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Tuesday, 2 July 2013

BPA - an education

I have been trying to eliminate single-use plastic from my life to cut down on my waste production and product consumption - but another reason to limit my (and my family's) exposure to plastic is BPA. This chemical is also known as Bisphenol-A and is present in a host of items. But before I list them and some alternatives, let me summarize what the problems with this chemical are.
1. In many animal studies "BPA has been shown to be a reproductive, developmental, and systemic toxicant, and it is a known endocrine-disruptor." (Plastic Free, Beth Terry, p.20) This translated means that it is linked to breast and prostate cancer as well as developmental disorders such as ADHD. (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
2. The highest levels of BPA are found in children whose bodies are still developing. This is due to the contact they have with the chemical concerning food and food packaging. The exposure combined with the smaller size of a child creates a higher ratio and can affect sexual organ development.
3. Finally, it is well hidden. Many plastic items that come in contact with children's food can now be created and labeled 'BPA Free', but BPA is not just in water and baby bottles! BPA is present in plastic cutlery, plates, reusable Tupperware, plastic wrap, coffee makers and other kitchen appliances, some plastic mugs, soda cans, food cans, plastic toys, dental composites, menstrual pads, book covers, water bottles and jugs, linings of metal lids... the list goes on! 12 Ways to avoid hidden BPA are listed on the Queen-of-Green's blog through David Suzuki's website.

Another hidden source of BPA is thermal paper - the kind that receipts are printed on. "the total mass of BPA on a receipt is 250 to 1,000 times greater than the amount of BPA typically found in a can of food or a can of baby formula." (BPA Coats Cash Register Receipts, Sonya Lunder et. al.) This not only gets on the cashier's and your skin, but then can be tossed into the recycling bin and made into new products like toilet paper. Do you really want to expose THAT area to a reproductive toxicant?

Finally - one last word of caution. Just because a plastic item is toted as being a safer alternative because it is BPA free - does not mean it actually is. Many of these formulas have not been sufficiently tested to see their effects on animals or humans. Some products have just replaced one nasty chemical for another and the new ones can produce more 'Estrogenic Activity' than their counterparts.
"It's not enough for us to know what's not in a plastic product; as citizens, we should have a right to know what is in it." (Terry, p. 20)

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Plastic in Bulk

One of my strategies for cutting down on my single use plastic consumption is to limit or eliminate plastic packaging - especially that which comes in contact with my food. I THOUGHT I'd be able to visit my local Bulk Barn and bring in my own containers and fabric bags. However - this is not the case. My last visit ended with a terse conversation with the teller who informed me I couldn't use my bags because of the risk of cross-contamination. I know she was only doing her job - and I tried to remain polite throughout our conversation - but at the end of the exchange I let her know that I would not be able to shop at Bulk Barn again if I had to use their plastic bags to transport my goods. I also felt frustrated that this policy of not bringing in one's own containers was not adequately signed in the store so I was unaware of the rules until I was subjected to a lecture. I have been a customer of bulk stores since University and I appreciate how they provide variety as well as healthy and organic items. I decided to write a letter to Bulk Barn to encourage them to regain my patronage. Feel free to copy/paste/adjust/and send your own copy. Sometimes companies who already seem to promote environmental choice are more open to going that extra green step.


Bulk Barn Foods Limited
Corporate Office
55 Leek Crescent
Beaver Creek Business Park
Richmond Hill, Ontario
L4B 3Y2

To Whom it may concern,

I have been a long time customer of the Bulk Barn and appreciate your business model that allows customers to purchase only the amount of items they need in minimal packaging. I also admire your offering of products and how you have expanded your inventory to include organic, vegan, and gluten free merchandise. However, I am writing to ask you to go further with your environmental initiatives as that is/was one of the primary reasons I shopped at your store. I realize you are concerned with cross-contamination so you don’t allow patrons to bring their own bags – but by banning this activity you discourage customers from limiting their consumption of single use plastic. This is a primary concern of environmentalists as plastic does not degrade and contributes to landfill, leaches toxins, and can be consumed by wildlife. Therefore, if you will not allow customers to use their own clean containers – could you at least provide paper (biodegradable) or biodegradable plastic bags?

Also, I was shopping at your establishment this morning and witnessed the stocking of bins and shelves. Many products (bulk or otherwise) came encased in plastic, which was discarded once the product was poured into another plastic filmed container. Any used plastic was then placed in ANOTHER plastic bag and when I asked the employee what happened to that packaging he informed me that it was thrown out. Could you please look into recycling this material? It is possible – some grocery stores take back plastic bags and companies such as Terracycle have a send-in program.

I would love a response to this letter. I maintain an environmental blog – and will be posting this communication on it. Any response you send will be posted as well and I’m sure my readers would be interested in your position on these requests. In the meantime, I will be shopping at other bulk establishments in order to lessen my environmental footprint.


Andra Kelly

Monday, 10 June 2013

Seasonal Treats - Rhubarb!

One of the best things to do for the environment is eat local, eat organic, and eat in season. I am SO happy that the sun is making longer and longer appearances and I finally got my veggies in (a future post - I promise) and one of my favourite vegetables (masquerading as a fruit) is now in full throttle. Rhubarb! Not only does this wonderful plant grow without any need for pesticides in my neck of the woods - but it is also chock full of great things like vitamin K, fiber, and calcium. It is in season NOW so no need to contribute to global warming transporting this goodie to the table. Finally - it is easy to freeze - so if you have too much or don't know what to do with it now - chop it up for later! Here's a recipe that I adapted from Deb Perelman's Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. I was able to make it gluten free and vegan friendly for my friends (though the dough becomes more sticky and requires some patience) and the effort is well worth it.

Rhubarb Hamantashchen
(I call them rhubarb triangles.)
4 cups rhubarb - chunked, 1 cup sugar

1/2 cup almond meal
2 cups Gluten Free flour (I use Bob's Red Mill)
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
8 tablespoons vegan margarine spread
2 tablespoons almond milk
Egg Replacer to = 1 egg (I use PaneRiso brand)
1/8 teaspoon almond extract

1. Make Filling

Trim leaves (which are poisonous) and any rough ends from rhubarb. Chop into 1/2inch segments and place in a med. saucepan with sugar. Stir to combine and heat covered at med/low. Cook for around 15min. REmove cover and cont. cooking with stirring for another 15min. or so until running a spoon across the bottom of the pot leaves a clear line. Remove from heat and let cool.
(You MIGHT be tempted to add water but DON'T! This way your compote will stay thick)

2. Make Dough

Mix ground almonds, flour, sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Work margarine spread into mix until it resembles cornmeal. Add almond milk, egg substitute and extract. Work with a wooden spoon and knead until uniform. You can add more moisture if needed.

3. Shape the Cookies

Place parchment paper on counter and have a generous bowl of gluten free flour at the ready for dusting. Put 1/3 of the dough on the paper and another piece of parchment paper on top (you don't have to do this but it helps with the sticking). Roll with a pin until dough is approx. 1/8 inch thick. Use a wine glass to cut out circles to place on parchment papered cookie sheet. Dollop approx. a teaspoon of compote on the centre of each cookie and fold edges up in three places to form a triangular cookie. Pinch seams together to form corners. Bake cookies for 15-17min. at 375 degrees. Place on wire rack to cool.

Saturday, 1 June 2013


This is an action I am proud to say I was doing before doing it was cool - BRING YOUR OWN BAG.

Plastic bags are an awful invention. The price of this convenience is incredible. They are made from ethylene (a byproduct of petroleum or natural gas) and create environmental havoc from the beginning to the end of their life cycle. The production of plastic bags emits environmental waste, the bags themselves leak chemicals onto food and people, and the bags never biodegrade sometimes trapping biodegradable material forever. Finally,
plastic bags are so lightweight and aerodynamic they are easily picked up and carried by the wind. They can escape from trash bins, recycle bins, garbage trucks, and landfills, and end up littering the landscape. (Beth Terry, Plastic Free - How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too,49)
Here they cause harm for a very long time and can be ingested by wildlife. I have been using cloth bags for my groceries for a long time now. However - there are three areas where I was still using plastic bags that I have recently replaced with great reusable substitutes.

1. My Credo Bag Ecoshopper.
This bag is made of nylon but I decided to invest in it as its strength and water resistance ensures it will last MANY years. It folds up to be stashed in its own pouch, the size of a wallet, so it fits in my purse ready to be used any time. Credo Bags are a Canadian company who produce most of their products in Canada (not the ecoshopper though) and have bags available in a variety of eco materials such as organic cotton, hemp, and bamboo.

2. Reusable Muslin Bulk Bag.
I bought two of these from a great etsy store called ThisChild. They are quite pretty and I use them when I go to the bulk barn instead of using those flimsy plastic bags you rip from a roll. I love the draw string and there's a ribbon tag to attach any stickers or hand-tags a store provides to mark the items encased within.

3. Reusuable Eco Friendly Cotton Produce Bags.
Another area where I was using those rip-from-a-roll plastic bags was when I bought produce from a grocery store. I hate unnecessary packaging - so I tried to not use these bags - but sometimes I cringed and had to keep food from bruising or falling out of the cart. Not any more! I got these beauties (as well as some with rabbits screen printed on them) from another etsian ohlittlerabbit. They took eccobags and screen-printed their designs on the front. I find the funkier my bags are the more proud I am to show them off. Maybe they will inspire others?

However, IF you live in my area and find yourself with plastic bags we do have a plastic bag recycling program. Of course it is better if you and I can eliminate bags all together, but nobody's perfect, and I still have a stash that needs to go.

One last bit I couldn't resist sharing: The MARCH AGAINST MONSANTO last week went well and my daughter participated in her first protest. Here she is chanting with me :)

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

March on Monsanto

This Saturday at 2PM I will be in Oshawa marching with my daughter (if she can stay awake) against one of the scariest companies on the planet - MONSANTO.
I first became aware of this company after watching the incredible film Food, inc. They are a seed and pesticide (among other things) company that have taken over corn, soybean, and cotton production crops - just to name a few. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are plants/animals created through gene splicing and merging DNA from different species. The concept of GMOs started out as a good idea with supporters touting how they could create bigger and better crops and be the solution to world hunger. Instead, bugs and weeds that were supposed to be blocked by GMOs and their partner pesticides and herbicides have evolved to super strength so farmers have to use MORE chemicals to beat them.

Another issue (that is more ethical than environmental) surrounding GMO seed is the idea of patents. Before GMO seed farmers would save seed from year to year to start their next crop. This is a practice that has been going on since humans started to plant anything! Now companies like MONSANTO own patents to their seeds and require farmers to sign contracts that prohibit saving and re-planting seed. This restricts biodiversity AND makes the farmers beholden to the company for their livelihoods. Since 2001 the price of Monsanto GMO soybean and corn seed has more than doubled. Cases have gone to court (like Bowman vs. Monsanto where patents have successfully been defended at the expense of the 'little guy.'

Finally, many companies that patent GMO seeds also "develop and patent the pesticides and herbicides to which the unique seeds are resistant. Monsanto is the largest seed company in the world and owns about 86% of GMO seeds sown globally. It is also the parent of Roundup." (, Queen of Green, Understanding GMO) So once the farmer pays through the nose for the seed, signs the contract, and ensures that approximately. 70% of their inventory is from the same supplier (to avoid cross pollination), they then need to spray continuously with Roundup (what the seed is genetically modified to withstand) which is owned by the same parent company! I love farmers - especially ones who are independent and want to grow good food for me and my family. So not only am I marching for the environment and against big corporation on saturday - but I am also marching for that farmer who is trying to do a good job. Join me and find your closest march by clicking this link: occupy monsanto.

P.S. The Non-GMO Project is a great organization/site to visit if you want to learn more about GMOs and how to avoid them. They have an excellent search engine where you can verify products and see which ones have earned their third party verification seal:

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

What's that Garbage coming outta yo' Mouth?

All small changes can have an impact. I am on a quest to eliminate all single-use plastic from my life. This includes plastic wraps, bags, packaging etc. One area I have found particularly needling to my conscience is the life of take out garbage.

I wish I could stop myself from ordering take-out all together - but I'm far from perfect and sometimes I really want that burger/drink/sweet treat. I avoid contact with styrofoam at all costs - preferring to go without than contribute to that waste stream - but cutlery and straws have required a little more effort. Rather than accept that plastic utensil (sometimes wrapped in MORE plastic to keep it sterile in a take-out bag) with my order, I now say a polite "No Thanks, I have my own." This is my Reusable Bamboo Utensil Set that I bought from a company called To-Go Ware. The utensil holder is made from RPET - a fabric made from recycled plastic bottles, and the utensils themselves are bamboo - an incredible renewable resource. The pack comes with a fork, knife, spoon, and chopstick set. It's great for tossing in my purse before I head out the door.

Another piece of disposable plastic that comes in contact with your mouth are straws. Usually they are also individually wrapped in paper or plastic and are tossed without a second thought. Me? I'm switching to stainless steel! Once again I went to one of my favourite online shops, Life Without Plastic, and placed and order for four stainless steel straws that come with their own cleaner. Unfortunately they were made in China and were incased in plastic packaging - but if they stop my straw garbage for the rest of my life (and my kids too) - I think they're worth it.

Now even though my work colleagues are pretty good at bringing their own utensils for lunch - I did get a bit of teasing about my set. (mostly because it looks like it could attach to your belt or fanny pack) That's o.k. - I feel better stopping my plastic consumption and decided to provide them the opportunity to avoid plastic consumption with me. I easily found extra stainless steel cutlery at my local re-sale shop. So I bought a bunch of forks and spoons and left them in the office for 'that day' when a person forgets their cutlery or we're having a particularly messy treat day. They are there for anyones use - and I'm not constantly promoting or tracking it. I really try not to harass people about environmental choices so as not to turn them 'off' or away. So - although I could continue this post with the sad impact plastic cutlery can have on one's self and the environment - I'd rather let you read that (if you wish to do more research) by clicking on this link to a great and comprehensive article by Andrew Bernier: Living the Life of a Plastic Fork.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

I love this company

Have you heard about the company TERRACYCLE?

This is one of my new favourite institutions. I read about it in Amy Korst's "Zero Waste Lifestyle" and I couldn't believe my eyes! It's a company that strives to find uses for and/or recycle the pieces of waste that your local waste management department can't. Here's how it works:

1. Go to Terracycle's website and click on the subheading "send us your waste." A grid of brigades will pop up. Here you can scan for waste streams that you contribute to but can't recycle or repurpose in your own hometown. I currently am a member of the diaper packaging, cereal bag, and coffee bag brigades. I want to do more - but I'm trying to start slow so I don't bite off more than I can chew.

2. Sign up for the streams you wish and start collecting! I collect my own waste and some from my daughter's daycare as well as donations from my work colleagues. I set up some 'pink boxes' in the staff room and let my fellow workers know that they could put their 'junk' in the 'boxes' any time they felt like it. I was quick to let them know that the 'size of their junk' didn't matter - it's what they do with it that counts :)

3. Once I have enough 'junk' I just log into my account at and request a shipping label to be sent to my e-mail. They PAY for me to ship them my collection!

4. Finally - as if curbing waste isn't enough of an incentive to ship to terracycle - they credit my account with points that can be turned into a donation to a charity of my choice! Once I have enough I'm donating to the David Suzuki Foundation. The environmental benefits just multiply!

Friday, 26 April 2013

Magazines and Nature

This is a two-parter as I wanted to blog about both of these items while they're still fresh on my mind and in the air (ahhh spring!)
1. I've signed up for Canada's 30x30 nature challenge. I read about this last year when it was over already and I thought it was a great idea. It's organized through the David Suzuki Foundation - but I suppose anyone could start it on their own at any time. The challenge is to spend 30 min. for 30 days straight in nature. It starts on May 1st and the idea is to re-connect with nature while improving your mental and physical health. I'm going to try my best to do this - no matter what mother nature throws at me - and I'm going to drag my family along with me. There are so many benefits to spending more time in nature such as decreasing stress and anxiety as well as improving your vitamin D production and energy levels. Finally - I want my children to connect with nature so they wish to invest in nature and continue to be enthusiastic and curious about their natural surroundings. I will occasionally blog about our activities in May and participate in the photo contest the challenge is organizing.

2. I have become frustrated with something I used to enjoy. I liked magazines. I liked flipping through them at my parents to find recipes and fashion ideas, I liked perusing them at doctor and dentist offices to distract my mind while waiting my turn, I liked scanning glossy pages - folding down corners to keep track of my wish lists of consumption. However, now not only am I not interested in the type of consumption promoted in these catalogues of advertising, but I am also dismayed by the physical environmental impact these subscriptions create. The past THREE issues of each of my subscriptions were - not only printed on virgin paper - but also encased in PLASTIC! UGH! This plastic's only purpose was to contain extra bits of advertising that might fall out in the mail. I read an excellent paper by The Paper Project titled Turning the Page, Environmental Impacts of the Magazine Industry and Recommendations for Improvement which clearly outlines many issues an ecoconsumer is concerned about. It was written in 2001 - so some of the stats regarding amounts of energy, trees, water etc. used to produce magazines in the US have probably increased. UNLESS.....
Individuals (such as my 'late-to-the-party' self) have decided to go digital! I still was interested in one of my subscriptions so I just called to see if I could go completely online and - no problem! Thanks 'Today's Parent.' However, some of my other subscription providers were not so accommodating. So - goodbye subscription. I hope my cancellation (and explanation to the sales rep.) prompts these companies to think about their green options and start offering some to their customers.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Let's Dish the Dirt

O.k., I admit it, when I started this green initiative I had a very cynical and skeptical perception about my local waste management department. Instead of seeing them as supporters of green initiatives and programs, I viewed them as part of the problem. I am embarrassed by this as the more I research the more I realize that they are environmentalists as PART OF THIER JOB! They don't create the waste, they are trying to deal with the waste as responsibly as possible. There are so many initiatives underway in my area - such as a battery recycling pilot project, reuse days and e-waste pick up days, and most recently (today) free compost pick up!

Now I have a compost bin of my own which I use for my veggie scraps and yard waste - so I don't participate in the Green Bin program in my community. But I used to wonder where all that collection went and how it was used. Well - it is used to create wonderful black soil for the municipality AND its residents. Today I had the pleasure of dropping off some food for the food bank in exchange for some awesome dirt for my gardens! The friendly staff (David Metcalfe is on the right - gave me his card in case I had any more questions) seemed to be enjoying themselves, despite some snow flurries, and the pick-up location was hopping with excited gardeners. This give-away happens every year in the spring. My only regret is that I didn't bring more containers - I could have filled up to FOUR blue boxes worth! Oh well, there's always next year.

Amendment - I found out that the Green Bin program takes meat and dairy scraps! These are items that I couldn't put in my own compost and were going in the garbage. Thank you neighbour for letting me know about this. Now, off to get a bin :)

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Eco Room Reno - Part 1

It's been a while since my last post (sorry - lots of cold and flu time) but that doesn't mean I haven't been doing anything green! Right now we are in the middle of renovating our spare bedroom/my creation space and I am trying to do it as green as possible. This blog entry will cover insulation and paint.
1. The first thing we did was actually drywall that hole I blogged about earlier - the one I had temporarily plugged with cardboard and duct tape. I got some great advice from my local Home Hardware guys and followed some instructional videos I found on Youtube and it wasn't so hard! So there was one draft taken care of - but there were many more! This room is in the basement and shares a wall with the garage, one with the outside, and one with the space under a staircase. ALSO it has a drop ceiling with beams that leave airy gaps to the outside walls. So we bought some of that pink panther insulation (PINK FIBERGLASS - Min. 70% recycled glass content, made in Canada, Ecotouch certified) and stuffed any gaps above the ceiling tiles. The last area of air seepage (for now) was the electrical outlets and switches. I was going to use some of that expanding insulation to fill in those spaces but was worried about electrical conductivity as well as mess. Instead I was able to place foam panels between the hole and the cover plate before I screwed it back on. Easy!
2. Another green area of improvement is the paint we used to lighten the room. My brother had extra paint left over from his home renovations so I was able to use product that was already in existence. BONUS - it was a zero VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paint so I was being kind to the environment AND my respiratory system. VOC's are solvents that get released into the air as paint dries. Not only can they cause health reactions (dizziness, headaches etc.) but they are also carcinogens. VOC's also contribute to the formation of ground level ozone and particulate mater, which form smog. They are ONE of the things in paint that makes it hazardous waste. Currently a lot of paints out there advertise that they are low VOC or VOC free - but read the fine print. Many state that only the BASE is VOC free - but once the pigments are added - all bets are off.

Friday, 29 March 2013

You've got the whole world...

In your hands. You've got the whole wide world - in your hand wash :) (that's right - sing it with me)
I have currently made my own hand soap - successfully! This way I avoid harsh ingredients that get washed down the drain into our waterways, I limit my own skin exposure to chemicals that absorb and stay in my system (who wants to disrupt their hormones with phthalates), AND I save money by not shelling out for designer scents or labels. Finally - what started me thinking about creating my own soap in the first place - I limit my consumption of single use plastic. Each time I bought liquid soap in a pump to sit by one of the four sinks in my house, I used resources to create virgin plastic for the container. Also - even though the main part of the container was recyclable (though that takes energy as well) - the pump part gets tossed every time (too many plastics to separate for the blue bin program). So here is my recipe for you all to enjoy. I based it on one featured in Adria Vasil's book "Ecoholic Body" but had to adjust the measurements to get the right consistency.
1. Boil 2 Liters of water in a large pot on the stove. Turn heat off.
2. Grate a bar of gylcerine soap and add to the water. Stir until completely dissolved. *Try to look for a bar that is ethically sourced. I have been reading some terrible things about palm oil and how crops in Malaysia and Indonesia are growing at a crazy rate and are causing deforestation of tropical forest - home to many endangered species as well as part of the lungs of the world. If you want to learn more - check out this organization: Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.
3. Add organic essential oils of your choice. I added a lot of lemon oil because I like fresh over flowery scents. Then let sit for a day. If consistency is too solid for you (the soap congeals) you can add more water with heat to make it runnier.
4. Warm slightly to scoop into a measuring cup with a spout and use a funnel to pour it into your reusable dispenser. Ta da! You're done! This recipe makes enough for 4 or more dispensers.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Pen is mightier

When it's Green! What have I been writing with ever since I could hold a pencil? After graduating from the fat red ones we used in kindergarden I moved onto yellow HB and then - the pen. Or rather - MANY pens. I shudder to think how many I've used and discarded over my lifetime. Each pen was designed to have a limited lifespan in my fingers, never to be recycled as they are made of three to four types of plastic with metal and ink components. I am on a quest to stop this needless, waste-creating habit and will replace all my household writing utensils with environmental and ethical choices. Here's what I've done so far:
My first replacement was a bamboo ballpoint pen. This I picked up at my local Shoppers Drug Mart and it checked off a number of environmental boxes. The outer casing was made from a biodegradable and renewable resource - bamboo - and the outer plastics were corn plastic - another renewable source that is 100% biodegradable and compostable. Finally the cardboard backing was post-industrial recycled cardboard. These are three good things, however, the plastic on the front packaging is non-recyclable AND the inner components (ink, tube, rollerball) are all garbage. SO - good start (and a good price point to feel o.k. lending out to my students) but I think I can do better. Maybe I'll go old school and invest in a refillable fountain pen. An idea for my next mother's day?
This is a second attempt and it makes me happy! When I attended the Waste Management Information Session for my region (see my earlier entries) they gave out loot. One item I fell in love with was their recycled green (literally) pencils. Not only are they recycled (no virgin forests being raided for my writing) but they also promote my local recycling facilities - reminding any one who borrows it to think about the environment. At the end of the presentation I was able to take a number of these away to use in my teaching. I wish our school could buy them.
My third area of disposable writing implements are markers and highlighters. Being a teacher I use, and encourage the use of highlighters on a daily bases. But they usually don't last that long (esp. with lazy users not putting the caps back on properly) and all that colourfull plastic gets tossed. These awesome highlighter pencils are the answer! I ordered them through Life Without Plastic - an excellent online retailer that helps consumers go plastic free! They work great and all the packaging is post-consumer recycled fiber. They are going to last a LONG time and at $7.95 for 4 - that's a great deal! I have marked this boutique as a favourite and am going plastic free with tape and toothbrushes (maybe another entry another time)

Green Seal wrote a report in 1998 summing up the environmental crisis of single-use writing implements. The statistics at that time were that
"every year Americans discard 1.6 million pens. Placed end to end, they would stretch 151 miles—equivalent to crossing the state of Rhode Island almost four times!"
The report is a great read and covers the issues surrounding pencils (recommending ones from sustainable resources and/or recycled), pens (again recommending recycled but also re-fillable), crayons (look for recycled or ones made from soybean oil), and markers (refillable is better and watch ink toxicity). The report ends with and extensive list of recommended replacements for writing utensils and papers. So next time you reach for that pen to write down some of this amazing environmental information I'm blogging to you, look at what you're holding and join me with finding ethical replacements.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Zero Waste Lifestyle - Book Review

When I fist started on this new year resolution (started in Dec. - but I always like being early) I felt overwhelmed with everything I saw that I wanted to change. I didn't know where to start. Luckily - my teacher training kicked in and I looked to the wonderful world of resources regarding practical environmentalism - BOOKS! There are websites, blogs, and films as well of course - but I have always been partial to tangible books. Here's the first that I've finished: The Zero Waste Lifestyle by Amy Korst.

This book seemed a bit extreme at first, and Amy did go 'hard core' when committing to a zero waste lifestyle. However, the tone of the book is very upbeat and promotes the message that ANY change you make for the better concerning your consumption and pollution habits is GREAT so don't beat yourself up. I haven't done all the recommended exercises in the book (a 'trash audit' of your home and removing garbage bins etc.) but I admire her strategies and dedication. After the 'Getting Started' section part two focuses on zero wasting specific rooms, cleaning, travel, workplace, and holidays/special occasions. Some great features of the book are shopping checklists to track your waste, tables to transfer your items to see trash created and replacement options, contributions from other zero-wasters who have different lifestyles and live in different areas, and 'Meet Your Goal' summaries at the end of each chapter highlighting easy, moderate, and advanced steps you can take regarding that subtopic. There are also a couple of great recipes for DIY solutions from ricotta cheese (did it - excellent!) to household cleansers. I found lots of references to other resources to get plastic free items, grow my own loofahs (I'll blog about how that turns out in the fall), and join great organizations like terracycle (again - another blog entry, another time). Amy has her own website as well, The Green Garbage Project, though she hasn't written an entry for a bit. Her husband had some health difficulties last year so I hope they are doing alright.

This is a great read. I like how striving to be zero waste is not only good for the environment, but good for the community (buy local, talk to your neighbors) and good for the ethical soul (be happier with less, investment of time and energy = value rather than money). I appreciate her approach to others she comes across who are skeptical of her choice:
Talk to those who are willing to listen. Never take on a "holier-than-thou" attitude. [Because] everyone's lifestyle is a legitimate choice, and in time those who criticize you may learn from your quietly conscientious example.
Pg. 39

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Smeed Maa Banadoura

One of my goals to be more 'green' in my eating habits is to prepare more vegetarian meals. We are now up to at least two a week and will go for three once some local produce becomes available in the spring. Vegetarian meals are good for the environment because they take less energy to create the raw ingredients AND the raw ingredients do not harm the environment. (esp. if I try to stick to organic and local) The following is a staple in our house and is from my grandmother. BONUS - all the ingredients are readily available in most cupboards and are cheap!

(or Cracked Wheat with Tomato)

1 cup cracked wheat
1 med onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. oil
1 can of tomatoes
Water or tomato juice
Montreal Steak Spice (your choice amt.)
1 can chick peas

1. In a large saucepan, saute onions in oil until tender.
2. Add tomatoes from can, squishing them between fingers (or you chop them) - reserve liquid.
3. Add reserved liquid and water/juice to make up 5 cups total liquid.
4. Add cracked wheat and montreal steak spice. Stir. Cover and bring to a boil.
5. Add chick peas and reduce heat to medium. Cook for 20-25min. stirring occasionally until liquid is almost absorbed.
This easy meal can be served hot or cold and is family friendly. Enjoy!

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Green Fashion

Picture the flashing camera bulbs, the red carpet, the microphone shoved in your face, and that all important question: "Who are YOU wearing?"
More importantly WHAT are you wearing?
Most fabrics in a person's wardrobe fall under two categories: cotton and synthetics. Although the first is technically a 'natural' fibre cotton is an extremely chemical insecticide-heavy crop. Most cotton is also genetically modified so that farmers can spray their crops with Roundup and not effect the cash plants. This has the unfortunate side effect of creating pesticide resistant surrounding weeds that are now being treated with different chemicals. There are a lot of 'green' fabrics now out there - but it is also important to check not only their beginnings (GMO? organic? fair trade?) but also their processing. (dyes, pulp processing etc.) I have taken a personal clothing oath - I will now only buy garments that have minimal or no impact on the environment and will research before I open my wallet. Here is my most recent purchase: I got this shirt from the CBC shop and it features Canada's godfather of green - David Suzuki. I bought the shirt because of the icon (and I love CBC) but was happy to learn that it is made out of 100% organic cotton. Although cotton requires a lot of water to grow, organic means that it is free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Cotton also does not undergo any chemical processing to change it from picked cotton to woven fibre. Finally - added bonus - this garment was made in Canada (a VERY hard thing to find!)

This is my OTHER way of being a green fashionista - go vintage! I was doing this before because I like being one-of-a-kind and finding cool deals, but it is also excellent for the environment! When I choose to re-use an item I am not asking the earth to come up with one more iota of raw materials. Reuse is the second R remember? This little green number I got from an awesome seller on etsy (where I do a lot of my shopping) called Vintage Pod. Etsy is an amazing online source for vintage goodies and the sellers are REAL people (not corporations) who either find wonderful remnants from the past or create their own pieces of art and craft. Here are a few of my favorite vintage sellers: gogovintage FabGabs fashion rerun

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Deciphering Labels - FSC

On a lot of paper products that come in the mail (and on some cardboard) I have seen this symbol: It represents the Forest Stewardship Council. This is a third party verification organization to monitor environmental forest management. It is an international organization but there is a Canadian branch. It also requires producers that apply for certification meet standards protecting endangered wildlife, aboriginal people's rights, and worker conditions. Many banks print on FSC certified paper and building supplies can also be certified. These supplies fall under the subheading of Controlled Wood certification. On their Canadian website they state:

FSC Controlled Wood has been verified NOT to come from:
Illegally harvested forests;
Forests harvested in violation of traditional and civil rights;
Forests in which high conservation values are threatened;
Forests that are being converted to plantations or non-forest use; or
Forests in which genetically modified trees are planted.

The FSC logo can be printed with a lot of additional information which can require a little bit of deciphering. If the label looks like this: the product is from well managed forests but it 100% virgin material (no recycling).
If the label looks like this: it is made with a combination of FSC virgin fiber and recycled materials. The loop in the corner tells you how much is pre and post consumer recycled fiber.
Finally, if the image looks like this: the product is made entirely of recycled fiber and the loop % is the same as previous. The number at the bottom is a code number so the product can be tracked through the supply chain to the manufacturer, distributer, or supplier.

Friday, 15 February 2013

My Local Waste Management Dept.

I had a very educational afternoon today. I attended a Managing your waste workshop put on by my local waste management department. I still want to tour the recycling and composting facilities of my municipality - but this workshop went a long way in informing me of what my diverting waste options are.

We started with an icebreaker by being given bags of garbage to sort into compost, paper recyclables, container recyclables, reusables, hazardous waste, and landfill garbage. Our group did pretty well but I found out that plastic 'clams' (any hard form of plastic that has no removable lid) is not recyclable at this time. HOWEVER - on April 1st they will be! Yipppeeeeeee! Other tips the region gave us were to separate materials as much as possible for easy sorting and rinse out/empty containers so they do not contain food waste of liquid. This is because the machinery at the plant identifies an object by either weight or computers and if a mixed material is detected the item may be sent to a landfill. Right now Durham's Waste Management facilities divert aprox. 53% of garbage from landfills (an excellent record when compared to other Ontario regions) and their goal is to get it to 70%.

The Durham Waste Management site is extremely easy to navigate and includes a great tool called "Know Before You Throw"

This program allows you to type in any piece of garbage you have and it will direct you on how to dispose of it properly. Our region has special drop off sites for recycling some waste that I didn't think was possible (styrofoam, paint, electronics etc.) We even have a curbside battery collection program!

All-in-all it was a very positive presentation and I left knowing I could purchase local compost from the green bin program, that we have 'reuse' days when gently used items can be picked up for charity, and that many local businesses take back the garbage that comes with their products to recycle or reuse themselves (local greenhouses and their flower pots for example). I also came home with some great recycled swag and contact numbers for educational presentations for my students.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Small Change - Body Wash

I love body products. I don't wear make-up but I like to buy lotions and potions to make me feel pampered. But recently I've been thinking about what is IN some of these products and becoming concerned not only about the personal effects of exposure, but also the environmental effects of the products I purchase. I've come to the conclusion that the less ingredients a product contains the better it probably is. This way I can research easier and limit the 'unknown' factor of what my body is coming in contact with. Consider my most recent switch:

On the left you see AMANDE SHOWER OIL by L'Occitane (what I was using) and on the right you see VANILLA DREAM SHOWER GEL made by a local wise woman and yoga teacher at OM creations . Here is the list of ingredients of the two products.

AMANDE SHOWER OIL: vitis vinifera seed oil, tipa-laureth sulfate, laureth-3, caprylic/capric triglyceride, parfum/fragrance, cocamide mea, sorbitanoleate, propylene glycol, prunus amygdalus dulcis oil, tocopherol, water, sunflower seed oil, rosemary leaf extract, coumarin, limonene, linalool.

VANILLA DREAM SHOWER GEL: glycerine soap base, vanilla and basil essential oils.

Now which one sounds better? All the STUFF in the first product was not only coming in direct contact with me and being absorbed into my skin, but was also being washed down the drain into our waterways. After doing some research (brief - consisting of The Environmental Working Group's website) I found out Coumarin is an allergen and immune system toxin and Limonene is linked to wildlife and environmental toxicity as well as shown to create reproductive toxicity in animal studies. Who wants that on their skin?

Monday, 4 February 2013

"Take out" - the trash

This is a short but important post - I HATE STYROFOAM! I absolutely HATE it. It is unnecessary, harmful to humans, AND harmful to the environment. I am trying to cut it out of my life completely and am researching how I can get other (larger) participants in society to do so as well. Some styrofoam comes into my life unbidden - like in packaging in the mail. This I strive to re-use and try to remember to ask sellers not to use if I'm ordering from them. I'm also getting all my meat from local farmers and butchers - so that stops that excess packaging right there. But recently I've been going out to lunch with colleges and I've had trouble finishing my meals. Then I'm left with a conundrum - should I leave my leftovers to reside in the garbage of the establishment, or should I tote them home in a one-use-only styrofoam container?

This is my solution - BRING MY OWN CONTAINER! It got me some funny looks from my friends - but I don't care! Now I get to bring my leftovers home for my husband instead of forcing myself to eat until I feel sick! I've also taken to talking to the managers of places (much to the amusement of others) about my frustration.

I'm never offensive - I still feel politeness is important - but I do want my opinion to be heard and for restaurants to change. It is not any more expensive to use plastic containers that can be locally recycled to house a patron's leftovers and I think more food emporiums should change over. I'm now filling out those comment cards a lot!

I also now own a number of travel mugs to stop my trash creation whenever I want a cup of coffee (though trying to find fair trade coffee is another frustration). Whenever I 'forget' my mug - I buy another one to add to my collection. This is happening less frequently now I know it's going to 'cost' me. One final note - I DID look up where, if anywhere, I could recycle polystyrene (styrofoam) and found this awesome site: If you go into their search engine and type in your product and location you can (hopefully) find a recycling centre near you. I've found a place called Intercon Solutions in Scugog that takes plastic bags as well as many other items including styrofoam peanuts!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

You light up my life

Does this image look familiar?

One of my first acts in owning a home was to replace all the bulbs with CFLs. (compact fluroescent bulbs) This is one of the easiest, most effecient, and cheapest environmental changes one can do. Not only do CFLs use less energy (around 75% less), but they also last longer (good ones average 5-6 years) and generate less heat.

Now I did the initial replacing 2 years ago - but there was this one light fixture I could not switch over. This was my six bulb fixture over my dining room table. It was/is attached to a dimmer. I was informed that there was no way to use CFLs to light my meals

BS! I found some! Blue Planet makes a dimmable CFL in soft white!

Now our fixture gives off a better light and instead of consuming 600 watts we now light our family using a paltry 138! The product is third party verified by energy star and the packaging is made out of a min. 35% post-consumer content and is recyclable. This small change has me singing 'cause
"You, you light up my life
You give me hope to carry on
You light up my days
And fill my nights with song."

Monday, 21 January 2013

I do so love green eggs and ham

Thank you! Thank you Sam I am!

One of the best and easily independent ways a person can become more green is to eat less meat. My family and I are trying to do this and, although we are not ready to turn to vegetarianism, we are now consuming at least two meatless meals per week. By eating less meat and meat products we are reducing our ecological footprint by lessening our contribution to deforestation, manure creation, global warming (carbon creation), and water pollution.

This being said - this post is about our consumption of eggs and pork products. We LOVE eggs! They are a quick staple for a quick family dinner and they always go over well for the kids. However, we have 'greened' our consumption of eggs by buying local, free-range ovals of goodness. We are lucky to live in a small hamlet surrounded by family farms that are surviving despite the corporatization of the food system. By buying locally we cut down on our 'food miles' (the distance food travels from production to consumption), we keep money in our local economy, and we ensure that the animals providing us with eggs are treated humanely. They are not certified organic - but I've visited the farm and the chickens lead fairly happy lives.

We also consume bacon on occasion (more than ham - but the title wouldn't have been as catchy) and can get some from Lunar Rhythm Farms where we got our farm share. It's a little more expensive but worth it for the taste and ensuring our meat has been ethically treated and not pumped up with hormones or antibiotics.

Finally - one last note. We DO have green eggs and ham at our house every once and a while. It's another way for me to sneak veggies onto my kids plates and Dr. Seuss has made it cool. Just mix a couple of tablespoons of spinach or other dark greens puree into the eggs. Fun, functional, and fabulous! Enjoy!