New dishwashing routine

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My dishwashing routine has changed over the years, as I experiment with more ways to make it more environmentally friendly. I have a dishwasher, which I use occasionally (more about that later), but on a daily basis, I prefer to hand wash my dishes.

In order to save water, I use a dish tub. A dish tub saves a lot of water, as it is just the size of the average dinner plate. Filling the tub uses far less water than if you were to fill the sink. I use the tub below, as it has its own drain, which makes it easy to empty.

I used to make my own dish soap by grating a bar of soap and dissolving it in water, with the addition of some washing soda. This method worked fine, but grating soap is tedious, and I’ve scraped rather a lot of skin in the process. I don’t buy regular dish soap, as I avoid using plastic if I can help it. I switched to using just a drop or two of my concentrated all-purpose cleaner, but I found that this created too much lather.

I have been using a much simpler method over the past two weeks and am very pleased with it. I keep a 1kg bar of Savon de Marseilles (I love this soap) by the sink, and simply run my wooden dish brush over the soap and clean the items directly. I always have this soap at hand, as it can be used in so many ways. The dishes come out very clean and do not need to be rinsed. I use the brush below; you can buy replacement bristle heads:

For the times I use the dishwasher, I use loose powdered dish soap that comes in a cardboard box. I don’t like using dish tabs since they often come in plastic containers, and I don’t find they clean as well as the loose soap.

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Root vegetable soup

36189115_1999281686748843_5251876771074146304_nThis soup may not look pretty, but it certainly tastes good. I needed to use up some root vegetables that were starting to get soft, as well as some wilting kale.

Ingredients

  • 1 diced onion
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 3-4 diced carrots
  • 1 diced white turnip
  • Chopped kale
  • Red kidney beans
  • A handful of dry rice
  • Vegetable stock
  • Thyme & sage
  1. Saute the onions, carrots, and turnip. Once browned, add the diced garlic
  2. Use enough stock to just cover the vegetables. If the soup becomes too thick, you can always add more stock.
  3. Add chopped kale, red beans, and dry rice
  4. Season to taste, and simmer until the vegetables and rice are cooked.

 

Vegan shepherd’s pie – of a sort

My contribution to my choir’s annual potluck supper this year consisted of a vegan shepherd’s pie. I use the term shepherd’s pie loosely, as the dish I prepared takes a view liberties with the classic definition.

The Filling

  • Gardein Beefless Ground
  • Diced onions
  • Diced garlic
  • Diced zucchini
  • Diced carrots
  • Peas
  • Salsa (I use the mild variety, but you can get as spicy as you like)
  • Tomato Paste
  • Dried oregano

I sauteed the onions, then added the zucchini and garlic and cooked until browned. I added the rest of the ingredients and simmered for about 45 minutes. I used the tomato paste to absorb any liquid, as the filling should not be runny.

Topping

  • Potatoes
  • Vegan margarine (I used Becel Vegan)
  • Soy cheese
  • Shredded vegan cheddar (I used Earth Island; known as Follow Your Heart in the U.S.)

Mash the potatoes with the ingredients above. Salt to taste.

Place the filling in a casserole and top with the potatoes. Bake until the top is browned.

 

 

Painter’s rags

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I discovered painter’s rags a few years ago when I painted my condo. Although I bought them initially to clean up paint messes and spills, I have found that they make excellent all-purpose cleaning cloths around the house. I use them also in lieu of paper towels, which comes particularly handy with a cat who has a sensitive stomach. I’ve used them also to apply polish to my silver trays and antiques. I like the fact that they are thin, but absorbent, and dry quickly. I cannot abide the dry, raspy texture of microfibre cloths, and much prefer to use these rags. Because the rags are thin and do not fray, it’s easy to cut them into smaller pieces. Since they are lint free, they are ideal for cleaning windows and mirrors. My rags have lasted for many years. It would be better, of course, to cut up old t-shirts, but since I don’t wear these garments, these rags are the next best thing.

Environmental footprint check-in: Cleaning, 2018

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The last post in my 2018 check-in will focus on household cleaning. My philosophy is to keep things as simple as possible and to use one product for different uses.  I use the wooden dish brush in the picture above to clean my dishes. I used to make my own all-purpose cleaner, but I found that I generated too much waste in doing so, and had to buy too many things. I now use a concentrated all-purpose cleaner to wash my dishes and clean all the bathroom and kitchen surfaces. You dilute a small amount with water, so this bottle lasts a very long time. I keep a spray cleaner in the kitchen and in both bathrooms. After every shower, I spray the tiles with the all-purpose cleaner and wipe down with this metal squeegee. I use the spray bottle to clean the toilets as well.  I will eventually buy this wooden toilet brush once my plastic one needs to be replaced. I use rags and flour sack towels to wipe down surfaces.

Because I live with two cats, I sweep the floors regularly with this dry mop, and vacuum once a week. I use this steamer weekly to clean all the floors; I have had it for five years and use only tap water. For a quick spot clean of floors, I use a DIY cleaner consisting of water, white vinegar, and isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol). Because my cats are allowed to sit wherever they like, I invested in this hand-held Dyson vacuum cleaner for upholstery; it works like a charm on my carpeted stairs, as well. To refresh fabrics, I use a combination of water,  rubbing alcohol, and essential oil. I use a DIY dusting spray that combines water, vinegar, olive oil, and lemon essential oil for my wood furniture.

I use soapnuts that I buy from the bulk store to do laundry; once the soapnuts have lost their saponin, I place them in the compost bin. In the dryer, I use these cloth dryer sheets, which last about two years. I use clothes racks to air dry as much of my laundry as possible, barring sheets. My Turkish towels air dry overnight. Speaking of sheets, I use these made of bamboo; I would love to get linen sheets, but my bamboo sheets last for years, so it might be a long wait.   I handwash my lingerie and many items of clothing (e.g., dresses, cardigans, etc.) with a bar of Savon de Marseille.

As I hope I’ve shown, household cleaning does not require a lot of different products, nor do you need to buy a lot of items in plastic.

Environmental footprint check-in: Bathrooms, 2018

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The bathroom is a place that can be full of plastic products.  My condominium has a full bathroom and a half bathroom.  I won’t focus on household cleaning products, as I will do this in another post, but I will discuss personal care items.

I use bar soap in both bathrooms. I used to buy locally-made soap, but I found that it invariably became very soft and squishy after a short while. My preference is for triple-milled soaps, as they are durable and you can use them down to a small nub, which is not the case with the local soaps. I use Savon de Marseille in the 300g size, which lasts a very long time. I use a bamboo toothbrush, which can be put in the compost. Because of the very strong evidence that shows the positive effects fluoride has on dental health, I do use toothpaste that comes in a plastic tube; unfortunately, I have yet to find a fluoride toothpaste that comes in a glass container. I have no intention of compromising the health of my teeth, however, so plastic it is. I don’t use dental floss, as it generates a great deal of waste; you can buy floss in a cardboard container, but the floss itself cannot biodegrade and cannot be recycled. The only biodegradable floss I have found is made of silk,  which won’t work for me, of course, since it is derived from animals. There is no  Evidence of a strong positive correlation between flossing and dental health. I brush my teeth whenever I eat anything, and I visit the dentist twice yearly. My teeth and gums are in excellent health, so I will stick to my non-flossing routine until a greener and vegan option is available. I use this stainless steel tongue scraper.

I use a bamboo nail brush, and this wooden body brush for exfoliating my skin. In the bathtub and shower, I use a cotton washcloth (or flannel, as I was raised to call it); bath poufs are made of plastic, and can’t be cleaned easily.  Washcloths can be laundered easily, and thus are more hygienic.  I use a small cotton towel as a bath mat, since I don’t want anything with a rubber bottom. I use this bamboo shower caddy.  I use a cloth shower curtain and liner, both of which can be easily laundered.

It is in the area of personal hygiene and grooming that most of us use a lot of plastic. I have made positive strides over the years, but of course, I can always do more. I have been using cotton handkerchiefs since I was a child. Tissues generate so much waste and, frankly, I find them very unhygienic; seeing a balled up used tissue turns my stomach. Tissues are also hard on the skin. I have year-round allergic rhinitis, which means I would go through a lot of tissues in a year. My preferred brands are both Canadian: OKO Creations, and  Eco Freako; their hankies have lasted me for years. I have sewn a few hankies, as well.

I haven’t used bathroom tissue for five years. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am fastidiously clean, so if I can do this, anyone can. I attached a bidet device to my toilet, which is far more hygienic than bathroom tissue. I keep bamboo bathroom tissue on hand for guests who may not want to use the bidet attachment.

I use the  Erase Your Face cloths to wash my face every night; no cleanser is needed. These cloths remove all makeup and dirt, including mascara, and I hand wash them after use. My skin is dry and very sensitive, and would always feel tight even if I used the gentlest cleanser. I have used these cloths since April 2017, and have never looked back. In the morning, I simply splash my face with warm water. At night, I use a DIY face serum that consists of 2-3 carrier oils that come in glass bottles.  I use a smaller glass jar with a pipette to distribute the serum on my face, neck, and around my eyes.  Because my skin is dry, I usually follow this with a small amount of pure shea butter.  After a long search for shea butter that doesn’t come in plastic, I was glad to find this brand in a metal container, and at a reasonable price. I am fanatical about using sunscreen on my face year round. It has taken me a while to find a brand that doesn’t irritate my skin, but this one does the trick; unfortunately, it comes in a plastic container, but sun safety comes first.  I used to spend a fortune on creams and serums that didn’t do much for my skin. My simple routine of DIY serum and shea butter (night) and sunscreen (day) works well for me.

I no longer buy body or hand creams. I used to make my own hand cream, but I needed three products to do so, which generated too much waste. I use my face serum above for my hands and feet. For my body, I use sweet almond oil that comes in a glass bottle.  I know that stainless steel razors are used by many zero wasters to remove body hair, but I have been using an epilator for this purpose for several years. My device works well, so I’m sticking with it. I used to make my own deodorant, but I developed a very strong reaction to baking soda. The non-baking soda recipes required far too many items, so I am using this travel-sized crystal deodorant stone. The stone does come in a plastic package, but since the stone will last me at least two years, the amount of waste produced is very small. It works like a charm. I use pure shea butter as a lip balm, and in my handbag, I carry a small tin of it with me, which doubles also as a travel hand cream.

I don’t wear nail polish anymore. For one, nail polish and nail remover generate a lot of waste; second, I found that both products dried out my nails and skin, no matter how good their quality. I am lucky to have very strong nails that grow like weeds (thanks, Mum), and I prefer to leave them in their natural state. I don’t get professional manicures or pedicures, as I have been doing these myself since I was 12 years old.

It is in the area of hair care that I generate the largest amount of waste. I have tried various methods to reduce plastic consumption, but have had to make compromises. I have curly hair that is prone to dryness. My scalp is dry and very sensitive. I tried a variety of no-poo methods, such as the horrific baking-soda method, which stripped my scalp and left it all blistered. As I discovered, baking soda is alkaline, with a pH of 9, while the scalp is acidic, with a pH of 5. – not a good combination. I tried the water-only method of washing my hair, but I found my hair became very dull. The best method for me is co-washing, which means using a silicone-free conditioner to clean the scalp, and a silicone free-gel to style the hair. I use the t-shirt plopping method on my wet hair, then let it air dry. I co-wash my hair twice a week, and revive my hair in between by spraying my hair with water and adding a little more of the conditioner and gel. I tried shampoo bars, but they simply didn’t workl they either stripped my scalp, or left a film on my hair.  I have tried solid conditioners with disastrous effect.  My conditioner and gel are in plastic containers, unfortunately, but it’s not from want of trying plastic-free alternatives.

For makeup, I use Elate Cosmetics.  Elate is a Canadian company that uses bamboo and metal packaging. You buy a bamboo magnetic palette, which you fill with eyeshadow, blush, or foundation in metal disks. These refills are packed in compostable containers that are infused with flower seeds: You can plant these containers in soil, which I plan to do soon. The products are all vegan and cruelty free, of course.   I carry the foundation powder in a refillable bamboo compact. The lipsticks and mascara are in bamboo as well.

As always, suggestions for other earth-friendly options are welcome.

Environmental footprint check-in: Kitchen, 2018

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Once a year or so I like to check in on my progress in minimizing my environmental footprint and reducing my use of plastic. The term “zero waste” has become very popular amongst Millenials, which I am very happy to see, but my environmentally-conscious practices date back quite a bit further than that to when I was in my early twenties.  As always when I do these check-ins, I focus on areas of the home.

I did a major declutter of my kitchen last summer; I do this twice a year in all my house, but this past summer was a particularly rigorous exercise. I had accumulated a lot of smaller appliances and gadgets that I rarely used. With most of my possessions, I use the simple criterion of “have I used this item in the past year?” If the answer is no, out it goes (donated or recycled responsibly). This applied as well to a number of pots and pans. I have only what I need. I use glass jars to store dried legumes, sugar, coffee, and so forth. I use glass jars as well to freeze food, vegetable broths, and so forth.  I have no plastic storage containers anymore. I rely mostly on reusing jam jars, pickle jars, and so forth. I have bought some larger jars to take with me to the Bulk Barn which, I am delighted to report, now allows me to bring my own reusable jars and bags.

I have been using Credo produce bags for several years to buy fruits and vegetables. I have sewn my own cloth bags to use in the Bulk Barn. I am using this wooden dish brush that comes with refillable brushes, and this bamboo and metal dish rack. I stopped making my own dish soap,  as I found I was generating more waste in buying the products and, further, that I had to use a lot of it to clean items properly. I have chosen the more efficient option of this multi-purpose concentrated cleaner to wash dishes, as well as the kitchen and bathroom counters and surfaces. The cleaner comes in a plastic bottle, but it lasts a very long time and generates less waste in the long run. I wash dishes in this tub (British style), as I find this saves a lot of water. I use old rags and flour sack towels to clean surfaces; I haven’t used paper kitchen towels in over 20 years.  I have tried a zero-waste charcoal filter for my tap water, but I wasn’t pleased with the results, so I have purchased this Brita Filter pitcher; the company takes back the filters and recycles them. It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s better than plastic bottles. Our drinking water in Halifax is very good, but I do prefer the taste when I filter it. The new filters last a very long time.

Much as I would like to buy my coffee beans in bulk, I am very, very particular about my coffee. Coffee beans in bulk bins are often too stale for my liking. This is not an area in which I intend to compromise, so I do buy beans in sealed bags that contain some plastic. I use a burr grinder for the beans, a French Press (which generates no waste), and compost the grounds. I do like the occasional cup of herbal tea, which I buy in loose form from a local store that allows me to bring my own container.

I use only cloth napkins and tablecloths. I travel with a travel pouch that contains a cloth napkin, this foldable set of utensils, a metal straw, and this small Keep Cup. Although there are glass Keep Cups, I find them too heavy for my handbag and, besides, I’m rather too accident prone to be safe around them. I carry a stainless steel water bottle, as well. I don’t carry a metal lunchbox with me, as this would take too much space, but at least I can use reduce my waste consumption with the items in my travel bag.

I buy my fruits and vegetables seasonally from a local farmers’ market. I wish it were possible to avoid all foods in plastic, but some things are unavoidable. I cannot possibly eat bread without vegan margarine, which comes in a plastic tub. I buy my bread from a local baker (The Petite Baker), and exchange cloth bags with her every week. Staples such as tofu and vegan cheese come in plastic, but I do make sure to choose the ones with the least plastic. I prepare most of my meals from scratch, so this helps cut down on the purchase of a lot of prepared food products, and I cook all my legumes from their dried state. I purchase the following items from the bulk store in my own containers: Legumes, sugar, grains, pasta, coconut oil, cornstarch, flour, arrowroot, baking soda, soap nuts, bar soap, nuts, nutritional yeast, spices, and herbs.  Naturally,  all shopping is done with my own bags.

I would welcome any ideas for other things that I could do to reduce waste and the use of plastic.