Green Recap: July

July 31, 2007

no reason

Ah, my poor hair. I’ve put it through a lot of different shampoos, then vinegar and baking soda, then nothing. Finally, at long last, I found a natural product that worked, but then I went and messed with my conditioner, unplugged my hair straightening iron and restricted my time with the blow dryer. In the end, I just chopped it all off.

Miraculously, it hasn’t started sprouting anything or wound itself into dreadlocks, and as far as I know it doesn’t smell. Besides, at this point in the challenge, having pretty hair is the least of my concerns.

This month has seen a couple major changes, the biggest one — both literally and figuratively — being my humongous compost bin. It took multiple trips to Home Depot (thanks, Bruce!), a lot of drilling, stapling, screwing and hammering, hours of researching vermiculture and a whole bunch of soil, worms, damp newspaper and food scraps to get it going… but so far, so good. Well, truth be told, it’s a little fuzzy in places and the fruit flies have already invaded, but I think after a few months I’ll have it figured out.

My big moves food-wise were to limit myself to organic-only dairy and free-range eggs, as well as cutting out all canned and bottled beverages except alcohol — speaking of which, I’m now only drinking hard liquor if it’s organic or comes from an eco-minded distillery. Really, though, drinking warm gin is just not that pleasant.

This, coupled with my previous restrictions on meat (it has to be grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, hormone-free and preferably local and organic) as well as produce that comes from within Canada and the U.S. means that dining out is getting a bit complicated. Take-out and delivery are not an option unless I bring my own containers, and even if I sit down to eat at a restaurant there are fewer and fewer options.

Basically, I’m sticking to places like Fresh or Sweet Lulu, or if I’m on the go, I’ll get hand-held stuff like a falafel or a veggie dog. What’s really killing me is not being able to get take-out sushi (it always comes on styrofoam or in those plastic containers).

That said, farmers markets are still in full swing here so I’m not suffering entirely. And you’re right, Greenpa, I don’t really miss my fridge. I invested in a neat little butter bell, I keep my veggies in a bit of cool water from the tap and I can drink my way through a container of soy or almond milk in a few days. Everything else I simply purchase in the afternoon and eat it by the evening — although, I won’t lie, this has resulted in the consumption of entire blocks of cheese within a five-hour time span.

Other than food, I think the biggest change was making sure that all clothing I buy from now on is from a local and/or environmentally friendly, sweatshop-free company. This hasn’t been a big problem yet, but then I haven’t attempted any big shopping sprees. I think when Fall hits and all the stylish sweaters and cardigans start cropping up in store windows it’ll make me cry inside.

This month was also when I went on vacation, which has given me a great energy boost and insight into other cultures’ green — and not so green — habits. But it also meant that I had to break a few rules, like the no-bottled-water thing and the fair-trade-coffee-only thing. Travelling from one place to the next every few days has led me to realize that it’s much easier being green in an environment you know and can control.

Just over 200 days to go now. Is it too early to start counting down?

Cartoon by the ever-uproarious Natalie Dee


Between the sheets (Day 153)…

July 31, 2007


While changing my bed linens the other day, I noticed that parts of the fitted sheet looked ever so slightly less white than other parts. I wasn’t sure if it was an actual stain or just the glare from my ugly compact fluorescent light bulbs, but then I remembered that these were sheets given to me by my parents a few years ago when I moved into my apartment, and they weren’t exactly new at the time.

Upon closer inspection, I noticed the elastic had stretched out and the stitching was getting loose. I concluded it was time to cut it up into hankies and get a new one.

Normally, I get excited at the prospect of shopping. But to be honest, I can’t think of anything I’d rather not have to buy than sheets. Well, maybe socks. And also watch batteries … man, that was so boring.

Anyway, I knew I wanted a good quality as well as eco-friendly brand. Treehugger had written about the benefits of bamboo sheets, but they’re not easy to find and can get expensive. Eventually, back at Grassroots, I found some unbleached organic cotton sheets for $60, made by a company called Coyuchi (the best is their tagline: “a natural opulence” — see, high thread-count snobbery is totally bio!).

On their site, they explain how the cotton seeds they use must be non-genetically engineered and that the plants must not be exposed to pesticides. Furthermore, the cotton is grown at family-run farm cooperatives, where workers are paid higher than average wages.

The only downside to this product was that it came wrapped in plastic. But I’m not sure it’s even possible to get sheets that don’t come packaged like this — there must be some sort of hygiene law that prevents it. Kind of like those mattress tags that threaten jail time for anyone who removes them.

Photo by Mr Luke Harby at Flickr

Revoking the smoking (Day 152)…

July 30, 2007

lucky strikes

Before you freak out, let me just clarify this: I’m not a smoker. I haven’t made over 150 environmentally friendly changes to my lifestyle while sucking back dozens of cancer sticks every day. There used to be an emergency pack in my freezer, but even that became unnecessary (and besides, I don’t even have a freezer now).

However, on occasion — and by that I mean a drunken, late-night, hedonistic, I-wish-I-was-Audrey-Hepburn sort of occasion — if someone offered me a smoke, I’d take it. Call it an oral fixation, a succumbing to peer pressure or what have you (personally, I think it just satisfies my need to fidget, with the bonus of a head rush); either way, it’s a nasty habit that doesn’t just pollute my lungs but pollutes the air, not to mention all the non-biodegradable butts that more often end up on the streets than in the garbage.

So as of today, no more smoking. This includes all forms of tobacco and, er, other substances too. And while I could get into recycled rolling papers and filter-less options, perhaps even look into carbon-offsetting it, I think it’s best to just swear off smoking anything for the next little while.

Photo inhaled from Shannon C. on Flickr

Reduce, Reuse and Ramallah

July 30, 2007

Hey everyone, I’m back home! Technically, I’m still on vacation and will soon be off again in rural Oregon, a.k.a. the Land of No Internet (it’s a scary place). But during this week I’ll be here on my trusty computer, visiting my fellow bloggers to see what they’ve been up to and going back through all my posts to read everyone’s comments. I apologize if some of the entries were getting shorter recently, but hey, it’s not easy to keep up the pace when you’re on the move every few days, hopping from one country to the next without a laptop or WiFi zone in sight.

Now, before writing about today’s change, I thought I’d share a photo of Yours Truly, recycling some plastic water bottles in West Jerusalem last week. It was taken by my friend Jacob, who’s currently living in Ramallah and who tried to explain the challenges of being green in this part of the world. Basically, as you might guess, people in the West Bank have bigger problems right now than separating their paper from their plastic, so the only option for environmentally minded folks like him is to cross the wall and take everything to one of these nondescript wire cages, most of which are just sitting on random residential streets with no signs or directions.

west bank

It’s an effort most people here aren’t willing to make, and it’s a shame because it not only leads to more garbage in landfills but more garbage on the streets. Of course, I hardly expect anyone in the Middle East to switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs and start composting, but I do find it a bit ironic that so many people are willing to kill for this land, yet have no qualms about littering on it.

You may notice that, in the photo above, I’m recycling a plastic water bottle. Here’s a big confession: I broke my rule about only drinking tap water. With all apologies to Mother Earth, I just didn’t want to take a chance when travelling; there’s nothing worse than being sick on a trans-Atlantic flight or getting major stomach cramps in 40-degree heat. I did bring my reusable water bottle with me for the trip and it came in handy for the day trips in Europe, but there were times when it ran empty and I had to cave in to the plastic.

Some other green things I noticed on vacation were the biofuel buses in Madrid (here’s a photo of one):


And I also saw a lot more animals out in the fields (a herd of Spanish cows are in the photo below). Everywhere I went in the UK and Spain, I would see sprawling pastures filled with contented pigs in their pens, outdoor chicken coops, sheep roaming about and cows eating a proper diet of grass. The hotel I stayed at in the Cotswolds had its own fruit and vegetable garden out back, and even the McDonalds and Burger King in London had nutritional pamphlets detailing which farms their meat came from, stressing that all their ingredients were traceable and free of hormones and additives. Until now, I always assumed that North America was leading the green trend, but it seems that in some respects — especially when it comes to food and agriculture — we could learn a lot from the Europeans.

spain cows

Anyway, it’s time to make my official green change of the day, but I’ll write another vacation update in a couple weeks. Thanks for putting up with my scattered ramblings!

Some new goo for the loo (Day 151)…

July 29, 2007

toilet bowl cleaner

Not to get too graphic, but this whole let-it-mellow thing doesn’t exactly make for a pristine toilet bowl. So it wasn’t long before I finished up the last of my toxic, abrasive cleaner and had to go find a less cancer-causing alternative. I immediately turned to my new favourite eco-brand, Ecover, which makes a natural product that comes in one of those strategically angled bottles — and I’ll of course refill it if I can find toilet bowl cleaner in bulk. It smells of pine, which I’m not so into, and required slightly more scrubbing, but overall, I’m satisfied.

The pick of the litter liners (Day 150)…

July 28, 2007

I spent forever trying to find eco-friendly cat litter tray liners, perhaps ones made from corn that would eventually break down in my new compost bin (seeing as I’m already using a corn-based product in there), and came up totally empty-handed.

But because I’m desperate, I’m still going to lay claim to at least choosing what I think is the greenest option when it comes to this product.

Of all the brands on the shelf, I looked at the packaging involved, the quantity of liners per box and where they were manufactured, and eventually decided on Van Ness (OK, I may have also chosen it based on the similarity to my name).

They are made of plastic, but they’re simple (I didn’t choose the draw-string one) and come in a recyclable cardboard box, and that’s good enough for now. Next time, however, I may just choose to go without a liner altogether, because I truly don’t think anything could possibly be a bigger waste of time than shopping for cat litter tray liners.

Getting my hands dirty (Day 149)…

July 27, 2007


I can sign all the petitions in the world, write letters to China every day and cover my bicycle in activist stickers, but I can’t really call myself a tree-hugger until I’ve literally hugged a tree — or at least planted one.

So I’m going to get my hands dirty and start volunteering with an organization like Evergreen, which specializes in community gardening initiatives and urban tree-planting. I’ve fired off an email to my local representative and hopefully will be digging up holes in the Don Valley and filling them with baby seedlings as soon as possible.

There are also groups like LEAF and Plant a Row/Grow a Row — I found out about this through a woman I Freecycled with — as well as the Toronto Environmental Volunteers, which I’ve applied to join too, so we’ll see what happens. Maybe by the end of this challenge my thumbs will finally have started to turn a little green.