Green Recap: November

November 30, 2007

At the end of last month, I had a bit of a rush, believing for the first time that I’d actually be able to finish this challenge. Another month later, and the rush has turned into impatience. Officially three-quarters of the way into this green year, my lifestyle has reached its eco-friendly saturation point and I’m now pretty much just coasting toward the finish line. It’s not that everything has become easy for me — line-drying socks really sucks, as do Navy Showers and winter restrictions on local produce (my fruit intake these days is limited to apples, apples, pears, and apples) — but I’ve begun to feel like I’m walking in a green daze, unable to do, use or buy anything without first evaluating its carbon impact.

As I was explaining to a friend last night, I’m not sick of being green, but I am a little sick of talking about it, not to mention reading and hearing about all these other people, companies, products and services that are greenifying themselves in some way (often, sadly, in some cursory way). Environmental awareness is reaching an all-time high, which is great — really, truly, totally great — but at the same time, part of me just wants to live as sustainably as possible without droning on about it or getting into some lengthy discussion about the pros and cons of Christmas trees.

I had my first nervous breakdown this month, which was exciting (at least it provided me with yet another way to reduce my footprint). I also bought a house, which will give me lots of green opportunities come February, and sold my apartment, which forced me to keep up my Freecycle activity and reevaluate what I really need and what someone else probably needs more. I’ve also got back into knitting and am bent on learning how to sew, which I think will prove very therapeutic during the long, dark nights.

December will pose a lot of new problems — resisting the onslaught of holiday consumerism and the Christmas party appetizer trays full of cheesy, meaty, probably not organic treats — but will also mean hanging out with friends who’ll be coming back into town from far-away places, who I’m counting on to help cheer me up in this cold, final stretch. And of course, there’s all of you amazing readers, who I only know by screen names like Hellcat13, blah, Greenpa, teaspoon, Susanna a.k.a. Cheap Like Me, limesarah, emily, just ducky, GreenYogini, Chile and more and more and more — I may never have met you, but I owe you immense thanks for pushing me forward.


An interview with the Diva ladies

November 30, 2007

diva cup

OK, so I finally got around to transcribing my interview with the women behind the Diva Cup, Carinne Chambers and Susan Carskadon. I wasn’t able to ask all of the questions that you insightful readers posed, but the ladies did answer most of them, and pointed out that a lot more information can be found on the website.


Green as a Thistle: How long have menstrual cups been around, and when did you decide to make your own?

Carinne: As early as the 1930s, there were different versions of cups on the market. I had my period on my 13th birthday, and used tampons and pads for a year, but by that point I was already fed up with the results; I had an extremely heavy flow and would be constantly running to the bathroom at school. I tried the cup and thought, ‘Oh my god, it’s not leaking.’ I was just so overjoyed at this concept, and my mother, Francine, felt the same way. As we both began to use the cup, we eventually became very passionate about the whole concept, and after a few years felt there was a real need for a non-latex version. I graduated from school and we began developing a product with the latest technology and materials. There was a lot of energy devoted to it. We relied a lot on other women’s feedback as well as our own experiences. Four years ago, we finally had something we were proud of and that’s the Diva Cup.

Thistle: So what’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in launching it?

Carinne: The biggest hurdle at the beginning was that, at that time, the environmental movement wasn’t in existence. Everything was disposable. Tampons came out at the same time as menstrual cups and they took off because there was really no concern for the environment. And why would large companies want to sell a reusable product?

Susan: It’s not an easy thing to promote, it involves a lot of aspects.

Carinne: But I think women today are a lot more open. The taboos in those days, I mean, no one talked about that kind of stuff. Even early ads for pads and tampons, it’s just unbelievable how they promoted it. Now is the time for this. Women are finally ready. It’s truly a necessity, and that’s why we’re working day and night to get this concept out there.

Thistle: Did you know about the Museum of Menstruation?

Carinne: Yep, I believe we’re mentioned there.

Thistle: So, in my city, I’ve only seen the Diva Cup at natural food and health stores. Is there a reason it’s not in the major drugstores yet?

Carinne: In Canada, we’re in London Drugs, which is out west. We’re planning to go to those bigger stores but it takes a long time. It’s a complex issue getting into places like [Shopper’s Drug Mart or PharmaPlus]. Out product is different, it’s new, and those stores are about turning over kazillions of products. They have to be sure there’s a demand.

Susan: Our clientele is mostly in the natural, environmental or moms and babies types of stores. That’s our obvious market so we have to make sure we cater to them first.

Thistle: The Diva Cup has obvious environmental advantages, but how green is the actual manufacturing process?

Susan: Well, silicone’s a natural substance, and our product can be used for a year or more. We’re looking into some assessments, but the packaging is all recyclable. It’s not printed out on post-consumer recycled paper, we haven’t gone to that point yet, but the actual packaging is very minimal — compare it to any tampon brand and there’s a lot less. We’re a member of Co-Op America, an environmental organization, so we had to go through a screening process to be accepted, and we recycle all the paper we use in the company; we’re honestly not a wasteful company. Even at the manufacturing level, machines are extremely clean, no bi-product waste is created, no oils and lubricants are wasted. Even shipping-wise, instead of sending out every individual product, we send one big bulk shipment out to a distributor in a strategic location and have them disperse it all from there.

Thistle: How strict is the sizing? What if you’ve had children but it was a C-section delivery? Does it matter if you’re using a size 1 or 2?

Carinne: Most women, if they’re approaching 30, really need the model 2. The sizing recommendation used to be just before and after childbirth. But it’s more of a guideline because every woman’s body is different. When I was 27, the model 1 was too small for me all of a sudden — it wasn’t working, I wasn’t getting the seal. Now I use the model 2. There’s only an 8th of an inch difference in diameter.

Thistle: How is the Diva Cup different to its competition, like the Keeper?

Carinne: Our design is patented, we introduced the ridges, and the way the holes are put into the product allows for better release. Silicone is a big thing too; in my opinion it’s the highest quality, it’s medical grade, it bounces back nice and it’s really strong. Finding the right balance is hard. There are a lot of little details. It looks like a simple device but a lot of work went into making it the way it is.

Thistle: How important is it for younger girls to be aware of alternatives like the Diva Cup?

Carinne: We’re trying to work on a project to educate younger women and younger girls. They need to learn about the options out there and understand how the cup works. Some girls as young as nine years old are using it. For athletes, especially — I mean you just can’t do the pad thing when you’re at a swim meet. As well, girls are getting their period a lot younger now, plus it depends on the maturity level. We encourage mothers to talk to their daughters early on and even before they get their periods. It’s a cultural thing, a personal thing, a family thing.

Thistle: Is there a possibility you’d release an even smaller version for younger women?

Susan: The more the company grows, the more we can look into smaller sizes, but it’s very common for women to have this preconceived perception of their size and we can’t predict who thinks what. The model 1 really does work for the majority of women, if it’s used properly. Actually, the vaginal cavity can accommodate a lot, and there are all kinds of variables. At trade shows, some women are like ‘That’s so big!” and then others are like “That’s so small!” so we can’t please everyone.

Thistle: Is there anything else you want to clarify, or let people know about the Diva Cup?

Susan: There are a lot of misconceptions out there and it’s truly alarming to us. I mean, I’ve read online about people boiling the cups and letting them melt and then trying to reshape them. One website had this post about all these women who did that and were asking how to reshape it, and that’s crazy. I just hope women take the time to go to the website and read all the FAQs before they panic or give up on it or do something drastic.

Thou broth protest too much (Day 275)…

November 30, 2007


Now that the days of summer — and its accompanying menu of grapefruit salads and light seafood for dinner — are a distant memory, I’m eating a lot more comfort food, usually in the form of mashed potatoes or soup, which feels especially cozy after riding my bike home from work at night.

Most often, when making something like, say, apple and butternut squash soup, I buy an organic vegetable broth to give it some extra flavour. But after suffering some Tetra Pak guilt, then reading the ingredients list, I began to wonder why I need this extra product.

Really, soup is pretty hard to screw up, unless of course you use rutabaga (a winter root vegetable that came in my CSA delivery recently and messed up an otherwise perfectly tasty meal).

Anyway, the first ingredient in this broth is water. I can get that from my tap for free. The second is carrots, which are usually already in the pot. The third ingredient is celery, but that’s also just water with a bit of roughage and sodium. And the rest of the list is garlic, onions, salt, and spices, all of which I have on-hand and can easily add myself.

So, from now on, I’m not buying flavoured water for soup. That will mean less packaging, less shipping, less to recycle, less weight to carry home and more locally grown food in my soup. So Meghan, are you up for another soup party, sans premade broth?

These boots are made for licking (Day 274)…

November 29, 2007

shoe polish

Today was one of those sad days when I realized it was time to drag out my winter boots from the back of the closet. It’s finally cold enough in Toronto that my tootsies are demanding more coverage than just an old pair of Converse; unfortunately, the alternatives include a salt-stained pair of brown Uggs or a salt-stained, dusty and cobweb-covered pair of black leather boots (wearing these, by the way, does not violate my no-leather rule because I already owned them and am just reusing).

Now, when it comes to getting salt off suede, I’m not sure what the most eco-friendly way of doing that is, so if anyone can offer a suggestion, please do! I’ve tried a salt-stain remover already, but it seemed to just be spreading it around, and plain water isn’t doing much either.

But when it comes to polishing the leather boots, I have Treehugger to thank for this great suggestion: Pozu’s edible shoe polish. One major downside is that this brand is only sold in the UK. So because the carbon cost of shipping it across the pond is far too great, I’m going to try and make my own natural shoe polish using their main ingredient, coconut oil.

As I’m quickly discovering, coconut oil is right up there with baking soda and vinegar as one of the essential all-purpose items in any certified hippie’s toolbox. Olive oil would probably work, too, but I think coconut smells nicer and it’s more solid in consistency. I haven’t tested it out yet, but am just about to, so I’ll post a little update in the comments section to let you all know how it turned out.

Addressing the real problem (Day 273)…

November 28, 2007


I need to start keeping an address book. For months now, I’ve desperately wanted to get a Moleskine because all the cool kids have them and I want to hang out with the cool kids. But, with their bleached paper and oilcloth or leather-bound covers, plus the pen and ink required to write everything down, I just feel it’s not a very eco-friendly purchase.

So until Day 366, I’m going to keep all my addresses in a text file on my computer, and back up the file on my handy thumb drive.

In this technologically advanced age of Interwebs and bit-torrents and paperless offices (I’m hoping to one day make the National Post an office-less paper, too, because commuting all the way to the suburbs is not very eco-friendly), there aren’t many occasions where I need to send something by mail — and there are even fewer occasions where an address book is the only place an address can be found.

Still, one of these days, those postal codes and apartment numbers may come in handy. Maybe I’ll get married and want to send out proper invites to everyone, or maybe I’ll decide to spontaneously show up on an old friend’s doorstep (people like that, right?). Anyway, at the very least, keeping an address book, whether on paper or my desktop, will make me feel organized, no matter how many times I lose my biodegradable pen.

Image courtesy of Paul Watson on Flickr;
Office-less paper joke courtesy of my editor

A green wish list (Day 272)…

November 27, 2007


I’ve already pledged to make at least one component of every gift I give eco-friendly in some way, but now I’m reversing things a bit and asking that others do the same for me. This is something that I would hope my close friends and family already do — I mean, if you haven’t figured out by now that I’d rather not get a plastic tub of Vaseline or a new microwave for Christmas, you clearly don’t know anything about me, which is fine, but then why are you giving me a present? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love presents — who doesn’t? — but come on…

OK, sorry, I’m losing track of things here. The point is: If anyone asks me what I’d like for Christmas, or my birthday, or Valentine’s Day (yeah right), my response will either be, “Nothing, thanks” (again: yeah right) or “Something green, please.” That something can be a donation to a favourite charity, a solar-powered gadget, some natural cosmetics with minimal packaging, a homemade batch of cookies — anything that says, “I thought of you… and Mother Nature.”

P.S. I’ve gotta thank my new assistant Eva for this idea — she’ll be sticking around until I’ve finished this challenge, helping keep me organized so I can respond to all the emails I get and start updating the other pages on this site, as well as post my interview with the Diva Cup ladies.

Image courtesy of these folks

Christmas tree-hugging (Day 271)…

November 26, 2007

charlie brown tree

OK, it’s officially one month until Christmas, which means I’m allowed to start posting about how I’m greening my holiday season! What’s that, you say? You’re sick of stupid Christmas already? Me too!

But now that I’m almost three-quarters of the way through this challenge, I’m especially desperate for ideas and Christmas is just chock full of opportunities to be eco-friendly.

Number one on the list is, of course, the tree. Although I love the smell of pine, it’s just a wee bit hypocritical to insist upon being a tree-hugger, then insist on chopping one down. So instead, I’m going the artificial route.

Now, if I were truly an environmentalist, I’d have no tree whatsoever, or try to assemble one from twigs and bits of green scrap paper from around the house. But it just so happens that last year I got one of those hugely popular Charlie Brown Christmas Trees, sold at Urban Ourfitters, which comes in a little box reading, “This tree needs you” (they also sell a crooked Dr. Seuss Whoville Tree). It’s super cute, and sad, which for some reason makes me happy. So I’ll be reusing that.

While it’s very tempting to go out and buy a second tree, or at the very least get some other ornaments to hang on the remaining branches, I think I’m just going to keep it minimalist this year, saving my money and the carbon cost of manufacturing and shipping all these holiday doodads.