Spicing it up, in bulk (Day 165)…

August 12, 2007


There’s nothing that quite warms the soul like a kick-ass organic paneer kofta or a free-range chicken tikka masala. But as anyone who’s ever attempted to cook homemade Indian food knows, there are usually at least 15 different spices in the ingredients list, and once you start running out of all the garam masala and dried fenugreek, it can mean a lot more plastic every time something’s replenished.

But as Carrie so brilliantly pointed out last month, a good eco-friendly option is to head to a marketplace or bazaar where they sell spices in bulk (luckily for me, Toronto has a Little India). Not only will these probably be of higher quality but it also means you can bring your own container to refill, and you’ll definitely get more for your money.

So as of today, I’m walking right past the spice aisle in the grocery store and taking my own containers to the House of Spices just up the street.

Photo of spices in a Chamonix marketplace by Gavin Bell at Flickr

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.

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?

I promise, mom: no dreadlocks (Day 99)…

June 7, 2007

hairAfter subjecting my tresses to every natural shampoo on the shelf, plus a funky-smelling baking soda and vinegar concoction, and one soap that was so detrimental I wouldn’t even use it on my floors, I finally found some salvation in Giovanni‘s 50/50 balanced shampoo, which can be refilled from bulk containers at the local health store.

Now that’s sorted, I figure I can start messing around with my hair again (that’s a picture of it on the right, so you can see what I’m dealing with here — normal thickness, straight-ish, and blonde or brown depending on the light, but please don’t call it ‘dirty blonde’). What kind of mess? Well, I’m not going to stop washing it altogether, but I’ve decided to let it air-dry from now on.

Mostly. I can’t promise complete abstinence from my beloved hair dryer, so instead, I’m going to dramatically reduce the amount of time I use it to five minutes per week, with a full blow-dry permitted only on special occasions (which should occur no more than once every couple months — I’m talking, like, get-a-new-dress special occasions). This means that, if I’m having a particularly bad hair day, I can use up all five minutes and suck it up the rest of the week; or, I can just take about a minute each time I wash my hair to make sure the front pieces don’t get all wonky (and trust me, they wonk it up real bad sometimes).

I’m thinking that, come winter, to prevent hair icicles — haircicles, if you will — from forming, I’ll try to shower more in the evenings so it can dry overnight. Otherwise, I think it’ll be pretty easy. But do any of you ladies have tips for air-drying? Should I twist it in a bun and try to make it all wavy, or will that just keep it damp? Do you do that finger-tousling thing to give it more body, or will that turn it into a big knot? Maybe I should just chop it all off…

A soapbox worth preaching on (Day 95)…

June 3, 2007

soapboxThis Radius soap holder is 100% recyclable, made “on high efficiency electric injection molding machines” (I have no idea what that means, but they apparently use 75% less energy) and holds a bar of Kiss My Face pure olive oil soap perfectly.

See, I’d finally made it through my craptastic Alba body “wash”, and was looking for a different brand. Then I remembered one Thistle reader (I think it was GreenYogini) saying she loved this bar soap and used it not only for her body, but her face and hair and teeth (OK, maybe not teeth).

But I was hesitant: ever since I was a teenager I’ve been a body wash devotee because I love how it foams up and doesn’t leave a sticky residue. However, now that I no longer have a petroleum pouf and am using natural products, there’s not much lather to be had anyway.

In the end, despite my dislike towards that “squeaky clean” feeling, I decided to give bar soaps another try — after all, they do get a bit foamy, and come in less packaging (sometimes none, in fact). Plus, even if I purchased a bottle of body wash and refilled it, I’d still be refilling it from another, bigger plastic jug that would eventually have to be replaced. And finally, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe it requires more energy to manufacture the wash as opposed to the bar.

So as you can guess from all this sudsy rhetoric, I’ve now switched to bar soap, and am adjusting rather well. The only thing I didn’t consider was that I’d need something to carry it in when I go travelling, hence the Radius holder above (except mine’s pink), found at a local health food store for under $5, which, even with the cost of soap, still amounts to less than most body washes. I think this officially qualifies as a win-win-win — and possibly another win — situation.

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”?