Green Recap: May

May 31, 2007

Lemons! I can have lemons again! I gave them up, if you’ll recall, back in March, when I decided to restrict myself to food grown within the U.S. and Canada only (as local as I’m going for the time being). Finally, this precious yellow fruit — along with blueberries, but unfortunately not yet avocados — has cropped up in California, which means my room-temperature water will taste a little less bland and my salad dressings will be a little zingier.

I’m officially one-quarter of the way through this green challenge, which is satisfying in some ways, but also makes me incredibly panicky about what on earth I’m going to have to do to round out the other three-quarters of the year. I never really plan my green moves more than a few days in advance, and I’m starting to think that there might not be 365 aspects of my life I can change (again, suggestions more than welcome), at least not without resorting to more drastic measures like getting rid of my car, restricting my food and drink consumption to the borders of Ontario and — god forbid — unplugging my hair dryer.

The more I go along with this blog, the more I’m encouraged by how much support I get from readers, but with every new reader comes even more pressure to pull this whole thing off, and I seriously have my doubts. After getting some coverage on TreeHugger, a few pingbacks and a Thinking Blogger award, turning this into a weekly column for the National Post, acquiring an agent and speaking to some publishers, as well as boosting my hit count to over 1,000 a day, it’s dawned on me that, at this point, there’s no turning back (help!).

But on a lighter note: Sometime this past month I discovered a fascinating tool in WordPress that lets me see what Google searches have led people to this site. Sometimes it’s stuff that makes sense, like “natural dishwashing powder” or “what is a thistle?”, but other times it’s been anything from “poo of the day” to “funky chicken” (I’m guessing that was thanks to my funky chicken doorstop post). Either way, it never ceases to amaze me what people type into their search engines and how they end up here, reading about some crazy girl in Toronto who turned off her fridge.


Hot town, summer in the city (Day 92)…

May 31, 2007


I can feel it already — this summer is going to be as hot and sticky as a cinnamon bun, thanks in some part to global warming but also because, as of today, I’m switching off the air conditioning.

As some of you may remember, I previously tampered with my thermostat back in March, when I committed to keeping my apartment no warmer than 20 degrees (68 F) during the winter. But as my body has a much higher tolerance for hyperthermia than hypothermia, I figure, heat wave shmeat wave — I’ll be fine with a few fans and some buckets of water.

Plus, the hallways in my building are air-conditioned, so at least a cool breeze will seep in under the door every now and then, and my windows all face north-west, so there isn’t a lot of direct sunlight pouring in all day.

I’m betting this change will be easy enough until late July and August, when there are always those couple weeks that are so scorching you can barely get out of bed without over-heating. You get that permanent layer of sweat and start to feel like a walking, talking lint roller as everything starts sticking to your skin (clothes, cat hair, food crumbs, the grocery list).

It’s all mental, though — I think if I try and accept the heat, be one with Mother Nature and take pleasure in the fact that I’m probably sweating out a lot of toxins or something, it should be fine. I just hope Sophie doesn’t suffer too much in her fur coat.

Comic courtesy of Toothpaste for Dinner

Hurtin’ curtains (Day 91)…

May 30, 2007


As he sipped away at his fair-trade espresso, my treehugging companion Lloyd Alter casually explained how vinyl shower curtains can lead to impotence — not because they’re less sexy than glass or open-concept (although that’s got to be part of it), but because polyvinyl chloride, used in the manufacturing process, is a known carcinogen that’s been linked to increased risks of brain tumors, cancer in the spinal cord and, most traumatic of all, erectile dysfunction.

If you ask me, it’s the best excuse ever to drag the hubby to Ikea, one of the few stores that sell PVC-free shower liners for less than $2 a pop. And with a cute Swedish name like Näckten, how can you resist?

I’ll admit, when I hung it up, there was something eerily Psycho about how shiny and transparent it was. But it’s more about function than form, and I figure if someone does attack me with a dagger one morning as I’m in the midst of sorting out some stupid vinegar and baking soda concoction to pour on my increasingly confused hair, at least I’ll be able to see him first.

The most eco-friendly way to go when it comes to shower privacy is, well, no privacy at all — ie. nothing. Or there’s plastic or glass doors, which don’t need to be replaced, and clean easily. But that’s not an option at my place, so I at least made sure the curtains on the outside were made of a natural material (silk), and I hope to replace this new liner no more than once a year.

My greener dry cleaner (Day 90)…

May 29, 2007


Taking clothes to the dry cleaners can be an eco-nightmare. It’s usually one of the errands people run with a car because no one wants to walk or bike with an armful of dirty clothes; the dry cleaning process itself uses tons of chemicals; then it gets handed back on useless wire hangers with paper sleeves and all that plastic wrap over top.

A lot of clothing items with a “dry clean only” label on them can actually be handwashed, but I’ve also lost more than a few ridiculously expensive cashmere sweaters that way, too, so I prefer to just do what the label tells me. But I’ve officially switched to New Way Cleaners, a company by my parents’ house that’s been around since 1936 and perc-free for a couple years now.

Perc, short for perchloroethylene, is most often the main solvent used in dry cleaning. It has also been declared toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and been shown to cause cancer in animals when exposed to amounts only just above the legal workplace limit.

So when they found out about these carcinogenic effects, the company stayed true to its name and searched for a new way to dry clean. It invested in all-new machines and non-toxic detergent, which is fully biodegradable and overall gentler both on clothes and skin.

Fortunately, I don’t own many things that need dry cleaning anyway (the shrunken cashmere sweaters pretty much scarred me for life). And I think when I head back next time I’m going to ask if they can put my clothes on the side so I’m not stuck with all the stupid hangers and saran wrap.

Refill ‘er up (Day 89)…

May 28, 2007

I thought I’d give the second of the Three R‘s some love today and start reusing. Up until now, I haven’t paid much attention to this dull, middle child in the waste hierarchy. Yes, sometimes I’ll use the same Ziploc bag a few times for the crackers in my lunch, refill the travel-sized shampoo and conditioner bottles I have whenever I go on vacation, and of course there’s my water bottle and coffee thermos.

But it’s time to start laying some rules down: first and foremost, when it comes to any bottle of cleaning product — shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, laundry detergent, surface cleaner, etc — as long as I can pump it out in bulk at Grassroots or The Big Carrot, I’m going to refill it. This might mean switching to another brand in some cases, but I’ll have to make do.

Second, if I’m buying any food at the grocery store that comes in bulk — like walnuts, organic coconut, almond butter, flax seeds, quinoa (can you tell my best friend is a nutritionist?) — I’m going to bring one of my own plastic containers to refill.

And lastly, I’m going to make sure that if I do need to buy something new, I consider whether or not it can be refilled before I purchase it.

My only reluctance in doing this is that I still have a few brand-name, toxin-packed products in my apartment that I’m waiting to finish before I invest in a natural alternative. But I’m not sure refilling something that used to be full of carcinogenic sludge is such a good idea — doesn’t evil lurk in the bottom of those Vim bottles no matter how thoroughly you try to rinse them out?

And there’s also a part of me that wants to advertise the fact that I’m choosing safer products so that others might inquire and subsequently make similar consumer choices, but that probably won’t happen if I’m storing my natural shampoo in a bottle with a big Kiehl’s label on it.

What do you guys think? Should I just stop being so paranoid about toxic residue? Should I start peeling off the labels from my chemical-infused shampoo bottles when I refill them, then write something over top in permanent marker like, “This is not a brand-name product full of parabens and sodium laurel sulfate”?

Beat the receipt (Day 88)…

May 27, 2007


I hate when I make a point of gathering together all my tote bags, walking to the grocery store, spending the whole shopping process trying to buy local, organic food with the least amount of packaging, only to finish paying and then get handed a mile-long receipt, sometimes two separate ones if I paid with credit card or debit. I always recycle them when I get home, but still, it provokes a lot of that frustrated, Marge Simpson kind of grumbling.

The worst are the receipts that are twice as wide as the standard cash-register size, printed on glossy white paper and have so much useless information on them they end up running 10 times longer than need be — like this Walgreens one here, which has a personalized thank-you message from the employee who helped the person, an advertisement about the store’s phone-in prescription service, another ad about the survey you can go online and fill out in order to be entered for a cash draw, the entire thing printed over again in Spanish and the date and time printed twice.

I understand that some computers and high-tech registers are programmed to automatically spit out a receipt when a transaction is made, so it’s not always possible to decline one. And there are certainly purchases where it’s a good idea to get one if there’s a chance it’ll get returned or exchanged.

But from now on, whenever I buy something — especially if it’s something I’m going to eat straight away or that know I won’t be bringing back — I’ll at least ask for no receipt right when I step up to the counter.

Receipt courtesy of ineedtostopsoon at Flickr

Don’t let me eat take-out (Day 87)…

May 26, 2007

That was supposed to be a Marie Antoinette pun. Well, not a pun, exactly, but you know, “Let them eat cake” — oh, forget it, I can never come up with decent headlines. Anyway, moving on: I thought I’d continue with yesterday’s fast-food theme.

After eliminating all delivered food from my menu — in some part because of the packaging in which it always arrives but mostly because of the fuel involved in getting it to my front door — I’ve decided to go the extra step and ban take-out food altogether, unless I’m able to bring my own reusable containers or wrapping to store it.

So, basically, the only way I can now eat fast food is if it’s vegetarian, if I walk or bicycle to get it, and if I plan ahead and bring all my own plates and cutlery. The one other exception will be if I’m out all day unexpectedly for work and haven’t been able to make my own lunch, in which case I’ll try to find something I can eat in-hand — and if it’s something messy like a falafel, I might need to allow myself a single piece of wax paper (I shouldn’t need to use any napkins, though, because I’ll have my hankie — which I’ll only use if it’s relatively clean, of course).

Phew! I think it’ll be easier to just make my own damn pizza. Oh wait, I can’t use my oven. Crap.