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?

Coffee Time

Today my resolution is to switch to a travel mug for all coffee purchases. If I forget the travel mug, then there will be no coffee. This is a big deal, since I love my coffee in the morning. Every morning before work I pick up a coffee. Every morning prior to today, I got that coffee in a non-recyclable cardboard cup, with a cardboard sleeve. Then, after I am done the coffee, every morning I toss that cup right into the garbage.

I was trying to think, how many cups have I thrown out in my lifetime? I have been working now for 12 years, 7 of those full-time, 2 on maternity leave and 3 part-time. Since I am a dutiful accountant, I thought I should actually calculate this thing out. The result is shocking:  

  

When I first thought about it this morning, I thought I was probably in the few hundred coffee cup range. Nope. Turns out, I have thrown away over 2,500 coffee cups. What would 2,500 discarded coffee cups look like anyway? Could it fill my kitchen? I bet if you laid 2,500 coffee cups out all over my house, it would cover every surface, and act as a new, slightly gross, coffee cup carpet.

It is just so wasteful.

So my new love is my new green travel mug:

It is green, allowing others to see that I am making a green choice with my pretty green mug. It is also made of recycled materials, and is BPA free. I purchased this particular mug because I forgot. I told myself that I would never get another disposable coffee cup again. Old habits die hard, since the next day I found myself standing in line at Second Cup, with no travel mug in hand. So I just grabbed this travel mug off the shelf. So now I have three travel mugs, and no more excuses.

While walking to my local Starbucks on my coffee break today at work, I decided I would count the number of people carrying disposable cups. Keep in mind this is a very short walk, under 5 minutes. I counted 15 people carrying disposable cups, and another 5 within the store ordered in a disposable cup while I was there. 2 people in the store had travel mugs. One person on my walk back had a travel mug. So including me, that is 20 disposable cups vs. 4 travel mugs. I know my methods are very scientific and all, but I would hazard a guess that in reality, only 10% or so of people carry travel mugs every time, every day.

Heck I didn’t carry one, and I have been worried about the environment for years. But I was lazy. Give me your paper cup. That way I don’t have to remember mine, and don’t have to clean it either.

But starting today, things will be different. I will carry my green travel mug with pride, that I am doing something, and not being so wasteful.

Coffee, anyone?

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.

No Impact Man

I just finished the book, No Impact Man by Colin Beavan. I got it from the library, along with the No Impact Man film. I started reading the book, watched the movie, then finished the book. 

I was feeling lonely before, in my quest to be and do all things green. It baffles me, now that I am here doing these things, why everyone is not doing them as well. Perhaps they are not fully aware of the problems of climate change, or they would be doing just what I am doing, right? Is it not the only rationale response to this issue? Perhaps they are aware, but push it so far back into their minds that it does not really register, or impact any decisions. If they put those horrible thoughts back there far enough, perhaps they are not true and will go away…

That must be it.

But not so with Colin Beaven – he was feeling the way I was feeling. He wondered what he could do. He realized that he could talk about it a lot, but his words would not have much meaning if he was living a lifestyle that included eating take out every night and creating 9 gallons of trash over 4 days. He was not happy were the world was going, but also not happy where he was going. So he made some changes. Big changes.

He starts off just like me. He doesn’t know much, he is not a trained environmentalist. He is a just a regular guy who wants to make a difference. Despite feeling like he can’t make a difference (which we all feel, don’t we?) he decides to try. Trying is the most important part, because you never will know at the start the difference you will make in the end.

He decides to live his life in New York City, while having no impact on the environment. His wife (Michelle) and his baby daughter (Isabella) go along with this plan. One year, no impact. This ultimately includes making no garbage, eating only locally grown food, giving up meat, giving up coffee, using only self propelled transportation, buying no new items, no elevators, no take out, no TV, no washing machine and by the midpoint of the project, no electricity at all. This means no fridge, no oven, no stove…

There is a point in the movie where he and his wife and child have all their friends over to their apartment to share a beautiful meal. At the end of it each person holds a lit a beeswax candle and then he turns off the breaker. Darkness falls. The people in his living room all stand there holding candles, looking at each other in amazement. Look what this family will do for the environment. Look at what they will do. They will live in darkness, with only the candles to light their way. They are surrounded by the support and love of their friends. It is a beautiful moment.

His wife, prior to the challenge was a self professed shop-oholic who drank 4 iced quad espressos a day. With each new change she is a bit apprehensive, but by the end she has fully embraced the lifestyle. The hurried rush of their lives slows down. They spend more time talking to each other. They spend more time playing with their daughter. They spend more time shopping for their food, and preparing it. What used to be an inconvenience and required take-out, now becomes time spent nourishing their family.

It turns out that he did make a difference. Once people heard about what he was doing, the radio stations, TV stations and newspapers started to call. He gave numerous talks to children and community groups, and did numerous interviews. He wrote a book, he made a movie, he wrote a blog. He got his message out there big time, and inspired so many people along the way. 

He inspired me.

At the end of the book in the epilogue, he gives real concrete examples on what you can do to make a difference. He provides lists of books, websites and environmental websites to join. He tells you that people seem only to get the message once they start doing things for the environment. It is the doing, the starting, that is the spark. Once they are set off, they start coming up with new ideas and plans and ways to get involved all on their own. They don’t need convincing.

So here I am, doing. As was the fitting last sentence of his book – What will you do?

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.

Take Out the Take Out

Today I went out for lunch to the local food court with two people from work.  As we walked up, I started to think about my lunch garbage.  Looking up at the various neon signs starting back at me, I realized that if I wanted to avoid Styrofoam (polystyrene foam), then my choices would be severely limited.

Of the 9 food outlets, 5 of them required the use of a Styrofoam container, 2 of them gave you Styrofoam for about half their meals and 2 of them were Styrofoam free.  So if you do the math, out of the hundreds of lunches that were pumped out each day, approximately 2/3s generate a Styrofoam container.  How many containers is that per lunch hour?  This is just one food court, out of many downtown, and many more throughout the city.  How many containers are thrown out per day, just in my city?  Then multiply that by 251 working days per year, then by the number of cities in North America, then by the number of years we have using Styrofoam…

Stop!  My head is spinning.

So on this day, I did not order a lunch with Styrofoam.  Normally I would have.  Today I did not.  What difference will my choice make?  How will my choosing to not use Styrofoam, among the mountains of Styrofoam produced each day, make a difference?  This is where I start to get weary.  Why even try if it doesn’t even make a difference?

Well I am voting with my dollars, by shopping at those establishments that have Earth-friendlier packaging.  If everyone did what I do, I am sure that these establishments would quickly get the message.

There are alternatives to Styrofoam.  There is a high density cardboard, which I have seen around town.  Why can’t food stores switch out?

Why?

I carried my non-Styrofoam lunch to a food court table to eat with my coworkers.  Looking down at my meal, I realized that even without the Styrofoam, I still had a napkin, a plastic fork, a paper plate and paper tray liner all to throw away.  It was the first time I had ever thought about this.

So much of our waste in landfills is due to single use items.  Napkins, drink cups, straws, coffee cups, hamburger wrappers, fry containers, Styrofoam containers… We just use ‘em then lose ‘em without a second thought.  Have you ever brought your family to McDonalds and looked at the tide of garbage on the tray afterwards?  We just open the shoot, dump ‘er in and away we go.

In grade eight there was a girl at school whose parents would go to McDonald’s and bring all their own dishes.  I am sure the McDonald’s workers were very confused.  How do you make a burger without putting it on the wrapper first?  How to you serve fries without the container that fits the fry dispenser?  How do you put a regular cup in the pop dispenser where paper cups should go?  Everyone at school talked about it.  I thought it was cool.  How brazen and defiant! 

But this was back in 1988, people.  It is not a new idea.

Today’s resolution – refuse napkins, forks/spoons/knives in stores (carry my own in my purse) and avoid Styrofoam.

Shop ‘til you Drop

Black Friday was just this past weekend. It is an American tradition, so we Canadians just sit back and watch in awe. We are still impacted a bit of course, with the TV commercials and spam emails from our favourite online retailers. Someone in Canada decided to start an opposing tradition for this day, called “Buy Nothing Day” in protest against the spectacle of consumer gorging.

It is a simple issue really. We love to shop, but in doing so we are rapidly using up the resources of the planet. As the title of my blog indicates, we only have One Earth to Live. Once we run out of resources here, there isn’t a spare Earth floating by that we can all hop on to. This is it. Some people have likened this to the idea of a spaceship. Earth is our vessel as we careen through space. We need to use resources aboard wisely, to ensure that they don’t run out, that everyone has enough, and that the conditions required to keep life alive persist.

So the core idea of being Earth friendly is to be less wasteful. That is it. Don’t use (consume) more than you have to. What you do take, use wisely and efficiently. Make less garbage and use less energy. It is simple really.

So why is it so hard to do? Why do most people not do it? Heck I didn’t do it. For me, it took a series of exposures to this issue, over a period of about 4 years, which finally culminated in my reading “Now or Never” by Tim Flannery that made me sit up and really take stock. After reading the book in one night, I found myself crying at 2 in the morning, vowing that from that moment forward to take action. I worried for my children and future grandchildren. I desperately wanted the world to change, not to save the Earth, but to save ourselves – humanity. It took this drastic awakening in me, for me to start to change my ways. What will it take for everyone else?

I was driving in my neighbourhood one day, this caught my eye (actually my son pointed it out):

Then we found this one nearby:

Hmmm… a shopping cart at the top a mountain of snow, right in front of Wal-Mart. How interesting. How symbolic really. We are all climbing a mountain – working and striving to make money to support our families and to buy stuff. We work harder and harder to buy bigger and better stuff, so that we improve our standard of living and live more comfortably. Does this make us happier? Well perhaps it does, since why else would we all do it? At the end of the day, the stuff is somehow supposed to equal happiness and success. It is the shopping cart atop our mountains.

My 5-year old son thought it was funny. I bet the kids who pulled this prank probably thought it was funny too, I am sure they were rolling around laughing at the sight of it. I wonder if they thought about the symbolic piece of landscape art they had just created….