Every Day is Earth Day
“Everything you buy is a vote for the future you want.” – Kathryn Kellogg, zero waste author.
As Earth Day rolled around again, we reflected on a year of trying to live a bit “greener”, and make more impactful choices as consumers. We experimented with everything from the car we drive, to the water we drink, to the paper products we use…with mixed results.
There were successes, like the “clean diesel” car that gets us 950km to a tank (definitely an improvement over our old SUV), and failures, like the terra cotta water purifier that gave us water that was chlorine-free, but instead tasted like dirt! Hey, we tried.
Let’s begin with that item, which we purchased last year from Anarres Apothecary in Dovercourt Village. We drink a lot of water in our house, and don’t love the chlorine taste that can appear in Toronto tap water. We were using a Brita jug, but also didn’t love the big plastic filters that went into a landfill every 3 months.
Enter the Stefani terra cotta water purification crock (that’s a mouthful, isn’t it?), which is handmade in Brazil. The few plastic components are designed to last for many years, and the ceramic activated carbon-filled filter only needs changing every 6 months, and is mostly biodegradable.
They advise filling and draining the crock several times to prime it and remove the clay taste in the first few glasses, which worked…but yet eventually returned. The exterior of the crock grew a powdery mildew every day or two, and the constant cleaning and maintenance was annoying. The biggest issue was the taste and smell of the water, which was quite unpleasant at times. We finally returned it to the store and asked them to “freecycle” it to any interested clients.
So, it was back to the Brita for us. Interestingly, we’ve found that there is actually a service available to recycle those plastic Brita filters (and old pitchers) through the company TerraCycle. They also offer interesting options for other hard-to-recycle items, and you can explore their other programs here.
The next thing we wanted to do away with was our plastic toothbrushes and plastic boxes of nylon tooth floss. Literally billions of plastic toothbrushes end up in landfills and in the ocean each year, so we decided it was time to give bamboo a try.
Anarres’ house brand was a bit too soft, but the Bush With Bamboo brand was pretty similar to a conventional toothbrush. Bamboo grass is renewable and compostable, and they last as long or longer than conventional plastic toothbrushes. The bristles are nylon and not compostable, but the entire thing will eventually biodegrade. We also had a very positive experience with Senzacare plastic-free tooth floss, which is made from silk and uses fully recyclable plastic-free packaging. That’s a win!
We knew we were also using a lot of paper products in our house, and deforestation is a huge environmental concern. Trees remove CO2 from the air, prevent erosion, provide wildlife habitat, and reduce stormwater runoff, among countless other benefits. It’s hard to imagine that entire forests are being destroyed to make plush paper towels, facial tissues, and toilet paper. We are literally flushing our forests down the toilet!
Our first step to combat this is to try to use less of all of these products, and the second step is to try to ensure we buy products made of recycled fibres when we do need them.
To reduce my own consumption of Kleenex, I turned the clock back a hundred years or so and invested in some handkerchiefs. The jury is still out on this idea!
Many pretty linen or cotton handkerchiefs aren’t soft or absorbent, which can be particularly uncomfortable when suffering with a head cold. I purchased a brand of handkerchiefs called My Hanky (original, no?) that are indeed soft, but they’re so big that it can feel a little like blowing your nose into a t-shirt! I’ve cut them in half, and am still getting used to the whole idea. It does feel better than buying packages of tissues that weren’t sustainably produced, and then shrink-wrapped in plastic for sale.
We’ve also cut way back on our paper towel use, and purchased a whack of Swedish dish cloths at last year’s Green Living Show. What are Swedish dish cloths, you ask?
They are 70% cellulose and 30% organic cotton, they are more absorbent than sponges, more durable than paper towels, dry quickly and don’t grow bacteria as quickly, and can be machine washed, or even run through on the top rack of your dishwasher! How amazing is that? They come in a variety of fun designs so you can colour-code them for different jobs/rooms, they last a long time, and are fully compostable when worn out. You can find them at many kitchen stores, or at our favourite card shop: Paperboy Cards & Gifts at 7 Pleasant Blvd (you’ll never leave that place empty-handed!).
There are many options for purchasing toilet paper, tissues, and paper towels that are made from recycled materials, and available with minimal packaging. Even Loblaw’s carries one option, Cashmere EnviroCare, which is made from 100% recycled paper (but does come wrapped in plastic). One terrific option for zero-waste shopping is the new grocery store Unboxed Market, which carries toilet paper made of 100% recycled paper, packaged in recycled paper, and available by the roll!
Unboxed also allows you to buy a huge variety of household items in bulk by bringing your own reusable containers (or you can purchase theirs). You can fill a jug of laundry detergent, dish detergent, or shampoo – no more plastic bottles needing to be manufactured or recycled! It’s even possible to bring containers that aren’t completely empty, and only pay for the quantity you top up.
The range of options is terrific, from buying milk in any quantity, to filling a carton with as many eggs as you require! It’s a superb solution to unnecessary packaging and unwanted quantities.
Another way we’ve reduced our household paper consumption is by purchasing a reMarkable tablet, which is truly like digital paper, only better!
It has a surface and stylus that feel like paper when you write or sketch on a blank or lined screen. It can convert handwriting to text, save endless pages of notes or sketches as PDF documents, and can send them via e-mail. You can also import PDFs and mark them up, and import ebooks for reading on its glare-free surface. For people who used to go through tons of paper pads (and lost a lot of notes on the backs of envelopes), it really is remarkable!
We’ve also had a little fun with our efforts to buy fewer packaged products and eat healthier foods, including Jody’s discovery of the art of making the “2-ingredient bagel”. The dough is so versatile you can also use it for buns, pizza, pretzel bites, and more! It takes very little time, and gives us fresh bread products for breakfast that weren’t packaged, and have no artificial additives. Made with self-rising flour (or regular flour, salt, and baking powder) and Greek yogurt, you can create amazing things – contact Jody if you want her recipe!
I also had some fun learning how to make my own hand lotion and cream at Anarres Apothecary. I bought a workshop there as a Christmas present for my sister, and we repeated the process at home. Anarres sells the emulsifying wax and various oils that you mix with water to create the specific product and texture you want. We made batches of pain-relieving lotion with arnica, skin-toning lotion with rosehip oil, and cream with shea butter – and added scents to the containers later using essential oils!
We’re doing our best to leave a smaller carbon footprint on the planet, and we hope you’ve enjoyed sharing in some of the experiences we’ve had along the way.
These endorsements and opinions are strictly our own. If you have any questions about the products we’ve posted, shoot us an e-mail anytime!