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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Let Them Know

You might have a concern for the environment. It may just be a niggling concern, a bother really, something in the back of your mind that can’t quite get rid of, can’t quite shake. It might be a deeper concern, but you have trouble making the connection between your actions and action on climate change. What can one person do, after all? Or you might have a full out concern, combined with a fear and desperation, for the world to change. So much so that you might decide to start changing that which you can control – yourself.

We all make individual choices how we live our individual lives. But we take cues from others, from society. As a result, most of us don’t do things that are considered really taboo, and we generally all act within agreed upon moral and ethical guidelines. We tend to do what those around us do – what we have learned from our family, our friends, from media and society. We start out doing things a certain way, and for the most part, we don’t change unless something pushes us. We like our habits.

Sometimes we do change our habits due to cost, hassle or convenience. But normally, it takes a lot for us to bother to change. We don’t even realize this. We don’t even think about it. We just do the things we have always done.

For some of us though, one day we suddenly “wake up”. One day we learn a bit more about the environment and climate change, and that adds to body of knowledge we held on the subject before, and before we know it, the scales have tipped. We can no longer ignore it. We can no longer rationalize being a bystander. We finally see the cold hard reality for what it is, and simultaneously, see our part in it. In that moment, we discover within ourselves – something new. We discover that the responsibility for changing the world starts with us, with our actions, and that as individuals we have a role to play. We discover that we are compelled to act.

And so, we change.

It starts small, with the little changes, and then grows bigger. Day by day, we discover new ways to change, new habits to form. We find ourselves considering in every decision – what would be best for the environment, for climate change?

At least, this is how it happened to me. But I am sure it is how it happened to you too, at least somewhat (unless you grew up as a hippy child where these kinds of things were already the norm from the start!). You would not be here, reading this, if you did not have at least some interest in being green.

So we want to change our habits, we want to change the world, make it a better place. Now what?

Well our changes are magnified ten fold, when we let others in on them. When non-greenies observe a greenie doing things that they themselves do not do, sometimes the non-greenies pause and reflect. It adds to their body of knowledge on the environment. Perhaps they think “wow, I cannot believe she does that, she must really have a concern for climate change or something. Why is she so worried about it? Should I be worried about it? Maybe I should…”

Our actions will have more of an impact, if they inspire others to change as well. We want to create a ripple effect. We want to be part of the bits and pieces in people’s lives that get them to stop and reconsider. We want to not only change ourselves, but be a catalyst for change in others. 

So when you do something green, let them know.

There is a fine line to walk here. Do not preach. Let them know through your actions, not words. If you must use words, just describe what you do, and then stop there. Don’t get into why everyone should do it, or why they should consider doing it. Nobody likes being told what to do. We don’t want to turn people off; we want to bring them in.

In doing so we discover that do not live our lives in isolation, and we start to notice all the little (and big) connections we have with others. No matter the connection, where you can, and when it makes sense to do so, try gently letting them know.

For example, when somebody asks me about where I park downtown, or how long my commute is, I tell them “oh I take the bus to work so I don’t need parking, I find it much more relaxing than driving and am trying to be more mindful of my carbon footprint.”

I just let them know.

When I meet someone at a coffee shop, I always get a ceramic mug or bring my own. I don’t say anything. If they ask me why I did not get one “to go”, I just say that I am trying to reduce my garbage where I can.

Let them know.

When somebody starts talking about grocery shopping and asks me where I go for the best prices, I tell them that I try to shop mostly at Farmer’s Markets when I can, because I really enjoy eating local and plus it is fun to talk to the farmer that grew your food.

Let them know.

When a server at a restaurant asks if I would like my leftovers wrapped up, I ask her if she could put it in my reusable container if that is okay, it is just that I swore off Styrofoam and I am trying to reduce my garbage where I can.

Let them know.

When I come out of a public bathroom with wet hands and my girlfriend looks at me funny, I just say that I saw the paper napkin delivery at my office building one day, and was shocked at how many pallets were used for only one week! Ever since then I feel guilty using one or something, it is weird. So, I just shake off my hands instead, or fluff my hair, or just swipe them on the back of my pants. Easy peasy.

Let them know.

When discussing the chore of laundry with other moms, I tell them that the one good thing is how they smell when you hang them to dry outside. Plus it is nice to get outside for just a few minutes, and be alone with your thoughts, listening to the birds sing as you hang wet clothes. It is amazing how much electricity a dryer uses; I can see a marked decrease on my bill. Who doesn’t like saving money?

Just let them know.

I have a saying at the bottom of my work email. I wondered at first, if I should put it there. What would people think? But I was compelled to act, compelled to share my views in a small way, in a hopefully intriguing way. I wanted to be that person that stood up for change. I wanted to be that person that didn’t hide. So at the end of every email it reads:

You must be the change you want to see in the world.” – Gandhi

Let them know.

Laundry Time

It has been a while since I wrote about laundry. One of my first green changes was to stop using my dryer. I figured that it took a lot of energy to roll that big drum thousands of times to dry each load, as well as to heat the thing up so that it was blowing a steady stream of hot air all the while. I thought about my big five appliances that sucked up electricity in my house – fridge, oven, dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer – and decided that forgoing the use of the dryer was by far the easiest and most practical.

So I have been air drying all our clothes for about 4 months now. I have learned some things along the way, and changed it up a bit, so I thought I would share my experiences:

The first change I made was to switch from just air drying clothes, to air drying everything – towels, cloths, sheets, blankets – you name it. Most of it is no problem and I can’t even tell that it has been air-dried. The towels are a different story. Let’s just say that we don’t have fluffy soft towels in our house anymore. Ours are a bit more – crunchy. When I started this process, I would put the towels in the dryer to “fluff up” after they are already dry, but now I just don’t bother. The benefit of crunchy towels is that they are super easy to fold (think straight as a board) and also, they are super absorbent when you are getting out the shower. They also may or may not have additional exfoliating properties…

The second change has to do with how I to hang the clothes to dry. At first I would just take them straight out of the washer and hang them on the rack. However I found that some things, especially 100% woven cotton items, would come out wrinkly. So now I lay each shirt out on top of my washer, still wet, and smooth it out a bit, then put the next one on top of it, smooth that one out, and then the next one – and so I go, layering and smoothing, layering and smoothing, until the entire load is smoothed out, with all the items stacked up on top of each other like this (these are kids clothes):

Once I am done stacking and smoothing, I hang them on the dry rack. When they are dry, they are so nice and smooth – it is like I actually ironed them (which is something I never, ever do). They are nicer than if they had just spent 1 hour in the dryer. There are no wrinkles, not even on the wrinkle-culprit items. Folding is really fast, since the garment is straight, smooth and ready to go.

The third change is the laundry soap I use. As part of my Nothing New challenge, I wanted to force myself to attempt to make some homemade cleaners from ingredients I can understand, with the hopes that I would be shielding my family and the environment from harmful chemicals, as well as reducing the amount of plastic container garbage I generate. I tried making dishwasher soap and liquid dish soap, with disastrous results. But my laundry soap making was a resounding success.

Google indicated that making powdered soap was the way to go, as the homemade liquid stuff was difficult to manage, required large plastic buckets, and came out really gloppy. The powdered soap is easily mixed, stores easily in small containers, and is easy to use. So I tried Tipnut’s recipe #4, and later, her recipe #9. Here is the review:

Recipe #4
2 cups finely grated bar Soap (I used Sunlight soap)
1 cup Washing Soda
1 cup Borax
 – Mix together, store in airtight container and use 2 tablespoons per load

Since it contains more borax overall, there is more whitening power for your whites. However, it is not as colour fast for your darks – so the odd white sock mixed into a dark load will come out looking more dingy than I would have otherwise noticed. However in general, I have not noticed any colours or darks fading, in fact I think there is less fading, since the clothes are not being tumbled around in a dryer for an hour, wearing out by rubbing against all the other clothes.

Recipe #9
3 parts Borax
2 parts Baking Soda
2 parts Washing Soda
2 parts finely grated Bar soap (I used Sunlight)
 – Mix together, store in airtight container and use 1/8 cup per load

Since it contains less borax, it has less whitening power. However, the baking soda is very good at softening, which is a bonus for air dried clothes.

So now I use Recipe #4 for my whites, and Recipe #9 for everything else. I would say it cleans just about as good. Some stains get missed – perhaps one item out of 5 loads per week I will be disappointed with, which is not bad at all.

The fourth and most important change is my attitude towards doing laundry. I used to not enjoy it. I used to fold 5 loads a week, sitting on the floor in front of the TV, slightly annoyed that I had to do this chore. Now I do all the hanging and folding downstairs in the laundry room. I am away from everything that is going on in the house; I am alone with my thoughts. I have a new-found appreciation for the clothes we purchase, wear, wash and maintain. I  try to be mindful of that as I am handling the clothes, smoothing them so that they will dry nicely, keep their shape, last a long time… I find this peaceful. If I am feeling anxious or upset about something, 10 minutes downstairs smoothing wet clothes and hanging them up is just what I need to get centred again. I am not sure why – perhaps now this work has more purpose than it had before, and therefore is more rewarding than the same work was without that purpose.  Whatever the reason – I find it more therapeutic.

Overall, the laundry process does take a bit longer, but I make up some of the time with fast and easy folding. Overall it is more enjoyable than my previous method. I don’t think I will ever go back.

How about you – any laundry tips to share?

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.

The 4th R

I would like to propose a 4th “R” in our trio of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle.

REPAIR.

Too often when things break, we toss ’em. The reason is that we just don’t want to fix it, we don’t know how to fix it, or we don’t care to fix it. Fixing it takes work! The other reason is that we like shopping. Our thought process goes something like this:

“Broken, no problem, I can get a new one. I actually wanted a new one anyway, because I can get the one with this added feature and that added feature that my old one did not have. In fact, now that I think about it, I am kind of glad that it broke, since now I have an excuse to go shopping.”

Well I am about 2 weeks into a 3-month shopping ban, so that kind of logic is not going fly. So I have to either get it fixed, or live without.

As it turns out, I have fixed 4 things this weekend alone, all toys. Mama’s toy repair shop is going strong. Here is a sampling of my work:

Here we have a ballerina whose left leg was smashed to smithereens, a dollar-store crocodile whose leg snapped off as I was trying to cram it into a toy drawer, a Gormiti named Fiery Angel whose fiery wing had broken off, and finally, Tinkerbelle’s dainty slipper that had lost its pom-pom.  It is quite the assortment, yes.  Like I have said before, we have way too many toys in our house.  For this motley crew, I just added a little glue here and a little glue there, and they were good to go.

I know, I know, these are relatively easy fixes (except for little miss ballerina, this was a multi-stage process over several days, as there were so many pieces to put back together).  But what happens when the dishwasher breaks, or my cell phone?  Well if we don’t know how to repair it ourselves, then we will get someone who does.  My husband’s cell phone is in the repair shop as we speak!  Mending clothes instead of buying new ones, replacing component parts of a vacuum cleaner instead of getting a new one, getting a garden hose kit to fix the leak… these are things that our grandparents did all the time, our parents even.  Yet we don’t.  It is easier to replace. 

Some of it is not our fault, as many products have built in obsolescence.  The suppliers are depending on the probability that if it breaks, we will buy it again.  Sometimes the cost of replacing it is even less than fixing it.  So they are also to blame in this equation.  It seems like our whole culture is programmed to value disposal over retention, as Tyler from Intercon so eloquently points out. 

So how does this sound? Reduce-Repair-Reuse-Recycle.

Can you think of any other Rs? 

Repurpose?

Better yet – Refuse?

Food Friday: Food Waste

I have a confession to make. I am a horrible food waster.

Typically I am not a waster of food on my plate. Most times I take only what I eat, and don’t toss a bunch in the garbage. My kids however, are a different story. One day they eat a lot, the next day, next to nothing. How do I know what day it will be today when I serve them? Sometimes a lot of what is on their plate is thrown away. Veggies, bread crusts, too much rice… Sometimes as I am clearing their plates I take a few bites of their wasted food, to reduce some of the guilt of trashing it. My husband will do the same, depending on how mangled it is.

Next – I have not been very good at managing the fridge. I normally whip into the grocery store without a plan, making it up as I go along. I see fruit and veggies that I think we will probably eat, so I buy them. I get stuff for a few meals and wing it for the rest. Then the week happens and some of the vegetables I bought don’t get used, some things expire. Every day I am planning on the fly. It is stressful and I often don’t have what I need.

Then when I reach into the food crisper, something slimy and wet crosses my hand. Ewww. I pull out a gross bag of rotting tomato, or cucumber, or lettuce. I look deeper – there is also expired sour cream and salad dressing. I check the mayo, only 3 more weeks until it expires too. Bah!

My husband hates it when I throw out food.

Now that I am really considering my food footprint, I realize that food waste plays a big part of it.  I mean, I am concerned about all the food packaging garbage and the distance my food has travelled to get to me. These things are not good for emissions! Given this, why do I keep tossing?

The reason is simple.  I didn’t care enough. I also was a bit lazy, yes. I did not have a very strong connection with our food, and what it takes to grow it, produce it and get it to our house.

Frugal Girl is really great at tracking her food waste. She has a series called “Food Waste Friday” where she owns up to anything that went bad at her house that week. Last week, it was cilantro, cucumber and chicken. The week before, it was rice and sour cream. She owns up to it all, and challenges others to do the same.

Okay, here it goes:

This is my waste this week – egg noodles, broccoli and carrot. The broccoli has definitely had it. Because it creeps me out that the other stuff might have touched the broccoli, the rest has had it too.

Despite this, I am making progress. I now care more about our food and where it comes from and how it gets to us. I sit down on Saturday morning and write out what we will be having for supper on each night of the week and post it on the fridge. From there I draft the grocery list. Then I go to the farmer’s market for as much as I can, and then get everything else at either the grocery store or my new found love, Bulk Barn. I bring all the food home and fill my canisters, cupboards, fridge and freezer with care. I take stock of my stock. I know what I have on hand and what we will be eating.

Secondly, I actively use up leftovers. I take them for lunch (much cheaper!). I feed them to the kids for lunch (much easier!). I work them into our suppers (less work!). I try to clear out leftovers every 2 days or so. I note dates on the dairy items that expire. I am more careful. I treat our stock of food with the respect and love it deserves.

My husband now comments how he likes our “just in time” food inventory. I like it too.

What about you? How do you manage the fridge?

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.

Green Team

Okay… um, I think I just suggested that I would set up a greening office program at work for an office of about 800 employees. Ya. Also, I did it in my written performance review. I just blurted it out at the very end and then sent it off to my boss before I could change my mind. Say whaaat?

I am not sure what his reaction will be. I hope he shares it with his boss, and that together, they think it is a good idea. Worst case scenario – they think I am a nut.

What business do I have with this idea? I am an accountant, I work in Finance, I work with numbers and excel all day long. I am not HR or Communications or Facilities Management or anything like that. I don’t even really know anyone in these departments.

I was actually inspired by Bill Gerlach of the New Pursuit. He started a grassroots movement at work to green the office. When I read about what he had done, it hit me. Why can’t I do that too? I am looking for things to DO. I want to HELP. I am greening my life, but what else? What else what else what else? I know! Green the office!

Here is a little known secret. Back in the day, when I was a mere 19 years old, I worked for Environment Canada as a co-op student. I was on the “green team” which was mostly comprised of other students. It was organized by the internal communication managers, and we were the grunt labour. We posted green “did you know” facts inside bathroom stalls (these were mostly annoying), we took away everyone’s garbage can and replaced it with 1) a recycle bin 2) a tiny garbage can that could sit on your desk and 3) a compost keeper. Then we set up worm composting in the office. Worm composting! This was 1996 people! The worms were so popular that we had to go from 2 bins to 4 and then eventually to 8 bins, to manage our office organic waste.

So I have some experience in this area I suppose. I remember that the Finance department was mad that we took away their garbage cans, so some people brought in big ones from home. C’mon people – roll with it! It was only the accountants that took issue though, which was good. I would have a bigger problem with people who study fish and wildlife rejecting the transition. But hey – now I am an accountant and look at me! I want to start a green team all on my own!

I will keep you posted on developments. I say there is a 50/50 chance of “brilliant idea Sherry” and “Um…no”.