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.

Advertisements

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?

Pretty Diapers

When examining the trash you make, it is hard to go far without noticing the large contribution of disposable diapers. My youngest is 2 years old and has been potty trained for about 4 months. However, she still wets at night. So I throw on a pull-up diaper and she is good to go. Our diaper garbage has been reduced, but is still one pull-up per day.

I started calculating how many disposable diapers I am responsible for in the landfill, taking into consideration the ages at which my kids were potty trained.  We used on average, about 5 diapers a day:

I always knew it was a lot, but this really makes me sick. 9,300?

I previously thought that it was just the landfill cost of having a baby, and that there is nothing that you could do about it. Somehow I dismissed cloth diapers, because we were all are told that well, by the time you get a diaper service to drive their truck to your house and pick them up, then wash them in hot water and then drive your diapers back to you, you are doing more harm on the environment than just using the plastic ones. I never questioned this line of thought. I just made my mind up that disposable were easier for me, and tossed them and forgot them.

I did not consider that I got in my car to drive to the store and back to pick up my disposable diapers, and so did the store’s delivery truck, and probably the distribution centre’s truck before that.  Plus what about the energy and resources used to make them? 

I never even considered for a second, the idea of washing them myself.  

Then some of the younger girls at work started getting pregnant. They asked me – what diaper service did I use? What? Diaper service? These girls were considering a diaper service? Perhaps all the driving and the washing was not as big a factor after all. Perhaps having nice soft organic cotton next to baby’s skin was better than the stuff diapers are made of. That brings me to another point – what are disposable diapers really made of anyway?

It is so great that the new moms out there are starting to change, and cloth diapering is becoming more and more common. I had no more excuses, and there was no time like the present. I was almost through my diaper journey with my kids, but even if I save another 100 diapers from going into the landfill, it is something right?

So I went out and bought these (shown to the right of the pull-up):

You just insert the padding, and change it out when she wets. The shell can be rinsed and dried out, ready for the next night.

Full investment: $18. This is less than the cost of one pack of disposable diapers!

This is how they look on her:

She calls them her night-time panties and likes them. When I ask her if they are comfy she says yes.

Silly me for not even considering this sooner.

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.

Toy Packaging

Garbage is especially appalling after a kid’s birthday party. Why do toys have to come with so much darn packaging? They all have an oversized cardboard box, and then clear plastic innards that hold the toy in the best display position so that it can be seen through the clear plastic window. If that was not enough, they then have about 10 twist ties holding the whole thing together from the inside. To top it all off, sometimes toys are even screwed in to the packaging, meaning you have to get out your screwdriver. It can take up to 10 minutes to unleash the thing from its unwieldy cage. Why do we need all that?

Well I suppose people like to see what they are buying. Apparently a picture on the box doesn’t suffice; we want to see the toy in the clear plastic window. In addition, a larger box lets you see all the cool things you can do with the toy, and sometimes gives you pictures of other toys you could also purchase that would make playing with this toy more fun. My 5-year old son always wants to save the box, he loves looking at them. But what if we got it in a reusable mesh bag, and then looked on the Internet together to see all the cool things the toy could do?

Do you know what kind of toys come with no packaging? – The ones from a garage sale or from goodwill. You just pick it up off the table, dust it off, pay a fraction of the price for it, and then toss it in your tote bag. How great is that? No packaging, ultra cheap, and to top it all off – you are reusing it. It is about as green as you can get.

At night after the kids go to bed, I try to go around the house and pick up and put away toys. Sometimes I just look at it all and think – where did this all come from? There are so many toys, and 90% of them are plastic. Probably 80% of them were purchased new. They are not in the landfill yet, but one day they probably will be. How many pounds of plastic will our toys take up in the landfill one day? It is something I have never even thought about until today. Not to mention those toys with the “don’t throw out” symbol on them, because they might contain heavy metals or something. I don’t know. What happens to these toys? I donate them to goodwill and then the next user just tosses them with abandon? What is the impact?

Today is one month until Christmas. More toys will come into our house; as will more packaging.

So today’s resolution is to scour 2nd hand stores for Christmas toys and stocking stuffers and toys this year. Santa doesn’t want his Arctic Ice meltin’!