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The costly side of eco living

An article in today’s Guardian discusses the phenomenon that I have often observed to be associated with eco living namely, that it caters to a higher socio-economic status:

Many of the companies and individuals marketing a sustainable lifestyle tend to give the impression that it takes place on another fairytale planet, and is unattainable for normal people down here on the ground with limited cash, who have to go to work every day.

This phenomenon has been true for a very long time. I have always been struck by the often ridiculously inflated prices that are charged for environmentally-friendly alternatives. I think that this can be problematic because,  a) it gives the message stated above; and b) it feeds into people’s egos and makes eco living a competitive shopping sport, where it becomes a matter of showing off brands.

In many cases, there are much cheaper and reasonable alternatives that don’t need to cost an arm and a leg. You don’t need to spend a fortune on reusable kitchen towels, for example; you can easily cut old towels into rags for this purpose. I buy inexpensive sackcloth towels from my pharmacy that last a very long time. You can re-use all those glass jars that once held jams, condiments, and so forth, to store and freeze food; there is no need to buy overpriced mason jars that serve only to replicate these humble glass jars. Re-using in this manner serves also to cut down on waste. Stainless steel tiffin boxes are a little pricey, but they last for years, so they are an excellent investment. Buying expense eco cleaners ($8 for dish soap? Completely and utterly absurd) is unnecessary when you can easily make your own products for much less money. Full disclosure: I used to buy a lot of these expensive products, but realized that I was simply generating more waste by doing so. No matter how recyclable a product, waste is generated to produce and recycle it. I have slowly weaned myself off this buying cycle. I now use bars of Marseille de Savon soap to clean bathtubs, counters, handwash laundry, make laundry soap, and wash dishes. This soap does not come in any containers, serves multiple purposes, and works far better than any eco cleaner I have ever bought. I buy 1kg bars of soaps that last a long time. The humble vinegar and baking soda work like a charm.

I don’t mind investing money into a product that will last for a long time, and which I cannot replicate easily myself, but I think we need to be careful of supporting overpriced eco products especially if, ironically, they serve only to add to further waste and consumerism.

 

Uncategorized

Spring cleaning, 2017 edition

As I have stated before, I actually enjoy doing housework. I’m a tidy person who hates clutter, and I find housework to be soothing. Most people think I’m odd in this regard, but I’m not bothered.

I weed my house on a regular basis; most people like use to the term “de-clutter,” but I prefer the term that is used by professionals in my field. Because I weed about twice a year, it’s never too onerous a task. I rotate my clothes twice a year, and have been paring down my clothing considerably. My love of shopping is no secret, but I’ve made huge dents in this practice over the past two years. I am reducing the number of clothes that I wear, preferring to rotate a smaller number of good-quality items, rather than have a large number and variety of clothes. I do not intend to buy any new (or used) clothes for the spring and summer. Capsule wardrobes are very popular right now; I’ve been working on mine for the past four years and have made good strides. I’m not normally one for trends, but since I have hated clutter since childhood, this trend suits me perfectly.

It’s amazing how much one still manages to accumulate even with regular weeding. This month I focused on the kitchen, only I was more ruthless this time around. I got rid of small appliances that I had not used in at least a year: A juicer, a food processor,  a bread maker (which had stopped functioning properly), and a soy milk maker (ditto). I’ve tried juicing, but never embraced it fully; I much prefer to eat my fruit and vegetables, as juicing removes all the fibre. If I do feel the need to juice, I can use my Vitamix, which juices the whole vegetable, rather than separates the juice from the pulp. My Vitamix has replaced the need for my large food processor. I have a two-cup mini food processor that I use to make my laundry soap, dice onions, etc., so there was no need to keep the large one.

As I explored my kitchen cupboards, I found at least four containers of rice in different places. I have a weakness for storage containers; this comes from being a very organized person. The problem, however, is that I had simply too many storage containers in different places; as a result, I would forget that I had these containers, and would buy more rice, etc., from the bulk store. I now use the cupboard that housed the small appliances as my pantry so that I can see all my storage containers with dried beans, pulses, pasta, rice, and so forth. I got rid of a lot of mugs that I don’t use. It feels good to see empty shelves, and I plan to keep them that way.

Using simply cleaning products such as vinegar, water, and liquid castille soap, I washed the walls and baseboard, and painted the kitchen shelves and use shelf liners to protect them. The biggest challenge was re-painting the baseboards. I enjoy painting, even if my knees complain from all the bending; the problem, as I found out, is that my companion felines Atticus and Calpurnia like painting as well. I now have two Pepe Le Pew cats, only their white stripes are not quite as symmetrical.  Fortunately, the paint does peel off.  I intend to re-paint all the room and closet doors as well; I’m sure some cat whiskers will be embedded in the results.

As I continue to weed my home (laundry room and bathrooms this week), it bothers me to generate such waste. I will donate some items to charity shops, but the fact that I have produced such waste still bothers me. I fully appreciate the irony that a proportion of this waste consists of storage containers that are meant to help keep everything organized. The problem with buying storage containers is that you buy things to fill them with. My approach over the past two years has been to buy something only to replace an item that I need. So, for example, I keep only a very small number of mugs (I am not one for entertaining much at home; I’m too introverted for that); no matter how many beautiful mugs I might come across, I will buy one only to replace a mug that has broken or become chipped.

I have made great strides in reducing my shopping habits; in my various travels over the past two years, I have purchased only two dresses, three scarves, a crucifix, a rosary ( I collect rosary beads), and a bracelet (a birthday present for me on behalf of my mother). Travelling with only carry-on luggage helps reduce what  I can buy but, frankly, I’m losing the interest in buying anything. I still like to window shop and admire good-quality items, but I find myself applying the “do I really need this? What do I need to discard to make room for this?” approach. My single biggest challenge is to not buy handbags; it’s my biggest achilles heel, but I have improved considerably.

Uncategorized

Goth toothpaste

img_4213-2I thought that my teeth were looking a little dull lately, so I explored some options for tooth whitening. I had no interest in using any whitening strips, as they create far too much waste. I tried one of those dual-tube products, where you brush with the first tube of toothpaste, then with the second tube of whiteners. I tried a sample, and was horrified with the results. The whitening product contains a lot of hydrogen peroxide, and it bleached my gums, not to mention hurt them. No, thanks.

I came across a glass jar of a natural toothpaste that contains activated charcoal. The product is made by Nelson Naturals, located in Nelson, B.C.; the company makes only toothpaste. The toothpaste makes your entire mouth black when you use it; I look like an extra in a Goth film. It’s actually rather fun to see the effect. The toothpaste is messy (the jar warns you about this), but I’ve been impressed with how well it works. My teeth look whiter since I started using it Saturday. I brush with it only once a day.

 

 

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Earth-friendly spring cleaning, Canadian style

I am one of those odd people who enjoys doing housework; I am particularly fond of ironing, which I find very soothing. Because I do some housework every day, I don’t find the need to do spring cleaning as such, but for those who do, I thought I would share some Canadian cleaning products that are earth friendly, and whose companies have a long-standing commitment to the environment (i.e., no greenwashing). I make my own cleaning products, but for those who are not inclined towards DIY, and who want to use locally-made products, the list below might be of some use:

Bio-Vert: Bio-Vert environmentally-friendly cleaning products are manufactured by Savons Prolav Inc., a family owned and operated company based in Laval, Québec.  They use only recycled plastic containers, and sell refills. An interesting fact is their use of square-shaped containers, which allows them to fit more of them on shipping pallets, and thus reduce transport costs.

Nature Clean: Their website is being overhauled right now, so I can’t determine where these products are made, but if memory serves, they are based in Ontario. Their products are all scent-free, which I very much appreciate.

Gentle Earth: This company is based in Victoria, BC.  They sell products at both the retail and wholesale levels.

Eco-max: These products are made in Oakville, Ontario. The company uses Bullfrog Power to make its products, which are EcoLogo certified.

Attitude: These products are made in Montreal.  The company uses renewable energy sources, is EcoLogo certified, and makes only vegan products.

Sapadilla: These products are made in Port Coquitlam, BC.  Their products do contain fragrance, but it’s derived only from essential oils, and are phthalate-free.

Effeclean: These products are made in Toronto.  The products are all plant-based, and the company does a very good job of explaining all the ingredients that it does not use.

Down East:  The products are made in Dartmouth, NS. Their cleaning products were the first in Canada to be EcoLogo certified.

 

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Cleanser-free cleansing

I have been working hard to pare down the number of personal care products that I use. My skin is dry and sensitive, so I have always cleansed my face with cleanser in the evening only, using only warm water in the morning to remove any residual night cream. Even though I am careful to use very gentle cleansers, my skin still tends to feel tight afterwards, and I certainly can’t use exfoliating products, as they are all too harsh. I bought a product the other day that can help me cut out one more personal care product. The product is a facial cloth called Erase your Face. You simply wet the cloth in warm water, then wipe your face and eyes. I am amazed by how well the cloth works: All traces of makeup were gone, including mascara and eyeliner. No tugging of any kind was necessary. Removing eye makeup has always been a challenge, as there is always the possibility of irritation, even though I have typically used only sweet almond oil. Using only warm water is not only environmentally friendly, but economical, and much easier on my skin; I did not need to use a cleanser afterwards. I used the tissue test on my face, and there was absolutely no residue left. The cloths wash out very well; I simply wash them in the sink with a bar of Savon de Marseille and hang to dry. I bought the cloths at Bed, Bath, and Beyond; it’s an excellent investment of $14 for a product that should last a very long time.

 

 

Animal welfare, Uncategorized

Why zoos should be closed

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I despise zoos. I have written about this topic before. I have never supported the arguments that zoos help educate people about animals which, in turn, leads to better animal welfare. The continued horrific treatment of animals around the world does not correlate to increased education. Another argument is that zoos can help preserve species that are close to extinction; I doubt the price of captivity is worth it. I would rather see animals go extinct while living their lives in their natural environments than doomed to an existence of living in cages, no matter how large. In her article, Catherine Bennett discusses the state of zoos, and particularly the efforts of zoo keeper David Gill, who has culled 500 animals.

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Embracing a new skill: Sewing

I have toyed with the idea of sewing for a while now. I have spent most of my life focused on developing the mind and, frankly, dismissed most crafts as being too stereotypically female. Even as a child, my interests lay in intellectual pursuits, rather than learning how to sew or knit: I considered these activities to be too “girly.”  I still face these biases today, to be honest, but I have approached crafts from another perspective, namely that of reducing my carbon footprint. For the past 5 years, I have made all of my own cleaning products, and most of my personal-care products. I am quick to point out that I don’t do so to avoid “chemicals” as is, sadly, a myth that so many people perpetuate. Water, for example, is composed of chemicals, as are many “natural” products that we use every day, such as baking soda. I do, however, strive to use ingredients that have reduced environmental impacts; further, I wish to avoid buying unnecessary packaging. Yes, some of the ingredients I use, such as vinegar, do come in containers, but I try to buy most products in bulk, using my own containers. Nothing can be truly zero waste, of course, since bulk products come in packaging, need to be shipped, and so forth, but I do what I can to reduce my use of packaging.

My DIY products are as follows:

  • All-purpose spray cleaner
  • Laundry soap
  • Dish soap
  • Floor cleaner
  • Dusting spray
  • Fabric spray
  • Deodorant
  • Hand cream
  • Face serum
  • Lip balm
  • Face tonic
  • Leave-in conditioner

I try to use single products for several applications; for example, I use a 1kg bar of Savon de Marseille to handwash clothes, to clean counters and sinks, and to make laundry and dish soap. I use vinegar and isopropyl alcohol for all-purpose cleaning sprays and floor cleaner. I used to make my own toothpaste, but I noticed that it did not remove plaque as effectively as commercial toothpaste and, further, I have no intention of giving up fluoride, as there is plenty of scientific evidence to show its positive impact on reducing tooth decay. I use shea butter as a lip balm and night cream.

I knit and crochet household goods such as face cloths and dish cloths. I’ve made some scarves as well. I don’t tend to wear sweaters, and find that hand-knit sweaters take up too much closet space. I’ve pared down my wardrobe considerably, so I don’t want to add to what I have.

Sewing is the latest way in which I wish to reduce my environmental impact. I realize, of course, that sewing machines and their accessories are not carbon-free. Still, I embrace sewing as a way to make my own products, particularly if I can reuse materials. I prefer to learn on my own, so I am finding videos online to help me learn. My first projects have been simple: Handkerchiefs (I have not used tissues for nearly 20 years), cloth bags for the bulk store, a small pillowcase for my mini-buckwheat pillow, and a pouch to store nightwear. I  will move on to tablecloths, large pillowcases tea towels, and so forth. Eventually, I hope to make my own clothes.

I still have to deal with my years of associating crafts with stereotypical attitudes towards women. On the other hand, I find great pleasure in creating something physical, especially as this activity stands in direct contrast to the largely intellectual pursuits that have shaped most of my life.

 

Uncategorized

Mediterranean chickpea salad

I made the following salad for a potluck dinner. As usual, measurements are very approximate.

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Ingredients

2 cups cooked chickpeas (I cook mine from dry, but tinned are OK)

Sliced Kalamata olives

Sliced artichoke hearts. Use hearts marinated in olive oil, as the ones marinated in water don’t have enough flavour.

2 diced potatoes, roasted in olive oil, oregano, and thyme. I did not peel them

Salt, to taste.

Dressing

Olive oil

White balsamic vinegar

Mustard of choice.  I used a black olive mustard, because one can’t have too many olives.

Preparation

Mix all the salad ingredients, except the potatoes, and toss with the dressing to coat. Refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavour blend.

Before serving, add the diced roasted potatoes, and mix well. If you add the potatoes too soon, they will get soggy.

 

Uncategorized

My Earth Day 2016 review

As I did at this time last year, I would like to review my efforts to reduce my carbon footprint. I am now into my ninth year without a car. I rely upon public transportation to get around, and try to walk 8-10 km a day, both for the sake of exercise, and to reduce my use of buses. When I need a car, for example to go to the airport, or to buy larger items, I rent one from my local car rental company (I get a special university discount).  I don’t miss the insurance and car payments, and certainly not the fuelling costs.

I continue to make a lot of my own products, using earth-friendly ingredients, namely:

  • Face toner
  • Leave-in hair conditioner
  • Hand soap (for kitchen and smaller bathroom)
  • Dish soap
  • Laundry soap
  • Dusting spray (for furniture)
  • Deodorant
  • Body powder
  • Floor cleaner
  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Sugar scrub
  • Air freshener/fabric spray
  • Window cleaner
  • Eyeglass cleaner
  • Facial scrub
  • Personal wipes (I buy felt fabric and cut into strips)

Cleaning

Floors and furniture

I use microfibre mops and brooms to sweep the floors. I use cloth rags (old face towels, or cut-up towels) and my own dusting spray to clean the furniture.  I use a vacuum cleaner only every two weeks to clean the stairs, which are carpeted, but otherwise simply sweep the wood, cork, and porcelain floors. I wash the floors weekly with my own cleaner and a wet microfibre mop to clean the floors; I alternate with a steam mop with a reusable microfibre head.

Laundry

Although I do use the dryer for sheets and towels, I use clothes horses for other items of laundry to cut down on dryer use.  I my own laundry soap, and use vinegar as a fabric softener. I use dryer balls in the dryer. Hand washing (every day) is done with savon de Marseille. I use only cold water in the laundry machine. I iron my clothes with a steam iron, and use a homemade fabric spray (lavender) to refresh carpets, beds, sofas, and any other surface on which the cats like to sit.

Kitchen and bathrooms

For kitchen and bathroom counters, as well as stainless steel appliances, and bathroom tiles, I use a homemade all-purpose cleanser. I use linen dish cloths. No paper towels.  I use borax to clean the toilets.

I wash my dishes every day in the sink. I use a plastic tub in the sink to reduce the amount of water I use. My homemade soap does not lather and leaves no residue, so there is no need to rinse the dishes. In this way, I save more water than if I were to use the dishwasher. I never wash dishes by running them under water. I use only cloth dish cloths and tea towels.

Dining 

I use cloth napkins every day, and cover my table with either a cotton or linen table cloth. I store food in either glass or stainless steel containers. I pack my lunch to work every day, using these containers, stainless steel cutlery, and real plates and soup bowls (the latter I keep in the office).

I prepare my meals at home every day. I love to cook, and I think I’m good at it, so why waste money with take out? Besides, I am careful about what I eat, and like to control ingredients and amounts. I buy in bulk whenever I can (e.g., dried beans, pasta, coconut oil, sugar, salt, flour, cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder, etc.). I have an electric pressure cooker which I use to cook beans, make soups, sauces, and so forth.  I use stainless steel, ceramic, and cast iron cookware. I make my own faux parmesan cheese, cashew cheeses, nut butter, almond milk, and soy milk. The only food items I buy in tins are diced and crushed tomatoes, which I used for soups and marinara sauces. I avoid packaged foods as much as possible; some items, like tofu and Daiya cheeses, are staples in my fridge, so some packaging can’t be avoided.

I go to local farmers’ markets every Saturday. I use cloth bags, and cloth produce bags, both at the markets, and in the grocery stores. I use cloth bags also in the bulk bins (e.g., bulk peanuts and almonds).  I buy local as much as I can. There are a lot of myths associated with organic food. Organic food is, in fact, exposed to pesticides for the most part (they must be derived naturally); further, several taste tests have indicated that it doesn’t taste any better. For me, local trumps organic every time. I wash my fruit and vegetables with vinegar and water, so why spend unnecessary money on organic?

When I go out, I carry a portable cutlery set and stainless steel straw if I know I will eating somewhere that uses disposable containers. I have a small S’well water bottle that I carry with me. When I order coffee, I always drink it “to stay,” as good coffee should not be rushed. At work, I make my own coffee and use a mug.

I gave up my microwave years ago, as I wasn’t using it. I bought a Cuisinart counter top convection oven years ago, which doubles also as a toaster. I use this oven every day, and rarely use my big convection oven.

Cat care

My cats like to sit on the bed. I use a rubber lint brush to clean the duvet cover on a daily basis. This brush does not generate waste, as do lint rollers with tearaway strips. I cover the sofa with a slip cover. I use a throw on the bed when I am travelling, since I can’t do the lint brush routine, but on a daily basis, I prefer to not cover the bed, as I think it looks sloppy. I used use biodegradable dog waste bags to collect cat waste (one bag a day), but I have switched to paper lunch bags, as they are more earth friendly. I use a sawdust-based cat litter, which is compostable and earth friendly. I have a sonic essential oil diffuser that helps keep the air by the cat litter fresh, which is important when you live with two cats. Unfortunately, dry cat food comes in bags that are not normally recyclable; cans for wet food can be recycled.

 

Personal care

I have been using handkerchiefs for years. I never use facial tissues and buy a box only when family members come to visit. I use a number of handmade products, listed above. I use a bamboo toothbrush and toothy tabs from Lush; the former come in a cardboard box that is biodegradable.  I do use a commercial toothpaste, as I’m not giving up fluoride, but since I brush my teeth about four times a day, I use the tabs in the middle of the day, and the toothpaste in the morning and evening.  I use Eco-Dent vegan floss, which comes in a cardboard container than can be composted. I alternate cleaning my gums with Stim-U-Dent plaque removers, since they are biodegradable. Floss generates a lot of waste. Toilet paper is made from recycled paper, although I use mostly homemade personal wipes (I will spare you the details). I hand wash lingerie every day, as well as many of my clothes, since washing machines can wreak havoc on many fabrics. I use cloth panty liners both for hygiene purposes, and to preserve underwear. I use bar soaps whenever possible, although I do use homemade liquid soap in the kitchen and small bathroom (mostly to save space). I use cotton make-up removers, which I wash every day, hemp face cloths, and takelon make-up brushes, which I wash with simple soap and water (I cannot believe that people actually buy special cleansers for make-up brushes). I use bamboo towels.

Utilities

I live in a condominium, so I have no control over what we use for heating (electricity), although I keep the thermostat as low as I can, use space heaters, and wear sweaters and fingerless gloves. I use LED lightbulbs. I still have some CFL bulbs; they’ve been with me for 15 years and I am waiting patiently for them to give out before I replace them with LED. I keep lights on only in the room in which I am sitting. I try to unplug appliances when I don’t use them, but it’s a bit of a nuisance for those connected to a clock (e.g., the countertop oven), or the DVR. I haven’t pulled the plug on cable yet, as I’m not prepared to give up HBO. My appliances last a long time, although I know I’m an easy prey for having the latest mobile devices, but since I rely on them so much, I don’t have much patience for slow devices with limited memory.

Clothing

I am whittling down my wardrobe as much as possible. I love clothes. I buy good quality clothes that last a long time, but I am trying to stop buying new clothes. Since last July, I have bought only three items (dresses), and only to replace items I gave away. Handbags and jeweller are my Achilles’ heel, but I have reduced purchases significantly. In a trip to Rome last November, for example, I bought only three items (a gold crucifix with an emerald, and two rosary bracelets, since I collect rosary beads). For anyone who knows me well, they will understand how restrained this was. Shopping for clothes, bags, and jewellery is the biggest area in which I need to improve, but I am making strides.