BioBag, you’re it (Day 148)…

July 26, 2007


Ever since I got that little nylon tote bag that fits in my purse, I haven’t needed a single plastic bag. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t using them — I had a bunch stored up from previous shopping trips, which I was keeping under my sink and gradually using up for various things, such as a liner for my bathroom garbage bin.

Well, I finally ran out of them (which goes to show how many I’d amassed). I wanted to get some sort of small waste bag of a similar size that wasn’t made from plastic, so I went for the BioBags. Made mostly out of corn starch, it can be recycled but also biodegrades in 10 to 45 days.

Hopefully, this will be the official end of any and all plastic bags in my life.


Getting my fix (Day 146)…

July 24, 2007

mr. fixit

I was playing with Sophie the other day when suddenly her toy broke — my first instinct was to throw it out, but then I realized all I’d really have to do is tie a couple pieces of string back together and it would work just fine. Not quite as good as new, but 99% of the way there.

As some readers have already suggested, fixing things — rather than tossing them out and buying new stuff — is most eco-friendly. While I’m far from being a Ms. Fixit, I’m surrounded by others who can change a faulty zipper (the dry cleaners), sew on a button (mom), attach a new lock to my bike (dad) and so on.

Today’s green move, then, is to try and fix whatever’s broken before throwing it away.

Time to ban the can (Day 136)…

July 14, 2007

Is anything that comes in a can good for you? I’m talking beverages here, like Coke, Sprite, Mountain Dew, Red Bull and so on. I can’t think of a single canned liquid that has any nutritional value whatsoever, but that’s just one reason why I’m banning them as of today — the other is that, while pop cans can be recycled, it’s always better to reduce, and with my trusty water bottle on me at all times, there’s really no reason to indulge in anything other than Toronto’s finest.

Sometimes I’d get beer in cans, but now that I’m drinking local stuff it’s always in bottles. I like the occasional iced tea, but I can always make my own. And I’m sure I’ll get the occasional craving for a Brio or a Limonata, but otherwise I think this change will be pretty easy, and by the end of the year, my pancreas will surely thank me.

My pen! My biodegradable pen! (Day 130)…

July 8, 2007


Pens are a bit like umbrellas — people always lose a few here, find a few there, drop one and pick up another, so there’s a constant flow of stationary from office supply closets and pencil cases to pockets and purses, taxis and cash registers. It’s too bad the vast majority of us don’t bother to invest in those fancy pens with refillable cartridges (I don’t, because I know I’ll lose it in the bowels of my bottomless purse).

But I am going to start using biodegradable pens from now on. I got some of these, made from Mater-Bi, a material derived from corn starch that disintegrates in 12 months whether in a compost heap or a landfill. They were on the shelf at Grassroots, one of my favourite eco-stores.

Although I realize, thanks to Michael Pollan and the first chapter of his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma (not to mention that documentary I’m always talking about, King Corn), that there are numerous problems with Zea Mays and we can’t just bank on this plant and its many derivatives to solve all our problems, I still think it’s better than using a disposable plastic one — plus, they’re refillable, for all those who, unlike me, have figured out how to not lose dozens of pens every day.

Oh, and that headline is a nod to the greatest Canadian TV series of all time, Kids in the Hall. Any Bruce McCulloch fans out there?

A toast to compost (Day 124)…

July 2, 2007

Here in the 416, people who live in houses get green bins. It’s a great program — you put all your food waste, paper towels and other biodegradable stuff into a small container in your kitchen; then when it gets full, you empty that out into the bigger, stinkier green bin outside; then the city picks it up each week and takes it to a composting facility.

Hoorah! Except for one problem: if you live in an apartment, you don’t get a green bin, because city councilors haven’t quite figured out what to do with an entire Trump tower‘s worth of rotting bananas.

Yet. Apparently, they’re on it, and according to my inside source a plan has been drafted along with a pilot project. But even still, the green bins won’t be rolled out to apartments for at least another year. So in the mean time, I thought I’d just go ahead and build my own.

Originally, I was just going to buy a standard composting unit, but after scouring the entire city and finding only industrial-sized plastic monstrosities, usually costing around $100, I accepted the fact that I’d have to do it myself. However, as endless hours of television have taught me, while I may be able to do it, Home Depot sure can help.

And so it was that I found myself dazed and confused, wandering the aisles of the lumber department in a skirt and kitten heels until I was finally approached by a man in an orange apron. His name was Bruce. I explained what I was looking for — and indeed, felt right out of the ads with my hand gestures and a wonky drawing of a box-like shape on my hand — until he squinted, twisted his mouth a bit and suggested I come back at a less busy time so he could really help me.

I did, and eventually he cut all the plywood (from scraps so I wasn’t chopping down more trees) and put everything I needed in a cart. The bin would have to fit on my balcony, and while I knew nothing about composting, I was pretty sure there needed to be ventilation. So we designed a structure with a mesh chicken-wire basket on the inside and a pull-out drawer on the bottom (I know, fancy stuff, eh?). He threw in some hinges and handles, some wheels to roll it outside, and I crammed it all into the trunk of my Zipcar before driving back home.

Staring at the pile of wood, varnish, tools and mesh splayed out across my living room floor made me think one thing, and one thing only:

“What have I done?”

I immediately made myself a room-temperature gin and tonic, called a friend who called himself a closet handyman, and begged him to come over. We had nothing to go from other than Bruce’s little sketch on the back of an order form and liquid confidence, but somehow, with the Do-It-Yourself gods looking down on us, we assembled what at first looked like a box, then like a more functional sort of box, and eventually like a box that might just be used for composting (see the photo montage below).

I’d saved some food waste and newspaper scrap from the past couple days, so I poured it in along with some special compost soil. Now I just have to get some worms and see what happens!


No can left behind (Day 93)…

June 1, 2007

soda can

You’re standing at the bus stop, you just swigged the last drop from a bottle of iced tea, your arms are loaded with a day’s worth of shopping, there’s a garbage can right next to you and no recycling bin in sight. Do you hold on to that sucker and wait to recycle it at home? Or just hope no hippies are looking, apologize to Mother Nature and toss it in the garbage?

Before now, I’d probably do the latter. Same goes for all the paper news releases and promotional junk I get at the office — the recycling bin is only steps away, and yet “steps” requires getting my lazy butt off my chair and walking, whereas the garbage can under my desk requires nothing but a flick of the wrist and maybe a swivel, so I’d often just toss it all in the garbage (how many Hail Marys does this add up to? Anyone?).

It’s not that I never recycle. At home, I’ve grown up with blue, grey and green bins, and when I’m out, if I happen to pass by one of those three-holed receptacles with different slots for paper, plastic and garbage, I’ll make sure to put whatever crap I have in its proper place.

But my attitude has always been that of the convenient recycler — if someone puts the appropriate disposal mechanism in front of me, sure, I’ll take part. But don’t expect me to go out of my way or anything.

Until now! (Sorry, that’s my favourite segue)

I’m officially committed to recycling anything and everything than can be recycled, no excuses. If it means carrying around armfuls of newspaper and pop cans with me until I get home, so be it. It’s time to suck it up and deal with some inconvenient recycling.

As I’ve already started toting a reusable coffee thermos and water bottle with me everywhere, don’t buy any take-out food that comes with disposable packaging or plastic cutlery, and don’t chew gum anymore, I’ve already saved myself some trouble. It’s mostly at the office where I start to slack off (note to boss: I mean slack off with regards to recycling, not work! … nervous laughter), so it’s time to buckle down and respect the third R.

Photo courtesy of crassy777 at Flickr

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”?