Category Archives: buying nothing new

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?

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?

Earth Day 2012: simple ways to honour our planet

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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!

problem solving, minimalist style: re-purposing the things you already own

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Sometimes I feel like my home is missing something or needing some help in the decorating department.  When I feel this way, I usually find myself window shopping in a store within the next day or so, searching out a particular item I have been hankering for that I am convinced will make my life easier/better/more pleasant.  I’ve been dreaming of a new duvet cover for our bed (we received a lovely, cozy duvet as a gift from my parents recently), as well as something to hold my small but special jewellery collection.  Last weekend I found myself setting out for a walk in the sunshine while my youngest dozed off in the stroller, and I stopped into several stores in the couple of hours I was out and about.  But I didn’t buy anything.

While looking for a duvet cover at one store, I realized how boring and plain most of the bedding being sold nowadays is.  Most of the duvet covers I came across were beige or off white.  Unfortunately, having children and a husband who likes to eat the occasional snack in bed (eek! I know!), white bedding is just not in the cards for our household.  As I left the store and walked down the street, I began thinking about the flat sheets my kids don’t use on their beds and how we might be able to transform them into duvet covers.  My mom is an excellent seamstress and can surely easily transform two large flat pieces of fabric into a fabulous duvet cover!  I’m also going to look in my basket of bed linens to see if we might be able to transform a couple of our larger sheets into a duvet cover for our own bed.

It never ceases to amaze me that every time I feel a need to buy something for my home, there is a good chance I already own something similar that can be used in its place.  A few other things I’ve repurposed lately:

  • Some silicone muffin tins that I bought sometime in the last couple of years that aren’t getting any love in the baking department have been repurposed into adorable bento lunchboxes for my kids to use when they are eating at home. I just could not get the hang of using silicone for muffin baking, and everything I baked when I used them tasted like silicone – ew!  So I’m thankful that these little babies have found an alternate purpose in my home, and one that my kids can get excited about!
  • A white serving dish that was stashed away in the upper regions of my kitchen cupboards gathering dust has been re-purposed into a jewellery/trinket catch-all on my bedroom dresser.
  • A small towel valet that I purchased years ago for one of our bathrooms to hang towels on has now been re-purposed to hold a few of the remaining pieces of jewellery I still own and am wearing regularly, particularly necklaces and bracelets.

Don't let the marketing fool you, this little stand works great for holding both towels AND necklaces!

How about you?  Do you have favourite belongings that serve a multitude of purposes?  Or do you have a couple of things in your home that were designed for a certain idea and you found them useful for other reasons entirely?  Do tell, I love a good hack!  Be sure to share in the comments.

project 333: colour, joy and inspiration

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Lately my Project 333 wardrobe is feeling a little gloomy.  When I left my house this morning, I didn’t realize I was dressed in black from head to toe until I got out to the street. I don’t think it can be argued that we all need a little inspiration sometimes.  I love seeing small, functional wardrobes in action, and if they’re fun, fresh and colourful, all the better!  I’ve whittled my way down to a small but functional wardrobe, but I feel sometimes as though I’m stuck in a rut when it comes to clothing.  One of my goals for the year is to try to remember that when I do have the opportunity to add something different to my wardrobe that I don’t stick with the same tired old shapes and colours.

I recently came across this amazing TED talk by Jessi Arrington, a Brooklyn designer and blogger at Lucky So and So.  Jessi is a passionate second-hand clothing shopper, and after delving into Jessi’s blog a bit further, I came across this post about how she recently decluttered over 400 items from her 500 piece wardrobe.  Wow, that’s a lot of clothes!  What I found most interesting about Jessi and her blog is her apparent passion for colour – for those of us who tend to wear a lot of black (some would say too much!), Jessi’s blog is a great reminder of how wearing colour can be so uplifting.  Knowing that wearing colour can improve my mood, I think it’s worthwhile to make a concerted effort to look beyond the blacks and greys in my own wardrobe, and reach for a splash of colour occasionally.

And an update on my efforts to buy nothing this year:  I will admit to buying a few clothing items for myself and my family this past month.  I’ve been fortunate enough to sell a ton of outgrown kids clothing recently on Craigslist, and have actually decluttered nearly 700 items from my home this year (in addition to the six THOUSAND things that left last year).  The kids needed new underwear, so I bought some.  I have been putting off buying a new winter jacket for the past two winter seasons, and when I found my dream jacket (and at half price!), I scooped it.  My city does have an excellent second hand market for many things, including clothing, but sometimes the time spent looking for a very particular item second hand does weigh heavily against the process.  However, I won’t be buying a new spring wardrobe, nor will I be shopping for summer wares later this year.  I’m planning to taking some clothing items to be updated, re-fashioned and altered to my mom when I go home for a visit this summer, and alterations (rather than shopping) will be top of mind.

Re-Fashion Vancouver 2012
Speaking of Vancouver’s second hand clothing market, an amazing second hand shopping opportunity is coming to our city!  Re-Fashion Vancouver is touted as a “spring cleaning sale” with lots of nearly new, used clothing in a wide variety of sizes.  The Re-Fashion event is taking place at the Roundhouse Community Centre in downtown Vancouver on Saturday, April 21, 2012.  If you’re interested in re-selling some of your own clothing, you can contact Re-Fashion here.

link love: not buying anything

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I heard this week from one of my favourite minimalist blogs about a blogger writing exclusively about buying nothing.  And he’s local to me!  Well, sorta.  Lots of inspiration at this blog for simple living, but here’s a few of my favourite posts (so far) from Not Buying Anything:

Reducing consumption reduces harm – It’s important we take the time to consider the environmental impact of our purchases, and whether we need to make certain purchases at all.

Putting our eco-footprint on a diet – I find having goals helps challenge my thinking and behaviour.  I’m striving to reduce my carbon footprint by living a less wasteful life – some of my goals include consuming less animal products, refusing wasteful packaging, and continuing to walk and use public transit in lieu of driving and flying.

Simplicity is Freedom – Simplicity really is freeing. Give it a try, you just might like it.

Reducing food waste – I’m creating a “just-in-time” household, in an effort for our family to reduce any unnecessary food waste.  We’re pretty good about eating leftovers and using food before it goes bad, but this blog post has a few extra great ideas on how to manage food waste.

Change for a dollar – A beautiful video on how a little kindness goes a long way.

Enjoy and Happy Tuesday! ❤

link love: apartment therapy for the soul

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I’ve become obsessed with Apartment Therapy.  There are a ton of inspiring articles over there to read, and they have the coolest categories, with lots of fun posts on green living, small living, and mindful living.  Now that I have found their website, I am pretty sure my life is complete.

Everything is pretty at Apartment Therapy!

Here are some cool, recent posts from AT:

Have you discovered the inspiration that is Apartment Therapy?  If so, do you like the Do-It-Yourself posts or do you favour the house tours?  Personally, I am very much inspired by most of the posts on Small Living.