how is it grown? etc.)
  2. Buy foods that are grown sustainably
  3. Eat in season
  4. Avoid processed foods
  5. Choose organic foods and humanly raised meats, dairy and eggs
  6. Voice your opinion
  7. Go to the source (visit the farm, etc.)
  8. Look for restaurants that serve local and sustainable foods
  9. Search for alternatives (different sources of more sustainable foods, etc.)
  10. Choose fair trade

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It was interesting and easy to read, but still managed to get me thinking about local food issues. I really appreciated that she recognized that we don’t need to move towards perfection and that every little bit of effort helps. Anyone who’s interested in the local food movement, farming in Canada, or food in general would likely find this book quite interesting.

Remember, every little bit counts. If you can’t afford to eat exclusively from the farmer’s market, start with trying to buy as much local or near-local (same province, same country) foods as possible.

…Harriet Friedmann compared the new shoots of an alternative food system to dandelions … We had been discussing all the different ways people were finding to access local food, to get around the system and find what they really wanted to eat.

“Dandelions are the first plants to come back and break up the concrete. The trees, they come after that. All these little experiments are the cracks in the sidewalk, making way for a whole new ecology,” she said. If these dandelions are so impressive, then imagine what the trees will be like.