Going Green 3: Garbage

Garbage. Waste. Where does it go? Where in the world does it end up? How much of the stuff are we each generating anyway?

Yes, it fills up landfills. Yes, big trucks have to haul it there. Yes, it releases loads of methane, which is 22 times worse than carbon dioxide for climate change. Then there are the oceans – for cities and countries that still dump their garbage into the ocean, shame on you! There is a gyre of plastic the size of Texas in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Some of the plastic has broken up so small, fish cannot help but digest it.

The other thing with garbage is the needless waste of energy and resources that were used to make it, just so it can be thrown out. Where did this garbage originally come from? Where on Earth was it derived? What is the embodied energy of it, what emissions were created to bring it into existence? It seems like such a waste of resources, just to throw it away.

Waste is so wasteful.

So let’s reduce it where we can. Time for the sliding scale of green for garbage! Even small changes can make a big difference. Where do you fit on the green sliding scale?

Dabbler

You recycle. Things that are paper, cardboard, glass or plastic do not hit your garbage can. They hit the blue bag or recycling bin or recycling centre. I have been doing this since I had my own apartment. My Mom has been doing this for over 20 years.

Here is our recycling for a 3 week period in 2010, before I started getting serious on cutting the packaging…

Beginner

You avoid one use items such as paper coffee cups, paper napkins, paper towels and plastic forks. You avoid plastic bottles, especially ones with only a single serving, like water that comes out of the tap for free. You carry a travel mug for coffee, a water bottle for cold drinks. You use real dishes, and then wash them, and then use them again. I started doing this pretty hardcore with no excuses about a year and a half ago when I had my green epiphany. Here is my beloved green travel mug, which I use almost every day:

Intermediate

You bake. You make. You know how to cook. Homemade food always creates less garbage than pre-packaged and pre-processed, plus it is better for you and you know what is in it. Most garbage is created in the kitchen, and mostly from food packaging. Make it fresh and garbage free. I started making my bread about a year ago, and since then have tried all sorts of interesting things – tortillas, crackers, granola bars, buns, biscuits, muffins… I make a bunch, freeze it and then always have homemade snacks. Plus have you ever smelled fresh bread baking in your own house? They can’t bottle that smell, it is so good.

Hardcore

You compost your organic wastes. You have a small bin under the sink for those potato peels and banana peels, for old bread and eggshells, for kid’s leftovers and stuff that went bad in the fridge. Apple cores, carrot tops, onion skins, coffee grinds – they all go into the organics bin and then out to the backyard composter outside. If you live in an apartment you get some worms and have fun with worm composting (which makes an even richer organic matter). I toss my kitchen scraps into my composter outside all winter long. It freezes solid. I just layer some brown leaves over each donation, and then it is ready for more. In the spring the whole thing thaws and heats up and gets going again. A year full of organic wastes from the kitchen and yard get transformed into rich organic compost, the very best kind of dirt you can get. What kind of miracle of nature is that? Garbage to growing material, renewed again. None of it goes to the landfill – a closed loop system.

Ultimate

You don’t buy food with packaging. Full stop. Nothing in a box, nothing in a metal can, nothing in a plastic container, nothing in glass… You bring your own produce bags to the grocery store, you avoid processed foods, and you make your own soup. You also preserve your own food, allowing you to reuse glass canning jars for tomato sauce, salsa, jams, pickles and peaches. You bake your own bread, muffins, granola bars and snacks. You have barely any garbage or recycling, maybe a small bin every two weeks. The garbage man often skips your house. You start to wish that you paid for garbage collection on a per bag basis, because then it would be practically free…

Bonus Points

Do you get any bonus points?

  • You have been known to bring your own plastic containers to a restaurant to wrap up the leftovers.
  • If you get a take-out hamburger and fries, you fold up the paper wrap and cardboard and slip it into your purse or pocket to take it home to recycle. Then if courage permits, you go up and ask the store manager why they don’t have recycling bins?
  • You pack your kids garbage free lunches, with everything in containers and no prepackaged foods. No plastic wrap, no throw away containers, no tetra-pack juice boxes.
  • You use cloth diapers for your babies.

So where do you fall on the green sliding scale? We can reduce our garbage a lot just by thinking about it. Most of the garbage decisions are made at the grocery store, in the food packaging we haul home. If you don’t buy it, it will not end up in the bin!

Take the poll!

Want some inspiration? Here are some great low garbage superstars of the blogging world:

  • Clean Bin Project – this couple each created less than one small bin of garbage over an entire year, and made a documentary about it
  • My Plastic Free Life – seeing birds from the middle of the Pacific die with their with bellies full of plastic, she swore off the stuff in 2007 and just released a book about her journey
  • No Impact Man – he took his shopaholic, cappuccino drinking wife and young daughter on a ride to have no environmental impact for one year, and then wrote a book and made a film about it
  • Green as a Thistle – she made one green change a day for a year, and wrote a book about it called Sleeping Naked is Green.
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Wal-Mart Worries

A typical Wal-Mart discount department store i...

Image via Wikipedia

Shortly after I had my green epiphany in November, I found myself wandering around in Wal-Mart. I looked around me and saw aisles and aisles of boxed items, plastic items, clothes, shoes, and toys for young and old. Each shelf was packed with stuff and the aisles went on and on and on. The store was huge. How much stuff was actually in here anyway? Who is going to buy it all? Where did it all come from?

Standing there in Wal-Mart, where I had been at least a hundred times before, it hit me. How are we ever going to change as much as we need to, when this Wal-Mart represents our consumption culture? I looked at all the people around me, pushing carts full of stuff. Consumption is all around us, it is what we do. How can we stop? It is just not sustainable to consume as much as we do. The resources are going to run out. We are pumping too much carbon into the sky to produce all this stuff, to ship it. At the end of the day, most of this stuff just ends up in the garbage anyway, as we reach for a newer, shinier option. We like to buy things. It makes us feel happy. It makes us feel like we deserve it, that we have worked hard for our money and that this is our reward. Sometimes it makes us feel like we measure up to other people, or worse, that we are better than other people.

The sad thing is that we buy all this stuff without appreciating what part of the Earth it came from, how far it came, and the people who were involved along the way.  Where did the tree grow that was cut down to produce the cardboard box?  Was the place they mined the metals a safe place to work? Did the workers who made the plastic have proper protection from the chemicals? Were the people in China who put the item together paid a fair wage, enough to feed their family? Do they even get to see their family or are they migrant workers from rural areas? Often Chinese migrant workers will leave their children behind to work in the city, only seeing them once or twice a year. I can’t even imagine having to do that. 

This all happens so I can have a new toaster, or a nicer coffee maker. I want some new dishes – I want to switch out the ones I have, I am sick of them. I want to buy a few new lipsticks, even though I have a dozen or so at home, I just want some different colours. I should also get a new stapler, since mine only staples 15 sheets at a time and I would prefer if it stapled 20. Hmmm… How about a new clock, this one looks more modern than the one I have. What else can I get while I am here?

So standing there that day in Wal-Mart, I began to feel panicky, anxious. What was going to happen to our world, how would we ever change? 

In that moment I resolved that I would not purchase things recklessly. I would make do with what I had. If I needed something, I would try first to find it used. I decided then and there to put myself on a shopping ban in 2011 to see how it felt.

Now it is February, and it feels good. I have not purchased any toys for my kids, no clothes for anyone. I have not purchased any cleaners or shampoo or hair gel or moisturizer. I am making do with what I have, and in some cases, making homemade stuff to compensate. It is challenging, yes, but also fulfilling. I feel like I am pushing myself to change, in hopes that others will change too. I want to tread lightly. I don’t want to hurt our world more than I have to. To quote Colin Beavan from his excellent book, No Impact Man:

If I treated the resources that pass through my hands as if they were precious, might I also begin to feel like this very life – the one right under my feet right now and right this very moment – might be precious too? And excuse me for generalizing – I don’t mean to preach – what if instead of just me, it were we? By this I mean if we, as a culture, treated resources as precious, might we not begin to act and feel as though this life we lead together – the one we live when we look in each other’s eyes – might be precious, too? And might this planet be precious, too? (page 46)

Precious indeed.

Checking in

Well, it has been about 10 weeks since I started this journey of greening my life, step-by-step. I thought it would be worthwhile to check-in and review what I have done, and provide some reflections so far. So to recap…

Reduce Energy Use
Some of the first things I did:

  1. Turn down the thermostat
  2. Turn down the hot water heater
  3. Consolidate chargers on a power bar for easy shutdown
  4. Unplug small kitchen appliances when not in use
  5. Replace every single light bulb with a compact fluorescent
  6. Implement the 4-light rule when the sun goes down (no lights when sun is up).
  7. Air dry all our clothes.

I still have a long way to go in this department. For example I want to look at installing additional weather stripping around doors. I also want to investigate solar panels. I also would love to get an energy audit done on our house. It is older (1956) so I think there maybe opportunities that could save us money and carbon in the long run. 

Reduce Garbage
After getting some easy quick wins above, I really started thinking about garbage. I had just finished reading “No Impact Man” by Colin Beavan at the time. He analyzed a week’s worth of his trash to see where it was all coming from, so that is what I did too. I was astonished to see how much of it was related to food packaging. I especially hated the single-use items like coffee cups, paper napkins and Styrofoam. So I dug in my heels, and now do the following:

  1. Use reusable or homemade gift bags for presents. I got through Christmas without using a scrap of wrap.
  2. Swore off Styrofoam completely. This meant changing where I go out for lunch at work.
  3. Purchased a pretty coffee travel mug. If I don’t have the mug, I don’t get the coffee.
  4. Swore off all grocery bags that are not reusable. I decided that not one more time, would I forget my bags. I keep an extra stash in the car, and have about 20 of them kicking around. This has been really easy, now that I am totally committed to it.
  5. Swore off all other plastic shopping bags. I purchased these awesome little nylon bags that fold up into a pouch in my purse and have not brought home a plastic bag since.
  6. Use mesh produce bags instead of plastic. They are thin and stretchy, and I like how apples and tomatoes bounce in them! I also reuse woven mesh bags you get with some produce. If it comes in a plastic bag, I either don’t buy it, or I wash and reuse the bag.  All in all, I have greatly slashed the number of these that I send to the landfill:
    Thin plastic shopping bags

    Image via Wikipedia

  7. Swore off boxed food. This actually has been one of the biggest changes. I had a large drawer dedicated to boxed items, now it is box-free and filled with my bulk bin overflow. This brings me to my next point:
  8. Purchase all staples in bulk, using as much as possible, plastic bags that have been reused. This has had the biggest change on the contents of my cupboards. Instead of opening up the door and seeing boxes with pictures of the food on it, I open up the door and see my actual food through glass jars. I have way more space. I appreciate what I have, the bounty of selection and variety. I feed my kids different snacks now, such as peanuts, raisins, and trail mix, or other little goodies from the bulk bins.
  9. Reduce food waste. This means keeping better tabs on the fridge.
  10. Bake my own bread. This saves a bread bag every time! Plus, I love doing it, kneading the dough, providing for my family. It is fluffy and yummy and I can’t go back.
  11. I also bake my own granola bars, cookies, tortilla bread and crackers. It started off as a way to reduce packaging and feed my kids foods that is preservative-free. Now I also use local flour and this is a big benefit for me as well. This leads me to the next big set of changes…

Eating Local Food
I was really inspired by the 100-Mile Diet book by Alisa Smith and James MacKibbon. I now realize that a big part of my carbon footprint relates to the goods I buy, and much of what I buy is food. So this is what I now do:

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

  1. Go to the Farmer’s Market every week. I now buy these items exclusively at the Farmer’s Market: eggs, bison, bacon, sausage, carrots, onions, potatoes, beets, cabbage, leeks, tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles, pears, apples, pear-apples, honey and mint tea. This list will expand in the summer.
  2. Look for other local foods not available at the Farmer’s Market. Some of this is available at the grocery store, some at specialty bakeries, and some at Planet Organic. Here is a list of local foods I have purchased around town: wine, canola oil, flour, hot cereal, yogurt, sour cream and goat cheese.
  3. Purchase non-local produce sparingly. I purchase bananas once every second week. I have not purchased oranges in a month. The only non-local vegetable I regularly purchase is broccoli.
  4. Set up an indoor herb garden in my kitchen.  This gives me fresh local herbs at my fingertips, and helps to satisfy my longing for spring and greenery.

I am still on the look-out for local foods and have emailed several local companies about where they source their ingredients. Eating local is not that easy, I will admit. But when I prepare a meal, and bask in the realization that it is made from mostly local ingredients, it feels really good.

I have some really big eating local plans this coming year. Eating local here in Canada means you have to store and preserve your produce for winter. So starting this summer, that is exactly what I intend to do. I want to preserve tomato sauce, salsa, peaches, pears and berries. I want to make pickles, apple sauce and jams. I also want to freeze local peas and local corn.

Finally, I want to grow my own food. This is super local. I really want to pass these skills on to my children. Part of me fears that they are going to need these skills in an uncertain future with an uncertain food supply (yes, even here in Canada). But for now, I really want them to have a connection with nature, with the land. I want them to have an appreciation for food. For example, a few days ago I was talking to my 5-year old son about how vegetables grow. It turned out that he did not even realize that all food was grown in the ground! Then just yesterday, he made up a song called the “Farmer of Life”. It was so beautiful. The song started off about a little boy who did not have enough food to eat. Then the little boy met a farmer, and the farmer grew food for him, and became the “Farmer of Life”. Just having this little conversation with him inspired this burst of creativity and my heart beamed with pride. I want to take this further, and let my kids get dirty in the garden.

Reduce Consumption
This was a big one. I made a commitment to not make any purchases that are not related to food or toilet paper for the first 3 months of 2011. Well, one month later, and it has not been a problem. I don’t even miss it. In fact, I am enjoying it (as is my bank account).

Reflections
I have made many changes since I started 10 weeks ago, and have really mixed up my daily habits and how I spend my time. Some of the changes have been totally easy, like the shopping bags and the travel mugs. Some changes have saved time, like the no-shopping rule. However some changes now take up more of my time, like air drying clothes and baking bread. Some take a lot of research, such as eating locally. Overall though, I am enjoying it. I do feel busier on the weekends, between the extra laundry time, the Farmer’s Market and the bread… But I am doing things that mean a lot to me, and that I actually do enjoy doing. My life feels enriched. I feel like my actions have purpose. I feel like I am making a difference.

I feel good.

100-Mile Diet

I have been reading the 100-Mile Diet, by Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon. In fact, I just finished it, moments ago. What they did was amazing and may have been the catalyst to actually get a local eating movement off the ground. In a recently published article on the top 10 food trends for 2011, eating local came in at #3. These guys did this in 2006 and the momentum is still growing. People all over the world are taking up this challenge.

It is quite the challenge. Alisa and James live in Vancouver, where salmon is a plenty and new spring veggies come early (as compared to where I live) but where wheat does not grow. It can grow there, but farmers choose not to grow it because it can be grown more efficiently somewhere else. So Alisa and James went without bread, pasta, crackers, etc for 7 months until they tracked down a farmer that did grow wheat, only to supply a related family restaurant.

In the span of one year they transform their clothes cupboards to store onions and potatoes. They hang garlic from the ceiling. They dry chillies in the front hall closet. They make their own sauerkraut, cheese and yoghurt. They preserve and can many foods for the winter, including tomatoes, pickles, berries, corn, green beans, you name it. They have a small community plot in which they garden. They source all of the rest of their foods from local farms, and have many adventures finding walnuts, hazelnuts, and the elusive olive tree. Much of their free time seems to be spent either researching where to find local food, going to local farms to get their food, or canning or preserving their food at home.

They find that they become much more connected to their food. No longer does it just miraculously arrive on their plates at a restaurant, or appear with bounty on grocery store shelves. They talk to the farmers who grow it, raise it. They go to the farms and see the crops in the field, see how the animals are treated. They watch their own food grow in their garden. They store and preserve and manage their food supply in the winter. Food becomes something to be cherished, worth working for. They research how the early peoples of the area grew and managed food, and realized that they were rich with excess. They note how varieties of vegetables and fruit grown in the area have now been reduced from thousands to a few. They tell us that the average North American dinner contains foods that have traveled an average of 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometres) to the plate.

After reading this book I feel just… sad. A generation ago everyone had a back garden, even if you lived in the city. Now here I am, never having grown a single tomato in my life. I live in the prairies, where the soil is rich and the sun shines brightly in the summer, yet I cannot find local food in my grocery store, even in the summer. Everything is from somewhere else. Everything is shipped. We ship our stuff to them; they ship their stuff to us. We grow the best wheat and canola; they grow the best oranges and peaches. So we trade, even though it takes thousands of kilometres to get here. This is a model I used to believe in. The market works best if resources are allowed to flow to those geographic locations where the goods can be produced the most efficiently. This keeps prices down for the consumer, allowing our money to go further. I want my money to go further, yes.

Now this whole model in which I believed is being turned on its head. Is it always better to be cheaper? What about those costs that are not priced in, those costs to the environment, the land, the atmosphere? We need to cut emissions, yet our global food system relies on shipping refrigerated containers all across the Earth, constantly. How much food is at sea, right at this moment? Or on a train or truck? In my mind I see an Earth criss-crossed with lines. Farms at home grow only a few main crops, and cannot support the full dietary needs of the people. Furthermore, farmable land continues to be reduced, due to the sprawl of our cities.

Today I planned to go to the biggest farmer’s market we have in my city. I checked it out online, researched some of the farmers, watched some of the videos on how they raise their free run chickens and how they grow and harvest their organic vegetables. These farmers are doing this differently than others because they believe in it. They are going against the grain and I want to support them.

But today a huge snow storm hit and ground traffic to a halt, so I was forced to go to my neighbourhood farmer’s market (much smaller), supplemented by Safeway. Since I had been reading the 100-Mile diet, I was considering where everything came from. The farmer’s market yielded onions, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, bacon, ham sausage, eggs and bison. The grocery store had to fill in all the rest. It took forever. Normally with grocery shopping I get it done in the smallest amount of time possible. I am in, I am out. Sometimes I surprise even myself how fast I can select, load and pay for a week’s worth of groceries. Today was different.

I was indecisive, troubled. With every product there arose a question. Should I buy the strawberries from Mexico or the blueberries from Chile? Perhaps the grapes are a bit more local… no also from Chile. I decided to get the bananas from Ecuador since we are now on a week on, week off rotation with bananas, and this is the week on. I decided on the strawberries, thinking that at least it is on the same continent. Some foods listed Canada/USA as their origin, as if this was a homogenous area. What about the chicken? There was grain fed for twice the price of regular. I would prefer grain fed, but I could not get past the price. Does grain fed mean free run? I went for the cheaper option. I was annoyed that I felt guilty.

I am also a stickler for packaging. Do I get the cherry tomatoes grown in Canada packaged in a clear plastic container, or the ones from the US in a reusable mesh bag? What about juice? I thought I would go with apple, since there was a shred of hope it could have been more local (as compared to orange, mango, and pineapple) but then they were sold out. Orange it was.

So many decisions so much global variety, I felt overwhelmed and frustrated and annoyed at myself and at the world. Damn 100-Mile Diet book, my ignorance used to be bliss!

Toy Mountain

Well another Christmas has passed, with the merry moments and warm wishes that go along with it. I have always loved the Christmas season, the sparkly lights, the pretty packages and the good spirits. I remember feeling sad as a child, when it was all over at the end of Christmas day.

My children are just getting old enough now (at ages 2 and 5) to get really excited about Christmas. They were so excited yesterday morning, when they realized that Santa really did come, and he really did eat the cookies and drink the milk. They were doubly excited when they saw that Santa really did bring the toys they had asked for. It was magical for them and for me too.

This year, I was committed to not use a scrap of wrap in the giving of our gifts. All my gifts were given in a homemade bag, a tote bag or a reusable gift bag. As a result we generated less Christmas garbage than in other years. Way less! Some family and friends also used homemade gift bags as well. We had cute fabric bags a plenty this year! One sister went as far as to make all her Christmas gifts, and a friend of mine gave Kiva loans to entrepreneurs in the developing world! I was so inspired by these gifts.

Despite this, we still managed to generate a lot of garbage associated with the toy packaging. It is obscene really. The most annoying thing is how all the toys are pinned in with multiple ties and screws and elastics and tape. Why? With some, you have to be careful not to break the toy when prying it free from its plastic cage.

How can I reduce that next year? Well one idea is to purchase used toys instead of new toys for my kids. I actually did some of that this year – they got some used story books, and some used toys from Santa in their stocking. However, I could have gone further if I planned better, and looked for stuff earlier on, such as at summer garage sales.

The second idea is to drastically reduce the amount of toys that we get the kids. Right now they each get three toys from us and one toy from Santa, along with a stocking full of toys from Santa. This is clearly too much, since they also get toys from Grandmas and Grandpas and Aunties and Uncles and cousins.

The worst part is that they are starting to get greedy for toys, especially my oldest. This must be in part, due to the amount of toys they have and get. What am I promoting here? That toys are what we value? When they grown up, what will they value? Adult toys? More stuff? This rampant consumerism is exactly the opposite of what I want to be promoting.

It is so hard though, since their little faces light up when they see the toys, and then they spend hours and hours playing with them. They do love the toys, and use them. It is hard to take that away, and they will probably not understand. However, it is in their long-term best interest. That is what parenting is about – thinking long-term, and educating for the long-term. That is why we don’t let them eat cookies and cake all day long.

So enjoy today kids, playing with your new mountain of toys. Next boxing day might be different.  Perhaps we will go sledding! 🙂

Bulk Bins

Ah…. buying in bulk. I used to think that only hippies did this, or those who really like eating granola. I used to shop at a grocery store that had bulk bins aplenty, and I would just snobbishly walk by them and head for the box-y isles. I would throw boxes of pasta, boxes of cereal, boxes of crackers, boxes of cookies and boxes of granola bars into my cart. Then I would head to the plastic-y bag isle, and toss bags of rice, bags of pasta, bags of sugar and bags of oatmeal into my cart. Then I would go home and we would eat it all up, and toss the boxes, toss the bags. Eat, toss. Eat, toss. Repeat forever.

Until now! Since so much of our trash is food related, I decided to try and break free of all the boxes and bags. So, I trotted down to the grocery store that had bulk bins a plenty:

I brought along my stash of bread bags that I have been rinsing out and keeping so that I would not have to needlessly use more plastic bags. My first foray into bulk bin shopping resulted in purchases of oatmeal, pasta, egg noodles, trail mix, raisons, granola and black beans. As I run out of other foods, I will also purchase rice, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, nuts and whatever else I can find in the bins that we eat. I will probably also load up on different kinds of beans, just as soon as I learn some recipes on how to cook with them…

There is another thing I learned about of buying in bulk – it is way cheaper. Bonus!

So I got home and my first thought was that I needed to purchase new canisters and glass containers, for all my new bulk items! I wanted pretty rows of glass containers, showing off my colourful pastas and rice, my nuts and beans! Shopping, I needed to go shopping!

Then I stopped myself. The point of this is to reduce needless waste, after all. So I looked at what I had on hand, that I can use. I scrounged. Finding interesting things in your house that you already have can be fun too! It feels self-reliant and self-sufficient. Department store? Bah! I have what I need in my cupboard… pushed way at the back, if you just give me a few minutes and a flashlight… okay, maybe not… perhaps I can find something in the basement… just a sec…

So I ended up finding a bunch of glass jars and extra canisters. I filled them up and what do you know:

They don’t look half bad! Here I put my accumulation of bulk items together, so that you could see them all in one shot. However I keep most of these in the cupboard. Overtime, my stash will grow as we go through existing boxed and bagged food supplies. I may have to resort to purchasing used canisters down the road, or maybe we will just eat more pickles and pasta sauce to harvest more jars.

In the end, I have to admit there is something nice about opening up the cupboard door to see rows of simple glass jars. They compartmentalize the food, making the contents easy to see and appreciate, without all the logos and other baggage. It feels more organized somehow, I cannot explain it.

It feels good.

Going Granola

I continue to think about the garbage I produce. So much is food related! Everything I purchase in the grocery store comes in a package or a box or a bag or is shrink-wrapped on a Styrofoam tray. Every meal I prepare for my family leaves a wake of garbage when we are done. Wrappers, bread bags, pasta boxes, meat trays… Luckily I am not throwing away my organic waste anymore (more on that later), so that is helping. But still, scads of cardboard and plastic end up in the recycle bin.

 Look what Beth Terry over at Fake Plastic Fish has done to eliminate plastic. She counts every single plastic item that comes into her possession, and has been charting it since 2007. She finds non-plastic alternatives to everything. She even uses a glass straw! Her inspiration is the birds who feed on the huge gyre of plastic waste in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Have you seen images them? How did we get to this?

Back in my kitchen, I start to see that so many things in my pantry are individually wrapped in plastic as well. Granola bars, fruit bars, cheese strings… These are all snack staples I feed my two small children. Staples!!

So I have decided to stop. Instead of purchasing cardboard boxes of individually wrapped snack items, such as these:

 

I made these instead:

 

Homemade granola bars!  They are chock full of ingredients I understand like rolled oats, organic honey, raisins, nuts and peanut butter. I made them tonight and the whole house smelled like sweet nuts and oatmeal. If you want the recipe I used, it is loosely based on the one I found here. There are a million of them out there. Got some chocolate chips? Throw them in! Extra coconut left over from baking? In it goes! I actually had some almond butter that I wanted to finish, so in that went too! I have a stash of almonds and trail mix that will go into the next batch.

I have also stopped with the cheese strings. Now I purchase a big block of cheese and cut little stick shapes off the end when the kids want a cheese snack. It is so easy and so much cheaper too.

These new snacks are better for my children anyway. They are not as processed and have fewer preservatives.

So – does this mean I am officially going granola?

Homemade Gift Bags

I have always loved wrapping Christmas presents. I would pump the Christmas tunes or perhaps turn on a Christmas movie, and then spread everything out on the living room floor and just go at it. I would pick the prettiest wrapping paper and the shiniest ribbons, and would coordinate and apply them for maximum effect. Then I would expertly arrange them under the tree. Everything had to match and coordinate with the tree as well, of course.

Then on Christmas morning everyone would tear into everything and all my pretty paper and ribbons would head straight into the trash.

A few years ago I started to realize the wastefulness of wrap, so I started using the reusable gift bags wherever possible. They did not arrange as nicely under the tree or look as pretty, but oh well. At least we could put them back into the bag bin and use them again. The odd big toy package still got wrapped.

This year I decided to take it one step further. I want to use homemade gift bags. As of this morning, I now have 6:

Quite a cute brunch, no?

My mom and sisters and I all decided to make some this year. We now have a pact to use them for inter-family gifts only. So you give one, you get one, then you give different ones next year, and they just rotate through the family. These are the ones I made with them:

  

Then I got out the scrap material left over from my sewing my living room curtains 6 years ago, and made two of these. Dupioni silk looks much better all trussed up under the tree, instead of tucked away in the scrap drawer. Don’t you think?

This one was made out of green velvet pants I wore in high school. I was in love with these green velvet pants (hey it was the 90s!). When they finally gave out I could not part with them, so I cut them up into smaller bits of fabric. They now have a new life as a purse-like bag, embroidered with some holly leaves (yes I did that part too!) and a vintage button.

So starting this Christmas I will no longer use a scrap of wrap!

No Napkin, thanks

I am continuing to think about the things I consume and the garbage I make. I have never spent this amount of time thinking about garbage.

I found this really interesting movie, not yet widely released, although coming out on DVD soon. It is called the Clean Bin Project. A young couple from Vancouver decide to challenge each other to see who can produce the least amount of garbage over the course of a year. They come up with the idea while cycling down the pacific coast of the United States, where they lived for months with only what they could carry on their bicycles. When they got home they were confronted with all their “stuff” and asked themselves why they needed it all, if it just is going to end up in a landfill. So they decided to stop buying stuff for a year, and eliminated their garbage to practically nothing along the way.

My garbage is far from nothing. Sure we recycle, but check out this pile of recycling bags:

Okay this is about 3 week’s worth, and we had a 5 year-old birthday party thrown in there, with all the toy packaging that entails.

But really, even if we recycle, is this amount of waste going out of our house in 3 weeks even remotely acceptable?

Well I took one more small step to reduce it today – paper napkins. No longer will I buy these. They are made of trees aren’t they? How many trees are cut down to produce North American paper napkins for one year? I have no idea but I bet it is high. Have you ever gone to a fast food restaurant and ended up with like 15 napkins on your tray? Why do we need all these? I don’t want them on my tray and I don’t want them in my house.

So I went from this:

To this:

Do you like my P-E-A-C-E Christmas decoration in the background? I know, I thought it was a nice touch. At dinner time our whole family discusses this peace decoration, and we each have opinion whether we have peace in our house. Peace and quiet? Not so much. Peace in our hearts? I would say so…

Anyway, the point is that real cloth napkins are much more refined. Paper? No dear, we use cloth.

Actually I purchased these 8 napkins for $6 at a second hand store, Value Village. I am seeing how many things I can also avoid buying new. So far, Value Village has filled my pretty napkin needs quite nicely.

We will see how they work out, and whether the extra laundering is that annoying. I am optimistic. How much extra work among 12 loads of laundry, can 8 little napkins be?

Tote This

Today’s resolution is simple and way overdue – stop using plastic bags. Employ reusable tote bags instead.

First stop – plastic bags at the grocery store. I normally have full intentions of using my reusable bags when I go grocery shopping. I actually prefer them, as they stand up better, hold more and are comfortable to carry. However, most times as I walk up to the store, I am kicking myself for forgetting. Why can’t I remember? For the last 2 years I have probably only remembered my reusable bags about 20% of the time. That is a horrible record. Every time I carry out a week’s worth of food in about 12 plastic bags, I feel pangs of guilt and regret. It should be just as second nature as remembering my keys and purse as I head out the door. Keys, purse, bags. Check, check, check.

Since I didn’t quite trust myself yet not to forget, I loaded my car with extra bags as a backup plan. If I forget again, no problem… just let me reach for my secret stash…

Next stop – no more plastic produce bags. Over the last week, I have been saving all the bags that I would have normally thrown out. Produce bags, bread bags, used Ziploc bags… Here is the result. One week.

I am not going to throw away that pile of plastic above, I can reuse these bags when I want to purchase food from the bulk bins (less packaging!). So I washed them all and cut out the lid of a big coffee can and put them in like this:

Hmmm… Just like a nice can of plastic Kleenex…

Since I am not going to use plastic for produce anymore, I went and bought these. They even come in their own little bag, making them easy to just pop in my purse.

Cute, huh? Bye-bye plastic, hello pretty reusable mesh. These are called Care Bags Produce Bags and can be found here.

Third stop – no more plastic bags at any store, ever. Tote it or carry it. Fail safe solution? Carry a nylon bag that scrunches up really small in my purse.

Really, this stuff is just about planning ahead. Once I thought about it, it took me only 2 minutes to figure it out. Sometimes breaking old habits is just about simply thinking about them in a different way.

Listen to the kids sing about it. Let’s build them a beautiful and sustainable planet, without the plastic bags in the landfills and oceans.