Bag It: Is your Life too Plastic? (2010)

Bag It: Is your Life too Plastic? (2010) is a good intro to plastic. It talks about single use plastic, the proliferation of plastic in everyday products (lining cans, etc.), and plastic toxicity. The info about toxicity is a little nerve wracking, but I found the documentary to be informative and approachable. Also, it was a really good reminder to focus on avoiding bringing plastic into the home.

The toxicity discussion made me think about the contrast between zero-waste living and plastic-free living. In plastic-free living, the ultimate goal is to avoid all plastic because of the issues with plastic trash, but also to avoid the toxins in plastic. Zero-waste living is more focused on avoiding sending things to the landfill, even if that means reusing plastic items.

Personally, I would like to avoid plastic and I would love to, eventually, replace all the plastic bottles that I’m reusing with glass or stainless steel containers. But, I think that I have a responsibility to extend the life of plastic I purchase as much as possible, even if it’s just a mayo jar. And, I don’t trust recycling, especially as I live in an apartment and our recycling bin is always contaminated with non-recyclables – that probably means that all my carefully cleaned and sorted recycling ends up at the landfill. While I may be increasing the risk of exposing myself to toxins, reusing the plastic I have reduces the plastic in the environment. It also means that I’m not contributing to the production of new products.

It’s not an easy decision to make. After learning about plastic toxicity, it’s really tempting to throw out all the plastic. But, I think that the best solution for me is to simply work on avoiding bringing plastic into my home. I’m privileged to be able to access and afford items that come in glass bottles (natural peanut butter, etc.) even though it’s more expensive. But, this isn’t something that many people can do. We’re all sort of stuck in a situation where plastic is cheap and profits are more important than consumer health.

Into the Gyre (2010)

It’s Plastic free July! I was going to kick off the month with a trash audit because it’s a great way of tracking your plastic use and looking for alternatives (reducing what you use, finding ways to reuse things you can’t avoid, etc.). But, that’s going to have to wait until August.

Instead, I’m using the weekly bingo challenge from Marandas World (Instagram) as inspiration (thought I’m not officially participating in the challenge). This first week was education and awareness. One of the options is watching documentaries. I don’t have Netflix, so I had to look for alternative options. My library gives me access to Hoopla and Kanopy, amongst other great digital resource platforms.

Hoopla is generic entertainment (books, movies, etc.). It doesn’t have the best selection, but I found a couple films about the environment. The only one I found that’s focused on plastic is Into the Gyre (2012), which is about a group of scientists that sail out to the North Atlantic Gyre to gather research (it can also be rented or purchased via Vimeo). I think a lot of people would find it boring, but I found it really interesting to see how they trawled for plastic and learn little tidbits about plastic in the oceans.

Kanopy focuses on documentaries and films that enrich us (it’s a really great resource and has content just for kids). I found several films: Bag It: Is your Life too Plastic? (2010), Oceans: The Mystery of the Missing Plastic (2016), Plastic Planet: Investigating Plastic and its Effects on our Health (2010), and Straws: The Impact of Plastic Straws on our Environment (2017). I’m sure there’s more – they have a whole section of great eco films. I’m currently watching Bag It! and it’s a good mix of informative and fun.

Lastly, Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (2013) can be bought or rented directly from the films website or via Vimeo.

Bonus option: Like on Vimeo, you can buy or rent films from YouTube. Some documentaries are even posted for free, like content from CBC Docs (just make sure that you’re watching the official version from the official creator so that any ad revenue can go directly to them).

Environmental justice books

(This is a slightly modified version of something that I posted in the book recommendations discussion of the Environmental Book Club on Goodreads. It’s not a comprehensive list and I haven’t read most of them, so I can only judge them based on their reviews.)

It’s important to read about environmental justice and other related topics because environmentalism should be intersectional. We need to be aware of how and why some communities are more likely to be affected by pollution and climate change, we need to understand how people are further marginalized when we assume that they “choose” to live in a high risk, and we need ensure that they’re welcome in natural spaces and the environmental movement.

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson (@ayanaeliza on Instagram and Twitter) wrote an article about how racism derails efforts to save the planet. In it, she notes that black (57%) and Latinx (70%) people are more concerned about climate change that white (49%) people. So, we (white folk) all need to do a better job of listening to them and giving them space in discussions about environmentalism.

I’d like to acknowledge that many of these are not written by BIPOC authors and that we should strive to read own voices accounts, where possible. Also, these books are all American or Canadian because I haven’t yet had a chance to look for books from other places. While many of them discuss global issues, it’s important to read books from other countries (especially countries that have been colonized or that are marginalized due to poverty, war, etc.). I have more books in my bookshelves and I’ll continue to add more as I find them (you can see my shelves in my profile).

Books about the BIPOC experience in nature:

The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity, and the Natural World by Alison Hawthorne Deming and Lauret Savoy (editors) – Explores the history, displacement, return, and relationship to place of POC (People of Colour) through 17 essays. BIPOC editor (Savoy)

Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Land by Lauret Savoy – The author looks at how history and the idea of “race” have affected her and the land through personal anecdotes and historical research. Note: This is the first book/item being read as part of the #alliesinthelandscape reading group (on Twitter), which was created by @jessicajlee (Twitter) to combat anti-Black racism in nature and the outdoors. BIPOC author

Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors by Carolyn Finney – In this book, the author argues that the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, and racial violence have shaped cultural understandings of the great outdoors and determined who should and can have access to natural spaces. BIPOC author

Books about or relating to environmental racism:

There’s Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous & Black Communities – by Ingrid R.G. Waldron – This looks at the legacy of environmental racism and its health impacts in Indigenous and Black communities in Canada. This is now a documentary on NetFlix. BIPOC author Canadian

As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock by Dina Gilio-Whitaker – A history of Indigenous resistance to government and corporate incursions on their lands and offers new approaches to environmental justice activism and policy. BIPOC author

If You Poison Us: Uranium and Native Americans: Uranium and Native Americans by Peter H. Eichstaedt – This is about the health, environmental and spiritual impact of uranium mining on the Navajo Reservation.

Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility by Dorceta Taylor – This examines the connections among residential segregation, zoning, and exposure to environmental hazards. BIPOC author

The Rise of the American Conservation Movement: Power, Privilege, and Environmental Protection by Dorceta Taylor – This book shows how race, class, and gender influenced every aspect of the conservation movement. BIPOC author

Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks by Mark David Spence – This looks at how the establishment of America’s most cherished parks involved the displacement of Native communities. BIPOC author

Books that are relevant, but may not be specifically about eco-justice or environmental racism:

The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution That Could Save the World by David R. Boyd – This is about environmental rights in general, but there’s a lot of discussion about Indigenous groups fighting to save their lands and sacred places. Canadian

Finding Our Niche: Toward a Restorative Human Ecology by Philip A Loring – A look at mistakes we’ve made, how to reconcile our settler-colonial histories and how to move towards a more sustainable and just future.

Noxious New York: The Racial Politics of Urban Health and Environmental Justice by Julie Sze – An analysis of the culture, politics, and history of environmental justice activism in New York City. BIPOC author

Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush – A look at some of the places in the US where rising sea levels are having the most dramatic effects. Includes some discussion about marginalized communities and racism.

On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal by Naomi Klein – A collection of essays talking about how a bold new green deal could lead to a just and thriving society. There essays are about a diverse range of topics, including the rise of white supremacy.

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

Plastic Free July - Choose to Refuse 300ppi

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?