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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