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Posts Tagged ‘living sustainably’

I felt it appropriate to post on the day of Earth Hour, but don’t read this during Earth Hour, which is 8:30pm to 9:30pm local time today!

The focus of this year’s Earth Hour is on what you are going to do beyond the Hour.  Are you planning to reduce your energy use, ride your bike to work, or recycle?  Well, I’m going to challenge you to do more.  I’m going to challenge you to eliminate as many disposable products as you can from your lifestyle.

When it comes to issues regarding reducing our personal energy use, it seems to me that there is a lot of emphasis on our direct energy use, i.e. through our use of electricity, oil and gas, etc.  But what about our indirect energy use?  I believe this issue should also be at the forefront.  That is why I started the Non-Disposable Earth Project, because I don’t think there is enough focus on how much energy use we can reduce by eliminating disposable products.

If we all turned off lights we aren’t using, that makes a significant difference collectively on our energy use.  However, if  we were all to stop using say, paper towels, that would have more impact than we realize.  That’s because all we see is the product’s end use.  We take it out of the package, wipe something up, and throw it out.  No energy use except our own, right?  We might feel guilty about adding garbage to the world, but do we stop to think about how much energy went into manufacturing that paper towel and getting it into our hands so it can be used just once and thrown away?

Let’s look at some of the benefits I can think of if we all stopped using paper towels:

  • we would save all the energy (fossil fuels and electricity) that is consumed to clear-cut trees, transport them, process them into paper, package them, transport them to the stores, transport them home, and then transport them to the garbage dump
  • we would have cleaner air by reducing the burning of fossil fuels
  • we would save millions of trees
  • we would preserve habitats for countless animals
  • we would preserve countless plant species
  • we would reduce our garbage, thus preserving the trees, plants, and habitat on land that would have been used for burying garbage
  • we would have even more clean air because we have more trees and plants
  • we would save a significant amount of water from the processing and manufacturing of the paper towels
  • we would keep the chemicals used in the processing and manufacturing of paper towels out of our water supply
  • we would save some money, and get to skip the paper towel aisle at the store, saving us some energy too!

And the list could go on.  As you can see, eliminating just one disposable product from our lifestyle not only greatly reduces our energy use, but also has other far-reaching benefits.

Earth Hour is about a global movement towards a sustainable Earth.  What better action to take than to eliminate the unsustainable practice of using disposable products?  Think about it today during Earth Hour and let’s make this a Non-Disposable Earth.  Look through your garbage and find a disposable product that you can live without.  Then live without it.  It’s that easy.

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As we enter a new year, I want to challenge everyone to reduce their garbage.  Reducing your garbage is really about reducing consumption – the consumption of disposable, one-time-use products – and has far-reaching benefits.  Read about the many benefits in my previous post, Disposing of Disposables.

According to Heather Rogers’ Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, , 80 percent of US products are used once and then thrown away!  Isn’t that a shocking statistic?  It means that 80% of our natural resources have been used up to make something that we will just throw away.  See a list of one-time-use products in my post, Ten Minutes or Less.  This statistic really puts a shameful light on the way our economy is based on creating a need for consumable products.  It doesn’t have to be that way….

When we take from the Earth, we also need to give back to it.  We need to return to the wisdom of ancient peoples, who understood and respected what the Earth gave us, and never took more than could be replenished. That is real sustainability.  That is one of the things I want to explore in this project.   Can I reduce my impact to the point that I am not taking away more than the Earth can give back, and how do I define that?

As the holidays approached, I have gotten busy and a little lazy.  So for the New Year, I am getting back on the bandwagon and challenging myself to reduce my garbage even further than I have.  Can I reduce my garbage down to say, just one bag a month?  How do I define what is garbage and what is not?  Others have already gone down the path to no garbage, so I’ll be looking to them for guidelines.  In the meanwhile, I’ll keep a weekly track and tally of the garbage that I produce, including compost.

And how about you?  Can you find one disposable item to reject, and start reducing your garbage?  Can you look into your garbage bag and see what kind of garbage you are producing and make a change?  Read about all the benefits in my previous post, Disposing of Disposables.  I hope you will join me in my efforts to make this a Non-Disposable Earth.

Happy New Year!

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Well, Christmas Day went over exceedingly well.  This was the first time I prepared an authentic Christmas dinner for the family – usually it’s a Chinese-interpretation of what turkey dinner is, prepared by my parents.  I did everything from stuffing the turkey, to cranberry sauce, to real gravy, yum!

Gift-wise, that went successfully too.  Mom nagged me all day about getting her a World’s Best Pot Scrubber like mine, and to her surprise, everyone got one under the tree.  The melamine plates went over really well by my Uncle and Aunt, and the Al Gore and David Suzuki books seemed to arouse genuine curiosity with the cousins.  Most of my daughters’ gifts were unpackaged toys, except for a few, and she noticed that right away.   And the traditional exchange of red envelopes carries over to Christmas, so gifts from the elders was also package-less.  I still feel guilty over the wrapping paper, but I saved at least half of it to use again next year.  The little pieces will be great for those smaller gifts that my daughter likes to wrap.  I even managed to save a few with tags intact for next year!  That greatly reduced the amount of paper I had to recycle.

As we cleaned up dinner last night, and as I peered into the fridge packed with leftovers today, I wondered, what about food waste?  How big an issue is that?  I know that living in a small household such as mine, if I don’t eat the food and my daughter doesn’t eat the food, no one else will.  So often, things get left uneaten and I waste more than I care to admit.

I try to console myself by saying it is being composted, but I know that the issue is bigger than that.  For every bit of food that I waste, I am throwing away all the energy that it took to grow the food, transport the food, keep the food at the right temperature, and then to transport the waste, and compost it at a facility.  Not to mention the energy that it took for me to make the money to buy the food, and the energy that I used to get it home, keep it cool in my fridge, and cook it if it was leftovers.

Interestingly enough, the day after Christmas, there was an article in the Toronto Star today entitled How we waste food which describes the problem in detail, including how much food goes uneaten in households and wasted in the food industry.  In the day that of hunter-gatherers, wasting food was not a problem.  You picked it, you ate it, if you didn’t eat it, it went straight back into the ground.  However, today it seems we are so far removed from food production, and food production has been so mechanized, that eating an apple today is many, many times more energy consuming than it used to be to just pick it off your tree.  And if the food has been further processed, the impact is even greater.  Composting is not the energy-free process it should be either.  The whole process seems almost ridiculous, really.  Food should be much simpler.  That is one of the reasons why eating local is so important to me, and I am going to try to continue eating local as much as I can over the winter.  I already decided a few years ago to definitely avoid anything that was grown overseas.  Oranges shouldn’t be coming from Africa.  However, I do make exceptions if it’s just an occasional treat that is grown in season and can’t be grown locally.

As the New Year approaches, one of my Non-Disposable Earth Project goals will be to reduce the waste of food.  I am not sure how I am going to do that, as it is a multi-faceted problem, unlike replacing paper napkins with cloth ones.  I will have to be careful not to prepare too much food, which I think I can handle.  But trying not to have too much food in the fridge is a little trickier, as it is dependent on when I have time to pick up groceries.  Then there is the issue of pleasing household tastes, i.e. we don’t both like to eat the same thing, so some waste goes along with that too.  And from day to day, I don’t always want to eat the same thing.  It will be tricky, but I think I there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Finally, although I think it is great that we have municipal composting in Toronto, I still feel a little pang of guilt that I’m not doing my own composting.  Doing your own composting requires zero carbon output, unless you count the output from your own elbow grease.  Also, after scooping up some of the free city compost this spring and finding much foreign matter in it including bits of plastic bag and broken glass, I don’t trust the city compost anymore.  So I’ve been toying with the idea of worm composting – indoor composting in a small bin at home.  If I can find the room for it in my small kitchen.  I’d love to find someone who already does it and see what it’s like.  More on that as it develops.

So what have I learned this holiday?  That I even have to add food to my list of non-disposables so that food can complete the cycle of land to plate and back to the land in the most efficient, least wasteful manner possible.

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I started this blog over a week ago, and I’m already getting lots of inquiries on how I’ve reduced my garbage.  So, I thought I’d intersperse my more serious posts with some practical posts as well.

Let me first start by saying, that there are only two of us in the household, myself and my daughter who is seven.  Regardless, if there were another adult, I don’t think it would make a huge difference in terms of garbage because I’ve made sure to replace most things disposable with reusable.

These are the napkins on our dinner table today

The first change I made was with napkins, facial tissue and paper towel.  Growing up, my parents were frugal to the point of splicing up folded paper napkins into single layers to make them last longer, we never used paper towel, and my Dad would berate me if it took more than one tissue to blow my nose.  Needless to say, I grew up with a keen awareness of wastefulness.

One day I was browsing on Etsy, which is a great place for finding eco-conscious people making hand-made reusable items, and I came across people selling really cute cotton napkins.  A light went off in my head, and I dug through my fabric stash for leftover ends of my favourite fabrics.  Not only was making napkins something I could do easily, it gave me something to make out of my favourite scraps that I could enjoy everyday, yippee!

The napkins I made weren’t the full-sized 16-inch napkins for your formal dinner table.  That would be too big for everyday use, and would add up to a lot of laundry.  I simply took a metre of fabric which already comes folded in half, and folded it in half lengthwise again so you end up with one long length of folded fabric.  Then taking a squared up edge, I just cut the fabric up into squares by folding triangles and cutting along the edge – like cutting a square out of a rectangular piece of paper.  Quick and easy, no measuring, and it should give you 12 to 16 napkins about the size of facial tissue, which is big enough.  Then simply hem up the edges and you are done!

 

Our newest sets of napkins

Well, you might be asking, does it make for much laundry?  Heck no.  If I throw the napkins in with the weekly load, it barely adds up to a t-shirt.  I also find, if you aren’t eating messy meals, you might use the same napkin for the whole day before tossing it in the laundry basket, so it’ll be even less.  No garbage, barely any laundry.  It feels good!

And of course, you don’t have to stop at napkins.  You can do this for your facial tissue (otherwise known as hankies!), and for your paper towels.  Find a really soft fabric for your hankies, and old clothes and sheets make great towels to have handy for wiping.  Make sure all fabrics for your projects are 100% natural, and organic is great too if you can.  You can also choose from knits, flannel and terry as well.  I like to make a set of dark colours and a set of light colours for everything, so that I’m always washing no matter which load of laundry I am doing (I only do laundry once a week).

 

Basket of hankies, made from a well-worn, very soft sheet.

But here’s the real unexpected benefit to using your own hand-made reusable stuff, and it isn’t just in the feel-good about eliminating most of your paper-based garbage, the trees you are saving, or the money you are saving by skipping the tissue/napkin/paper towel aisle at the store….

How often have you gone out to buy disposable paper products and had fun???  Did you oooh and ahhh over the colours and patterns, feel them for softness, discuss their absorbency and tell your friends how excited you are about your next purchase?  Did you plan a trip to the store just to buy the exact colours to suit your mood or style?  When you got them home, did you show them off to your spouse, express how excited you were and how you couldn’t wait to use them?  And every time you did reach out to use one, did you have warm, fuzzy feelings inside?

Making your own stuff brings you pleasure that buying manufactured disposable products don”t.  Disposable products, meant to create convenience, kill creativity, excitement and enjoyment.  Making your own stuff, or buying hand-made if you don’t sew, brings that back to all the little things you do.  At least, that is what I am finding.

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So, if we stop using disposables, we make less garbage.  But how many other benefits do we actually get from disposing of disposables?  Well, I was thinking about this question, and it seems like the benefits are… almost endless!  In fact, it excites me that every time I choose not to buy or use disposables I can pat myself on the back for a whole slew of benefits!  Some of them are similar because they are related, but each are different aspects of benefits that are interconnected.

If our society were to dispose of using disposables, we would be

  • reducing the consumption of energy to manufacture more product
  • reducing the environmental impact of manufacturing more product
  • reducing the amount of waste produced in the manufacturing of more product
  • reducing the consumption of energy to transport more product
  • reducing the environmental impact of transporting more product
  • reducing the consumption of raw materials and natural resources to make more product
  • reducing the environmental impact this has on our natural spaces and saving animal habitats
  • reducing the consumption of water to manufacture more product
  • reducing the environmental impact this has on our water resources
  • reducing the air pollution made in manufacturing more product
  • reducing the air pollution made in transporting more product
  • reducing the amount of garbage being produced
  • reducing the destruction of natural space and animal habitats needed to bury more garbage
  • reducing the consumption of energy needed to transport and bury more garbage
  • reducing the air pollution caused by the need to transport and bury more garbage
  • reducing the air pollution caused by the incinerating of garbage
  • reducing the amount of leaching of chemicals into groundwater from landfills
  • reducing the amount of products in our stores, and perhaps reducing the store sizes and their environmental footprint
  • reducing the opportunities for individuals to litter and pollute
  • reducing costs to the manufacturer and consumer in some cases
  • reducing carbon emissions
  • reducing methane emissions from landfills
  • reducing the effects of global warming and all the benefits that entails

And, most importantly, we would be much, much closer to sustainable living.

It’s so simple, yet so amazing to me!  And when I remind myself of all these benefits, it makes me want to do more because it feels so good!

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In Colin Beavan’s book, No Impact Man, I read a statistic that really stunned me.  He states that according to Heather Rogers’ Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, 80 percent of US products are used once, then thrown away! At first, I thought that this was an exaggeration.  But on close examination, I realized that it was true.

So, I thought it would be great to start this project by first really becoming aware of all the waste we do produce.  I am going to try and list everything that I can think of that was designed to be used only once, including a sub-category of products that can potentially be used for ten minutes or less.  I invite you to really open your eyes and be aware of the waste generated around you, and add to this list as you go throughout your day.

Ten minutes or less:

  • fast food/take-out containers (plastic, styrofoam, paper)
  • disposable utensils (plastic, wood)
  • plastic or paper wrapping for utensils
  • plastic sushi grass
  • napkins
  • paper tray liners
  • fast food bags (paper or plastic) to bring your food ‘all the way’ to your seat
  • take-out cups (plastic, styrofoam, paper)
  • plastic lids for the cups
  • plastic drink bottles
  • glass drink bottles
  • juice boxes
  • drink pouches
  • straws
  • paper wrapping for straws
  • coffee stir sticks (plastic, wood)
  • paper condiment cups
  • toilet paper
  • facial tissue
  • paper towel
  • wet napkins
  • make-up removal pads
  • disposable plates (paper, styrofoam)
  • flyers
  • brochures
  • poop and scoop bags
  • syringes and other sterilized medical supplies
  • cigarette butts

Usually tossed out the same day:

  • newspapers
  • pizza boxes
  • frozen food trays and packaging
  • sandwich bags
  • party streamers
  • party hats
  • glow in the dark novelties
  • diapers
  • styrofoam and plastic wrap that comes with meat purchases
  • feminine napkins
  • tampons
  • condoms

Other one-use items:

  • product packaging outside (plastic, paper)
  • product packaging inside (plastic, paper, styrofoam, metal)
  • styrofoam peanuts
  • bubble wrap
  • envelopes
  • price tags
  • magazines
  • plastic shopping bags
  • paper shopping bags
  • plastic produce bags
  • plastic wrap
  • plastic clamshell containers
  • plastic netting for produce
  • milk and juice cartons
  • tin cans
  • egg cartons (paper, styrofoam, and now plastic)
  • washed lettuce and prepared salad containers
  • prepared meat containers
  • baked good containers
  • plastic cake containers
  • cardboard under the prepared cake
  • syringes
  • packaging for syringes and other sterillized medical supplies
  • balloons
  • ribbons
  • gift wrap
  • coupons
  • tickets
  • receipts
  • toothbrushes
  • disposable razors
  • razor blades
  • batteries
  • hotel soaps and toiletries
  • paper or plastic bags wrapped around hotel glasses
  • candy wrappers
  • disposable sweeping and mopping pads
  • disposable wash cloths
  • lipstick containers
  • make-up containers
  • lip balm containers
  • make-up sponges
  • ‘socks’ you use to try on shoes
  • any bottle/container that was not meant to be refilled (eg. everything from shampoo to dish detergent, to condiments, etc.)

The lists can go on and on and I plan to add to it.  At this moment, I can only think of the things that I come into contact with myself, so feel free to add your two cents to the list!

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My 39th birthday has passed, and I’m finally feeling moved to make my mark in the world.  To do something bigger than my own efforts at living sustainably.  I know that in order to leave my daughter with a better world than the one she was born in, I have to start reaching out and affecting more people.  So here I am, starting a blog to record my efforts and hopefully attract others to join with me and make an impact together.  For ourselves, our children and everyone’s children.

For the record, I’ve reduced our household garbage, which consists mainly of plastic in one form or another, to just one grocery bag’s worth a week.  Recyclables amount to the size of a banker’s box every two weeks.  And compost, probably two or three produce bags full a week.  We barely use anything disposable.  I’m only on the second of the two-pack 100% recycled paper towel rolls I bought over a year ago.  A 12-roll pack of 100% recycled toilet paper lasts two months at least.  We have fun homemade fabric napkins, and never use paper napkins.  I bring my own shopping bags, reuse ‘disposable’ utensils and I try to remember to bring my own glass food savers whenever I want to order take-out.

My daughter, she gets it, and is always aware of the waste that is being produced.  She has even decided that she won’t ask for her favourite toys anymore if they come in wasteful packaging.  But when she sees it around her and she asks me, “Mom, why do people waste?”  it’s really hard to give her a satisfactory answer….

So, I’ve decided that I don’t want to be a Mom that just points out what other people are doing wrong.  I want to show her that we can make things change.  That yes, we can do things at home and on a personal level, but that we can even influence other people.  So, here I am embarking on something very new and scary to me, but something I know will be life-changing and fulfilling.

Thank you for joining us!

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