Category Archives: being conscious

putting eco-guilt into perspective

Standard

I’ve been trying these past few weeks to put less pressure on myself about a few things.

The pressure I was putting on myself to reduce my plastic consumption became a sort of obsession. I was spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about what I would be buying at the grocery store and guilting myself endlessly if I was consuming plastic unnecessarily.

Sometimes all we need is a little distance to put things into perspective.

We went on a weekend trip to Whistler, and while I did take my reuseable shopping bags with me, I didn’t spend a ton of time fretting over the plastic bag my loaf of bread came in.

I had an epiphany while shopping in the Whole Foods bulk section recently. I saw a lady working there who was refilling some of the giant bulk bins from tiny plastic clamshell containers. In other words, the good I was doing by eschewing plastic packaging was being undone by the fact that the store was simply creating the garbage rather than me.

Which means that some of those warm fuzzy feelings I was having about making less wasteful choices might be pointless. As were the feelings of guilt I was having over the few packaging items we don’t seem to be able to avoid.

My point? Guilting ourselves into doing anything for the greater good is not sustainable in the long term. Better to focus on the positive and do what we can with the resources we have. So no more guilt. It’s not productive or conducive to a happy life.

We’ve had a lot to celebrate this past month (birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and Mother’s Day) and we’ve been celebrating in our usual environmentally conscious fashion. We’ll continue to focus on experiences rather than stuff when it comes to celebrating special events in our lives, and do our best to reduce the amount of waste we are producing. But without the side of eco-guilt.

a healthy body: detox your deodorant

Standard

The weather here in Vancouver is taking forever to warm up.  Spring has not yet arrived, and as such, I’m spending more time indoors than I would like. Of course, more time inside usually translates to more time spent plugged in: I will admit to spending more than my fair share of time on th Internet, with a particular focus on Pinterest. I use Pinterest primarily for recipes and meal ideas, but I have recently started looking there for inspiration with regard to natural body care.

You know, like homemade deodorant and other fun stuff.  Yes, I’m serious.

I’ve tried commercially-made “eco-friendly” deodorant in the past, without much success. The product I tried literally gave me a painful rash under my arms, which led me to turf that particular product pretty quickly. That was a few years back, and I hadn’t tried again. Until recently.  I found a very simple recipe on Pinterest last week, and I simplified it even further.  Here it is:

Mix two Tablespoons of coconut oil (I like organic) with one Tablespoon of aluminum-free baking soda (I use Bob’s Red Mill) until mixture is smooth and consistent. If you like, you can add a few drops of essential oils of your choice.  Store in a clean, wide-mouth jar (for easy access) and apply a pea-sized amount to each underarm each morning.

natural deodorant made from coconut oil and baking soda. what could be simpler?

natural deodorant made from coconut oil and baking soda. what could be simpler?

That’s it! So simple, right?  Another alternative to using baking soda would be arrowroot powder, but I just happened to have baking soda on hand at home. I might try the arrowroot powder version next time. I’ve heard some people have had luck using coconut oil alone, but I haven’t tried that yet either.  Baking soda does a great job of managing bad smells and coconut oil is naturally anti-bacterial, so it’s a great combination for a deodorant, and one that forgoes a lot of nasty chemicals. I’ve been using the above mixture for the past week, and I can honestly say, it works!

Now you might be asking yourself why I would go to the trouble of making my own deodorant. Well, I’ll explain.

Most commercially available deodorants and anti-perspirants contain aluminum, parabens and phthalates.  Phthalates have been linked to increased paraben absorption by the body, while both both parabens and aluminum have been linked to increased estrogen production within the body.  Increased estrogen production can cause cancer cells to form, both in the breasts and other parts of the body.  Propylene glycol is another chemical that is found in many commercially made anti-perspirants and deodorants, and has been found to cause damage to the heart, liver, and central nervous system.  And let’s not forget Triclosan. An antibacterial agent that was first defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a pesticide, Triclosan is commonly found in commercially-prepared deodorants. Triclosan has also been named as a possible carcinogen.

All of these chemicals would be best avoided for everyone in as many applications as possible.  Both my mom and my grandma had breast cancer, so I am all about actively reducing my own risk for developing cancer.  Many of the aforementioned chemicals are found not only in deodorants and anti-perspirants but in cosmetics and many bath and body products, so be sure to check your cosmetics cases and under your bathroom sink for any offenders!  There is a great database from The Environmental Working Group called Skin Deep that clearly outlines the toxicity levels of nearly 80,000 personal use products.  Be sure to check it out for the products you already use and before adding anything new to your beauty arsenal.

Have you tried making your own deodorant?  Do you have any favourite all-natural beauty recipes? 

plastic project: complete yet neverending

Standard

Last year around this time we were asked by environmentalist and filmmaker Taina Uitto, author of the blog Plastic Manners, to collect our plastic for an entire year.  We finished our plastic collection project last week.  Finishing the project was such a liberating feeling – our plastic lived with us in the bathtub of our second bathroom for the duration of the year, with a handful of pick-ups spread out over the course of the project.  As you can imagine, having several months worth of plastic staring back at you from your bathtub gives one a feeling of desperation and depression – desperation because I became desperate not to contribute any further to the amount of plastic trash we are creating, and depression because plastic is everywhere and while my efforts to limit my family’s plastic consumption were significant, we did still manage to accumulate a lot of plastic.

Here's our pile of plastic.  That's Taina bravely sitting in the middle of the pile of plastic garbage, and gives a sense for the volume of the pile.

Here’s our pile of plastic. That’s Taina bravely sitting in the middle of the pile of plastic garbage, and gives a sense for the size of the pile.

Our plastic collection was not limited to non-recyclable plastic, but included recyclable plastics as well.  Plastic is tricky – recyclable plastic is often down-cycled into inferior products and not all plastic is recycled, so ALL plastic has to be considered trash.  I feel like our family is reasonably conscious of our plastic consumption, and yet we still managed to collect 12-13 large black garbage bags full of plastic over the last twelve months.  We use our own reusable shopping bags and reusable produce bags, so there was not a lot of plastic shopping bags in the collection, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of packaging waste and a lot of garbage.  I never thought about how much of our plastic packaging isn’t recyclable.  Think of all the plastic that you toss in the bin every day that can’t even be recycled: plastic wrap on our cucumber, plastic bags on bread, plastic wrap on any food item you will find in your grocer’s freezer.  It just never seems to end.  I’m grateful that our family has been eating very little meat over the past year, as the few pieces of styrofoam that we added to our plastic collection seemed particularly offensive.

Why is plastic so awful?  In essence, anything that is plastic today will be around pretty much forever.  Plastic does not biodegrade, and a lot of plastic garbage makes its way into the oceans where it can seriously harm and even kill wildlife.  Birds and fish often mistake plastic in the ocean for food and will ingest it, which ends up being deadly.  Filmmaker Chris Jordan has created an eye-opening short film on the tragedy of wildlife plastic consumption in the Pacific called Midway : Message from the Gyre.  After watching that film, I have not been able to think of my plastic consumption in the same way.  Plastic does not go away.  Ever.  It just moves around the planet in different, and often lethal forms.

Plastic garbage from our local beach - we picked up an entire bag of garbage in less than ten minutes.

Taking action against plastic pollution!  We visited the beach recently and picked up an entire bag of plastic garbage in less than ten minutes.

What can we all do differently to minimize our plastic consumption?

Refuse plastic:  Consider the plastic you consume regularly and find non-plastic alternatives.  Use reusable shopping bags, produce bags and bulk bags.  Try to buy grocery items with as little plastic packaging as possible – this will mean spending most of your grocery dollars in the produce and bulk sections, but both the planet and your waistline will thank you!

Reduce your plastic consumption:  Reducing our consumption of plastic and asking ourselves if we really need another piece of plastic in our lives is an important environmental responsibility.  Using what we need and not a lot more will go a long way in reducing our output of plastic garbage.

Reuse what you have: Find a use for the plastic items you already own, and don’t buy any more!  One idea is to reuse your plastic bottles to contain your homemade cleaning supplies or find a soap dispensary that sells soap in bulk, and refill your cleaning bottles when they are empty.

Recycle:  When you have been refusing, reducing and reusing your plastic, you should have much less plastic waste than when you started.  Recycle what plastic you do have left to prevent it from going into the landfill or making its way into streams and oceans.

What are you doing to challenge your use of plastic and reduce your plastic consumption?  I’d love to hear from you!

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

Standard

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?

five things I have learned about my plastic consumption

Standard

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?

Earth Day 2012: simple ways to honour our planet

Standard

It’s Earth Day today!  Although I would argue that every day is Earth Day – it’s the choices we make every day of the year that carry real clout.

Here’s just a few ideas for ways we can effect positive environmental change by making small changes in our daily routines:

  • Walk or take public transit for your travels, to the grocery store or when running errands
  • Use reusable cloth grocery bags and produce bags when shopping for your food
  • Compost food scraps or find out if there is a food scraps drop off program in your community
  • Refuse to buy products (food or otherwise) that are unnecessarily packaged, particularly in plastic
  • Wash laundry in cold water as often as possible – as an added benefit, washing in cold will not only save energy but will prolong the life of your clothing!
  • Store and then EAT your leftovers, so as to minimize food waste
  • Make coffee at home, or if you buy coffee at a coffee house, be sure to bring your own reusable mug!
  • Buy organic fruits and vegetables – organic produce uses less pesticides in production which means less chemicals and toxins are left in the earth, in humans who produce and harvest the produce, and finally, those of us who consume them.
  • Stop using single use plastic, and try avoiding consuming plastic altogether
  • Consume less meat and dairy, or go vegan and don’t consume them at all!
  • Recycle as a last resort.  Consider donating items that can be reused to charitable organization, or giving things to friends and family (if they want your stuff!)
  • Use a Diva Cup
  • Use 100% recycled toilet paper.  Contrary to my husband’s belief, recycled toilet paper is not recycled from used toilet paper. Ha.
  • Consider eliminating commercial cleaners from your home and make the move toward cleaning simply with soap and water.  Vinegar works great for windows and mirrors.  Homemade cleaning solutions work just as well as commercially prepared ones, without all the chemical toxins left behind in your air and on your skin (and not to mention in our water)
  • Get to know the thrift stores and consignment stores in your area, and get comfortable with the idea of buying clothing and accessories used, for both yourself and your family.  My kids love shopping at the thrift shop, and actually don’t have a clue that it is any different than other conventional stores.  I myself have been known to find a treasure or two in the clothing department at my local Value Village.

Happy Earth Day everyone!  Hope you made it a great day!

link love: becoming vegan

Standard

I’ve been spending the last couple of months absorbing a ton of information about eliminating meat and dairy from my diet.  I came upon the decision to begin avoiding meat and dairy after reading the book Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, by investigative journalist Eric Schlosser.  Fast Food Nation explores the industrial food production system in the United States and how it is intertwined with the fast food industry.  It is a fascinating read, but be prepared to read about some ugly truths about the meat and dairy industries in the United States (I’m sure that the industrial meat and dairy production systems are similar in Canada, but the book only tackles the US).

After absorbing the information in Fast Food Nation and deciding to eliminate meat and poultry from my diet, I stumbled upon the documentary Forks Over Knives.  A good friend of mine had actually recommended it to me months earlier, but after we’d discussed it, I didn’t think about it again.  Then, within a week of finishing reading Fast Food Nation, I came across the complete Forks Over Knives documentary movie online and watched it in one sitting.  The premise behind Forks Over Knives (by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn) is that consuming a plant-based diet can prevent and reverse heart disease.  Dr. Esselstyn recommends a diet free from meat, dairy, oil and sugar, and he has done a lot of research and testing on his own patients over the past 25 years to support his claims.  After finishing watching Forks Over Knives, I became convinced that I wanted to continue trying to overhaul my diet and make conscious choices to eat better for my own health and well-being.

Here’s some sources from which I’ve been absorbing a ton of information about the benefits of adopting a vegan lifestyle:

How It All Vegan – A fabulous vegan cookbook with some additional information on making this lifestyle change.  What I liked most about this cookbook is that the recipes are very simple.  Since I don’t believe in complicating things unnecessarily, I appreciated the tone of this book.  How It all Vegan contains a chapter on vegan recipes that might appeal to children, which I thought was helpful.  I also particularly appreciate the authors take on considering the environmental impact before “veganizing” your lifestyle – like consider using what you have  and wearing it out (leather shoes, leather belts, etc.) before making additional vegan clothing or lifestyle purchases.  One of the authors of How It All Vegan currently runs a website that includes a blog and an online store too (from Victoria BC) if you are interested in that sort of thing

The Kind Diet – Alicia Silverstone is a celebrity vegan, and she has written her own book, The Kind Diet.  You can also check out Alicia’s blog, The Kind Life – she tackles lots of other subjects in addition to veganism, like environmentalism and conservationism.  Be sure to read her timely Earth Day post for lots of great ideas on how to be kind to our planet!

Skinny Bitch – Ignore the sensationalistic title, and read this book!  While the title might be misleading, the information contained in this book focuses on the benefits we can derive from eliminating meat and dairy from our diets.  It is written in a “girlfriend-conversation” style, which I find makes it pretty light reading.  There are some facts about the horrors of factory farming, but for the most part, the content of this book is a lot of common sense interspersed with dietary facts.  This book is a great reference for those looking for other titles on the subject of veganism – peppered throughout the book are titles of other suggested reads on the subject.

Eco-Vegan Gal – I first discovered Whitney’s informative video posts on YouTube, and skipped over to check out her website.  She has lots of great inspirational videos on her YouTube channel, with additional posts about veganism and reviews of vegan products on her website.  I would recommend Eco-Vegan Gal as a good resource for anyone looking for other voices in the discussion on veganism.  Whitney also writes about eliminating gluten, soy, oil and sugar from her diet, so there are posts on those subjects as well for those who are interested.

Loving Simple Living is another recent discovery for me.  Blog author Lorilee Lippincott posted recently over at Rachel’s blog The Minimalist Mom about simple living with children.  I enjoyed reading Lorilee’s post and skipped on over to her site… to discover that she is also a vegan!  I spent some time exploring her site and she has some fabulous, kid-friendly vegan recipes.  Lorilee also eloquently writes about how simple eating dovetails nicely with simple living.

Oh She Glows – I’ve been a fan of Angela’s website for years.  Hers was the first vegan cooking blog I read that made vegan food look so amazingly delicious.  Her recipes are awesome, and she even shares her inspirational journey to healthful eating and living.  Plus, she’s a Canuck!  Lots of inspiration and recipe ideas at Oh She Glows, and I think Angela may even have a vegan cookbook in the works for the future.

Hungry Hungry Hippie – I’ve just started reading Hungry Hungry Hippie, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far.  Lot of great, simple food recipe ideas – even though Elise doesn’t describe herself as vegan, a lot of her recipes are free of meat and dairy products.  I recommend her seitan recipe – I made seitan (or “wheat meat”) for the first time yesterday using her recipe and it was a hit, even with my six year old son!

I’ve also subscribed to the Facebook feeds for Fat-Free Vegan and Engine 2 Diet – they provide inspirational recipe ideas daily, and it is to know where to find a community of people striving for the same goals.

Watch Forks Over Knives here.

I feel like I’ve read and learned so much about going meat-free and dairy-free in the past weeks, and I’m coming out on the other side – I’m no longer overwhelmed by the amount of information out there on the subject, and it feels great to know there are a TON of resources on the internet just waiting to be discovered.  If you’ve ever considered not eating meat or dairy, I encourage you to try one recipe at a time – there are vegan recipes for literally EVERYTHING your heart might desire.  I’ve lost 10 lbs in the past month, and the only changes I have made are dietary.  My goal is to lose another 20 lbs, and I am hoping that by eating healthfully in this manner my goal will be a lot easier to attain.