Environmental footprint check-in: Cleaning, 2018

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The last post in my 2018 check-in will focus on household cleaning. My philosophy is to keep things as simple as possible and to use one product for different uses.  I use the wooden dish brush in the picture above to clean my dishes. I used to make my own all-purpose cleaner, but I found that I generated too much waste in doing so, and had to buy too many things. I now use a concentrated all-purpose cleaner to wash my dishes and clean all the bathroom and kitchen surfaces. You dilute a small amount with water, so this bottle lasts a very long time. I keep a spray cleaner in the kitchen and in both bathrooms. After every shower, I spray the tiles with the all-purpose cleaner and wipe down with this metal squeegee. I use the spray bottle to clean the toilets as well.  I will eventually buy this wooden toilet brush once my plastic one needs to be replaced. I use rags and flour sack towels to wipe down surfaces.

Because I live with two cats, I sweep the floors regularly with this dry mop, and vacuum once a week. I use this steamer weekly to clean all the floors; I have had it for five years and use only tap water. For a quick spot clean of floors, I use a DIY cleaner consisting of water, white vinegar, and isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol). Because my cats are allowed to sit wherever they like, I invested in this hand-held Dyson vacuum cleaner for upholstery; it works like a charm on my carpeted stairs, as well. To refresh fabrics, I use a combination of water,  rubbing alcohol, and essential oil. I use a DIY dusting spray that combines water, vinegar, olive oil, and lemon essential oil for my wood furniture.

I use soapnuts that I buy from the bulk store to do laundry; once the soapnuts have lost their saponin, I place them in the compost bin. In the dryer, I use these cloth dryer sheets, which last about two years. I use clothes racks to air dry as much of my laundry as possible, barring sheets. My Turkish towels air dry overnight. Speaking of sheets, I use these made of bamboo; I would love to get linen sheets, but my bamboo sheets last for years, so it might be a long wait.   I handwash my lingerie and many items of clothing (e.g., dresses, cardigans, etc.) with a bar of Savon de Marseille.

As I hope I’ve shown, household cleaning does not require a lot of different products, nor do you need to buy a lot of items in plastic.

Environmental footprint check-in: Bathrooms, 2018

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The bathroom is a place that can be full of plastic products.  My condominium has a full bathroom and a half bathroom.  I won’t focus on household cleaning products, as I will do this in another post, but I will discuss personal care items.

I use bar soap in both bathrooms. I used to buy locally-made soap, but I found that it invariably became very soft and squishy after a short while. My preference is for triple-milled soaps, as they are durable and you can use them down to a small nub, which is not the case with the local soaps. I use Savon de Marseille in the 300g size, which lasts a very long time. I use a bamboo toothbrush, which can be put in the compost. Because of the very strong evidence that shows the positive effects fluoride has on dental health, I do use toothpaste that comes in a plastic tube; unfortunately, I have yet to find a fluoride toothpaste that comes in a glass container. I have no intention of compromising the health of my teeth, however, so plastic it is. I don’t use dental floss, as it generates a great deal of waste; you can buy floss in a cardboard container, but the floss itself cannot biodegrade and cannot be recycled. The only biodegradable floss I have found is made of silk,  which won’t work for me, of course, since it is derived from animals. There is no  Evidence of a strong positive correlation between flossing and dental health. I brush my teeth whenever I eat anything, and I visit the dentist twice yearly. My teeth and gums are in excellent health, so I will stick to my non-flossing routine until a greener and vegan option is available. I use this stainless steel tongue scraper.

I use a bamboo nail brush, and this wooden body brush for exfoliating my skin. In the bathtub and shower, I use a cotton washcloth (or flannel, as I was raised to call it); bath poufs are made of plastic, and can’t be cleaned easily.  Washcloths can be laundered easily, and thus are more hygienic.  I use a small cotton towel as a bath mat, since I don’t want anything with a rubber bottom. I use this bamboo shower caddy.  I use a cloth shower curtain and liner, both of which can be easily laundered.

It is in the area of personal hygiene and grooming that most of us use a lot of plastic. I have made positive strides over the years, but of course, I can always do more. I have been using cotton handkerchiefs since I was a child. Tissues generate so much waste and, frankly, I find them very unhygienic; seeing a balled up used tissue turns my stomach. Tissues are also hard on the skin. I have year-round allergic rhinitis, which means I would go through a lot of tissues in a year. My preferred brands are both Canadian: OKO Creations, and  Eco Freako; their hankies have lasted me for years. I have sewn a few hankies, as well.

I haven’t used bathroom tissue for five years. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am fastidiously clean, so if I can do this, anyone can. I attached a bidet device to my toilet, which is far more hygienic than bathroom tissue. I keep bamboo bathroom tissue on hand for guests who may not want to use the bidet attachment.

I use the  Erase Your Face cloths to wash my face every night; no cleanser is needed. These cloths remove all makeup and dirt, including mascara, and I hand wash them after use. My skin is dry and very sensitive, and would always feel tight even if I used the gentlest cleanser. I have used these cloths since April 2017, and have never looked back. In the morning, I simply splash my face with warm water. At night, I use a DIY face serum that consists of 2-3 carrier oils that come in glass bottles.  I use a smaller glass jar with a pipette to distribute the serum on my face, neck, and around my eyes.  Because my skin is dry, I usually follow this with a small amount of pure shea butter.  After a long search for shea butter that doesn’t come in plastic, I was glad to find this brand in a metal container, and at a reasonable price. I am fanatical about using sunscreen on my face year round. It has taken me a while to find a brand that doesn’t irritate my skin, but this one does the trick; unfortunately, it comes in a plastic container, but sun safety comes first.  I used to spend a fortune on creams and serums that didn’t do much for my skin. My simple routine of DIY serum and shea butter (night) and sunscreen (day) works well for me.

I no longer buy body or hand creams. I used to make my own hand cream, but I needed three products to do so, which generated too much waste. I use my face serum above for my hands and feet. For my body, I use sweet almond oil that comes in a glass bottle.  I know that stainless steel razors are used by many zero wasters to remove body hair, but I have been using an epilator for this purpose for several years. My device works well, so I’m sticking with it. I used to make my own deodorant, but I developed a very strong reaction to baking soda. The non-baking soda recipes required far too many items, so I am using this travel-sized crystal deodorant stone. The stone does come in a plastic package, but since the stone will last me at least two years, the amount of waste produced is very small. It works like a charm. I use pure shea butter as a lip balm, and in my handbag, I carry a small tin of it with me, which doubles also as a travel hand cream.

I don’t wear nail polish anymore. For one, nail polish and nail remover generate a lot of waste; second, I found that both products dried out my nails and skin, no matter how good their quality. I am lucky to have very strong nails that grow like weeds (thanks, Mum), and I prefer to leave them in their natural state. I don’t get professional manicures or pedicures, as I have been doing these myself since I was 12 years old.

It is in the area of hair care that I generate the largest amount of waste. I have tried various methods to reduce plastic consumption, but have had to make compromises. I have curly hair that is prone to dryness. My scalp is dry and very sensitive. I tried a variety of no-poo methods, such as the horrific baking-soda method, which stripped my scalp and left it all blistered. As I discovered, baking soda is alkaline, with a pH of 9, while the scalp is acidic, with a pH of 5. – not a good combination. I tried the water-only method of washing my hair, but I found my hair became very dull. The best method for me is co-washing, which means using a silicone-free conditioner to clean the scalp, and a silicone free-gel to style the hair. I use the t-shirt plopping method on my wet hair, then let it air dry. I co-wash my hair twice a week, and revive my hair in between by spraying my hair with water and adding a little more of the conditioner and gel. I tried shampoo bars, but they simply didn’t workl they either stripped my scalp, or left a film on my hair.  I have tried solid conditioners with disastrous effect.  My conditioner and gel are in plastic containers, unfortunately, but it’s not from want of trying plastic-free alternatives.

For makeup, I use Elate Cosmetics.  Elate is a Canadian company that uses bamboo and metal packaging. You buy a bamboo magnetic palette, which you fill with eyeshadow, blush, or foundation in metal disks. These refills are packed in compostable containers that are infused with flower seeds: You can plant these containers in soil, which I plan to do soon. The products are all vegan and cruelty free, of course.   I carry the foundation powder in a refillable bamboo compact. The lipsticks and mascara are in bamboo as well.

As always, suggestions for other earth-friendly options are welcome.

Environmental footprint check-in: Kitchen, 2018

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Once a year or so I like to check in on my progress in minimizing my environmental footprint and reducing my use of plastic. The term “zero waste” has become very popular amongst Millenials, which I am very happy to see, but my environmentally-conscious practices date back quite a bit further than that to when I was in my early twenties.  As always when I do these check-ins, I focus on areas of the home.

I did a major declutter of my kitchen last summer; I do this twice a year in all my house, but this past summer was a particularly rigorous exercise. I had accumulated a lot of smaller appliances and gadgets that I rarely used. With most of my possessions, I use the simple criterion of “have I used this item in the past year?” If the answer is no, out it goes (donated or recycled responsibly). This applied as well to a number of pots and pans. I have only what I need. I use glass jars to store dried legumes, sugar, coffee, and so forth. I use glass jars as well to freeze food, vegetable broths, and so forth.  I have no plastic storage containers anymore. I rely mostly on reusing jam jars, pickle jars, and so forth. I have bought some larger jars to take with me to the Bulk Barn which, I am delighted to report, now allows me to bring my own reusable jars and bags.

I have been using Credo produce bags for several years to buy fruits and vegetables. I have sewn my own cloth bags to use in the Bulk Barn. I am using this wooden dish brush that comes with refillable brushes, and this bamboo and metal dish rack. I stopped making my own dish soap,  as I found I was generating more waste in buying the products and, further, that I had to use a lot of it to clean items properly. I have chosen the more efficient option of this multi-purpose concentrated cleaner to wash dishes, as well as the kitchen and bathroom counters and surfaces. The cleaner comes in a plastic bottle, but it lasts a very long time and generates less waste in the long run. I wash dishes in this tub (British style), as I find this saves a lot of water. I use old rags and flour sack towels to clean surfaces; I haven’t used paper kitchen towels in over 20 years.  I have tried a zero-waste charcoal filter for my tap water, but I wasn’t pleased with the results, so I have purchased this Brita Filter pitcher; the company takes back the filters and recycles them. It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s better than plastic bottles. Our drinking water in Halifax is very good, but I do prefer the taste when I filter it. The new filters last a very long time.

Much as I would like to buy my coffee beans in bulk, I am very, very particular about my coffee. Coffee beans in bulk bins are often too stale for my liking. This is not an area in which I intend to compromise, so I do buy beans in sealed bags that contain some plastic. I use a burr grinder for the beans, a French Press (which generates no waste), and compost the grounds. I do like the occasional cup of herbal tea, which I buy in loose form from a local store that allows me to bring my own container.

I use only cloth napkins and tablecloths. I travel with a travel pouch that contains a cloth napkin, this foldable set of utensils, a metal straw, and this small Keep Cup. Although there are glass Keep Cups, I find them too heavy for my handbag and, besides, I’m rather too accident prone to be safe around them. I carry a stainless steel water bottle, as well. I don’t carry a metal lunchbox with me, as this would take too much space, but at least I can use reduce my waste consumption with the items in my travel bag.

I buy my fruits and vegetables seasonally from a local farmers’ market. I wish it were possible to avoid all foods in plastic, but some things are unavoidable. I cannot possibly eat bread without vegan margarine, which comes in a plastic tub. I buy my bread from a local baker (The Petite Baker), and exchange cloth bags with her every week. Staples such as tofu and vegan cheese come in plastic, but I do make sure to choose the ones with the least plastic. I prepare most of my meals from scratch, so this helps cut down on the purchase of a lot of prepared food products, and I cook all my legumes from their dried state. I purchase the following items from the bulk store in my own containers: Legumes, sugar, grains, pasta, coconut oil, cornstarch, flour, arrowroot, baking soda, soap nuts, bar soap, nuts, nutritional yeast, spices, and herbs.  Naturally,  all shopping is done with my own bags.

I would welcome any ideas for other things that I could do to reduce waste and the use of plastic.



Quiet Revolution


As a Canadian, and one who has degrees in Canadian and Quebec history, the phrase “Quiet Revolution” inevitably conjures images of Jean Lesage and the Quebec Liberal Party in the 1960s. This revolution, however, refers to the community webpage created by Susan Cain, the author of the book I’m reading, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. This book has been on my wishlist for a while.  I have always scored very high on the introversion scale on all the personality tests I have taken over the years. My scores have been very consistent, including my Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBT), where I have been an INTJ since I first took the test in my early twenties. There has been a fair amount of literature about introversion over the recent years, likely inspired by this book.

Some people have a difficult time accepting that I’m an introvert because I am not shy. As a child, I was very bookish and studious and always had my nose buried in a book. I was also a very intellectually curious child, so I was often called precocious, as I always had a long list of questions to ask about everything. Because I asked these questions, and kept drilling down responses with further questions until I could make rational sense of what I heard (Typical INTJ), I was often called talkative, which is not a trait one normally associates with introverts. In my case, however, I spoke not because I wanted to engage in conversation for its own sake, but because I was looking for information to form an understanding of a particular concept.

An interesting lesson I learned as a child, and have continued to observe throughout my life, is that staying in my comfort zone of quiet often leads to misunderstandings, and questions such as “what’s wrong? Are you upset?” I have been labelled “moody” more times than I can recall, simply because of my preference for quiet and solitude.  For most of my life, I have felt the pressure to work to extravert norms; this, sadly, is likely true of most introverts. I’m the person who cringes at the thought of having to go to a large social event; when I am there any small talk I make sounds forced to my ears. I’ve learned to “fake it,” thanks to years of practice, but the discomfort never goes away, and I escape as soon as I can.

This book provides an interesting look at how the characteristics of extraversion have become celebrated over the past 100 years.  It doesn’t tell me anything about myself that I don’t already know, but it helps to put it into a larger societal context. It’s also refreshing to read a book where introversion and quiet are celebrated, rather than seen as traits to be overcome.