I use soap bars in my home to do dishes, wash my hands and body, as well as wash my hair (using shampoo bars). I have never liked liquid soap, as I find it extremely wasteful. Even though I can buy liquid soap in bulk, using my own containers, the production and transportation of liquid soap, which is heavy and full of water, is not what I consider to be a sustainable option.
When the soap bars reduce to a small end, which becomes hard to handle, rather than throw away the ends, I repurpose them. In the past, I have melted ends to make a new soap bar, but this can be a messy process. My preference now is to simply grate the soap ends into a tin, then throw a small handful in my dish washing tub to wash dishes. I used to boil the soap ends to make a liquid soap, but I found this to be time consuming, and I often ended up with a solid, gel-like substance. This newer method is much faster.
Since I don’t always have enough grated soap on hand, I generally use a 1kg bar of solid Savon de Marseille to do the dishes – I simply rub a wooden dish brush along the surface of the soap and clean the dishes. When I use the grated soap, I skip this step. This is an easy way to make sure that none of your bar soaps end up in the landfill.
I have been using cloth handkerchiefs since I was a child. The convent school I attended (it was a very pleasant experience) didn’t allow tissues, at least when I was very young, as they felt tissues were too messy. I went through a period of using tissues later in life, but I haven’t used them for over twenty years now.
A lot of people are disgusted by the notion of using handkerchiefs. I don’t understand how paper tissues could be hygienic, considering that you dispose of them, which means potential contamination. To be honest, few things disgust me more than seeing balled up tissue paper lying around, which happens too often in public places such as the bus. I think handkerchiefs are actually more hygienic, as you can use as many clean ones as you need, then simply launder them and re-use them. I also find tissues to be much softer on my nose. Besides suffering from year-round allergies, I was diagnosed with vasomotor rhinitis a few years ago, so I need to use a handkerchief very often. Tissues would be far too harsh.
The environmental benefits of handkerchiefs are obvious as well, since handkerchiefs are re-usable and can be made from repurposed fabric, which is what I tend to do. I sew my own handkerchiefs; I’m not an expert sewer by any means, but hankies are so easy to make. I’ve re-purposed items such as cloth napkins that I’ve never used, scraps of material from other sewing projects, and so forth. This helps further reduce waste, as it means I haven’t bought anything new. When I have a cold, I use flannel hankies, which are the softest on the skin. I go through a lot of hankies, which is why this is one area in my home where I don’t practice minimalism, i.e., I have a lot of hankies. I keep an eye open for hankies when I visit antique or consignment stores and have found some lovely embroidered hankies over the years.
For those not inclined to sewing, you can often find hankies sold at local farmers’ markets and natural-foods stores; they are often labelled as “cloth wipes.” These wipes can be used also in place of toilet paper, to clean sticky fingers, and so forth. Below are a few Canadian companies that make hankies; some even make tissue-style popup boxes to store the hankies. I’ve purchased hankies from these companies, as I like to support local businesses, in addition to making my own.
Eco-Freako: This company is based in Sechelt, BC. I’ve had some of their Hankettes hankies for several years. The hankies are very durable and come in different sizes. I haven’t had any luck finding these in physical stores, so I’ve ordered them online in the past.
Oko Creations: This company is based in Boisbriand, Quebec. I’ve had some of their hankies for years as well. You can often find their hankies in natural-food stores, as well.
The Home Made Happy: This is an Etsy store run by Julia Lussier, who lives in Halifax, NS. Julia makes a variety of products, including cloth wipes, which can be used as hankies. I have purchased Julia’s products at local artisan markets and have had some lovely chats with her about zero waste and sustainable living. Julia is taking a break during the COVID-19 pandemic, but I hope she will be back soon.
Cheeks Ahoy: This company is based in Peterborough, Ontario. They sell a variety of products, including cloth wipes that can be used as hankies. The company doesn’t sell its products online, but you can find them at a variety of stores across the country.
If you haven’t used hankies in the past, I would recommend that you try them. Channel your grandparents, or great grandparents.
I have had my eye on the Canadian Tru Earth Laundry Strips for a while. Each strip contains concentrated and hypoallergenic detergent that works in all types of washing machines, and in all water temperatures. The strips are vegan. A package of 32 strips comes in a small paper container, which is about the size of a large envelope. The product is made in BC. I’ve been waiting to see whether any local stores would carry it, as I don’t like the thought of having the strips shipped from BC. To my delight, the Luminate Wellness Centre in Bedford starting carrying the strips today.
I just did a load of laundry with one strip. I placed the strip in the soap dispenser of my HE front-loading machine, as the company suggests. I use only cold water for all my laundry. The clothes came out clean and, I noticed, softer than usual, so I wonder if the strips have a softening agent. The clothes are drying on the indoor clothes rack, and so far, I’m very pleased with the results. I used the unscented strips and the clothes have no scent whatsoever.
The strips are more expensive than other eco-friendly laundry detergents. The package of 32 strips cost $13.99, so you if factor sales tax (15% HST), the cost per load is 44 cents pre- tax and 50 cents with tax. There’s no question that the liquid laundry soap I buy from the refill centre is cheaper per load. The environmental cost of the liquid soap, however, is higher, as you have to factor in all the water that is used to manufacture the soap, plus the much higher cost of packing the soap and transporting it. The strip packets are very lightweight and thin, so the shipping costs alone must be much lower. This is a trade-off I’m willing to make, especially since I don’t spend any money on all-purpose cleaners ( I simply grate the soap slivers from my bar soap and dissolve them in hot water). I will still need to have liquid detergent on hand to hand wash certain items such as my dresses, but this means that a small bottle will last me a very long time.
I’ve been reconsidering my dish washing routine. Although I have a dishwasher, I use it only about once every two weeks, as I prefer to wash dishes by hand. I know that some argue that dishwashers use less water, but this does not apply to the way I hand wash dishes.
Rather than fill my kitchen sink with water, I use a dish washing tub. This method isn’t very common in Canada, but I grew up using one. A tub is designed to be the size of a dinner plate, so you use a lot less water. I also never use running water to wish dishes, as this wastes a lot of water. I use the tub featured below:
I’ve decided to go back to using a bar of soap to wash dishes with, as I have done in the past. I recently switched to liquid dish soap, as I found two stores in town where I could buy this soap in bulk, using my own container. Although liquid dish soap is certainly more convenient, I did find that I was going through it more quickly than was the case with bar soap. I’m concerned as well that liquid soap requires more water to produce, and is still transported in plastic containers.
So, I’m back to using bar soap. My preferred soap is a 1 kg bar of Savon de Marseille, which I buy from a company in Quebec. This bar lasts a very long time, is much more economical than liquid dish soap, and does not require plastic or as much water. Using bar soap for dishes has recently become more popular mostly, I think, because of the Vegan Dish Washing Block produced by No Tox Life, which is making the rounds in many zero waste communities and shops.
The Dish Washing Block works well, although I find my Savon de Marseille to be more budget friendly, as you get a larger bar of soap for about the same price, and does not leave the same soap residue as the Block. Another household bar soap that I’ve used is made by the Montreal company Faveur.
As you can see from the image on the top of the page, I use a wooden brush that I wet, then swipe along the surface of the soap. It’s then a simple matter of using the brush to clean the dishes. Bar soap can be used as well to clean counters; you simply pass a wet cloth across the soap and wipe the counters. This can leave some soap residue, which is why I prefer to grate a little of the soap and mix it with hot water in a spray bottle. I use this solution to clean all surfaces, including the toilet. For floors, I use a combination of household-cleaning strength vinegar (which I buy in bulk in my own container) combined with water. I sometimes suffer from the magpie effect when new products become available, but I usually find that the old methods often worked better.
I visited the newly-opened Luminate Wellness Market in the Larry Uteck section of Bedford a few days after it opened. The store contains a large selection of natural products, as well as some unpackaged organic fruits and vegetables, as well as refrigerated natural foods, such as vegan cheese. The store has a bulk area where you can take your own containers and refill them. What I particularly like about this section is that you tare your own containers. I wish that more stores did this, as having to go to customer service to have them tare your containers makes for a longer shopping experience, as this means you may need to stand in line twice. The store owner told me “we trust our customers.”
The Refillery contains liquid shampoo, conditioner, hand and dish soap, as well as an all-purpose cleanser. You can purchase empty glass bottles, as can be seen in the image above. This section also contains a section of locally-made cloth bags, wipes, and reusable kitchen towels. All the refillable products are Canadian.
The store has a large selection of shampoo bars and sold conditioners, as well as cosmetics from Canadian company Pure Anada, which is what I use. The second half of the store contains shelves of packaged natural goods, as well as the fruits and vegetables.
The store has an in-house Naturopathic Doctor, a certified Nutritionist, as well as an acupuncturist and massage therapist. I was attracted most by the refill station, of course. The selection is smaller than The Tare Shop, but it’s a good alternative for those who don’t want to go downtown. I can get to both stores via public transit, so I’ll do my best to support both.
It’s very gratifying to see more zero-waste options in the city, and hope that more budget-friendly options will become available, as most of the goods in these stores can be quite pricey.
I’ve gone through a number of different low impact laundry routines over the years. I’ve tried to make this routine as simple and earth-friendly as possible. At one point, I made my own laundry powder, but I found that it didn’t clean that well over time, and buying three ingredients to make one product was inefficient and hardly low impact. The routine below is much simpler and effective.
I wash sheets separately, as well as any throws, but the rest of my laundry is unsorted. In other words, I wash towels together with cleaning rags, socks, handkerchiefs, and so forth. I use Turkish towels, which are very thin, and which do not deposit fibres on other items in the wash. I wash EVERYTHING in cold water. I know that you’re supposed to wash sheets in hot water to kill dust mites, but my mattress and pillows are all encased. Hot water requires far too much electricity. I use the Cora Ball to trap microfibres and cat hair.
I handwash my clothes, as I maintain a small wardrobe and want to ensure that my clothes last as long as possible. I invested in the Panda spin dryer for my hand-washed items, as this helps speed up the drying process enormously, and uses far less energy than the spin cycle of my washing machine.
For laundry detergent, I use soap nuts (or soap berries), which I buy in bulk. Because I use cold water, I don’t find that soap nuts release enough saponin if I place them in a muslin bag, so instead, I make a liquid detergent with them: I boil 1 litre of water with 7 soapnuts and simmer for 30 minutes, adding a half tablespoon of salt as a preservative. I place the used soap nuts in the compost. I use 60 ml of the detergent per load. I will sometimes add an earth-friendly brightener (a combination of sodium carbonate and hydrogen peroxide) from The Soap Company. This brightener comes in a paper bag. I do not use fabric softener.
My sofa slipcover is the only thing I place in my dryer, as it’s too cumbersome and heavy to hang. I dry everything else on an indoor clothes rack. I live in a condominium, so line drying or using the balcony are not permitted. I invested in the Juwel Twist clothes dryer, which allows me to dry even larger items like sheets.
This routine works well for me; yes, it may take 24 hours for items to dry, but I’m in no rush, and I actually find the process of putting items on a drying rack and removing them to be soothing. I even love ironing 🙂
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.
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.
I have been using the curly girl method to look after my hair for a while now. In this method, I use only conditioner to clean my scalp. Shampoos are very harsh on my hair, and even those without sulfates leave my hair tangled and dry. So, while I no longer buy shampoos, I do go through a lot of conditioner and gel which, unfortunately, come in plastic bottles. I have tried using homemade flax seed gel, but I did not find it gave my hair enough hold, and it smelled a little too nutty for my taste. Until I find a better solution, I will continue to use gel in plastic bottles, but I buy litre-sized bottles so that I don’t go through smaller tubes, which do not recycle as well.
I have been looking at various conditioner bars to replace the plastic bottles of conditioner that I use. Conditioner bars are not as easy to find as shampoo bars, at least not in local stores. I’ve explored other options such as Etsy. Unfortunately, a number of conditioner bars I’ve found contain sulfates (Lush, in particular, has sulfates in all its shampoo and conditioner bars) or silicones. Silicones bind to your hair and require shampoo to be removed properly, so they’re not good for me.
I’ve heard a lot of the Ethique products from New Zealand. My concern about these products is that I’m not prepared to have them shipped from New Zealand, as this is hardly carbon friendly. Unfortunately, I can’t find their products in local stores, so I settled on having a conditioner bar shipped from Amazon’s Toronto warehouse. This is hardly ideal, of course, so I will continue to explore more sustainable options.
Having said that, I am very pleased with the Guardian conditioner bar (for normal to dry hair). I have used it on my scalp as a cleanser, and it has worked well. I use it on my hair as a conditioner, by simply rubbing it along wet hair. I use it on dry hair as well by rubbing the bar in wet hands, then running my hands along my dry hair. The bar conditions well, has good slip, and rinses out well. The bar is very small, so I’ll see how long it works; it’s on the steep side at $28 for 16g bar. Mind you, I go through a lot of bottles of conditioner, so the bar may prove to be more cost-effective, and there are no bottles to recycle. The shipping, of course, reduces the low impact of the conditioner bar. Our local zero-waste store has conditioner bars, but I have not found a proper list of ingredients yet, so I will see whether the store owner can provide me with one.
I try to extend my zero-waste lifestyle to beyond the home. The image above shows the items I use at my campus office on a daily basis. I make my own coffee at work, as this helps keep waste to a minimum. I’m also very particular about my coffee, and I make a far better cup than I can find on campus. I grind my beans at home in the morning and transport them in the smallest of the stainless steel containers. The middle container contains sugar that I refill as necessary from the bulk container at home. The largest container has snacks such as almonds. The blue coffee mug is made by a local artisan. Not shown are the stainless steel coffee tumbler I use when I’m teaching for ease of transportation, and the French press in which I make my coffee.
In the background are a matching water jug and glass. I dislike drinking from a water bottle. I do have a stainless steel bottle I use when I’m on the move, but when I’m in my office, I prefer the elegance of these two glass items. The black item in the water jug is a charcoal filter, which can be composted once it has been exhausted. In the centre of the photograph are the plate and ceramic bowl that I use to eat my lunch, as well as a cloth napkin and stainless steel cutlery. There is a sink at the office, so I can wash all these items easily.
I make a point of bringing my lunch to work every day. I like to control the quality of the food that I consume and avoid take out food as much as possible. Further, bringing my lunch cuts down on a lot of waste. And finally, of course, my cooking is normally far better than anything I can buy on campus :).
If there is a social function at work that features food, I make a point of taking my cutlery and plate, if possible. I rarely get weird looks anymore.