Environmental footprint check-in: Kitchen, 2018

zero-wasteImage source

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.


Lush shampoo bars


I have been on hunt again for a low waste method for washing my hair. For a while, I had used the rye flour method to wash my hair, but I wasn’t too happy with the results, as even though I rinsed my hair well, I would still have some residual flakes from the flour. I have tried a number of shampoo bars, but many of them either dried out my hair, or left too much residue in my hair, likely because of the high concentration of oils. Many shampoo bars use coconut oil, which my skin does not like.  I am not a fan of coconut oil at all, as I find that it sits on the skin rather than moisturizes it.

I had avoided trying Lush shampoo bars because they contain SLS. Liquid shampoos with SLS have been disastrous with my hair, leaving a veritable rats’ nest behind. If  have to douse my hair in conditioner to overcome the damage from the shampoo, then clearly there’s a problem. This article, admittedly written by Lush, suggested that SLS in shampoo bars might be less damaging because you apply only the foam to the hair, rather than the product directly: When you use a liquid shampoo you apply the neat material to your scalp, but you don’t get that with a shampoo bar — you only get the foam that comes off the material, which means that even people with the most sensitive scalps can use it.  I don’t know if this statement is scientifically sound, but I was willing to give it a try.

Choosing a shampoo bar at Lush is a challenge in that all of the bars contain fragrance. I know that Lush takes pride in its fragrances, but I do wish that some unscented products were made as well. Shampoo, at least, rinses out, so I crossed my fingers. I selected the Jason and the Argonauts shampoo bar, which is vegan. I use the shampoo bar only once a week, as my dry scalp does not like to be over washed; I wash with water and conditioner in between shampoos as necessary. I’ve been pleased with the results. The bar lathers well, and you use very little of it, so this bar should last me for a number of bars. It cleans the scalp and hair well, and does not appear to over dry my hair. I was pleased to note that the scent of the bar does not linger in the hair. So, this bar is a win-win with regard to zero waste and effectiveness.

Update: I have had to give up on this soap bar. As I feared, the sulfates in the bar eventually became a problem, drying out both my hair and my scalp. On the other hand, I’ve been using a silicone-free conditioner to wash my scalp for about two weeks now, and this has been working very well. Unfortunately, the conditioner does come in a plastic bottle, but I can’t seem to find a plastic-free option that works for my scalp and hair.

Some of my favourite online Canadian green stores

Image source 

If buying gifts is on your agenda for this holiday season, why not consider giving environmentally-friendly gifts? I have compiled a list of my favourite Canadian online retailers that sell green and sustainable products. Buying in person is always the best option, of course, but online stores provide a wider range of options at times, especially if you want to ship items to friends and family. If possible, buy only what people need, to avoid adding waste to landfills.

  • P’Lovers: This only store sells eco-friendly products, and has physical stores located in Mahone Bay, Halifax, and Dartmouth in Nova Scotia.
  • Life Without Plastic: This store has been in business for a number of years, and is committed to providing products that are sustainable and that reduce our use of plastic.
  • Rawganique: This store sells mostly clothing and accessories made from hemp, linen, and organic cotton.
  • Green Cricket: This store sells personal and home products via two storefronts: Retail and Commercial. All the products sold are made by the company.
  • Just the Goods: Personal care items.  I started buying from this store when it had a few products on Etsy. The store has since grown, but continues to maintain its very high standards.
  • Ten Thousand Villages: This retailer provides handcrafted products made in a variety of communities around the world, with a focus on fair trade and local materials
  • Elate Cosmetics: Vegan beauty products with a focus on reducing packaging and using refillable products.
  • Cool Earth Products: Canadian-made products to reduce the use of plastic. I have been using their Carebags produce bags for years.
  • Hornet Mountain: Various eco-friendly products for personal use, the home, and animal companions
  • Bamboo Clothes: Self-explanatory.
  • Eco-Handbags: All bags are made from recycled materials.
  • Eco Suds: Soapnuts and wool dryer balls.
  • Penny Lane Organics: Personal and home products at reasonable prices. Their cleaning paste is excellent.
  • The Soap Dispensary: This brick-and-mortar store in Vancouver sells a large variety of refillable home and personal products. An online shopping site will be opening soon, which I would be interested in exploring, since I always prefer to refill whenever possible.

The role of social media in the proliferation of fast fashion

This article discusses the role that social media has played in the growth of fast fashion, which is a contemporary term used by fashion retailers to express that designs move from catwalk quickly to capture current fashion trends (Wikipedia). Popular retailers such as Zara and H&M are excellent examples of companies that promote fast fashion.  The article posits that social media accounts such as Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and so forth, have encouraged fast fashion, as people do not want to be seen wearing the same item often, or even more than once.

I know that some people who read this article will say “well, that’s certainly not me,” but is that actually the case? How many of us have closets bursting with clothes? How many of us buy items of clothing, shoes, or bags, for a “special occasion,” even though there are perfectly adequate items in our closets, because we want something new, or because we don’t want to be seen wearing the same outfit for the occasion? How many new items of clothing, shoes, and bags do we buy every season, even though we already have so many clothes? How many of us buy something because it’s on sale, even if we don’t need it? How many of this think that we’ve scored a big sale: “look, it was 50% off,” even though its money wasted because it’s adding to the mountain of clothes we already own?

I am the living embodiment of this attitude. In my student days and earlier in my career, especially when I lived in very small accommodations (I was living “tiny” before it became a thing), I didn’t have all these possessions. As my living quarters and pay cheque grew larger, so did my purchases. My Achille’s heel has always been handbags. When I travelled, it was always with a suitcase large enough to accommodate the purchases I would no doubt make. Shopping became a hobby; this was particularly true when I lived in Detroit, where the large variety of shopping malls beckoned me every weekend.

I’ve been committed to environmental causes since I was a child. I have always done what I could to reduce my carbon footprint. I remember me as a child lecturing my no-doubt exasperated mother on the need to shut off lights, to not let the taps run, to wear sweaters in the house in winter to stay warm, and so forth (I still do this. Sorry, Mum). My shopping and accumulation of stuff, however, was a hurdle that I did not overcome, or even acknowledge, until a few years ago.

I have made significant reductions in the items that I buy. My wardrobe has been pared down considerably, and I buy at most 2-3 items of new clothing a year, and now only to replace something that I can no longer use. I’ve slipped once or twice, I will admit it, but I see a vast improvement. I no longer care if people see me in the same clothes, as I rotate a small amount every week. Frankly, most people neither care nor remember what you wear. Men have been getting away with wearing the same items for years; it’s about time that women stopped this ridiculous obsession with not being seen in the same outfit every month or, heaven forbid, every week.

Fast fashion has many negative impacts on the environment, not the least of which is the sheer waste it generates. In our narcissistic world of selfies and posting daily updates (of which I plead guilty), we tend to be guilty of greenwashing. We congratulate ourselves on using travel mugs, recycling, composting, and so forth – all of which are excellent things to do, of course – but our rampant and increasing consumerism is causing far more damage than using bottle water or disposable coffee mugs. I have been appalled by my own consumerism, as it has crept up on me insidiously; I think so many of us equate possessions with success. I have been blessed – or is it cursed? – with a love of beautiful things, and I have indulged in this love far too many times. I applaud the growing movement of minimalism amongst younger people in their twenties and thirties; they have come to this realization far earlier than I. I think we have a lot to learn from this movement, and I, for one, am enjoying embracing it in incremental steps.

I have found owning fewer things to be liberating, not limiting. I smile when I see empty cupboards in my home, extra storage containers I no longer need, rugs that I no longer need to vacuum, and clothes that I can actually see in my closet. Travelling with a small carry on for a two-week trip with no more than four dresses that I rotate makes decisions about what to pack so much easier, not to mention negotiating airports so much faster. Not feeling the need to buy souvenirs for other people that will simply add to their clutter (hint, please don’t buy me souvenirs) saves so much time when I’m travelling; time that I would much rather put towards visiting museums and art galleries. It has been a most enjoyable journey, and one I look forward to continuing.

My love affair with walking

I have been involved in a number of sports activities in my life and, in particular, three different forms of martial arts, and extreme weight lifting. I have also suffered a number of injuries as a result of these sports, most particularly in my knees and ankles. These injuries have forced me to give up these activities. Since my injured joints don’t allow for activities that involve much impact, walking has become my favourite activity. Swimming is an option as well, which I have done in the past, but it’s very time consuming, particularly with hair that can’t handle blow drying (think Poodles).

I gave up car ownership 10 years ago this month. I could no longer justify owning a car, considering that I was taking the bus to work (parking is a huge hassle on campus), and using my car only on the weekends. Owning a car made no financial sense, not to mention the guilt I felt about all the carbon emissions. Once the lease was up on my car, I made a clean break and bought a bus pass. Now that my employer participates in a discounted monthly bus pass, my fixed transportation cost per month amounts to about $55.

The freedom of not having a car – for this is how I see it – allows me to spend more time walking. At first I walked only for occasional exercise, but I now incorporate walking as part of my desire to go from point A to B. I try to walk a minimum of 8 km a day, seven days a week; I average about 95 minutes of active walking a day.  Rather than do the 95 minutes at one stretch, I normally divide the walking into sections. On a typical weekday, I take the downtown bus to work, but get off at the terminal, then walk about 25 minutes to the office. I walk for another 50 minutes or so at lunchtime, then after work, I walk part way home (about 45 minutes or more), then catch the bus to finish the journey.  The routine changes over the weekend, where I walk to and from my errands, such as the library, farmers’ market, local coffee shop, and so forth. Weather is, of course, a factor to be considered. Halifax gets quite a lot of rain (normally heavy) and wind, and winters can be gruelling. I don’t mind walking in the cold, but it’s the sidewalks covered with thick ice and snow that can cause problems.

Discipline is the key factor, as with all forms of exercise. It’s easy to make excuses, saying that it’s too windy or cold to walk; before you know it, those excuses turn into days of not walking, which can turn into weeks. For me, the most important aspect of walking is the mental break it gives me. When I walk, I don’t listen to music, and I avoid using my smartphone. I do carry my phone in case of emergencies, and I’ve used it on more than one occasion to report sightings of missing cats, but I will not use it for any other purposes. Walking is a time for me to simply let my mind wander. I am an urban walker, so I enjoy looking at houses, front yards, and so forth. Music simply adds to the busyness of life that we all seem so eager to embrace; in fact, I think busyness has become a competitive sport.  We all seem so afraid to simply be, as though we fear being judged for being unproductive. I relish the opportunity to take time for myself to just be, and walking appeals to my reserved and introverted nature because I don’t need to talk to anyone, except to every dog and cat I may encounter.

A book that reflects well my attitude to walking is Frédéric Gros’ book A philosophy of walking, which discusses the role of walking as part of the thinking process, and charts the impact walking has made on philosophers such as Rimbaud, Rousseau, Narvel, Thoreau, and Nietzsche. I don’t count myself in such heady company, of course, but I can fully appreciate the role active walking has in my intellectual and psychological well-being.


Halifax Forum Farmers’ Market

I am lucky to live in a city that has several year-round farmers’ markets. This video looks at one of the newer markets in the Halifax Forum. I visit this market quite frequently, as it’s the closest to where I live.