Going Green: Earth Day and Every Day (Part One)

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Earth Day 2018 is April 22, and this year’s focus (in addition to reducing our carbon footprints), is on the movement to End Plastic Pollution.

You’ve no doubt seen the dire news reports about our oceans filled with plastic (as in the Netflix documentary A Plastic Ocean), the tragic effects on wildlife and the environment, and how plastic particles are actually ending up in our food chain. It can seem overwhelming to figure out how we, as individuals, can begin to make a difference, but there are a wealth of resources to help. Let us share some finds from our own explorations!

If we could advocate only one green-living product, it would be Abeego beeswax wraps. They can completely eliminate the need for plastic cling wrap, plastic sandwich bags, and plastic containers…plus cut down significantly on food waste due to spoilage!

Abeego’s website offers many more helpful use & care tips and videos, and outlines their money-back guarantee. Made from hemp and organic cotton cloth coated in beeswax, tree resin, and jojoba oil, these pliable wraps can be molded with the warmth of your hands to protect produce, cheese, open bowls of food, or to make travel packets for your lunch bag. They are breathable, keep your food fresh much longer than plastic bags or crispers do, last a year or more with regular use, and are 100% biodegradable.

The BYOB (bring your own bag) movement at grocery stores has grown in popularity, but still has a long way to go. Plastic bags are still frequently used in the produce and bulk aisles, when there are excellent natural-fibre reusable bags available for those purchases as well. One Canadian company is Credobags, headquartered in Montreal, who manufacture their sustainable fabric bags here in Canada.

Credobags and other brands like Dans Le Sac can be purchased from eco-friendly stores such as Eco Existence (766 St. Clair Ave W), Ecotique (191 Roncesvalles Ave), and The Big Carrot (348 Danforth Ave), among others. A handy tip for those who are keen to follow the 3 Rs instead of buying new: reuse and recycle your old cotton pillowcases as a budget-friendly alternative.

Ecotique on Roncesvalles  © Allyson Scott

Conventional grocery stores like Loblaws, Longo’s, etc. have not embraced the idea of reducing packaging. There is nothing quite like taking your own bags to purchase produce, and finding every cucumber shrink-wrapped in plastic and every mushroom on a styrofoam tray, also wrapped in plastic! Yuck!

Luckily, Torontonians have ample year-round options for finding food in its natural state, which customers are encouraged to take home in their own bags: Raise The Root (1164 Queen St E), The Big Carrot (348 Danforth), St. Lawrence Market (93 Front St E), Whole Foods (1860 Bayview Ave, 87 Avenue Rd), and Fiesta Farms (200 Christie St), among many others. We as consumers need to keep the pressure on big retailers to reduce their wasteful packaging, but we can also vote with our wallets.

Raise the Root on Queen St E, image © Raise The Root

If you’re looking for bulk stores (of which there are many) to save on both money and packaging when you shop, we’d like to give a shout out to the Urban Bulk Emporium (1380 Queen St E). Owned by Aziza and Cory, they carry over 300 items in bulk, plus some organic groceries. About 70% of their products are organic, and locally sourced where possible. They even carry bulk epsom salts, which are normally very heavily packaged at regular stores!

Aziza & Cory, owners of Urban Bulk Emporium. Image © UBE

Urban Bulk Emporium interior © UBE

Cloth bags are the most lightweight way to shop for bulk, but some people prefer to use mason (canning) jars. You can buy various types of jars, lids, sealing rings, and other replacement parts at Canadian Tire or Home Hardware, or you may want to consider buying jars at a secondhand store. The green living website Treehugger has an interesting article on jar pros and cons, including the fact that the white undercoating on mason jar lids contains chemicals such as BPA or BPS. This, plus a tendency to rust, leads many eco-living enthusiasts to favour French canning jars (the kind with the flip-top glass lids).

Of course, yet another alternative to heavily-packaged foods is to grow your own! Many gardening centres are about to open, but we’d like to recommend a visit to Evergreen Brick Works (550 Bayview Ave, across from Pottery Rd). You will be amazed by all it has to offer all year round! You can buy seeds and seedlings from the gardening centre in spring and summer, shop for local produce and prepared foods at the weekend farmer’s market, shop for artisanal products and garden supplies at the year-round market store, get your bike fixed or take DIY workshops at Bike Works, buy or rent cycling gear at Sweet Pete’s Bike Shop, eat gourmet food at Cafe Belong, or just take a walk through the beautiful surrounding nature trails. It’s easily accessible by car, by free shuttle from the Erindale Ave parkette, by bike through a few different trails, or by walking from Castle Frank subway station.

Interior of the Evergreen Market Store © Allyson Scott

Evergreen sells Abeego! © Allyson Scott

Cafe Belong at Evergreen Brick Works © Allyson Scott

Despite our best efforts, we know it’s not always possible to avoid packaging. One thing that is important to realize is that in the city of Toronto, anything made of black plastic is not recyclable. This is due to the fact that the facility’s optical sorters cannot distinguish between the black plastic and the conveyor belt. So that black plastic lid on the takeout coffee cup? And the black plastic bottom to the roast chicken container? It all goes to landfill.

Properly sorting our recycling before we bin it is absolutely critical to the process. If we put things in the blue bin that don’t belong there or don’t rinse out the food containers, the entire load of recycling can be deemed “contaminated” and refused by the facility. When that happens, everything – including properly sorted, fully recyclable materials – gets sent to the landfill. The City of Toronto has an online guide for what goes in the blue bin, as well as the Waste Wizard to search for disposal rules regarding any household waste.

Making small changes in our daily lives about what we purchase, from where, and how we get it home can have big benefits for our environment. We’ll continue the discussion in Going Green: Part Two, with more great finds in the city and helpful information on how to be kinder to our planet!

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