Minimalism, zero waste

Do I need these zero waste swaps?

Today I would like to discuss items we often purchase in the name of sustainability that we don’t actually need, and which could contribute to further waste.

Reusable bags

At first blush, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with reusable bags; after all, they help us avoid using single-use bags. The problem is with the sheer number of reusable bags that we accumulate. How many times have we accepted reusable bags at conferences, for example, trade shows, and so forth? Reusable bags require a lot of energy to be manufactured, and most cannot be recycled (ironically, plastic bags usually can). You have to use reusable bags many times to mitigate their environmental footprint. During our latest COVID lockdown, I’ve been purchasing my groceries online from local vendors; in some cases, they have delivered the goods in their store-branded reusable bags, for which I have no use. I’ve now taken to adding a note in my cart to say “please do not put the merchandise in reusable bags, as I have enough of them. Paper bags are fine.” I have one set of BagPodz that is easy to carry and lightweight, and that can be washed very easily. I also refuse any swag or bags at any events. Seriously, how many pens do you need?

Reusable water bottles and travel mugs

This is another area where it’s so easy to accumulate a lot of duplicates; reusable water bottles and travel mugs are often included in swag, as well. I’ve been guilty of buying stainless steel bottles over the years, to the point where I have rather too many. One water bottle and one travel are enough. I’m divesting myself of duplicates as responsibly as I can, but I need to stop myself from buying or accumulating more of them.

Travel cutlery

I’ve been guilty of buying more than one set of travel cutlery. My first purchase consisted of a bamboo set; I quickly found that I hate the feel of bamboo in my mouth. I can’t stand dry, raspy textures (hello, microfiber cleaning cloths). I’ve purchased two different sets of stainless steel travel cutlery; I use one in the office, so at least it’s not wasted, but honestly, a set of cutlery from my kitchen would have been sufficient. The other “it’s so cute” set turned out to be too small for normal-sized hands. I’ve kept it very simple by buying a travel spork, which works well and hasn’t yet resulted in any accidental loss of blood, which did happen when I tried to carry my kitchen cutlery in my bag. This spork also doesn’t set off any alarms at the airport.

Matching mason jars

It’s very tempting to buy beautiful mason jars or glass vacuum sealed jars (let’s face it, Weck jars are beautiful) in order to have a sense of symmetry and beauty in one’s kitchen cupboards. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love both symmetry and beauty, but it’s so much easier to simply reuse glass or even plastic containers that previously held food. All my glass storage jars were formerly food jars (e.g., salsa, vegan mayonnaise, jams, etc.). They may not look pretty, but they work, and I use them to store dry goods such as legumes, leftovers, cleaning concentrates, as well as to freeze food. I’ve invested in two sets of plastic mason jar lids, since the standard metal ones rust very easily.

Reusable straws and their brushes

Again, there’s nothing wrong with reusable straws; it’s more a question of how many we actually need. You can buy reusable straws in multipacks, and they often come with those tiny brushes for cleaning purposes. Those brushes strike me as so wasteful. It’s so easy to simply run soap and water through the straw to clean it; if you’re very germophobic, you can soak the straw in boiling water. I put my stainless steel straw in the dishwasher as well. I do use a stainless steel straw at the office and at home, mostly to keep lipstick off my glass of water, but I don’t need more than two. Again, it’s the quantity of these items that we accumulate that is wasteful.

Minimalism, zero waste

Household items I don’t buy

Image source

A popular topic in many zero waste social media sites concerns common products that people do not buy. I don’t particularly like following trends, but this topic is of interest, as it allows me to reflect on my progress in my sustainable lifestyle, and may inspire others to reconsider some of their shopping habits. In this post I will focus on common household items, related mostly to cleaning products and food storage.

Liquid dish detergent: I haven’t used liquid dish detergent for years. I use a 1 kilogram bar of Savon de Marseille to hand wash my dishes. For the dishwasher, I use earth-friendly dishwasher tabs that I buy in bulk from a local store.

Sponges or brushes: I use a Swedish dish cloth to wipe kitchen counters and cupboards. These cloths last several months, can be washed, are biodegradable, and can be placed in the compost once they become too worn for use. I use a locally-grown luffa to hand wash dishes; I simply wet it, swipe it over the bar soap, and clean the dishes.

Plastic wrap: I hate plastic wrap with every fibre in my body; it’s wasteful, frustrating to use, and unnecessary. I use my grandmother’s method of placing a plate on top of a bowl to store food, or use glass containers from jam, etc.

Plastic zip bags: I use the same methods as mentioned above under plastic wrap. I use glass jars to freeze food.

Aluminium foil: I use a reusable silicone mat to line baking and roasting dishes. I’ve used this mat as well to cover items in the oven (e.g., lasagna).

Paper towels: I use my wet Swedish dish cloth to wipe surfaces, and linen dish cloths to dry them. For messy spills, including cat vomit (cat guardians will understand), I used dish cloths that are very old and soiled, or simply rags made from old t-shirts.

Toilet paper: I use a hand-held bidet and small cloth towels. I’ve always thought that toilet paper was unhygienic and ineffective. A good way to think of it: If you smeared peanut butter on your arm, would you simply use a tissue to wipe it off? I have individual toilet rolls that I buy unpackaged from a local store for guests but I need to buy them only once a year.

Liquid soap and body wash: I’ve always disliked liquid soap and body wash, as I find them very wasteful. People generally use up far more liquid than they actually need. Instead, I use good old-fashioned bar soap.

Liquid shampoo and conditioner: I use solid shampoo and conditioner bars made in New Brunswick, and available in some local stores.

Liquid laundry detergent: I’ve been using Tru Earth laundry strips for a year now and have never looked back. So much space and water are saved.

Fabric softener and dryer sheets: I’ve never seen the point of these products. I air dry most of my laundry, including my bed sheets. I use the dryer only for the mattress pad.

Chlorine bleach: I don’t see the point of this product either. I’ve never been obsessed with sanitizing surfaces, as this lasts for only a few minutes. To whiten laundry, I use baking soda.

Specialty cleaners: I use Sal Suds concentrated cleaner to clean all surfaces. I simply mix a little bit of the concentrate with water in a spray bottle. Sal Suds is safe for all surfaces (and floors), including stone, marble, and granite. I clean windows and mirrors with a solution of 1 part water and 1 part isopropyl alcohol (which doubles as a disinfectant for cuts and scrapes). I use a simple combination of olive oil and lemon juice to nourish and polish my wood furniture when it needs it.

Bin liners: I don’t use bin liners in any of my kitchen or bathroom garbage bins; I simply toss items in the bins, then empty the bins weekly into one central garbage bag. I wait until this one bag is completely full before I toss it in the building waste container.

zero waste

Updated oral care

Oral care is an area where I find it a little more challenging to keep waste to a minimum. I refuse to use DIY toothpaste, which normally consists of a combination of baking soda and coconut oil, which is much too hard on tooth enamel. I’ve been told by people “but isn’t baking soda used in commercial toothpastes?” Yes, it is, but at much lower concentrations than one finds in DIY versions. Both my dentist and dental hygienist have warned me against using DIY toothpaste, as they say they’ve seen the longterm damage to teeth and gums in patients who use these products. I’ve tried dental tabs, but I found them too harsh on my teeth and gums as well. Most importantly, I’m a firm believer in using fluouride to protect my tooth enamel, and I’m not about to sacrifice the health of my teeth in order to save a few plastic tubes of toothpaste.

I use two types of toothbrushes. I use an electric toothbrush twice a day (morning and evening); it has a two-minute timer so that I can ensure that each quadrant of my mouth is cleaned properly. The replacable brush heads aren’t recyclable, but again, tooth health comes first. For during the day, I use a manual toothbrush after I eat lunch and dinner. Unlike most zero wasters, I do not use a bamboo toothbrush for a few reasons. I have tried bamboo toothbrushes, but I simply don’t like them. I hate the dry, raspy texture of the bamboo in my mouth, and the handle gets drier with use. No matter how many times I clean it, there is always some toothpaste residue on the handle, which makes the texture even worse. Second, since I replace manual toothbrushes every three months, I find that bamboo toothbrushes generate a lot of waste. I tried an experiment with burying a bamboo toothbrush in soil; four months later, the brush still hadn’t decomposed, so I can’t help but wonder how environmentally friendly this option actually is, as it can take years for one toothbrush to decompose. I found as well that most bamboo toothbrushes don’t last three months, as the bristles fray very quickly, which means putting more than 4 toothbrushes a year in the compost.

I prefer to use a manual toothbrush with replaceable heads, which is something I’ve used for years. My previous model was made by Radius; I had one for a few years until the handle (made from recycled plastic) cracked. The replacement brushes came in a plastic and cardboard container, which is not ideal, and the brushes could not be recycled. I have now switched to the Canadian Grin toothbrush, shown in the image above. The brush handle is made from aluminium, rather than plastic. I love the design of the handle, which ensures that the toothbrush never rolls over; it’s also a very sleek and elegant design. The handle comes in a variety of colours; mine is the slate grey shown above. The replacement heads can be recycled. I have enroled in the subscription program: I’m sent an email reminder every three months to replace the brush head, and four new brush heads are shipped out every year. Everything is packed in cardboard. You can send the used brush heads back to the company, which will recycle them. l like the smaller and sleeker brush head, as I find it does a better job of cleaning my teeth, especially as I have a small inner mouth. Customer service is outstanding, as the owner of the company reaches out to ensure that you are happy with the product and is very quick to respond to any questions.

I don’t use dental floss, as this generates far too much waste for my liking. You can get refillable dental floss, but the floss itself has to be thrown out. I tried compostable vegan floss, but it was a disaster, as it kept breaking whenever I used it. My teeth are packed very tightly (small inner mouth again), and I need to use a waxed floss to ensure that the floss can fit between my teeth. Waxed floss can’t decompose. Instead I use a Waterpick cordless flosser, which does a superior job of removing tartar and plaque. I’ve had this flosser for over two years and am very happy with it; further, it does a much better job than floss, which is the most important factor to consider.

zero waste

Trying an indoor gardening device

I live in a condominium, so I don’t have access to a garden. I don’t have a particularly green thumb and I have to battle a cat who nibbles on plants and greens. I regrow vegetables such as green onions and garlic, but the problem is finding a sunny spot that Calpurnia cannot reach.

I’ve considered indoor gardening devices, but have sat on the fence for a while. The ones that come without LED lights won’t work for me because of Calpurnia. I also want to support a Canadian company. I have found a solution that I think will work. I’ve ordered the Jardin device, shown in the image above, from Québec company Vegehome. This is the smaller model that contains 9 seedling pods; they have a larger model, the Oasis, that holds 28 seedling pods. Because of the LED lights, you can store the device in shaded and high areas, so this should help keep Calpurnia at bay. I’m experimenting with the smaller device for now to see if I am successful; if I’m happy with the results, I will likely invest in an Oasis model as well. Most of the pods are for greens and herbs.

I look forward to seeing the results, as I would like to grow my own herbs and greens without having to deal with a very feisty and determined cat. I’ve given up on container gardens in the balcony, too, since she likes to sit there in the summer; her son Atticus does like the odd nibble, as well. This garden will grow things all year, which is another bonus. Buying pods online is not ideal of course, but unfortunately, most of these devices don’t work with your own seeds. I am hopeful that I can find similar pods in one of the local gardening stores to save on future shipping. It’s another small step towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

zero waste

How I use soap ends

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.

zero waste

The (not so) humble handkerchief

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.

zero waste

Tru Earth Laundry Strips

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.

zero waste

Rethinking my dish washing routine – again

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.

zero waste

New zero-waste options in Bedford

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.

Minimalism, zero waste

Low impact laundry routine

ZERO-WASTE-FREEZER-7

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 🙂