Zero Waste with Guest Star Paige McNeely – Podcast #6

Today we talk about going Zero Waste, the Montreal plastic bag “ban” and various CSAs in the region with our guest Paige McNeely.

Zero waste update (March)

This update is quite late and I’m sorry about this, but March and April were really hectic months, mainly because of a combination of the intense solar storm(s), time change, and end-of-term school work pileup all hitting at one time. Nonetheless, my war-on-plastic has progressed rather successfully through this time. This post will cover the month of March, where the goal was to eliminate all waste associated with soap and shampoo/conditioner. If you’re just tuning in on my zero waste journey, I am taking the whole year of 2018 to transition to a zero-waste lifestyle, and each month is dedicated to eliminating a different type/source of waste from my lifestyle. Each month is outlined in this post.

As I progress further through my zero waste journey, it seems to only be getting easier. It’s an exciting feeling every time I know that my actions have successfully diverted waste from a landfill. March was the month to eliminate waste from shampoo and soap, which went remarkably well. I am very sorry this post is super late, but here I will share with you how I replaced soap and shampoo/conditioner in my life to make them zero waste.

A while back in February, I attended a workshop at school on how to make homemade soap and it was quite enlightening. It was a lot of fun and I learned so much. The recipe we used can be found at the end of this post.

In terms of homemade soap being in the cards for my zero waste quest, I don’t think it is feasible or is the best option necessarily. This is mainly because many of those ingredients need to be purchased in packaging. Distilled water usually comes in plastic containers, some of the oils can be purchased in bulk, but the others, I have yet to find them not in packaging. The safety equipment we used was all disposable, which I was not happy about considering that reusable options are very easily available. I also have no idea how lye is packaged normally, or where to get it alternatively. Lastly, parchment paper isn’t easily reused or easily recycled once it has been used. Therefore, I mainly chalk this up to a great learning experience, but not something that I would likely be doing again.

In terms of what is feasible for me in my zero waste quest that makes way more sense in terms of reducing waste would be to purchase bars of soap that do not come in any packaging (sounds super simple wow). I have seen these around in several stores, such as Bulk Barn, some natural food stores and places like Lush. We still have so many bars of soap that we haven’t used yet that people have given us (we haven’t had to buy soap for almost two years now) because I guess we smell or something. We will use those first before buying any new soap bars, but this is the plan for when we do. This way there is even less consumer waste than homemade soap.

Purchasing liquid soap is essentially off the table because it is always in plastic packaging. I have found some waste-free alternatives to liquid dish soap and hand soap that I find useful. The one I prefer is located here and it is super simple to make. I find that if you use a bar of castile soap then this is good to use as dish soap, and if you use a hand soap bar, then it is good to use as liquid hand soap.

Replacing dishwasher soap is something that took the entire month to master, because I had to try various proportions of ingredients to get the right one that wouldn’t leave gross baking soda residue on the dishes. Finally, the proportions that make my dishes perfectly clean and shiny are:

  • 1 part borax (a natural salt that comes in a cardboard box)
  • 1/2 part baking soda (comes in bulk)
  • 1/4 part table salt (comes in bulk)
  • White vinegar in the rinse section and a splash at the bottom the of the dishwasher (trying to find a non-plastic packaging alternative to this, but so far I’m just accepting it)

It is important to mix the three powders together really well because it’s hard to distinguish them when they are all in a container together and if they are fully mixed.  to Then I put about 1.5 tbsp of  in the soap dispenser, because where I live, we have soft water, but for places with hard water, then it seems like 2 tbsp would be needed.

gggg

For shampoo and conditioner, these were easy to replace, since shampoo and conditioner bars are widely used for camping and travelling. Shampoo and conditioner bars are also really easy to find with no packaging. So far, I got mine at Lush, and they don’t seem to be too expensive in terms of the amount of use that you can get out of them. There are probably slightly cheaper options available, but not necessarily without packaging, and not that I have come across yet.

As for some great events that happened this month that are contributing to the global war-on plastic, many places around the world have moved forward to potentially ban single-use plastic straws and some other things. The places that I have seen articles about are Scotland, McDonald’s in the UK, and some places in Montreal (hometown pride). To support this, I have also stopped using plastic straws and invested in some metal straws.

In sadder news, I have shed many tears over the whales that have died recently due to being completely full of plastic.

Homemade Soap recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 18.5oz olive oil
  • 12 oz coconut oil
  • 9 oz sustainably sourced palm oil
  • 1 oz shea butter
  • 5.8 oz lye
  • 13.5 oz Distilled water
  • essential oils

What we did to make the soap was weigh out all the oils and the shea butter on a scale, combine them in a saucepan and melted them together. While the oil mixture was cooling to room temperature, the lye was measured out and dissolved in the water (in the fume hood, while wearing gloves, safety glasses, and a face mask). It is also super important that the lye is poured into the water and not the other way around. As the lye dissolved, an exothermic reaction happened, which caused it to heat up. Once all the lye was all dissolved, then this mixture was cool to room temperature as well. Once both mixtures reached room temperature, the lye mixture was poured into the oil mixture and the two were blended together using a hand blender until the mixture became light and smooth. Once this is done additional ingredients can be added, for example, we added 10mL of lavender essential oils, but any essential oil can be added. Additionally, things like poppy seeds, oatmeal or coffee grounds can also be added as exfoliants if desired. Then the mixture was poured into a soap mold (like a loaf pan) that was covered in parchment paper and left to solidify for 24h. Then the solidified soap was cut into bars and and left to ‘cure’ for 3 weeks. This was just to ensure that the excess water was all evaporated before using it, otherwise, the soap would dissolve more easily when being used.

Zero Waste Update (February)

DSC00176

This month was a big month for me, and probably one of the most difficult of the year. As mentioned in my new year’s resolution article, February was the month for me to cut out all packaged foods. For me, I have defined this as not purchasing any new packaged foods, because if there are still some in my home during the month, it would simply just be more wasteful not to consume them. The way I have chose to define packaging is that plastic packaging of any kind is off limits even if it is recyclable. Any other type of packaging that is recyclable (metal, glass, cardboard etc.) is allowed but in very limited quantities. My reasoning for this is that plastic food packaging, when recycled, cannot be turned back into food packaging because of “possible contamination”. Additionally, it can really only be recycled about two times before it becomes unusable (where the term down-cycling comes from), whereas metals and glass can be recycled almost infinitely. The overall goal for this month and moving forward is therefore to eliminate the purchase of any packaged foods with plastic and non-recyclable packaging.

 

DSC00195Eliminating waste from packaged foods also implies the elimination of waste from traditional single-use grocery and produce bags. I’ve been very successful at reducing my consumption of these to near zero over the past few years, so this turned out to be one of the easiest sources of waste to eliminate for me.

I started this month out by purchasing The Clean Bin Project (digital copy of course). This was such an inspirational documentary about a couple who aimed to produce as little trash as possible for a whole year. The thing that resonated the most with me from this was the incredible artwork that was featured. Chris Jordan is an amazing artist who takes traditional art pieces and transforms them into striking and impactful images. From afar, you could never tell the difference, between the original art piece and his art piece, but as you zoom in closer, you begin to see the true composition of each piece.  They are designed to add visualization to numbers, to statistics. We can put any number out there, but it is not always easy to visualize the magnitude of that number, no matter how small or large. They also symbolize the removal of ourselves from the big picture, the whole problem. If you go to the store and come home with five plastic bags and throw them in the garbage, you may think it’s not really a big deal because you are only one person, but these powerful images allow you to see just how, if every person consumes this, how quickly it really adds up. My favorite of his pieces is displayed below. This one is called “Plastic Cups” which depicts one million plastic cups, the number used on airline flights in the US every six hours.

cups1cups3

Wait…….what?

*jaw drops* *dies a little inside*

Watching this documentary was just the kind of boost that I needed to start out the month and I would recommend it to everyone.

This month I also faced a lot of disapproval from some people around me about my zero waste endeavor. It was difficult hearing, but I defended my position about how crucial individual lifestyle changes are for the future of the planet and how we simply cannot wait for higher governments to make the necessary changes with regards to the environment and a perfect example of this is the new by-law banning plastic bags in my hometown and how it may actually be more harmful than helpful to the environment.

DSC00194One of the biggest challenges I faced this month was definitely the weekly grocery shopping routine. Shopping at our usual locations/traditional grocery stores is basically impossible even in the produce section. I never realized how much food actually comes in plastic packaging until this month where I was deliberately looking for it. We ended up mostly shopping at bulk stores and tried to shop at the farmer’s market but my fear of large crowds got the better of me there and it will take while to gain the courage to return.

In terms of making mistakes, this month, there were just a few incidences of unexpected seran wrap and the roll up the rim contest at Tim Horton’s. They gave me an empty paper cup even though I had my own mug and I didn’t know what to do with it. It reminded me how much consumerism really controls so many aspects of the first world and how difficult to escape and rebel; difficult, but not impossible is what I have to keep reminding myself.

I’m looking forward to next month, which will be removing waste from shampoo/conditioner and soap. I have a few ideas in mind for how I will go about this, but I’m still open to more suggestions and ideas so please drop me a line or comment below!

The Pela Case: A Compostable phone case

Over the past decade, mobile phones have taken the world by storm. With speedy technological advancements and turnovers, they have grown from being a luxurious communication device, to a staple in consumerist culture of the first world. Recently, it had been declared by various sources that there are more mobile phones on Earth than people. This has mainly come to be because many people use their phone for only a year, then purchase a new model. Most of these situations are people who have fallen victim to the well-known marketing strategy known as planned obsolescence. This occurs when companies purposely make products with shorter lifespans, create software upgrades designed to significantly slow down older models or make the old generation products seem obsolete in order to sell a “new and improved” version.

With this quick turnover of mobile devices, come another related issue: phone cases. About 750 million phone cases are sold each year and they are mostly made of petroleum based plastic, will end up in landfills and take hundred of years to degrade. These phone cases are really only used for about a year and then are likely to be thrown away with the mobile device that has been rendered obsolete. in reality, having just one case per device seems reasonable and all that is necessary, but in most cases people can own 30+ cases for one device which seems extremely unnecessary and excessive to me.  I have only ever had one case per mobile device I’ve owned, I also don’t burn through one device per year, as many people do. Despite this already low consumption, I still feel as though I should be doing more for the planet.

I don’t highlight many products on here but I do make exceptions for those that I find particularly special and that really promote the resistance of consumerist culture and excessive and unnecessary waste production. Introducing the Pela Case, a compostable mobile phone case that is not made or packaged with any plastic. Instead, it is made with flax straw waste, plant-based biopolymers and recycled materials. It is packaged in a 100% recycled paper envelope that can of course be recycled again. Because of these properties, the Pela Case is a much more sustainable alternative to traditional plastic phone cases. This company also donates 3$ (CAD) per phone case sold to environmental organizations.

Despite all this, compostable phone cases are not the solution to the main issue at hand which is the consumerist culture that the first world is based upon. It is however, a step in the right direction because it is creating products that have sustainability and the environment in mind.

Below, is a review video of the Pela Case by Ruth, who is my main phone case connoisseur, discussing what she loves most about this product