Category Archives: zero waste

striving for zero waste: Valentine’s Day is for earth lovers

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Valentine’s Day is not normally a large celebration in our household.  Usually the kids get some sort of small treat or toy, we send the kids to school with Valentines for their friends, and I might do some baking that day to celebrate with the kids.  Having spent nearly an entire year now collecting our household plastic, I will tell you that conspicuous consumption on Valentine’s Day is completely unnecessary.   There are many ways to honour Valentine’s Day without breaking the bank or polluting the planet.

Origami Valentine's heart

Origami Valentine’s heart

Tell your friends, family and significant other that you don’t need flowers for Valentine’s Day.  Roses and flowers are big business on Valentine’s Day, but not very thoughtful to Mother Earth.  Flowers purchased as gifts often come wrapped in plastic and other packaging, which is often not biodegradable and ends up in the landfill.  If you or your loved one has their heart set on flowers, consider giving a living plant grown locally or even a small potted herb for your sweetheart’s kitchen.  Even better, ask your sweetie to accompany you on a nature walk and keep your eyes peeled for flowers making their appearance this Spring in one of our many local parks.

Make paper valentines for school age children to share with their friends.  Have kids make their own valentines from paper supplies you already have one hand, or (if you are feeling pinched for time) buy plastic-free valentines from the stores.  Most years I will make valentines for the kids classmates at home, but this year we bought our valentines at the drugstore.  Luckily enough, we found some cool, fun ones that had no plastic packaging to them.

Valentine shark

Valentine’s shark – made by my oldest child at school last year, we are using this cute guy for decoration this year!

Plan for experiences rather than gifts.  Since Valentine’s Day falls on a weekday this year, we celebrated early by taking our family out to a restaurant for dinner on Saturday night.  We don’t often go out for dinner with the kids due to their early bedtimes, so it was nice to get dressed up and have a fun night out.  The kids had a lot of fun putting on their dress clothes and my youngest little guy even wore a tie!

Buy your Valentine’s candy in bulk and refuse the packaging.  No Valentine’s celebration would be complete without candy!  Or at least that’s what my kids tell me.  We are lucky to have a cool candy store just up the street from us, that sells candy in bulk.  The Candy Aisle is a cute little shop on Robson St (600 block) with lots of bulk candy options, and they even sell Mason jars and lids if you are wanting to buy your candy plastic free!  I popped into their store yesterday to ask about bringing my own jar to buy candy in bulk, and the lady working there confirmed that would be fine.  Hooray for plastic free candy!

Valentine's candy in mason jar - photo courtesy of Etsy

Valentine’s candy in mason jar – photo courtesy of Etsy

I like to celebrate most holidays and events enthusiastically – this past weekend we celebrated Chinese New Year (Gung Hei Fat Choy!) and Family Day (the first ever in BC!) without much ado and we managed to produce very little waste.  On a positive note, we made a weekly grocery trip to our local Whole Foods yesterday afternoon and after spending $80 on groceries, we came away with only one piece of plastic packaging (from the deli).  Small victories are worth celebrating too!

How will you celebrate Valentine’s Day this year?  Are you going to make Valentine’s Day a zero waste celebration?

striving for zero waste: not buying Starbucks’ $1 reusable cup

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I was in a Starbucks in downtown Vancouver this past weekend, buying a snack for my kids.  I wasn’t buying a coffee for myself, as I’d made my own coffee at home and was drinking out of my stainless steel travel cup.  As I ponied up to the register to pay for a slice of banana bread, the young man behind the cash register tried to enlighten me on the subject of Starbucks’ new reusable, $1 plastic cup.  The premise behind the cup is that customers pay $1 for this reusable cup (with lid), then the cup can be used 10 times and is to be recycled within 30 days.  The cup and lid are themselves made of polypropylene plastic (#5).  Starbucks’ suggestion is that these cups can be recycled at the local level, and that their use will limit the demand for customers who like to drink their hot beverages from double-layered paper cups, hence further limiting Starbucks paper waste.

starbucks reusable

Photo courtesy of Treehugger.com

My first reaction to hearing about this product was outright horror.

I pointed out to the barista that I already carried my own stainless steel cup with me (and have done for the past two years), as I enjoyed using it and preventing further waste as I visited Starbucks.  The barista countered that the concept of reducing paper cup waste was “amazing,” and that the fact that this reusable cup was inexpensive meant that it would appeal to a broad number of people.  He further stated that this idea was a “great step for the Starbucks company,” as it would reduce the amount of waste Starbucks produced.

I was agog.

Sure, in premise, the concept of a cup that can be used 10 times is of greater environmental benefit than a cup that is used simply once.  However, when things are inexpensive (like for example a $1 cup), we are more likely to construe them to be disposable and we are less likely to be dispose of  them in a considerable manner.  Sadly, Starbucks does not seem to recognize that not only will people purchase this plastic cup and then forget to bring it for subsequent uses, but that in all likelihood, these cups will end up in the trash more often than they will end up being appropriately recycled.

If we think of all the plastic, “throw-away” things in the world that are available to us, isn’t this plastic cup from Starbucks just another one of them?  Why isn’t the suggestion of adding plastic to the waste stream on such a large scale offensive?  While the goal of reducing paper waste is commendable for any company, to simply replace the paper waste with plastic waste is extremely short-sighted and frankly, abhorrent.

I’m going to continue to use my stainless steel, reusable travel mug whenever I frequent my local Starbucks.  How about you?

striving for zero waste: cheap and eco-cheerful at Granville Island

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There are only two more weeks left in summer vacation before it’s back to school time for the kids.  We had a summer meltdown yesterday at our house – I had to listen to my seven year old complain about how the park was soooo boring and how he had already been there twenty times this month (not an exaggeration).  However, we persevered and hit the park under the Cambie Bridge – so cool and shady under there, we stayed for three hours while the boys played on the playground equipment, played a little ball hockey, and chased some bubbles around.  I hardly wanted to leave, it was so breezy and relaxing.  I promised my oldest we would do something a little different today and offered to take the kids to the water park at Granville Island.

Before we headed out this morning, I packed my trusty stainless steel Tiffin lunchbox (from To-Go Ware) so that we could have a zero-waste picnic lunch at the park. I highly recommend getting one of these lunch containers – they are durable and long-lasting and will more than pay for themselves even though they are a lot pricier than other comparable plastic lunch boxes.  I bought my two-tier Tiffin at Choices Market for $20 just last week, and I have used it every day since I got it.

I am having a small love affair with my stainless steel Tiffin. I highly recommend you get one if you are in the market for something to carry your food around in. Also an awesome idea for restaurant take-out!

The water playground at Granville Island is awesome, complete with a ton of sprayers and even a small waterslide (get there early because the line-ups for the slide are ginormous!).  Another cool thing about this park is that since it is run by the City of Vancouver, it is free.  So you can go for a short while and not feel guilty that it cost you an arm and a leg for admission, because, it’s FREE!  The kids had fun running around for an hour or so, then decided there were too cold (how does that happen on a hot, sunny summer day?) so they changed and we headed indoors.  Before heading inside, we had our lunch/snack outside on the benches next to the water park.

Granville Island water park (photo courtesy of RuthandDave on Flickr)

After their snack, the kids asked if we could go to the Kid’s Market.  That place is a parent’s worst nightmare.  There are tons of shops, all geared toward novelty gift items and toys, and a lot of it is plastic.  I overheard one mom say to her kids today, “Mom is such an amazing shopper!  I have spent hundreds of dollars in here in the last few minutes!”  Surely something to be proud of.  My oldest promised that he just wanted to go look, but I did get quite a few requests to buy toys while we checked out some of the stores – his birthday is tomorrow and he is having a hard time deciding what he would like for a gift, and so he continues to ask for most everything that catches his eye.  In the end, we didn’t end up buying anything at the Kid’s Market but had tons of fun looking at all the toys.

On our way out I stopped in at Paper-Ya.  Paper-Ya is located in the Net Loft building at Granville Island and is home to a plethora of beautiful paper and stationery products.  I have been thinking about buying some washi tape (which is essentially decorated paper masking tape) to use for gift wrapping and an upcoming birthday party celebration – I was in luck at Paper-Ya!  I found they have a small selection of beautiful washi tape.  It’s not cheap, but it’s not plastic either.  I’ll be using it to wrap a gift for a friend and anticipate the couple of rolls I purchased will last for years.

Pretty washi tape (photo courtesy of Paper-Ya)

As we headed back to the dock to catch the Aquabus, my kids reminded me that I had promised them a treat – gelato!  I had planned to take the Aquabus back over False Creek to the downtown side where there is a little Italian cafe located a the foot of Hornby St that sells, among other things, ice cream.  But as we approached the dock, there was a sign pointing us around the corner to GI Gelato & Coffee where they make homemade gelato on site!  I bought two cones for the kids and had a few bites of theirs – I highly recommend the Lemon Lime Zest gelato!  Yum.  If you order your gelato in a cone instead of a paper cup, you can avoid having to use those adorable (but useless) little plastic spoons that you find at most gelato spots.

Yummy gelato offerings at GI Gelato & Coffee (photo courtesy of dinehere.ca)

All in all, it was an enjoyable morning and we are home now relaxing in the cool of our small launchpad apartment.  I’m sure will be heading out again later today to enjoy some more summer weather, and striving for zer0-waste then too!  We’ve become a lot more conscious with our consumption habits (which is essential for both aspiring minimalists and those striving for less waste) and although we have still managed to accumulate two more bags of plastic for the documentary we are participating in, I have hope that if we stay the course and not buying replacements for the plastic that is leaving our home that we will be in good shape.  Great shape, in fact.

Do you aspire to reduce your consumption footprint and is zero-waste a goal for you or your family?  I love to hear how others are doing in their journey toward zero-waste, so leave me a comment and let me know how you’re doing!

five things I have learned about my plastic consumption

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Our family was asked a few months ago if we would participate in an experiment.  Collect all of our plastic for a year.  A YEAR.  For the purpose of a documentary on plastic consumption, and the detrimental effects it has on our planet, and particularly, our oceans.

Plastic, plastic everywhere

Here’s a few things I’ve learned about plastic packaging in the last few months:

  • If it is designed for convenience, it is wrapped in plastic.  Fast foods, candy, chips, individual serving sized drinks and meals, take away food, it’s all wrapped in plastic.  There’s really no getting away from it, unless of course you bring your own take away containers, cook at home and vow never to drink pop or juice again.
  • If it’s processed food, it’s wrapped in plastic.  And by processed I am referring to anything that is not a fruit or vegetable.  Even things that are minimally processed (like fresh bread) are packaged with some plastic.
  • If it comes from Asia, it is wrapped in plastic.  Sometimes it’s even plastic wrapped in plastic.  To me that’s a bit redundant.
  • If it is marketable to children, it is plastic and, again, it is probably wrapped in plastic too.
  • If it is sold at Costco, it is wrapped in plastic.

If you think you don’t consume much plastic, think again.  If you had told me that our family of four was responsible for producing four large bags of plastic in the past four months, I would have scoffed at you.  How could it be possible?  I thought that because we use our own bags when we shop for food (or anything else) and we buy lots of fresh produce that there was no way we could possibly be producing that much plastic.  We even refuse to use plastic bags in the produce department and bring our own reusable produce bags (which I LOVE).

However, the sad news is that nearly everything that is not found in the produce or bulk sections of all of our favourite grocery stores is packaged with at least a small amount of plastic.  And all of the plastic we consume will be around FOREVER.  Even plastic that is recycled is not TRULY recycled, it is downcycled into other products.  So the best practice when it comes to plastic is really to REFUSE it altogether when at all possible.

A few things I’ve done recently to reduce our plastic consumption:

  • Stop using the Tassimo coffee machine that our friends loaned us – the plastic generated from using any of the single use coffee machines is abhorrent, and I just could not continue to look the other way while I made my daily morning coffee
  • Continue to eat most meals at home (no plastic take-out cutlery to deal with!) and use fresh, whole food ingredients rather than relying on more packaged and processed food items.
  • Make coffee at home or take my coffee mug with me when I know I will be getting my morning jolt at the coffee shop.
  • Drink only tap water, both at home and on the go – my kids and I all have Klean Kanteens which are great for taking your tap water with you, and an extra bonus is no one has to drink out of any suspect (yucky) public water fountains!
  • Make my own cooking sauces and salad dressings so as to avoid not only undesirable ingredients but also additional unnecessary packaging.
  • Explain to the children after caving and buying some cheap-o plastic toys that broke two days later why those purchases were a poor choice, and come to a family agreement that we will never make those type of purchases again.
  • Continue using reusable shopping bags and reusable produce / bulk food bags for our grocery shopping.  My favourite are Carebags – I even bought some for my dad for Father’s Day!

Seeing our plastic staring back at us from the confines of our bathtub (yes, our plastic lived in the bathtub of our second bathroom for four months) really opened my eyes.  There were many purchases that I would forego ever buying again – the nasty cake frosting that came encased in a plastic container, the individual-sized yogourt drinks that my kids have a taste for but that I find disgusting, and even the many plastic lids from our weekly habit for Whole Foods take-away pizza (I’ve since managed to convince my husband that his pizza habit should be a monthly one rather than a weekly occurrence).

The good news is that change is possible, and often big change starts with small change.  Buying from the bulk bins instead of choosing highly packaged alternative of the same product.  Foregoing most convenience foods – it’s healthier for both us AND our planet!  Every little bit we can do to reduce our plastic consumption helps.

What have you been doing lately to challenge your plastic consumption habits?

striving for zero waste: a trip to the Food Scraps Drop Spot

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When I heard that Vancouver was launching a project to collect food scraps for composting, I got a little excited.  My husband had vetoed the idea of composting in our condo, as we have very little room on our outdoor deck and he was afraid it would attract pests.  I’ve been considering the Food Scraps Drop Spot as a great alternative to composting – all we would have to do would be to collect our fruit, vegetable and meat scraps for the week (or two, depending on how often we could get to the drop off) and take them to the Food Scraps Drop Spot location on Saturday mornings (they are there from 10am to 1pm).  As I’d been collecting our family’s food scraps for the past two weeks, I decided it was time for a trop to the drop off location this morning.

One of the Food Scraps Drop Spot locations is at the Gordon Neighbourhood House in the West End neighbourhood of downtown Vancouver.  Although this is a bit of a hoof on foot from our home, the weather is beautiful today and we took advantage of incorporating a family walk into our jaunt over to drop off spot.  We dropped off several pounds of food waste and it felt good to be able to divert that waste from the landfill and towards a renewable, sustainable purpose.  They do ask for a two dollar administration fee – the program is run by community volunteers, but they require a truck to pick up the food scraps drop off and take them to the location in Delta where the food scraps are converted to compost.  The Food Scraps Drop Spot program also has a location at the Vancouver Winter Farmer’s Market at Nat Bailey Stadium, which takes place every Saturday – so if you are thinking of doing some shopping at the farmer’s market in the coming weeks and you aren’t yet diverting your food waste from the landfill, consider dropping off your food scraps at the drop spot!

retail me not: striving for zero waste

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I’m becoming more and more fascinated with the concept of Zero Waste and creating less waste in our household as a means of lessening our impact on the earth.  We’re already recycling and doing our best to limit what we are bringing home, but practicing a lifestyle that results in less waste means choosing necessities (like food) that are either unpackaged or packaged as little as possible.  It also means making an effort to dispose of our waste as responsibly as possible.  After doing a little sleuthing, I discovered that Vancouver has a food scraps drop off program in place where every Saturday you can take your compostable waste, including food scraps and coffee grinds, to be disposed of in a more sustainable way – your waste is converted to compost rather being sent to the dump!  I performed an experiment last week and created a food waste bin in my fridge – I wanted to see how much of our garbage is actually food scraps and waste.  By simply diverting our food waste into a stainless steel bowl in the fridge, I’ve managed to avoid taking a single trip to the garbage room in our building this week and the garbage in our trash can is about half its normal amount.  I’m looking forward to taking an inaugural trip down to the food waste drop off spot next weekend.

Reducing our packaging is a big part of reducing our waste. Photo courtesy of Apartment Therapy

These are some of my goals for this year with respect to moving towards producing less waste in our household:

  1. Avoiding food with packaging (especially excessive, non-reusable or non-recyclable packaging)
  2. Carry reusable bags so as to refuse plastic and paper bags when shopping
  3. Reuse packaging (rather than recycling) by frequenting stores that will allow me to reuse and refill my own containers
  4. Making food at home so as to make it healthier and produce less packaging waste
  5. Diverting food waste by collecting compostable food scraps
  6. Lose weight by eating real food and food as close to its natural state as possible
I will admit that buying food products with as little packaging as possible can be a bit tricky.  But I believe that any effort to reduce one’s waste is commendable!  Recently, I have been making  grocery trips to Whole Foods (or lovingly referred to as “Whole Paycheck” in these parts) and have been making a real effort to buy food with little or no packaging.  This is quite simple in the produce section – I brought my own reusable produce bags that I purchased last year (from Carebags).  When I had finished shopping, I stopped by the customer service desk and asked if they allow customers to bring their own reusable containers to be used at the meat and deli counters – and they said, no problem!  The great thing about Whole Foods Market is that they do not carry any products in their store that contain high fructose corn syrop or hydrogenated oils, and all of their meats are hormone and antibiotic free.  Whew.  So in addition to being sure that you aren’t getting anything extra in your food, you can also eliminate some of the packaging that comes along with groceries and avoid having to bring it home at all!

If you are interested in cultivating a zero waste lifestyle, one of my favourite resources for inspiration on this subject is Bea at The Zero Waste Home.  Bea and her family are living proof that with a little effort and planning, zero waste (or little waste) is possible for a family with children.

Are you interested in reducing your waste and your impact on the planet?  What works for you and your family in terms of reducing waste in your household?  Please share your ideas in the comments – I love hearing what others are doing on to reduce their impact on the planet!