Are minimalism and zero-waste living wasteful?

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I have been increasingly struck by the irony of how wasteful zero-waste living, as well as minimalist living, can be. Two recent articles have helped to reinforce this thinking; their focus is on minimalism, which I will tackle first. These two articles were written in response to the popular Marie Kondo Netflix series. Benjamin Leszcz and Katherine Martinko argue that we should not dispose of items based on whether they spark joy; rather, that we should examine our possessions in the light of “making do”, a deeply pragmatic philosophy. It means asking of our things the only question we should ever ask of them: “Can you fulfill your intended use for me?” (Leszcz).

When I declutter my home, my approach mirrors more closely the concept that Leszcz and Martinko propose. I’m a pragmatist at heart: If something doesn’t serve a purpose, I don’t need it. I’m actually more concerned about the waste that minimalism and zero-waste living can generate. In our rush to declutter our homes, how much of our possessions end up in the landfill? It could be argued, of course, that they are destined for the landfill at some point; we’re simply doing it now rather than later. At the very least, we should donate as many of our decluttered items as possible, which is what I have tried to do.

The move to zero-waste living can generate a large amount of waste. The graphic above for a zero-waste kitchen is an example of what I mean. I know that I have been guilty of buying “zero-waste swaps” instead of making do with items I already have in my home. So, for example, I’ve bought sets of travel cutlery, when it would have been simpler to use cutlery I already owned. It’s tempting for us to want the shiny stainless steel or bamboo items that proclaim “zero waste,” but aren’t we simply creating more waste when we do this? We have, in fact, fallen prey to zero-waste marketing.

I’m cautious about articles such as the two above because I fear that they will encourage people to not declutter their homes. The article could reinforce the “I might need it someday” mentality that continues our hoarding habits. Rather, I think we need to consider the “do I use it approach” when we assess our possessions, and the “do I need it” approach when we consider purchasing something new. This is where “making do” comes in. I think the bigger question we need to tackle is why we purchase so many items that we don’t need and that we never use. I’ve been fighting this tendency for the past several years; I’ve made significant progress, but I do need to constantly question myself. Let’s look at a recent case in point. While I was in Ottawa this past month, I stopped by a favourite store, Zone, which sells home accessories. I absolutely love home accessories and, in particular, linens, so this type of store is my achilles heel. I know this, yet I still went in, as I love to look. While there I came across these linen kitchen towels. I absolutely love linen, and the price of these towels was very good. I grabbed two and walked around the store: I forced myself to take this time to mentally run through my kitchen linen drawer. I could see the large stack of perfectly usable kitchen towels in this drawer. I already have far more towels than I need, thanks to my past shopping behaviours, so I put the towels back on the shelf. Yes, they were an excellent price, and they were pretty, but I DID NOT NEED THEM. Thankfully, I wasn’t shopping with a friend, because I likely would have been convinced to buy them. It’s taken me a long time to get here. I think I go to stores such as Zone to test my resolve; it would be easier, of course, to simply avoid the stores completely, but I love beautiful things and enjoy looking at them (hence my fondness for art galleries). It’s a dangerous line, however, and I have faltered once or twice.

Making do is a philosophy I want to continue to explore and embrace. Something I’ve considered doing is creating an inventory of certain items I own that are the most tempting to buy; in my case, this would be handbags, kitchen and bathroom linens, and makeup. I can check the inventory to see whether I already own it, or something like it,  e. g., do I need a third shade of this colour lipstick? I think all of us need to make a clear distinction between wanting something and needing it; just because something is pretty, or on sale, or a steal, doesn’t mean that we need to bring it into our homes. Can we reuse what we already own, or put it to another use? Case in point: When I switched to loose-leaf herbal tea, I explored tea infusers in the stores, but I found them all to be too fiddly and awkward.  I looked at the French press in my kitchen cupboard and thought “why not use this, instead?” In other words, I shopped from my kitchen and made do with what I already owned. I recently sewed old napkins into produce bags. I have turned into my grandmother Georgina and am perfectly happy with that.

Simplifying my cleaning products

I have gone through various processes to simplify my household cleaning products. My goal is to find a solution that is as minimalist and zero-waste as possible. I’m happy to say that I’ve boiled down my cleaning to two products: Laundry detergent and liquid dish soap.

I’ve used a variety of cleaning products in the past. I’ve made my own products but, frankly, found that I needed to buy too many items in the process, which is hardly cost effective or efficient. I’ve used soap nuts in the past to clean clothes and to make an all-purpose cleaner, but now that I’ve switched to a high-efficiency front-loading washing machine, I don’t find that the soap nuts work as well anymore, especially since I wash all my laundry in only in cold water. I used a bar of Savon de Marseille to wash my dishes for the longest time, but this meant having a separate product to clean surfaces.

Organic Earth market to the rescue. I am beyond excited that Organic Earth now has a refill station for Down East laundry detergent and dish soap; I take my own glass jars, which they weigh that the store (after deducting the tare weight). These two products are all I need to clean my home. The laundry detergent works very well for my HE machine as well as for hand-washing my clothes. I use the liquid dish soap to wash dishes, as well as to clean counters, the toilet, the windows, etc. It’s a simple matter of adding a small amount of dish soap to a spray bottle of water. A nice bonus: Down East products are made across the harbour in Dartmouth. I much prefer to use dish soap than the more popular castile soap. I can buy liquid castile soap in bulk from The Tare Shop, but I think it creates a little too much lather, and is also more expensive than the dish soap. Two products; that’s it.

Letting go of balloons

At a recent convocation event, I entered a room that was filled with balloons in the university’s colours. My first reaction was “oh no, this is not good.” Of course, I felt like the grinch. I appreciate all the effort that went into decorating the room for this special event, but I can’t help feeling concerned when I see so many environmental hazards being used in this manner. It’s easy to get caught in the excitement of the moment, but we really do need to consider what happens to all those balloons once the event is over.

The environmental hazards of balloons have been well documented. Someone in the room told me that since the balloons would not be released, there isn’t that much of a problem. Certainly, the largest environmental impact of balloons is caused when they are released, but the balloons themselves are made of non-sustainable materials, which makes them an environmental hazard regardless of their methods of disposal. This article outlines nicely the environmental impacts of balloons:

  • Balloons travel over great distances:  Balloons have been found to travel hundreds, even thousands of miles.
  • Balloons are a danger to wildlife: Birds, marine life, and terrestrial animals often eat latex balloons that have fallen into their habitat. The latex blocks the digestive system-causing a slow agonizing death.
  • Ribbons and strings, including biodegradable cotton string, become entanglement hazards.
  • Wastage of helium: A finite resource
  • Degradable balloons are NOT the solution: Ordinary latex balloons will not start to degrade for about five months in the ocean, and shiny Mylar balloons last for years.

I’m sure a few eyes will roll when I do this, but I do plan to have a chat with the organizers of this event to see whether we could try to use more sustainable forms of decoration next year.

Trapping microfibres with the Cora Ball

I have been considering for quite a while how to deal with microfibre residue in my washing machine. Although most of the items that go into my washing machine consist of natural fibres, I do have some faux-fur throws that are made with synthetic materials. These throws are an essential component of keeping my furniture and bed clean, as my cats are allowed to sit wherever they like. The cats love the softness of the faux fur throws,  and in my household it’s all about spoiling the non-human animals.

I had considered purchasing the Guppyfriend washing bag, but was concerned that it would not hold large throws.  I have come across what seems to be a far more practical alternative: The Cora Ball. As you can see from the image, the Ball consists of a number of layers of plastic that trap mibrofibre particles during the wash; you simply toss the Ball in with your load of laundry. You clean it by pulling out the fuzz from between the layers. The product reviews have been promising; you do need to be careful of placing more delicate items with tassels, straps, and so forth, into a laundry bag so that they don’t tangle in the Ball. Since I do this anyway, I don’t anticipate any problems.  The Ball should capture human and cat hair as well, which is a nice bonus.

The Cora Ball is not available in any local stores, so I ordered it online from Canadian company Ahimsa  Eco Solutions. At $49.00 CAD, the Cora Ball is more expensive than the  Guppyfriend, but will likely last longer than the bag. I look forward to seeing the results.

How to reduce carbon emissions when flying

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This video from BBC news discusses some of the ways you can reduce carbon emissions while flying:

  1. Avoid flying
  2. Fly direct
  3. Fly economy
  4. Pack light
  5. Use local airports

When you live in a country as large as Canada, avoiding flying may not be an option. I will be taking the train from Halifax to Ottawa in June for a birthday trip; the leg from Halifax to Montreal is 18 hours. In Europe, an 18-hour train ride would probably cover a few countries. Mind you, it’s not an ultra fast train. Train travel in Canada is not very good and can be much more expensive than flying. Driving several hours is also not a very comfortable option. Someone I knew drove from the south of Denmark to Italy in about 20 hours; it took me 18 hours of driving to travel from Toronto to Halifax when I moved here (a two-day trip with two overnight stays). The other four alternatives mentioned above are more feasible in Canada.

Another option, which I am interested in exploring, is to compensate your carbon footprint by donating money to environmental causes. There are a number of companies that can help you do this. These companies usually provide tools to help you determine the carbon footprint of your mode of travel. So, for example, a flight from Halifax to Montreal for one person equals a  CO2 amount: 0.392 tonnes. Based on this CO2 amount, the company will ask you to donate a set amount to contribute to an environmental project, e.g., reforestation in Nicaragua. The company MyClimate, for example, calculates a contribution of $11 USD for a Halifax to Montreal flight. it’s important to choose companies that have Gold Standard certification,  as this ensures that key environmental criteria have been met by offset projects that carry its label. Only offsets from energy efficiency and renewable-energy projects qualify for the Gold Standard, as these projects encourage a shift away from fossil-fuel use and carry inherently low environmental risks.  There are two Canadian companies that offer Gold Standard offsets;

I could find only one Canadian airline that has a carbon offsetting program, namely Air Canada (which uses Less). This site lists airline companies that have carbon offsetting programs.

I have been meaning to use these carbon offsetting programs; it’s time I put this into practice.

 

Vegan treats in Halifax

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A friend of mine asked me about vegan sweet treats she could take as a hostess gift, which got me thinking that this would make an ideal blog post. I’ve focused on locally-made vegan treats.

Rousseau Chocolatier provides some good vegan options for chocolate bonbons. Dark chocolate is usually vegan, and those filled with nuts or fruits would be fine. Another option is the dark chocolate bars.

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Springhouse makes exclusively vegan products. For sweet goods, the following would all be suitable:

  • Cashew cheesecake: strawberry, Blueberry, Mango Pineapple, Mocha or Maple Almond. The cheesecake is usually sold by the slice, but you can order a whole cheesecake.
  • Chocolate almond bar: one of their most popular products.
  • Caramel brownie bar
  • Lemon bar
  • Mint chip bar

Sweet Hereafter Bakery always has one daily vegan cheesecake. I’ve tried every vegan option, and all are delicious. The cheesecake is sold by the slice, but you can order a whole cheesecake. Their vegan options are plentiful:

  • Vegan Amaretto
  • Vegan Black Forest
  • Vegan Carrot Cake
  • Vegan Chocolate Oreo
  • Vegan Chocolate Raspberry
  • Vegan Chocolate Hazelnut
  • Vegan Oreo
  • Vegan Macaroon
  • Vegan Peanut Butter Chocolate
  • Vegan Strawberry Vanilla

Humani-T Cafe has a good variety of vegan gelato that you can order by the pint. The cafe makes a good chocolate vegan cake that you can order in advance.

Vandal Doughnuts has a large variety of vegan doughnuts. This bakery is extremely popular and often has long queues of customers waiting outside the door, and for good reason, as their doughnuts are delicious. Vegan options include:

  • Vegan cookie monster
  • Vegan raspberry lemon
  • Vegan Oreo twist
  • Vegan apple fritter
  • Vegan homer
  • Vegan Boston cream
  • Vegan chocolate and peanut butter
  • Vegan strawberry vanilla
  • Vegan harbour fog
  • Vegan lemon square
  • Vegan cinnamon twist
  • Vegan blueberry fritter

The Petite Baker is run by a friend of mine. Elizabeth can make custom vegan cakes for any occasion.

Luscious Desserts is an exclusively vegan bakery that makes a variety of cupcakes, cakes, macarons, and chocolates.

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Big Life in Dartmouth makes a variety of vegan cookies, including:

  • Vegan spelt date squares
  • Vegan spelt raisin cookies
  • Vegan spelt chocolate chip cookies

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Wild Leek has a variety of vegan baked goods that you can order, including brownies, cupcakes, and cookies. Wild Leek is exclusively vegan.

The Heartwood restaurant has a variety of vegan desserts and treats. I’m not sure whether you can order in advance, but a quick phone call should sort that out.  Options include:

  • Cocobanana pie
  • Carrot cake
  • Mocha almond cheesecake
  • Peanut butter cheesecake

 

Lasagne roll ups

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I decided to forgo the usual “ricotta and tomato sauce” approach to lasagne in the recipe below. Roll ups are convenient, as I find it easier to control portion sizes.

Ingredients

For the filling

1 finely diced onion

3-4 diced garlic cloves

Cooked sweet potato, mashed

1 block extra firm tofu, crumbled

Finely chopped greens. I used collard greens, but you could easily use spinach, swiss chard, or kale.

Crushed tomatoes

Red wine (optional)

Dried basil and oregano

Topping

Tomato sauce

Shredded vegan cheese. I used Gusta, but any brand you like that can be shredded will do

Instructions

  1. Saute the onions until softened. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  2. Add the crumbled tofu and saute, making sure to distribute the onions and garlic thoroughly.
  3. Add the sweet potato and greens.
  4. Add the crushed tomatoes. The filling needs to be thick, so add only enough tomatoes to achieve this consistency.
  5. Add herbs and salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Add red wine, if desired. I used a lovely local rose, which gives the filling a subtle flavour.
  7. Simmer for about minutes, stirring frequently.

To assemble

  1. Boil the desired number of lasagne noodles until al dente. I used six.
  2. Lay the cooked noodles flat on a towel or cookie sheet.
  3. Place the filling along the entire length of each noodle. Be generous with the filling.
  4. Roll each lasagne noodle.
  5. Place the filled noodles in a baking dish. Make sure the noodles are tightly packed so that they don’t lose their shape.
  6. Cover the roll ups with tomato sauce and grated cheese
  7. Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes.