A virtual tour of my green house

April 30, 2009

As part of the multimedia promotional campaign for Sleeping Naked is Green, my publishers suggested I make an informative author video so that potential readers can grasp what my book is all about and hopefully decide that it’s worth buying. Unfortunately, despite what you may believe about bloggers, I’m not very good at self-promotion; so instead of talking into a camera about how great my book is, I decided to take everyone on a mini tour of my house in order to point out all my favourite eco-contraptions, from the vegetables-in-a-vase trick for the fridgeless folk to the water-bottle-in-the-back-of-a-toilet-tank idea to save water.

It was filmed by the lovely Chelsea Conway, who just graduated from Radio and Television Arts at Ryerson University here in Toronto, and it even ends with a nod to MTV Cribs (totally her idea).

So if you want to watch me make a fool of myself, droning on about butter bells instead of properly completing my assignment (sorry, Wiley/Houghton), take a look at this video:


This one’s for Beth…

April 26, 2009
Sickatating plastic crap on the beach

Sickatating plastic crap on the beach

I just had a beautiful day on Toronto Island, biking around, eating good food, flying my new rainbow kite, playing frisbee, and generally being as wholesome as it gets — but when I took a walk on the beach, there was so much plastic junk everywhere, I couldn’t help but feel a bit depressed (if only Beth at Fake Plastic Fish could see this… actually, if she did, she might have some sort of petroleum-induced seizure, so perhaps it’s better that she didn’t). Anyway, I wanted to start cleaning it up, but there was so much, it really would require an entire afternoon’s worth of labour, not to mention a few garbage bags and a pair of rubber gloves. For a second, I thought maybe I should wait for the TD Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup to roll around, so I could at least tackle the job with some other volunteers, but apparently this doesn’t start until September.

Ugh. Do any of you find your beaches horribly cluttered with garbage? Or is it just Toronto? What do you do when you see all of this junk? Start picking it up, or hope someone else does? And what do you find is most often tossed on your shores? Because while the plastic cups weren’t that surprising, I was somewhat taken aback at the giant Listerine bottle. Maybe these things were thrown in the water by careless drunken morons on their powerboats and the lake just barfed them up here.

Either way, I think I need a return visit for the sole purpose of once again fixing other people’s mistakes.

And the winner is…

April 19, 2009


The other week, I offered an eco-friendly cellphone to the person who could give me the best idea for my next green book. Suggestions poured in and, frankly, I’d be happy to live out my days writing about every single one of them. However, there is only one phone, so after bugging my editor at Wiley to read through the ideas, he finally chose a winner (and a runner-up, in case that person doesn’t want the prize).

Here are his comments:

“Alison’s consumer culture book is interesting, but I worry that it would essentially be a manifesto. I like the idea of not eschewing all technology in the name of sustainability, but she (rightly) suggests the need for some big systemic changes that are definitely beyond the means of just one person.”

“Just Ducky seemed to have the most succinct request for an urban homesteader book, and because I was just reading about peak-oil alarmists (who seem like a fascinating, scary bunch), I think s/he might be on to something there, if the book were less of a “how-to” and more about profiles of these people.”

“Reuel touches on a topic near to my heart: I’m amazed at what’s going on in the developing world … I think there are some exceptional, inspiring stories out there, and they’re not being told. And, additionally, I think that a book about initiatives in the developing world will help us gain perspective when we consider some green ventures too bothersome.”

In the end, he chose Reuel as the winner and Alison as the runner-up — I’ll be getting in touch with you guys to sort out mailing addresses. But in the mean time, let me just say that I’m still a big fan of the green granny wisdom idea (see photo above, featuring the Raging Grannies). Our elders know a lot about living lightly, whether it’s the best recipe for preserves and pickles, or how to live without a fridge, how to darn socks and knit scarves, and even reuse a milk bottle. The new wave of hippies could learn a lot from their grandmothers, and if this wisdom were somehow adapted and repackaged for modern times, all the better.

Anyway, congrats Reuel! And thank-you everybody for the suggestions.

From the Pantry to the Bathroom: Toothpaste Edition

April 16, 2009

First of all: WOW! 35 comments on my recent post asking for book ideas. They’re all so inspiring; now I want to write a dozen more books! Oh, and speaking of books, if you live in Canada, YOU CAN BUY SLEEPING NAKED IS GREEN AS OF TODAY (it comes out in the U.S. in mid-June, so my beloved American readers will have to hold tight)! The boy in my life — who might just be wearing a T-shirt that says “I’m the epilogue” at the launch — is reading the book as we speak and chuckling away, so all of my fellow eco-nerds north of the 49th parallel: Make your way to the nearest independent bookstore and get a copy. I promise it won’t suck.

Anyway, back to the contest: my editor is still deliberating on a winner, but I just wanted to thank all of you for your contributions. Although I’m not sure who he’ll pick, I must say, I really dig this whole what-your-granny-knows-and-isn’t-telling-you topic.

But moving on — it’s time for another installment of From the Pantry to the Bathroom, where I talk about how to use natural foods for both cosmetic and hygienic purposes. We’ve already covered the wonders of coconut oil as deodorant, apple cider vinegar as toner and a combo of baking soda, vinegar, cinnamon and vanilla in place of shampoo (which I’m sorry to say I’m not keeping up — my head got itchy, my hair got greasy and I didn’t have the patience for it).

My friend Meghan is about to host a workshop on making your own cosmetics, and to promote it, she’s posted this video explaining how she makes toothpaste using baking soda, vegetable glycerin and peppermint oil. Because I’m too lazy to do this myself (and because I don’t have a trampoline to bounce on while brushing) I’ll just embed the video here:

If you’re looking for other homemade recipes, I believe Beth over at Fake Plastic Fish has one that calls for baking soda, wintergreen oil and stevia powder (although she’s since gone back to the tube variety on account of her gums hurting). But if you’ve got one already that you love, feel free to share the ingredients below; and let me know if you’ve had good or bad experiences making and using your own paste. Now that you can recycle Tom’s of Maine tubes (they also sell SLS-free baking soda toothpaste with Thistle-approved ingredients), I’m kind of tempted to just keep using that, but then again, it’s always fun to transform the bathroom into a little eco-laboratory.

Boyfriend Bread

April 10, 2009


I realize this doesn’t have much to do with the environment, but I just made a loaf of Meghan’s breadless bread and it turned out so well, I had to post it. I’ve always been kind of weirded out by the whole bread-making process on account of the yeast requirements. The idea of having a live, bubbling starter festering in a petri dish in my kitchen really gives me the creeps (I know, I just have to get over it).

And yet, and yet… as it turns out, the boy in my life really likes bread. Like, REALLY likes it. So for our one-year anniversary I decided to try and bake a loaf just for him, and when I realized Meghan’s recipe called for tons of healthy ingredients like ground almonds, arrowroot starch and pumpkin seeds but DIDN’T call for any yeast, I got excited.

Anyway, the finished product was pretty awesome — although it has a bit of a muffin-like consistency, it’s still good with both sweet and savoury toppings. Plus, it only took 45 minutes to bake and made the house smell yummers. I highly recommend trying this out on a weekend afternoon, when you have a bit of extra time for cooking, eating and perhaps a spontaneous flour-fight with a loved one.

In the mean time, does anyone have any other favourite bread recipes? Are there bread-oriented blogs out there worth reading? Is it wise to invest in a bread-maker or are those things sort of useless?

Give me an idea and win a green cellphone!

April 9, 2009


Recently, I wrote about how the green wave has started to wash over cellphone companies (you can read the article here). One of the phones I focused on was the Motorola Renew, pictured above, which is “carbon-neutral” (I put that term in scare-quotes because really it’s just been offset for a couple years at CarbonFund.org), has a body made from recycled water bottles, a prepaid envelope to ship the phone back to Motorola for proper recycling, less charging time required, minimal packaging made from recycled cardboard and no PVC, lead, exposed nickel or other hazardous materials.

As Bill Olson, the Motorola rep I spoke with, said: “If you take a marginal product and stick a green label on it, it’s not going to fool anyone. If, however, you have a really great product and it happens to be green, that sells. The key is to offer people something thoughtful and well-executed.”

I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not the Renew deserves praise or criticism; in the mean time, if you’re an environmentalist in need of a cellphone but feeling the credit crunch in a major way, fret not! You can win a Motorola Renew — right here, right now. How can you win it?

Simple: Although my awesome-and-so-worth-paying-$13.83CAD-for book is coming out in the very near future (next week in Canada; mid-June in the U.S. but you can totally pre-order), I’m already thinking about my next project. The problem is, there are so many green books flooding the market right now, and the last thing people need is yet another book full of tips. So my question to you sage readers is: What do you want to read about? What kind of green book would you buy? Do you want personal, chicken-soup-for-the-hippie-soul kind of stories or hard, apocalyptic facts? Do you like straight-up non-fiction or juicy memoirs? Broad, multifaceted topics like global warming or an in-depth look at one subject, like bees? Maybe you’d like a whole cookbook/guide for fridgeless living, or maybe a coffee table book on guerilla gardening?

Whoever offers the best idea for a new green book (I’ll consult with my publishers to see what they think… and yes, this is unfortunately a very subjective contest) wins the phone!

Ready, set, brainstorm!

An inside look at the Cascades recycled paper towel (and toilet paper) factory

April 3, 2009

As some of you more devoted Thistle fans may remember, my very first green change on this blog was to switch to recycled paper towels. Well, the brand that I chose at the time was Cascades, and I stand by that decision: While it’s obviously best not to use any paper whatsoever, this company is one of the greenest around (Note to my beloved American readers: If you’re all like, “What the heck is Cascades? I use Seventh Generation” — well, guess what? Seventh Gen products are made by these guys, so keep reading!).

In a nutshell: Cascades products are made from 100% recycled content (the vast majority of which consists of post-consumer waste and there are no virgin fibers whatsoever), there’s no chlorine bleaching involved, they save six-times more water and use half as much CO2 than the industry average, there are no added fragrances or colours, they’re certified by numerous environmental boards such as the EPA, PCF, Green Seal and Environmental Choice, the plastic film wrapping they use is comprised of about 50% recycled material, they treat their sludge so it can be used on farmland and offer the remaining waste material to cement companies, and their employees are not only encouraged to live a green lifestyle but strictly forbidden to drive Hummers to work. PHEW!

But perhaps best of all, this is a company that’s transparent about their practices, to the point where they’ll even open their factory doors for a bunch of jaded journalists. Yesterday afternoon, I got a tour of a Cascades mill just outside Montreal, Quebec, and saw how their recycled paper towel and toilet paper is made from start to finish. Although I couldn’t take photos of certain stages (they have some technology they’ve spent four decades perfecting and don’t necessarily want to share this with their competition), I did get to see it all with my own eyes, and it was impressive, to say the least. Here are some pics and captions:

The tour begins

The tour begins

See those giant rolls in the background? THAT’S TOILET PAPER!! How insane is that?! I mean, it’s not finished, 2-ply, quilted stuff or anything, but if you go up and touch these things, they feel the exact same as the stuff you wipe your butt with every day (if you use TP at all, that is).

Where all the paper material gets sorted

Where all the paper material gets sorted

These are bundles of raw material — ie. paper — that have just been delivered to the factory but aren’t yet sorted, shredded, pulped, etc. The more coloured paper there is, the more time it needs in the de-inking machine (which I would’ve taken photos of, but it’s really just a series of pipes). Anyway, point being: Life would be much easier for Cascades if we all stopped printing in pinks and blues, so keep it monochrome, people!

Blocks of shredded paper, mostly from schools and offices

Blocks of shredded paper

This is mostly white, and mostly shredded, as you can see. Schools and offices are the primary sources of Cascades’ used paper, but they also hit up local waste management companies for all the stuff that get tossed into recycling bins (by the way, if you throw a spiral notebook into your recycling without first separating the coils from the paper, it could very well end up here and be left for Cascades to deal with). But what’s especially neat is that the company will try to organize shipments of both raw material and finished products from the same city — this means they can send a truck full of paper towels to one place, and have a truck full of raw material come back, without any empty 18-wheelers on the road.

Rolls of paper towels before they've been cut

Rolls of paper towels before they've been cut

Is this making your eyes go all googly? Here, you can see the rolls of paper towels before they’ve been chopped. They’re about 10 feet long.

After being cut, they zip along to the packing stage

After being cut, they zip along to the packing stage

Now they’ve been cut into their proper size and are flying along various conveyor belts, where they’ll eventually be coupled up and sealed into their plastic packages. If you’re wondering where the unbleached, brown paper towels are — well, they weren’t being made at precisely this moment. Unfortunately, only 1/10 consumers prefer to use the brown variety (I’m included amongst this small percentage) because most of us have been brainwashed into believing that white somehow denotes clean.

Things move pretty fast here

Things move pretty fast here

The speed of manufacturing at this plant is crazy; some of the conveyor belts move as fast as 100 km/h.

They slowed the machine down for a quick photo

They slowed the machine down for a quick photo

Here are the finished paper towels, right before they get packaged into boxes for shipping. Cascades pays very close attention when it comes to maximizing the amount of product they can squeeze into a single truck and will sometimes change the diameter of a paper towel roll by a few millimeters in order to fit more in.

Presto - recycled paper towels, ready to be shipped

Presto - recycled paper towels, ready to be shipped

And there you have it: The finished rolls of Cascades Extreme Enviro paper towels. I have a lot more to say about this company (including an interesting back-story about the founder that involves a bunch of dirty newspaper, a household blender and a semi-miffed wife), but I’m saving it for an upcoming Sense & Sustainability column, so you’ll have to look for it on April 16th in the pages of the National Post (or online, on their Footprint page, over yonder).