Zero-waste eating at the office


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.

Low-impact oral care


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I am a little (OK, a lot) obsessive about oral hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums clean, strong, and healthy, unfortunately, can generate a lot of waste. The biggest offender is the plastic toothbrush, which should be changed at least once every three months. These toothbrushes are not recyclable and all end in the landfill. I brush my teeth about four times a day, so I go through a lot of toothbrushes. I have been using bamboo toothbrushes for about four years. I use the Brush with Bamboo or Brush Naked brands; I prefer the latter, because it’s a Canadian brand, but I can’t always find it in local stores. I buy soft bristles, since these are best for the gums. The toothbrushes come in biodegradable cellulose and cardboard boxes; unfortunately, Halifax doesn’t allow cellulose in the compost. The brushes are made of nylon, so once the toothbrush needs to be replaced, I use a small set of pliers to remove the bristles, which go in the garbage bin, and place the handle in the green bin.

I don’t find manual brushing overly effective in removing plaque, so I use an electric toothbrush at night. When it comes to the health of my teeth and gums, I am prepared to make environmental compromises, which is a theme in this post. I use an Oral-B Pro electric toothbrush, which has a pressure sensor that alerts you if you are brushing too vigorously, and which has a set timer for 30 minutes per quadrant of your mouth. I’ve noticed a significant reduction in the amount of plaque buildup on my teeth since using it these past few years. I use my bamboo toothbrush throughout the day.

I don’t use mouthwash: I really don’t see the point. If your teeth and gums are clean, why do you need a mouthwash? Besides, I don’t want that plastic bottle in my home. It’s easy to make your own mouthwash using a simple combination of water the peppermint essential oil, but I don’t bother. I do not chew gum to freshen my breath for two reasons: Most brands of gum use a lot of packaging and, further, I have TMJ, which makes extended chewing uncomfortable. I prefer to carry mints, which I buy in bulk, and which I use if I don’t have easy access to my toothbrush. I use a stainless steel tongue scraper in the morning and evening, and I find this does an excellent job of removing any residual odour-causing bacteria.

The environmental impact of flossing has always bothered me. Most flosses come in plastic containers that can’t be recycled, then you need to put all that floss in the landfill. There are more environmentally-friendly flosses now that come in glass jars; you can buy the floss refills for the jars. The floss is biodegradable but the catch for me is that it’s made of silk, so it’s not vegan. There are some vegan flosses on the market, but they can’t be composted. I find flossing uncomfortable, as I have a small mouth and my teeth are packed very tightly, which makes it difficult for the floss to slide in evenly between the teeth. The best compromise I’ve found is a handheld Waterpik flosser. Yes, it’s plastic, but it will last me several years; more importantly, it’s done wonders for my teeth and gums. At my last dental checkup last week, the hygienist noticed a significant improvement in my gums, and I had absolutely no bleeding during the cleaning.

Toothpaste is another area where waste can be a problem, as most toothpaste tubes cannot be recycled. You can make your own toothpaste; the typical ingredients are baking soda, coconut oil, and possibly xylitol. I categorically refuse to do this. Most DIY toothpaste has a very high concentration of baking soda, which can cause tooth enamel erosion. Second, I am a strong believer in the positive impact of fluoride on tooth enamel. I know some people are concerned about the impact of fluoridation, but my research has shown that you need to consume very large amounts of fluoride for this to occur. I am not about to compromise the health of my teeth on the statistically insignificant danger of fluoridation. My compromise is to use fluoride toothpaste in the morning and evening and less wasteful alternatives during the day, such as Lush’s solid toothy tabs (yes, they do come in plastic, but at least it can be recycled), which are excellent for travel purposes, or David’s toothpaste, which comes in an aluminium tube.


Back to the olive oil drawing board


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Olive oil is an important staple in my life. I always have an ample supply of olives in my home, as well as olive oil, both of which I buy in bulk from the Bedford Basin Farmers’ Market, where they allow me to use my own glass containers. I have written before of my love of Savon de Marseille, which I use in bar form for personal use, as well as for household chores. I have been looking for a zero-waste or low impact body moisturizer for a while. Over the summer, I experimented with using just olive oil, which worked very well. I still bought a hand cream, however, as I can decant the cream into a travel-sized container when I am out of the house. I’ve learned from experience that oils do not travel well in handbags.

When my local zero-waste store started to carry bulk moisturizer, I thought this would be an ideal way to stop buying packaged hand cream; further, this meant that I could use one product instead of two, as I could use it as a body moisturizer as well. Unfortunately, this bulk moisturizer is simply not rich enough for my hands, and after just a few days, my cuticles started getting dry. My skin is genetically dry, and is prone also to eczema, so this cream simply didn’t do the trick.

I’m back to my original plan: I use olive oil as a body moisturizer. I use a re-purposed glass pump bottle and use two-three squirts per body part. The key is not to use too much. The oil absorbs quickly; I don’t know if this would be true for other skin types, but it certainly is the case for mine. I have gone back to using a hand cream that I can decant in a travel container. Because I use this cream only for hands, it lasts a long time. My choice is the Body Shop’s collection of vegan hand creams. I have been pushing the company to make at least one scentless alternative. The creams are rich enough for my needs, and the company uses a lot of recycled plastic for its containers.

Lush Naked skincare

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Lush is expanding its inventory of Naked products; 35% of its products are now completely package free. I have been using a number of their package-free body products, such as the King of Skin, for several years, but in the past week, I’ve tried their new Naked facial care products.

My facial skin is dry, delicate, and easily irritated. Most skin cleansers, no matter how gentle, dry out my face. I’ve found that using olive oil to cleanse my face, and wiping my face with an Erase Your Face cloth, has cut down significantly on skin irritation. Oil cleansing has become very popular. The most common method used is a combination of two parts castor oil to one part olive oil. You need to remove this oil with a very hot wash cloth, as castor oil is very viscuous. This method dried my skin out, as I found the hot wash cloth too harsh. I’ve had better luck with using plain olive oil and warm water. I was interested in trying the new Lush Naked Like a Virgin cold cream, which is an oil-based solid cleanser. The key ingredients are olive oil, jojoba oil. I apply the bar to my damp face, massage into the skin, and wipe off with an Erase Your Face cloth soaked in warm water. I then rinse my face with some more warm water and pat to dry. The bar does a good job of removing makeup, and my skin doesn’t feel dry or irritated. The only thing I don’t like about this product is the addition of fragrance which, sadly, is something that Lush insists on using for most of its products. The fragrance consists largely of Limonene. Fortunately, it’s a very mild scent and doesn’t stay on the skin once the oil is rinsed off.


I have been using facial oil for a long time; I make my own oil that consists of jojoba oil as the base, to which I add argan oil and rosehip seed oil. I use this facial oil at night in lieu of a serum. I find serums to be far too harsh on my skin, especially since many of them contain what they call anti-aging ingredients, which often serve to exfoliate the skin. My face can’t tolerate exfoliants. I find these serums to be both too irritating and drying. I layer a rich facial balm over the facial oil at night, as the oil isn’t enough. Travelling with facial oils can be messy, as I’ve had a few spills from the high altitude in a plane, so I was interested in trying one of the Naked facial oils. I was given a sample of Banana Oil, whose main ingredients are murumuru butter, banana, grapeseed oil, and mango butter. I’ve used the sample only on my neck so far: No irritation so far. I will try some on my face tonight, now that I know the cold cream doesn’t cause irritation. I am a little concerned about the fragrance, as this product is not washed off, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed.


While it’s easy to make my own products, I do need to buy a lot of separate items; for example three oils for my facial oil, versus one Lush naked bar. The bars would be very good for travelling, as well, as they would not count as liquids.




Easy zero-waste dish soap

I have been  using a very easy zero-waste dish detergent over the past week. I simply take 4-5 soap nuts and place them in a glass bottle that used to contain passata. I add hot water to the soap nuts, and give the bottle a good shake. I pour about a 1/4 cup (I never measure) into the sink and wash my dishes. I use either the wooden brush or the luffa, both pictured above, to clean the dishes. While I’m filling the sink with hot water, I top up the bottle. I keep doing this until the soap nuts stop producing saponin, at which point I put the soap nuts in the compost and put new ones into the bottle. Soap nuts do not lather, but the dishes come out sparkling clean. You can use this same method to make an all-purpose cleaner. I buy soap nuts from The Bulk Barn, using my own glass container.

Making use of soap ends

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I stopped buying liquid soap many years ago. Liquid soap normally comes in plastic containers, and even if you buy refill packs, this generates a lot of plastic. Further, I have always found that I used far too much liquid soap and thus went through a lot of it. I have been using bar soap exclusively for several years and make sure I buy it package free. My favourite bar soap is Savon de Marseille. I use the 300g bar for personal use, and a 1kg bar in the kitchen for washing dishes; I simply swipe my wooden dish brush along the surface of the soap and clean the dishes with it.

Once the soap bars have reduced to nubs, or ends, I cut them with a knife and melt them in boiling water, thus making liquid soap. The Ikg bar of soap in the kitchen is too bulky to use as hand soap, so I fill the stainless steel SmartBar below with my DIY liquid soap. This container helps remove any food odours such as garlic, as well.



I use the DIY liquid soap as an all-purpose cleaner by diluting it with tap water in a spray bottle. I find this method works just as well as commercial all-purpose cleaners I used to buy.

Old-fashioned bar soap is an effective and low-impact way of cleaning both your body and your home.  Using the soap ends means that nothing goes to waste.

Davids Toothpaste

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Standard toothpaste tubes generate a lot of waste, since they are not recyclable in most jurisdictions. On the other hand, all the fluoride toothpastes on the market come in plastic tubes, and I’m not about to give up fluoride, as its positive effect on dental health has been long studied and documented. The alternative I prefer to pursue is to use my fluoride toothpaste twice a day (morning and evening), and a less wasteful toothpaste during the remainder of the day (I brush my teeth after every meal). I tried the DIY route, but was concerned about the high concentration of baking soda, which I find too abrasive for my gums and teeth. Further, buying three or more products to make one is hardly what I call efficient, and generates its own level of waste.

I like Lush’s Toothy Tabs for travelling purposes, since they don’t count towards liquids in your carry on. Unfortunately, the tabs come in a plastic container; they used to come in a cardboard box, but Lush found that the tabs would become mushy after a while.

I have just purchased Davids toothpaste, which comes in an aluminium container. You can cut the container in half and clean it out before putting it in the recycling bin; I would much rather recycle aluminium than plastic. The toothpaste comes with a key to help you roll up the tube from the bottom. This toothpaste doesn’t have fluoride, so it’s my “in-beween” toothpaste. The toothpaste cleans well, and the tube is a large size. My only concern is the inability to buy future tubes without the key. I think it would make more sense for the company to sell the key separately to eliminate the need to buy one with every new tube, as this generates waste. The key is made of aluminium as well, so it can be recycled, but reducing the need to recycle would be much better.